The first of many knocks occurred last week. I opened the door to see a neighborhood boy wearing a high school football jersey.
"Mr. Schwem, would you like to buy a coupon book to support the Indians? They're only $20."
I dug into my wallet and produced a bill before I even bothered perusing the book's contents. I knew what lurked beneath the cover: Coupons for restaurants I'd never frequent offering discounts on appetizers I shouldn't eat; 50 percent savings on laser hair removal, tanning beds, pedicures and other beauty treatments designed to make me look younger and smoother just in time for the winter heavy coat season, and complimentary admissions to assorted theme parks and arcades that can easily afford to let patrons in for free, thanks to their double digit hot dog prices.
Ah yes, school fundraising season has returned. It begins the moment the first bus fires up its engines in August and doesn't end until the last notes of Pomp and Circumstance fade from everyone's eardrums. My front foyer is once again a holding area for not only coupon books, but jumbo sized M&M boxes, chocolate bars the length of my forearm, raffle tickets, scented candles, popcorn tins, cheesecakes and sausage logs. And that's BEFORE the first Girl Scout, cookie form in hand, finds my house.
In return for my inability to say "no" to any salesperson under 16, I am allegedly helping purchase new soccer uniforms, upgraded drama facilities, the chance to march in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and a myriad of other school needs that my always-escalating Illinois taxes apparently don't cover.
This year I vow not to be such a pushover. No matter how large the child's pleading puppy eyes, no matter how well I know his or her parents, and no matter how worthwhile the cause, every budding school aged entrepreneur who approaches my house is going to learn that sales involves more than just sticking out your hand and being rewarded with a large bill. Wait, I just heard the doorbell ring.
"Hello, may I help you?"
"Hi Mr. Schwem, I'm Tim. I'm selling worthless pieces of junk for $100, with all the proceeds going toward a tattoo for my bicep. By the way, my Dad says 'hi.' He's your accountant, the one who handles your taxes."
"Here you go Tim. I'll take two!"
Okay, bad example. Let's try another one.
"Hello, may I help you?"
"HI Mr. Schwem, I'm Emily."
"Do I know you?"
"Um yes, I came to your daughter's birthday party last week."
"Did you get her a gift?"
"Of course I did."
"How much did it cost?"
"Uh, I don't know. My mom bought it. Probably about 30 dollars."
"So Mom sent you here to recoup her investment, right? HEY EMILY'S MOM, IF YOU'RE HIDING IN THE BUSHES, I'M ON TO YOU!"
"She's not here, Mr. Schwem. But I'm selling raffle tickets for the school Spanish Club. We're trying to raise enough funds to go to South America next summer and provide several villages with running water. You can also donate a raffle prize if you like."
"How about an old VCR? Save a landfill, Emily. Wait, I'll even throw in a few slightly used Barney tapes. Hours of enjoyment."
"I don't think we need that. Last year you bought ten tickets Mr. Schwem. Remember? You just handed me a blank check and said, 'Fill in the amount. I trust you.'"
"And where did that money go?"
"It helped us build a Habitat for Humanity home in a Third World country devastated by natural disasters."
"Where is this home? Can I use it? Maybe for a week over New Year's?"
"Uh no, somebody is living in it."
"That doesn't seem fair. By the way, shouldn't you be addressing me in Spanish? The Girl Scouts wear their uniforms when they come to the door."
Se está haciendo de noche y tengo cincuenta casas más para ir.
"What does that mean?"
"It means, 'It's getting dark and I have 50 more houses to go.'"
"Okay Emily, what's the raffle grand prize?"
"Chicago Bears season tickets. And a skybox."
"The Bears sucked last year. What else you got?"
"Second prize is a round of golf at..."
"My golf game sucks this year. Next?"
"Every other prize is the satisfaction that comes with knowing you are helping less fortunate people have access to basic necessities."
"Does that satisfaction come with a pedicure?"
"Mr. Schwem, do you want to buy a ticket or not?"
"Okay, I'll take one. Bend the corner so I'll be sure to win."
"Thanks Mr. Schwem. By the way, I'm also selling magazine subscriptions so the archery team can..."
"Don't push it Emily."