Kids master the big shill

Elise T. Chisolm

October 29, 1991|By Elise T. Chisolm

IF YOU THINK the phenomenon of ''trick or treat'' is weird, you should live in my neighborhood, where kids with the tenacity of used car salesmen go door-to-door selling things you don't need.

We may be reverting to the old days when the bread man, the vegetable man and the milk man in horse-drawn carts came down the lane, and the Fuller brush man came to the door four or five times a year.

But this new breed of wee folk selling stuff for their schools -- ''It's for our soccer team trips" or "our cheerleaders need pom poms'' -- is par for the amazing entrepreneurship of kids today.

I'm all for it. I just wish they'd sell things I need right away and have just run out of, as in a loaf of bread or panty hose. And it's a dern sight better being interrupted at dinner by a cute child salesperson than telemarketing recorded sales pitches for cemetery lots.

I love kids, and this is a way to get to know the children in my neighborhood. Right?

Anyway, there seems to be a rash of sales going on right now. Of course, we all know the schools are out of money, especially for extra-curricula activities.

Besides, it's good for them to learn business and how to handle money. And believe me this is about money.

I mean, these pint-sized salespeople are sometimes hard sell, and they can get tears in their eyes on demand if you don't buy their overpriced chocolate, and this makes me melt. Or they can be as laid back as Orville Redenbacher's pitch for his gourmet popcorn.

There are two basic types who shill for their schools. Here's a recent sample of the hard sell.

The door bell rings. I answer it. ''Hi.''

''Hello, I'm Freddie Jones, and I'm selling oranges so our debating team can go to the finals in Alaska.''

''How much are the oranges, Freddie?'' ''They are a give-away, my Dad says they are a steal. But he's off work now as he hurt his back and is out of work.''

''OK, (sigh) Freddie come on in, and let me see if I have any money.''

''Oh, we take checks, anything as long as it helps our cause. You see, our school is out of money for extra things like books and computers . . .''

I get my checkbook, naturally.

Then there's cute little Mary, with doe eyes. She is very shy.

At 8 years old, she isn't too sure of her prices. She stands at the door, and I say, ''Hi.''

She says, ''Hi.''

And I wait to see if she says anything more. She doesn't.

''How are you?'' I ask, and she is so timid that she doesn't know HOW she is, or is afraid to say. So I ask her to come in.

She is selling gift-wrapping paper but doesn't know how to fill out the computer order forms.

It took me half an hour to get the hang of it. Then she says that I don't have to buy any, which, of course, just makes me want to buy more.

Let's see, the last thing we bought at the door from a high school kid was fresh pizza.

The pizza salesmen tell me they have already made about $3,000 for their school.

So far this year I've bought from the wee folk at the door: oranges, chocolate bars, wrapping paper, compact discs, magazines, books, tickets, pizza, zucchini and homemade jellies.

They canvass a neighborhood more thoroughly than the census or the IRS, and after the sale they usually say ''thank you.''

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