Girl Scouts figured prominently in my (thankfully) brief career in cookie placement

You’re sick again?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yes, but this time for real,” I said. Oops. I knew I shouldn’t have answered the door…

It’s the Girl Scouts, back with those dad-dratted cookies. And now, in about five weeks, I get to figure out what to do with NINE BLOODY BOXES of oversugared snackfood.

OK, confession time: Sometimes, on the weekend, I don’t feel like dressing up. More to the point, I get an idea in the wee hours, head for the computer or the studio, and pretty much stay there, working, in my pajamas.

Then the doorbell rings, and with a guilty start I realize it’s 3pm and I’m STILL in my pajamas. I open the door, it’s a neighbor, and…well, I gotta say SOMEthing, so… “–cough, cough— Sorry. Don’t get too close. I think I have a cold. Or pneumonia. Or Ebola. Or something.”

“Your immune system could make medical history,” says my neighbor Kim.

This Girl Scout and her mamma always arrive at my door, selling cookies, on a great idea day, and so they find me--cough-cough--in my PJs and have never seen me “healthy.” This year, however, I really did have a bad cold, so for once, the pajamas were legit.

I’d vowed not to buy cookies this year. I don’t eat them, I give them away, and it was slowly dawning on me that letting others buy their own cookies would save me four smackeroos per box. I’d carefully rehearsed my “Sorry, but I’ve decided not to buy cookies this year, thanks and goodbye,” speech for any Girl Scout who darkened my door.

However, when you’re planning to reject a little Girl Scout right in front of her mother’s accusing eyes, you probably don’t want to start the conversation with “Yes, but this time for real.”

They left with $16 and an order for four boxes. An hour later the doorbell rang again, and…

No, I’m not a soft touch. But there is this thing between me and Girl Scout cookies that goes ‘waaaaaay back…

My (brief) career in Girl Scout cookie outplacement

Mom was (and is) famously against forcing one’s offspring to go door-to-door, blackmailing the neighbors into subsidizing the school band/ cheerleaders/ glee club. She fought hard to keep her girls from joining the ranks of magazine subscription/ chocolate bar/ popcorn/ etc. peddlers with every new fundraising campaign.

“My children aren’t beggars,” she’d say darkly. And so I’d be the lone child sidelined into “educational activities” while everyone else in the class attended the coveted “ice cream party” reward for selling at least one unit of overpriced crap to their parents.¹

Girl Scouts were different. Unlike the sleazebags (my words, not Mom’s) who hawked sales programs to the schools, Girl Scouts were wholesome and also chaperoned. Mom wasn’t happy about letting her kids sell Girl Scout cookies, but she gave in.

Me, I still had doubts, because “salesman” was a dirty word in our family, and door-to-door salesmen were the worst. I once watched Dad give an encyclopedia salesman the bum’s rush (i.e., grabbed him by the collar and shoved him out our front door) because the guy got inside by insisting that he was an “educational consultant.”

Salesman,” Dad confirmed grimly, tossing the guy’s sample case out after him. It left a lasting impression on my eight year-old self; I didn’t know exactly what salesmen did that was so bad, but after that they were right down there with beets, wasps, axe murderers, and amoebic dysentery.

…which turned my approaching Girl Scout cookie-selling task into a moral dilemma: How could I sell cookies door-to-door and NOT be a salesman? I asked this at the next troop meeting, ignoring the snickers from fellow scouts. My troop leader gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look. She did that a lot.

“Uhm…it’s for a great cause,” she said.

“What cause is that?” I asked curiously. Aside from getting a bunch of little girls off the suburban cul-de-sacs to practice making s’mores, I couldn’t see that cookies did much more than cure neighborhood munchies. She apparently couldn’t either, because she tried again.

“You get to wear your GIRL SCOUT UNIFORM!”

OK, this was a powerful incentive because I loved to wear uniforms. Military, medical, janitorial, I didn’t care, as long as it had snaps and badges and a hat. When I discovered that kids in reform school wore uniforms, I gave serious consideration to attending.

Had Mom allowed it, I would have gone to bed in my (incredibly expensive, when our family was pinching pennies just to afford my eyeglasses) Girl Scout uniform. If cookie-selling meant another chance to don green polyester goodness with the beret and sash and snappy little pin and trefoil-festooned socks, …I felt myself wavering…

Triumphant, she swooped in with the coup de grace: “There might EVEN,” she coaxed, “be a BADGE involved…”

That clinched it. I was determined to fill my entire sash, front and back, with Girl Scout badges, and she knew it. Later we’d find no badge specifically related to selling cookies, but right then thought of earning a cookie badge supplied the moral gymnastics I needed to become a world class cookie salesman, er…cookie outplacement specialist.

She sighed in relief and went back to instructing her troops in the fine art of cookie salesmanship cookie outplacement:

  1. We were to canvas our territories with the thoroughness of a military recon squad, but go up to the front doors only if they were fully visible from the street with no bushes or walls hiding the front doors. (To this day I have no idea why)
  2. We were to sound doorbells or doorknockers exactly ONCE, then step back and wait politely for a response while counting to 30. If we didn’t get a response we could try once more.
  3. If no one was home, we’d mark that address down, and try again later.
  4. If someone was home, we would say, “Good {insert morning/afternoon/we’d better not catch you going out at night} {sir/madam}. I am with {Troop ID mercifully withheld} and taking orders for cookies. Here is our cookie list. Would you care to review it and order a delicious box of cookies today?”
  5. If s/he said yes, we would have them mark the order list with their choices, then refuse their money. (We weren’t allowed to take money without a parent in attendance).
  6. We would tell them when the cookies would be delivered and that payment would be due at that time. Checks were preferred over cash (ain’t that a switch?). Then we would thank them politely, and go to the next house.
  7. If they said no, we would thank them politely and leave. (Unless, said the assistant scout leader, we knew the family. In that case, we could tell our parents and ask them to blackma…er, help with cookie outplacement.)

After school the next day I carefully donned my uniform, adjusted my beret, took up my cookie list and official Girl Scout pencil, and set out. At the first house, a woman I didn’t know peered curiously at me.

“Who is your mother, dear?”

I told her.

“I don’t know her, thank God. No, I don’t want any cookies. Go away.” And she slammed the door shut.

This wasn’t promising but, undaunted, I soldiered on. No one was home at the next three houses, (although I thought I’d heard someone giggling at one house), but at the fourth, a man with a significant five o’clock shadow and a stained undershirt opened the door.

“Whaddaya want?” he barked, then looked down and softened, “Oh, it’s a little girl…are you playing cops and robbers?”

This wasn’t following the script, but…”No, sir. Good afternoon, sir,” I said politely, and gave him the spiel.

He blinked. “Cookies? What kinds?”

OK, this was more like it, and I handed him the list.

“Oh, yeah, you got them thin mints, I’ll take some of them, and do you got those peanut butter ones?” I pointed them out.

All told, he ordered TWO DOZEN BOXES. Then he pulled out a money clip, and handed me a ginormous stack of bills, which I politely refused.

“Awww, take it anyway,” he said, and tried to stuff the money in my sash.

“You wouldn’t want to get me into trouble, would you, sir?” I said, backing off, a little frightened.

“Oh, no, honey, no!” he exclaimed, but I kept backing. My last glimpse was of him standing at the door, finger to his lips in a hush gesture.

The lady next door noted the direction I’d come and opened the door before I actually rang the bell. “You didn’t talk to the man next door, did you?”

“Well, yes, ma’am?”

“You STAY AWAY from him, dear. He drinks. Did he…was he….” She never did finish the sentence, but she ordered a couple boxes of cookies to ease my trauma.

26 boxes and the afternoon was still young! Cookie outplacement was easy!

I discovered that if I was polite, a little wistful, and referenced my big sale to the guy in the undershirt, I could usually con someone into consoling me with at least one sale.

I sold, er, OUTPLACED the living daylights out of my territory. By the end of the second day I’d moved 49 boxes of cookies, a troop record.

At the next meeting I STRUTTED up to the front to turn in my order lists. On the way up, I offered to help less fortunate fellow scouts with THEIR cookie outplacements. They weren’t very good sports about it.

I proudly handed over my orders and the troop leader glanced through them. “This is wonderful, Cindy,³ but…where are the names?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where are the names of the people who ordered all these cookies?” she asked, pointing to blank lines beside the carefully filled-in order boxes. “You write down the name and address or phone numbers of each person who ordered cookies. That way you can take them their cookies and collect the money.”

OK, well, that part I missed. “Uhm….

This wasn’t entirely my fault. Apparently the troop leader took it for granted that kids experienced in selling magazine subscriptions and chocolate bars to the neighbors would know to include contact information with the order, so she’d focused on other instructions.

I just happened to be the only kid in the world who’d never sold a single door-to-door anything. Frantically, I tried to remember who ordered what, but aside from family friends I didn’t even know the names of most of the people who’d ordered cookies.

“You’ll just have to go back and ask everyone to give you their name and address,” she said, and that’s when I realized that I really wasn’t sure which house was responsible for which order. Logically, I should be able to retrace my steps and recreate most of the orders but in my quest for professionalism I’d carefully alphabetized and recopied the list.

I was pretty sure that references to the neighborhood drunk weren’t going to help me this time. Judging from the howls coming from my compatriots (even the troop leaders were having trouble keeping straight faces), my customers would be laughing too hard to give me a straight answer.

In a flash, my cookie orders went from 49 to 0. I slunk home in disgrace.

After that I kept a low profile at scout meetings and completely ignored any mention of baked goods. Sometimes I’d imagine Undershirt Guy, finger to his lips, waiting in vain for his Thin Mints…I wished remembered which house was his, so I could explain.

At the next year’s cookie drive I did the sensible thing and sold a couple of boxes to my mom. I never, ever, ever considered a career in sales.

Back to the present…

Ever since my brief stint in cookie outplacement, I’ve had a hard time saying no to Girl Scouts bearing cookies. So when The Cookie Failure showed up only an hour after I’d just bought four boxes of cookies and clearly didn’t want more…I bought more.

The Cookie Failure lives just down the street, and year after year she shows up to sell cookies right after the other Girl Scouts have wrung the neighborhood dry. (I’ve written about her before.)

I open the door, and there she is, with her little dog. Last hour’s Girl Scout showed up with an order list that filled two single-spaced pages; The Cookie Failure’s order list, naturally, is blank.

“I guess you don’t want to buy any cookies, either, huh?” she says mournfully, tear glistening in the corner of her eye.4 Her dog, a fluffy black and white confection, nudges her leg sadly and aims his big brown eyes in my direction.

Oh, for heaven’s sake! Part of me wants to slap the little twit and suggest that maybe NEXT year she get her butt in gear and make her cookie run around 10AM, before the competition has finished its Cap’n Crunch. But then I remember that dodo-headed little Girl Scout who didn’t know enough to take down names with the orders, and…

“Sure I want cookies!” I smile bravely, “I’ve been waiting for you to show up. What kinds of cookies do you have this year?”

She smiles and hands me the list. I can’t buy LESS–what if both scouts are from the same troop?–so I check off thin mints, peanut butter, lemon cookies, and hand her a $20 bill with a grin. “…so that’s $4 in change, right?”

She carefully adds up my order, “Well, no. See, you’ve checked off five boxes of cookies–THANK YOU VERY MUCH–and it’s $4 per box, so $20 is right.”

Ulp. She’s right. Since I duplicated my first order, I’ve probably also ordered five, not four, boxes from the math-challenged first Girl Scout as well. Which means I actually have TEN BLOODY BOXES OF COOKIES coming on February 12.

(It also means I just cheated Girl Scout #1 out of four bucks, so won’t her mamma just loooove me?)


¹Before you feel too sorry for poor little lonely Cindy, here’s a reality check: First, if the teacher was smart, s/he’d have stuffed me off in a corner with a couple of books, secure in the knowledge that I’d happily stay there until the last letter had been sucked off the last page. Ice cream parties be damned when there was a new book to be read.

Second, the “ice cream party” generally consisted of cheap vanilla ice milk cups, the kind with the cardboard top and splintery wooden spoon, one per child, to be consumed at the desk in complete silence. Generous-spirited fundraisers sometimes included paper hats in the “party kit,” but most didn’t bother.

Since (a) consuming the icy treat used up perhaps five minutes of a 30-minute party, and (b) children mostly considered the stuff too vile to eat anyway, most of the kids preferred turning the cups into ammunition. The ensuing food fights were memorable, but I much preferred watching from the sidelines to participating, since it generally meant spending the rest of the afternoon covered in vanilla spackle down in the principal’s office.

²I got curious and googled “what do Girl Scouts do with all that cookie money?” Turns out GS cookies are something like an $800 MILLION annual business, not counting licensing fees and such. The official Girl Scout FAQ says that the net revenue–about 60-75 percent of the retail price–stays in the region, and about 10-20 percent of that goes to the group/troop selling the cookies.

Girl Scout cookies, according to Statista, rank 7th in the world’s top-selling cookie brands, ahead of Little Debbie and Pepperidge Farm. (Oreo is #1) That’s a lot of dough…heh-heh.

³Yep, in my youth they called me Cindy and it stayed that way until the end of my marriage. By then I’d gotten tired of hearing my name spoken with a sigh. Once I’d landed my first job as a reporter, the managing editor said, “Cindy. Now THERE’S a name that’s just too cute for words…” which pretty much cemented Cynthia as my “real” name forever.

4And yes, I’ve considered that The Cookie Failure could be pulling one of the most brilliant scams in the history of social engineering: Get your partner Girl Scout and her mom to traipse the neighborhood an hour earlier, displaying a stuffed order list and being a bit obnoxious about the whole thing. Then you walk up to the mark’s door, pull out a blank order list, and tearfully knock…