Tony Woodlief | Author

The New Boy Scout

BaseballThe thing with my 11 year-old Caleb joining Boy Scouts is that finally I can learn how to tie a sheepshank knot, and start a fire using only a fork and dental floss, and how to evade bears, and all the other stuff that I never learned how to do, never having been a Scout myself. My truck was filled with great excitement as we went to his first ever meeting. I think Caleb was looking forward to it also.

I’m still not sure what you call those meetings. A den meeting, maybe, or a club meet, or a coven session — I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the manual. Either way, it was heartwarming to see Caleb assemble with the other boys, and say the Pledge of Allegiance, and listen intently to his new Scoutmaster.

I had been anticipating for weeks what the first meeting might cover. Tracking animals, say, or how to set up an impromptu triage tent if your Scout Troop should suddenly find itself in a war zone. What mysterious and essential man-type skills were we — I mean they — about to learn?

Popcorn sales. That’s right, it’s that time of year when the Boy Scouts hit the pavement. Those great adventure camps and service projects aren’t free, you know, and someone, somewhere, decided that in addition to gutting a fish correctly and being able to identify poison oak, a boy ought to know a thing or two about how to move merchandise.

At first I was — I hope you’re sitting down, because I know this will shock you — cynical about the exercise. My boy’s very first Scout meeting, and they want to turn him into a salesman. But then one of the older Scouts got up to give the younger whippersnappers a little sales advice. He began to recount how he kept a notebook on each house in each neighborhood, to remind himself where he visited, who had bought, who wasn’t home, who was wavering and needed a return visit. Carry samples, he told them, because if people get a taste of the more expensive cheese popcorn, they’re twice as likely to buy it. Hand them the literature instead of just holding it and showing it to them.

This kid was good. I started taking notes. Since I’m running a new non-profit these days, I need all the fundraising advice I can get.

Caleb was chattering as we left the meeting. He has big plans for covering many square miles of territory, and setting up a booth at a retail location where people with high net worth and outsized patriotism congregate, and launching a sophisticated and widespread email campaign.

I got tired just typing that. I have half a mind to buy $200 of popcorn from him anonymously and call it good.

But I don’t want to dilute the boy’s entrepreneurial verve. And so I’m doing what I promised him I’d do, which is sucker all of you in with what you thought was a sweet essay about one of my children, only to tell you that if you like cheese-flavored popcorn, or buttery microwave popcorn, or trail mix, or chocolate-covered pretzels, and you love Boy Scouts and America and Almighty God — or even if none of these is true, but you have within your heart even a scrap of a feeling of kindness for me — then you will make a new Boy Scout very happy if you go to his little popcorn webpage and order something. Otherwise his father will go another forty years without learning how to tie a sheepshank knot, and that would be a tragedy.

And if you do order something, please let me know in the comments section. That way we can keep track of who Caleb needs to thank. As an added inducement (or perhaps merely as evidence of my narcissistic overconfidence regarding your interest in my opinions), the highest popcorn buyer will thereby purchase the right to direct me to write an essay here on any topic of his or her choosing. That’s right — Astroturf, kittens, the precautionary principle, particle physics — you name it, buy enough popcorn, and this hired pen will be yours.

Thank you all, and God bless America.

UPDATE: In case the link I provided doesn’t take you to Caleb’s page, if you click the button that says “Change” next to the irritating message that says “You are supporting no one,” you can type in Caleb’s ID number, which is: 18960567. Thanks to everyone who wants to support the boy.

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