A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Excuse Me, Ma'am. Would You Like To Buy A Subscription To Ladies Home Journal?

The man standing in front of Noyce Bruton's Agri class held up a beautiful, brand new shotgun.  "This," he said proudly, "is the grand prize.  The person who sells the most magazines will win this shotgun!"  An audible intake of breath was heard all across the classroom of ninth grade boys.

Technically, we weren't even in FFA.  That year, the rules had changed and no one younger than tenth grade could join FFA, or Future Farmers of America.  We found this out on the first day of class, which resulted in a crushing sense of disappointment for me.  While I did not aspire to be a Farmer at any point in the Future, I did aspire to wear one of those blue corduroy jackets, and I also aspired to travel on a school bus to the Arkansas State Fair in Little Rock.  When I found out that neither of these worthy options would be available to me, I began to regret my decision to take Agri in the first place.  To further complicate matters, I had heard from someone that in order to belong to FFA, you would be required to raise a calf.  I immediately saw the impracticality of this, since I lived in town and had no space available for bovine housing.  So, I was having doubts about the whole Agri thing.

But then we heard about the magazine sales.  The FFA was conducting a magazine sale fundraiser, and in a moment of grand generosity, had decided to let the ninth graders help raise the money needed to send them all to Little Rock for the fair.  So, Mr. Magazine Guy made a presentation to our class.  First he showed a collection of the fine publications we would be making available to the populace of Waldron.  But most of his time was spent going over the prizes we would win for selling subscriptions to those publications.  He started with the most basic of prize incentives, the Throwing Dagger.  The Throwing Dagger was a thin piece of steel designed to be aerodynamicly hurled through the air at your enemy.  Well, technically, at a target, but you never knew, really, and no harm in being prepared.  Selling a mere two magazine subscriptions would get you the Throwing Dagger.  From there, the prizes got progressively more desirable; a pocket knife, a hunting knife, machete, on up to the vaulted shotgun.

At the end of the presentation, the enthusiasm was palpable.  We were all handed a little book that listed and described the magazines that were available, along with a supply of order forms, carbonless sets of paper which allowed us to give the customer a copy and keep one to turn in.  In order to make sure that we got credit for our sale, the bottom portion of the form had a place to put our name and school.  So, always practical, I went ahead and wrote my name on all ten of my forms.  No need to keep the customer waiting while I do paperwork, right?

That evening, I and my friends Randy Bottoms and Bruce Keener dispersed throughout the neighborhood, knocking on doors.  Since our neighbors knew us, they generally opened the door, and a few even thumbed through the little book.  But no takers.  Realizing the need to branch out, I suggested that we go down to Church Street and try some of the houses there.  Since this neighborhood was not normally part of our world, we had even less success there.  Finally, the gathering darkness required that we head home; a disappointing day to say the least.

The next morning, Randy and Bruce both had success to report; they had sold magazine subscriptions to their parents.  I, unfortunately, did not have the same luck.  Money was tight, and although my parents wanted to help me, a subscription to a magazine was not realistic.  So, I continued to knock on a few doors after school each day, but it soon became apparent to me that I was really having difficulty moving this particular product.

At the end of the week, Mr. Bruton started figuring how many magazines had been sold.  We still had a week to go, but some of the boys had already exhausted their supply of order forms.  Mr. Bruton asked if any of us had any forms that we didn't think we'd need.  I tried to sink as low in my seat as I could, and avoided eye contact with Mr. Bruton.  I, who had already written my name at the bottom of all ten of my never to be used forms, did not want it known that I had unused forms available.

Both Randy and Bruce managed to sell enough magazine subscriptions to get the Throwing Dagger, but I ended my two weeks with net sales of zero.  I just hoped that if I were ever attacked, Randy or Bruce would be there to lay a little Throwing Dagger action on the perpetrator.

But, Agri ended up being one of the best courses I ever took in High School.  I was actually quite interested in learning things that Future Farmers needed to know, and I still recall that the Ohio Improved Chester, or the OIC as we professionals call it, is an exceptionally good breed of pig.  And, should I ever become a cattle rancher, Limousins are a mighty fine choice.  Of course, if I were more interested in dairy farming, I'd be looking for some Guernseys or maybe Jerseys.  We also learned how to wire a simple electrical circuit, as well as how to arc weld and gas weld.  In fact, not to brag, but when Mr. Bruton took a sledge hammer to break apart the metal plates that we welded together so that they could be used again, the two that Lonnie McKay and I had welded together were completely impervious to the sledge hammer.

So, while a career in sales was not in my future, I possibly could have made it in the welding industry.  But, I ended up being a teacher, which didn't require either of those skills.  But, I'm kind of thinking about asking Marilyn if maybe I could get a little calf to raise...

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