I was a lousy Girl Scout.
No, seriously, I really was. Maybe at the outset, I had good intentions. There was the glamour of the uniform...the anal-retentiveness of sewing merit badges to a sash in predetermined sequences (which surely appealed to my Type A side). There was the promise of afterschool frivolity, of the learning of various skills...and cookies. Did I mention the cookies yet? Yeah, the cookies were a major selling point. (Probably because I didn’t quite grasp that in reality, I was about to become the selling point of said cookies.)
Of course, as was often the case when I was seven (and, let’s face it, it's often the case to this day), the picture I had in my head of what Brownies would be like was a much more richly-painted tapestry than the reality turned out to be. Before I’d even gotten my hot little hands on that sash, this union was doomed.
You see, my only observations of scouting of any kind prior to this were from watching my older brother hanging with his Cub Scout pack. And in Cub Scouts, they got to do stuff. They learned how to build fires! They went out in the woods and learned to find things (and probably got to stomp around in mud and puddles and stuff, to boot)! They got to build sweet cars out of scraps of wood and race them for fabulous prizes! They got to LIVE!
I don’t know how the Girl Scouts operated in other places circa 1987, but around Ashland our activity options seemed pretty damn limited. Let’s see--there were the singalongs. And various arts & crafts (most of which went pretty light on the “art” and “craft” parts of it, if you ask me). Sometimes after we did arts & crafts, we’d have a singalong. Then, after the singalong, we’d get really wild and have some arts & crafts. And after that, we’d get two hours of indoctrination on sales and marketing, because dammit, those cookies have gotta move, move, MOVE!
(With puppets. Or maybe those are just bells. Eh, close enough.)
This was clearly not what I had in mind when I signed up. Where was the action? Where were the fires, both literally and figuratively speaking? This was like a washed-out version of the catechism classes I dreaded on Sunday mornings, for pete's sake, only without any talk of treacherous snakes in a garden or the titillating gore of the Stations of the Cross. The only fire I ever saw during my looooooong year as a Brownie was out at Prentice Park during mandatory summer day camp, and the only reason I can remember that is not because we got to make the fire or anything productive like that, but rather because one day we were commanded to bring “something” from home to add to a giant cauldron of “soup” which was to serve as our group meal. I HAD TO EAT FROM A SLOP BUCKET CONTAINING SPAGHETTIOS, FRUIT COCKTAIL AND CIRCUS PEANUTS, PEOPLE. To quote Homer Simpson, “That’s not America. That’s not even Mexico!”
It pains me to say this, but it didn’t help that those slick Girl Scout operatives had talked my mother into being my group leader, either. I mean, bless the woman for taking it on -- Mom’s not a joiner, either--but she had about as much interest in this junk as I did. Week after week, we’d meet in the kindergarten room at Beaser School, and I swear to god not a week went by that year where we didn’t make puppets. Sock puppets, paper bag puppets, puppets on popsicle sticks--we did ‘em all. In retrospect, I give my mom a lot of credit for trying to keep it interesting, but the deck was stacked against her from the get-go. I can still picture her leading our ragtag bunch of second graders through simulated cookie sales…the bigwigs had developed these paper dolls depicting typical Girl Scout cookie customers (old ladies, housewives, shut-ins), and we were supposed to play-act our way through the transactions. As a group, we were far more interested in playing with the paper dolls and concocting elaborate backstories for each of them ("This is Mrs. McGaffy, and she has eleven cats"). After about ten minutes of trying to get our attention, I remember my mom giving up and letting us have at it. Wise woman.
(Out picking up trash in a park downtown. At least we got out of making puppets that day.)
And I don’t know if it was the fact that my mom was there, or my overall disgust with the whole operation, or just a rebellious streak about six years ahead of schedule--but during Girl Scout meetings, I was a holy terror. Oh my god, I really was. I remember crawling under tables and pouting, refusing to work on my puppets. Wandering off in the middle of projects to play with the kindergarten toys on the other side of the room. Making breaks for the doors to the playground outside, sometimes with my little brother in tow, him being far too young to be left home alone during the meetings (or to be ticked off at our mom for dragging him to a Girl Scout activity, poor dope).
(Brownie party at our house.)
Perhaps the most telling sign of my lack of commitment to the Girl Scouts was that I kept mixing up the Scout’s Promise with the 4-H Pledge. Generally, it wasn't a big deal since it was just in front of my mom and the, like, six other girls in my grade who'd gotten hoodwinked into joining. But I do remember getting some looks at the city-wide troop gatherings when they'd all be reciting in unison and I'd be standing there muttering something about pledging my head to clearer thinking. (But c’mon now, how many oaths can you realistically expect a seven year-old to memorize, anyway?)
Maybe that was part of the problem--I was used to 4-H, where dammit, we got results. Sure, sometimes we didn’t do our projects for the fair until two days before we had to prop them up in the exhibition hall, but dammit, we did something. None of this namby-pamby singalong garbage. And they didn't make me go out selling crap, either--yeah, we had to pay dues, but given the choice between singing for my supper and just paying for it outright, I'm gonna pick the path of least resistance each & every time. Plus, hey--no uniforms! (Although to this day, I'll never turn down a kicky sash.)