In front of a Best Buy over the holiday break, I encountered a teenager selling chocolate to support his Boys & Girls Club of America in the Inland Empire area. My first reaction was, “When I was 13, I wasn’t nearly as confident as this young man. There’s no way I could’ve confronted random strangers and pitched them as a seventh grader.”
But as impressed as I was with his composure throughout the pitch, I was completely turned off by his script.
“Excuse me, sir, would you like to buy chocolate to support a trip I’m taking with my Boys and Girls Club, which keeps kids like me off the streets so that I don’t join gangs, commit crimes, take drugs or drink alcohol?”
This wasn’t an unkempt kid from Watts. He was selling candy in a wealthy neighborhood, wearing $70 jeans, a collared shirt and donning a sparkling white pair of Nikes.
“No thank you,” I said, contemplating the holiday diet I was trying to stay loyal to and wondering what adult fed an eloquent teenager a hunk of bullshit, discouraging kids and telling them that if it weren’t for a club, they’d be on the streets committing crimes.
All throughout society I’ve noticed this trend in one way or another: excuse-making and laziness. Doctors’ office assistants are putting patients on hold, chatting away with coworkers and neglecting patients who are left hypnotized by elevator music ring tones.
Media relations directors are rolling their eyes in person or retorting sarcasm via email, up in arms that a reporter requests a courtesy photo for an article that enhances the publicity of his or her organization.
And in sports it is ever more apparent. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez threw a tantrum when his Miami Marlins signed another shortstop, Jose Reyes, in December. The acquisition would force him to move from short to third, while still earning $11 million a year. Hell, I’d take a kick in the nuts daily for that kind of money, and after becoming impotent, I’d love my stepchildren just as if they shared my biology.
Why is it so offensive to many, when we’re requested to fulfill our job description that all of us agree to in a transaction of our time and effort for their currency, refuse to give a damn?
So back to the Boys & Girls Club kid who, if his club advisor had her way, is snorting coke and stabbing Bloods by now, because he failed to sell me a Heath bar. For those born into households struggling with drug-addicted single parents, poverty or abuse, the Boys & Girls Club of America may well save a child from taking the wrong path.
Maybe, despite the kid’s extensive wardrobe and intelligent demeanor, he could very well have come from a struggling family. And I don’t doubt that there are kids who end up on the streets or in jail, because they lack a stable influence in their lives. But by imprinting the idea that if this piece of candy isn’t sold, if this building shuts down, if you have to live in poverty, that there’s no chance for you in life and you will be a drug-using, crime-committing delinquent, it is shortchanging every single person in America who has ever made something out of nothing. After all, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs all dropped out of college.
I regret not saying anything more than, “No thank you,” to that kid. If I had to do it all over again, I might have bored him to death with a speech about how hard work does pay off and making excuses is a perfect route to failure and incompetence.
I hope he finds out some way or another that life isn’t over when your Boys & Girls Club has leftover chocolate inventory, just as much as I hope as Americans, we take ownership of our educations, careers and lives.
After all, if Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and worked his way to become arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, if Lance Armstrong bounced back from cancer to win seven Tour de France titles, and if Oprah went from an inner-city, sexually abused child impregnated at 14 and born to a single mother to become an icon known only by her first name, then you can repair my computer and acknowledge my Black Tie Warranty, Mr. Geek Squad.