My elementary school’s fundraisers held none of the glamour of today’s efforts. No spaghetti discos, no silent auctions. We sold cheese spread.
Okay, okay, not only cheese spread. An array of pre-packaged foods. Assorted chocolates, small numbers of them in large packages. The cheese spread came in a “decorative tumbler” (marketing language for a plastic ridged cup with a country scene rolling along the sides). I remember a bag of gummy bears in a small lidded cup being the least expensive item.
The actual fundraising was similarly unspectacular. I went door-to-door around the neighborhood. I gave my spiel, handed the paper order form to whoever stood in the doorway, and waited awkwardly. Once the goods came in, I went back around to get money and handed over the cheese spread. In retrospect, a career in sales was never in the cards for me.
The fundraiser always featured a kickoff assembly. The entire school gathered in the gymnasium. We sat on the floor in rows by grade. We chattered until the guest speaker from the fundraising company started talking. I remember him being well-dressed but not so formal as to be untrustworthy. No suit or tie.
He stood in front of a clear plastic compartment, about twice the size of a phone booth. The booth sat in the middle of the assembly. No drama, simply a large plastic frame with a door handle, a fan at the bottom, and a cord. He ran through how the fundraiser worked and spent considerable time talking about all the available prizes, especially the top ones.
The students who sold the most during the fundraiser would win time in the cash machine. They could keep all of the money they grabbed. We had not understood the booth until now. He entered it to demonstrate. He walked in and turned around, so that he faced us. I remember a quiet blanketing the gymnasium, all of us holding our breath.
Another staff person turned on the machine. Money fluttered skyward. We gasped in rapture. A free money machine. The smaller students sat agog at the sight. The older students, sitting toward the back, talked boisterously about the technique they would use to grab the most money.
He spent a little while in the booth, grabbing money, emerging with handfuls of cash. He made it look effortless. The assembly ended shortly after that and we bustled out. We were all electrified by that point. It would have been impossible to calm us down again. I went home and started selling the cheese spread that night.
I do not remember any student ever getting in the cash machine. Maybe that was an assembly I forgot. Maybe it never happened. No assembly meant that no one ever discovered how difficult grabbing flying money was. But those are the thoughts of older me.
The older me wonders, though, how we looked in the moment just before the machine turned on. Hundreds of small faces mesmerized, completely captivated. As if he were a magician. No, that is not exactly right. The rabbit was definitely out of the hat. Maybe more like a sorcerer, all of us fallen spectacularly under the sweet entrancing spell of This could be you.