I imagine this is how the makers of the “Tom Wat Showcase” envisioned their products being presented, otherwise I’m not sure how the idea ever made it into my hand. Every mid August for 4 years while I was a Cub Scout it would show up. Being a kid, it was very exciting going to a scout meeting and seeing a large cardboard suitcase, covered in blue and red lasers, having your name tag attached to it. For those of you not familiar with the idea, the case was distributed once a year to Cub Scouts to be used as fun raiser. It was filled with cheap mugs, poorly designed ornaments, food orders, picture frames, and a bunch of other junk I wish I could remember. You’d keep it for a couple months and try to sell as much merchandise as you could, then return it when the time was up.
I remember getting my first showcase home and opening it in front of my family. I was proud and enthusiastic, look at all this great stuff I have and I didn’t have to pay for it. That’s also about the time my parents reminded me that this was not my stuff and it had a purpose other than being my personal toys. It would have been great, but they had to make you sell it.
It could be a week day evening or a Saturday, I’d hear,”it’s time to get out your showcase!” It’s a time I dreaded, tried to make excuses why I couldn’t go, but the show always went on. Most people’s fund raising experiences were a quick knock on the door, a question about some hoagies, and I’ll see you in a week. Not the showcase. First, since you had a suitcase full of stuff, you couldn’t just have a brief conversation on the porch. It involved going into the person’s living room and laying out all the items in the showcase. Second, because you had to go into the house, you always had to bring your parent along. Do you know how embarrassing it is to repeat the same line over and over at every open door, “Uh, hello, do you have a few minutes, my Scout Pack is having a fund raiser and I wanted to know if you would like to buy anything?” And then have to talk about the items as you pull them out. “Here, this would be a nice addition to your refrigerator.” I was under ten years old. The final pain was it’s weight. We didn’t drive from house to house, we’d walk. I’d lean to one side and slowly follow my mother to the next house we’d thought might give us a good chance of a sale.
Those weren’t the showcase’s only problems. The first year you took it around, people weren’t expecting it and they’d let you in and humor you. Once they noticed how crappy the products were and how I struggled to put back the 50 piece set in the only order it fit, they weren’t as kind the following year. Two cars in the driveway, no answer? Not hard to spot a small child slowly making his way toward your house with a box inscribed with the huge lettering TOM WAT. I found them the kindest. Others would open the door and say, “just give me half of what I ordered last year.” I had a job to do and even though I didn’t like it, I still didn’t feel good about a sale that I didn’t do anything for. Those were my average days while the showcase was in my house. Luckily it would come to an end every year and I’d pack it up as neatly as I could and return it to the company. I could never tell you my sales total, but they were never good.
Maybe I am remembering it worse than it was, but I doubt it. Fund raising has always been a sore subject with me, but I’ll share more of that later.