Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“ The music subsided. This was it, and everyone we knew would be watching. “We are back!” declared Officer Bill, making his way over to our line, as the kids in front us were dumping their canisters into the bowl. "
My best childhood friend, Seri, and I often schemed up ways to start a business or raise money for a charity, especially during long holiday school breaks. Seri looked like Winnie from The Wonder Years, but I was chubby, almost at puberty, with a retainer and a bowl haircut, which made me androgynous and insecure, and I wore two-toned bell bottom pants my mother had made from old pairs of corduroys she had sewn together. One Easter, we decided to create and sell objects covered in felt, and my mother walked us to the Philadelphia Sales department store on the corner, where we bought stacks of cheap felt rectangles in many colors. With scissors and glue, we cut colorful shapes into bookmarks, and wrapped tin cans to make decorative pencil holders. We went door to door with our beautiful wares, asking our neighbors, “Would you like to buy something made of felt?” This was fun until the demand didn’t meet the growing supply and we had to shut down, the unsold fuzzy book covers and soft, purple picture frames going into a drawer in a wooden desk my grandfather had made. Restless for our next project, we saw that the March of Dimes telethon was happening. We used our experience as felt salesmen to hit the pavement, the jiggling of change in our can ringing deeper as we moved from street to street. Later, we turned on the telethon, and as they cut to the local gym, the host, a community character actor named “Officer Bill,” was interviewing people as they threw their donations into a bin, the faces of the fundraisers flashing on the screen for a moment. We gasped, seeing our chance for fame. Seri’s father volunteered to drive us there, as our mothers began to call relatives, making sure everyone would be watching. As painfully shy as I was in public, this was the TV I loved so much, and in the age before VCRs and video phones, there was little chance to be immortalized unless you lucked out and could be in an audience. We pulled up and jumped out of the car, pushed open the school doors, and stood in line, excited and waiting to be stars. Suddenly, the studio lights came up, flooding us with illumination. The music subsided. This was it, and everyone we knew would be watching. “We are back!” declared Officer Bill, making his way over to our line, as the kids in front us were dumping their canisters into the bowl. Bill loomed tall over us, and he looked us up and down, before he, and the camera, turned all focus to me. I stopped breathing. He smiled, and in what seemed like slow motion, bent over slightly. “And how much have you collected today….young lady?” he asked me. Paralyzed, I looked up at him, and into the camera, its red light on, lens pointed directly at me. I squinted and leaned into the microphone. “Um, 44 dollars,” I said.