Children. We dote on them. We coddle and cuddle them. We sing them to sleep, hold them when they cry, feed and shelter them without complaint. We offer nothing but unconditional love and protection to these humanesque little urchins. So why are they trying to kill us?
Oh, they won't admit it. Not for a moment. They'll whimper and weep, responding to the allegation with their cherubic faces oozing innocence and hurt. But I'm not fooled. I know they've embarked on a systematic campaign aimed at nothing less than our complete societal destruction. It's a diabolical plot, brilliantly executed. Karl Rove1 would be so proud.
Here's how it happens. Every year about this time, small groups of cherubic boys and doe-eyed girls start appearing on my doorstep dealing all manner of harmful, indefensible products. Thousands of mind-eroding magazine subscription options. Chocolate bars the size of river barges. Vats of frozen cookie dough so large they're sometimes confused with weapons of mass destruction on satellite surveillance photos and presented at the United Nations as justification for war. That's just a tiny sampling of what these little demons are selling-and what, against my will, I'm buying.
I don't know how it all started, or precisely when the cookie, candy, and magazine people first got together over snacks in the conference room with their villainous marketing consultant. But I think I know how the conversation went. "Thanks for coming by today, Bob. Our aggressive revenue goals and forward-thinking business plan demand that we rot the minds, corrode the arteries, and stretch the waistbands of millions of spineless Americans as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Any suggestions?"
"Easy. Send out the kids," said Bob. And so they have.
Like most of my fellow citizens, I'm powerless to resist. The proceeds are always earmarked for something noble, after all, and the children are highly trained. In a moment of weakness, which describes most of my moments, I once purchased three dozen boxes of Girl Scout cookies from a coworker's daughter. Her sales pitch was eloquent in its simplicity. She looked up at me with those big eyes and shyly whimpered, "Would you like to buy some cookies? Please?" It was a moment of pure, devilish genius, and I was helpless. "You had me at Samoas," I muttered in self-disgust and hauled out my checkbook. She could have sold nursing home deregulation to Chuck Grassley.2 She was that good.
All across this fine country, millions of young Americans like her have become the preferred purveyors of dietary and cultural depravity. It used to be that if you wanted to do or eat something naughty and decadent you had to expend some effort. Having to hitch up the wagon and drive half a day to town for triple-chocolate brownie ingredients was a significant temptation deterrent, at least for the Ingalls family. But now our vices come prepackaged and ready to eat, offered under the guise of righteous causes by adorable traveling prepubescent junk food evangelists. I could say no to a snake in a tree. I can't to a child.
I realize none of this is new. Ever since the dawn of time, when the offspring of primitive cave dwellers wandered from grotto to grotto selling sharpened mastodon tusks to pay for their class trip, children have been pressed into fundraising service. But in my day we sold healthy things, like oranges, grapefruit, or nuts, or useful things, like light bulbs. We clipped food labels or embarked on long, sponsored walkabouts for pennies a mile. We were still unwitting pawns, of course, in the adult agenda. We just weren't active participants in the demise of our culture.
For just one breathtaking moment this week I thought I'd stumbled back to that more innocent time. A parent friend of mine described how she was helping her children collect box tops to support a school improvement project. I was incredulous. What, no candy bars? "Nope." No US Magazine subscriptions? "Nope." No cookies or cookie dough? "Absolutely not." I was amazed and exhilarated. She was taking a stand against the forces of evil, and I wanted to hug her. "And guess what, the winning classroom gets a Krispy Kreme donut party!" she concluded excitedly, and then wondered why I was weeping.
On only one night each year are we truly safe from these hordes of youthful marketing automatons-Halloween.3 For this single blissful evening, the roles are reversed. Instead of facilitating the obesity and decline of the adult world, children dress as pop culture icons and beg for a little of all that for themselves. It's an amazing proposition, really. After spending 364 days each year trying to transform us into the fattest, dumbest people on earth, they expect us to return the favor. Which we do, all the while chuckling about how cute they are in their Spiderman costumes. Admittedly, it's a bittersweet reprieve, since we'll still eventually end up paying to have their teeth fixed and pants let out.
And here's a final, wacky little irony. Through a depression and several wars, our seniors have left this country richer and safer than they found it. But despite sacrificing everything for us and saving our collective britches, they get little of our attention.4 Meanwhile, our children-who despite doing virtually nothing productive enjoy our full, unequivocal support-are out to destroy us.