Column: Magazine Drive Madness
September 22, 2021
I’m not going to lie whenever I describe how I felt about attending junior high. It was weird, socially exhausting, and crippled with challenges.
While there were undoubtedly some shining moments, I was not too fond of it for the most part. It does, however, bring back many memories, and often these snapshots in time make for an interesting column.
During my stretch at East Junior High School, that sounded like I was in prison, which often felt like it. There was always one time a year the school was complete chaos. I’m referring to the annual school-wide magazine drive, which bordered on surreal and turned was at the best of times a cheesy 80s movie and at the worst a sketchy moment from the “Lord of the Flies”.
The magazine drive would always start with an assembly that would turn the school upside down.
The company that organized the drive would send in a representative who didn’t have a top hat but may have been a ringmaster because the school would become a circus. The representative was always boisterous, probably needed to get the attention of junior high students, and would promise riches with the top prize’s students could earn. On one occasion, the rep would bring out a robot. This was the early 1990’s and to see a robot walking around on the gym floor was shocking.
The problem with all the top prizes was that it would almost be impossible to sell those magazines to have your own robot butler doing errands around the house. Still, the company organizing the drive wanted to give you a sliver of hope.
As soon as the school day ended, there was a buzz about who would sell the most and claim the top prizes. I witnessed kids standing at the payphone near the gym making calls to doctor’s offices to sell magazines. This would happen five minutes after the assembly and truthfully made me a little bit nervous.
There was an equal buzz between each class, and the seventh, eighth, and ninth graders wanted to come away with a group prize.
If it were up to me, I would not have sold any magazines. I had no interest in asking family members to buy subscriptions that started cheap but whose price would go up significantly as time went by. I also wanted nothing to do with going door-to-door like a 12-year-old Willie Loman trying to sling magazines to strangers.
There was enough peer pressure that I did have my parents in a few magazines, and I went to about 20 houses and ended up with about six of seven additional sales. Door-to-door sales were awful because there were some strange people out there. I was also amazed how weird people’s houses smelled and how quickly they would invite me in.
This was enough to get my classmates off my back and chip in for the hopes of a class prize.
The next couple of weeks at school were insane, and I’m not sure how some of this happened at an educational institution. I think the school must have received quite a bit of money from the magazine proceeds, but there is no way this would be allowed in 2021.
East Junior High was almost like a game show as the magazine representative would roam the halls, gym, and cafeteria and offered kids prizes like $100 bucks if they could hit a half-court shot. The problem with a lot of the games is they were rigged. It was like a flat-out carnival as the rep provided the basketball, which was nothing like a regulation ball. I saw some pretty good basketball players fail at hitting even a free throw.
As the sale winded down, there would always be one kid that got close to one of the top prizes that sat teasing kids in the cafeteria, but no one ever did.
My class never won the collective prize, which was probably something like a pizza party, but I was always glad when it was over.
When I moved on to high school, I was so pleased when I figured out there would not be an assembly to kick off the annual subscription drive.