Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 1999

MARY ANN FITZMORRIS / L’Observateur / October 25, 1999

Fairs and festivals are commonly used as fund-raisers just about everywhere. Years ago I remember my older siblings enjoying a Halloweenfestival called a Penny Party. Nowadays the festivals are much biggerparties, and we ain’t talking pennies.

The formula is very much the same, though. Parents work the booths andthe children play the games. But I think the subtleties of this formula havejust now sunk in. Having the parents run the booths is only a guise. Themoney made in each booth is really a small percentage of the profits. Theserious money is made as the booth-working parents pay their children to stay out of their hair.

For example, the booth my husband and I chaired for the festival made four thousand dollars. But several couples devoted the entire weekend to thebooth. The children of these couples are of varying ages and gender, butall of them have one thing in common: they all ran out of tickets within an hour of the fair’s opening. The remainder of the weekend, someone’s childwas always in the back of the booth negotiating for more tickets.

Soon the parent began to lose interest in this negotiating process and absentmindedly started shelling out money. This cycle continued until thefair closed. While the fair bosses tally the profits, the fair peons tallythe losses. One couple in our booth spent $500 on two children. We shelledout $220, another couple $300, $185, etc. We made a quick tally andfigured 16 kids had generated $2,800 in ticket sales! Now I get it! Too bad all the kids aren’t as enterprising as my son. . .or as scary. Theyoung man seemed to be going through an extraordinary amount of tickets extraordinarily quickly, but I was too busy to investigate.

Finally he comes to me, panting desperately; “Mom, all I need is one ticket. Just one.” I was puzzled until he explained. “I’ve lost all mytickets at the Mouse Mania booth, but they double your money every time you win; so mom, all I need is one ticket and I know I can win it back.”I shuddered as I replied, ” You know what, buddy? Those are the famous last words of every gambler before he loses his house. I’m going to givethis ticket to you so you can prove my point. Remember, You WILL lose thisticket.”Ten minutes later he returns triumphantly holding eight tickets. Heexplained, “They were using Snowy. She’s my favorite mouse. I always winwith Snowy. But just as I get a big pile of tickets, they switch toCinderella. Then I lose them all.” He ran off and I went back to workwondering if Gamblers Anonymous had a pediatric division.

I didn’t see him for awhile; I guess Snowy was on at the Mouse Mania booth.

But soon he returns with tales of getting lemonade from some kindergartners by slipping them green prize tickets instead of real ones.

He got busted when the booth mom caught him.

Just then a mom offered him a buck to find her son. He took the job andreturned immediately with the lost child. This gave him another idea. Assoon as he collected his reward he began to hawk his prizes, and soon sold his Mark McGuire plaque to a mom for a dollar.

I watched this with amusement tinged with worry until I realized educated con men don’t go to jail anymore. They go to the White House, or aFortune 500 company. I relaxed.My daughter didn’t have to be nearly as enterprising. A friend’s mother hadtons of tickets and a generous heart. She took some little girls around allafternoon. When my daughter returned she had four rocks with eyes gluedon, eight tie-dyed rags and three grabbed bags of recycled junk.

She had purple and green hair and enough face paint to resemble body art.

My son handed her a fake cigarette he got as a prize. When you puff, theend looks lit. I looked at both of them “smoking” and thought of my $220dollars.

Yes indeedy. The school fair. . . money well spent.

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