After years of being a mere spectator, I am now a participant in one of America's most cherished fund-raising activities: Yes, it's Girl Scout cookie time again. The official start of the big sale in my neck of the woods was last Saturday at noon, and my daughter hit the sidewalk running at exactly 12:01 p.m., with me trailing behind. (Adult supervision is mandatory, but I'd be along regardless.)
I know door-to-door selling is considered outdated and inefficient in this era of global markets and Internet commerce, but it used to be an important thread in the social fabric of every neighborhood. Unfortunately, the sound of an unscheduled knock on the front door now is either bothersome, ominous, or both.
Thankfully, most residents along my street have not adopted a siege mentality, and Girl Scout cookie sales provide yet another opportunity for creating a personal connection between the kids and adults who live here. Standing on a porch making small talk may seem trivial, but the dying art of face-to-face communication is an crucial part of the transaction.
The biggest problem for me was having to wait on the sidewalk while my daughter gave the sales pitch alone. Did she remember to mention that the iced oatmeal snaps are low-fat? Did she point out that the sugar-free Chalet cremes are new this year and have a tangy lemon filling?
We started by calling on folks who seemed like good bets for a sale, people who recognize us from years of dog walking and bike riding. Now they know we're involved in Girl Scouts, and we know what variety of cookies they like. It's the kind of simple information that helps a neighborhood stay in touch with itself.
Modern technology has made it disturbingly easy for people to spend vast amounts of time parked in front of a video screen, cruising cyberspace, believing they're plugged into a worldwide network of friends. But what will happen when everyone has retreated into their private bubble of cell phones and computer chat rooms? You probably can buy and sell Girl Scout cookies over the Internet, but what would be the point?
Nobody ever said maintaining community spirit was easy, but it sure doesn't work by remote control. At some point, you have to put feet to the pavement, unfurl the banners, and show your presence in the territory. My daughter racked up nine sales on that first day.
On the way home, I could almost hear the echoes of other determined walkers, all the Fuller Brush men, Avon ladies, and paperboys who have passed through the neighborhood. They won't be back, but we're following in their footsteps. I wonder, who will follow in ours?
* Jeffrey Shaffer is the author of 'I'm Right Here, Fish Cake' and 'It Came With the House,' collections of humorous essays. He lives in Portland, Ore.