Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teen's Pitch: Door-to-Door, Heart-to-Heart

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Teen's Pitch: Door-to-Door, Heart-to-Heart

Article excerpt

WEARING BATTERED L.A. Gear shoes and a hat with a bleached-out Kansas City Chiefs logo, the boy rested his wares on my porch railing and launched into his sales pitch.

"How ya doing, ma'am?" he said, as he started unpacking his goods. "I'm working for American Teens. It's a youth organization designed to keep kids out of trouble and away from drugs. Can I interest you in a nice peach-scented candle today? It's really cool. It feels just like a peach."

Other boys had come through the neighborhood before. Our cupboards were loaded with the unneeded items they'd sold me.

Each time that I bought another patio candle or grill-scraper, I worried about the boy as he went off down the street.

I imagined the family problems that had forced him to work when he should be out shooting baskets. I fantasized about the supervisor, no doubt Fagin-like, to whom he had to answer. I became furious at the business owners who exploit kids to rake in profits.

This time, on a whim, I invited the boy in. It was 92 degrees outside, and he looked like he could use a cool drink. Besides, there was something appealing about him. He had a personality that could sell a candle that felt like a peach.

He settled into a chair and told me about his life. It was both as sad as I had feared - and less so. I'll call him John. John was 15, but he looked 12. He said his father was an alcoholic and a heroin addict. Most of his life, he'd lived with a grandmother or an uncle, but he didn't really know why.

"I think it's because my mother just didn't want me," he said. "She doesn't like kids."

For the last year, though, he'd been living with his mother, stepfather and half-brother in south St. Louis. He paid his mother $15 a week in room and board. But most nights, he slept at a friend's house.

For one thing, he felt threatened at home. "There are drug dealers everywhere," he said. "I got my bicycle stolen at gunpoint four months ago."

For another thing, he said, "The only time my mother and I get along is when we're not together."

John was a lackluster student until this past school year, when he compiled a 3.2 average. He started thinking about his future. …

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