The greatest show on earth

by Wolf Pascoe on April 23, 2011

The Spring Faire came to Fern Hill the Saturday before last. A profusion of booths, decorations, costumes, music and merriment sprouted overnight in the schoolyard and was gone by sundown, leaving not a rack behind.

Some weeks ago I wrote a series of posts concerning Nick’s inability to get to school on time. “Home school him,” one reader wrote in response, again and again. “But he loves Fern Hill,” I replied, again and again. The posts were really about limits, not school, but this reader had an agenda. So our exchange went on and on, in an apples and oranges way.

If there were no school like Fern Hill to send Nick to, we’d find a way to home school him. But there is a Fern Hill. And as Nick and I set up his paper airplane booth that day, I looked out over that bustling yard and saw that it was very heaven. It was community.

At that point Nick ran off with his friends and left me to sell paper airplanes.

“Hey,” I said. “I’m not sitting here all day.”

“I need three dollars,” said Nick.

It was pretty much the rule in the yard, kids stranding their parents in booths. He dropped by intermittently with the stuffed animals he’d won, depositing them in a growing menagerie. To Nick, the idea of making money has its appeal. But the business he’s really interested in is childhood.

I set out some cellophane packages. Each consisted of three things. One Professional, the world’s greatest paper airplane. A booklet with instructions and diagrams for making the Professional, xeroxed from the world’s greatest paper airplane book. One colorful sheet of folding paper, with the first fold already made.

It had taken months of research and preparation. We’d even called the book publisher to get permission to copy the pages. Plus, each plane was flight-tested. I figured the kits would sell themselves, they’d be gone in ten minutes. I figured wrong.

A stream of kids and parents I knew and loved and who loved me walked by the table. Occasionally, someone picked up a kit, put it down again, and walked on. I sat smiling. Ten minutes passed. Twenty. An hour. Across the yard, at the ring toss, a line of customers waited. A little spider began weaving a net of dread inside me.

I could stand it no longer.

“Do you know what you’ve got in your hand?” I said to a little boy who was putting the package down.

“What?” said his mother.

“Merely the greatest paper airplane in the entire world. Not just the plane, the instructions for learning to make the plane, suitable for a kid AND HIS DAD. And the paper to get started. With the crucial first fold already made. All for the incredibly low price of just three dollars.”

I opened the packet, took the plane out, and handed it to the boy.

“Go ahead,” I said. “Give it a whirl.”

The boy gripped the plane and threw with all his might. Here the Professional showed what it was made of. It looped upward and backwards, landing high in a tree.

“That’s all right,” I said.

They bought a kit. From then on I knew what I had to do.

“I can tell these airplanes are singing to you,” I’d say, as people passed by. I’d hold out a plane. “Go ahead. You know you want to.”

The planes buzzed over the crowd, the Blue Angels of Fern Hill. Some disappeared over fences, but you’ve got to spend money to make money.

Toward the end of the day, Nick came over and sat down.

“Get your Professionals,” he’d say to no one in particular. “The greatest paper airplane.”

We unloaded thirty kits and I had a blast.

A salesman I am not. I cringe at the thought of promoting my own work. But on the day of the Fern Hill Spring Faire this year, I wasn’t selling my own work. I was selling my kid’s.

I was P.T. Barnum.

. . .



The Big Picture

Spring Faire



The Klutz Book of Paper Airplanes

. . .


Any thoughts about communities or paper airplanes or promoting your work? Add your comment below and make me a happy Wolf. I always respond here.


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara S. April 23, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Sounds like a wonderful day, and kudos to pulling out your inner salesman for Nick! It’s amazing what we discover we can do once we have kids – if it’s for our kids, isn’t it? And Nick is right on this one – “the business he’s really interested in is childhood.” That’s the way it should be.


Wolf Pascoe April 23, 2011 at 7:52 pm

I had no shame. It’s a mystery.


Alameda April 23, 2011 at 10:08 pm

One year when I was in boy scouts, I had to sell raffle tickets for various prizes. There was a challenge to sell the most tickets for an award. Once my dad found out about the project, he “participated” in the project with me. He made the organizers print more tickets and get more prizes as he sold an astronomical amount. I never asked him why he did that, but all I remember is that I could read in his eyes the desire to achieve the largest sales.
It is funny how life has its twists. After that incident, at the young age of 12, I promised myself that one day I will have a son and I will do the same!!!


Wolf Pascoe April 23, 2011 at 11:03 pm

So … did you get the award?


shelley April 24, 2011 at 1:33 pm

You guys did well! I made about 27 bags and I think I sold 4. But it was all in fun, and fun was had so I guess it was a success! I’m reading this book about how politicians talk, so instead of saying my endeavor was a failure, I’ll say that I’m anticipating future success with my bags.


Wolf Pascoe April 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I loved your bags! Can I work your booth next year?


Charles Bernstein April 24, 2011 at 10:51 pm

P.T Barnum would be amazed at how often his name comes up all these years after the first sucker handed by two bits!


Wolf Pascoe April 25, 2011 at 7:13 pm

I was thinking of titling this post, “There’s one born every minute” but realized that didn’t apply to paper airplane buyers.


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