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For the Children:
The Great UNICEF Collection
By Marc Jennings
One Thursday evening in January of 1988, I sat down to a sumptuous dinner at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, just a block from the White House. With me that evening were several Time Warner executives: Paul Jones, Senior VP and General Counsel, Terry Davis Senior VP, National Division and my boss, and Jerry Digrazia, VP Government Affairs and later President of the Southern Ohio Division. In addition to dinner there was a good deal of fine wine.
We had arrived at the Willard in a limousine from a very successful meeting with the Fairfax County, Virginia Board of Supervisors. At the meeting we had received a unanimous vote to grant our company a cable television franchise for Reston, Virginia. This vote also settled a long and very expensive litigation between Fairfax County and Time Warner. Well over a million dollars had been spent on the litigation by our company but assets worth nearly $100 million were at stake. As you might imagine we were tremendously relieved and in the mood to celebrate our exhilarating victory.
As we drank and ate we discussed the vote, local politics, business and current issues within the company. In a setting like this it was normal to maintain a “business atmosphere”—more or less professional. But the combination of our achievement and our drinks caused us to gradually become more informal. We all respected and liked one another, and while after dinner drinks were served we began to be just a group of guys enjoying each other and a big occasion. I don’t recall exactly how it began but someone posed an unusual question: “what was the one thing you have done in your life that you are the most ashamed of?” I guess we were all feeling pretty good because everyone took the question seriously.
I’ll tell you right now, the winning submission in this contest was a story that had to do with a girl met in a bar who later accompanied the story teller to a motel where she removed not only her clothing, but an artificial leg as well. Despite this shocking development, the evening continued in a predictable way. I am not kidding. We were howling with laughter and may have even rolled on the floor. What made it so funny was the teller of this story was the most upright, straight-arrow kind of person you could ever meet. The look on his face told us he was telling the truth and was still truly ashamed of what he had done.
My tale of shame, which I had already told, was tame by comparison. It was about an event that occurred one Halloween night our freshman or sophomore year at FHS. Although the details are a little fuzzy, Fairview, or a teacher at Fairview had encouraged us to take the evening when kids normally collected candy to collect money for UNICEF, a United Nations organization that supports children’s welfare throughout the world. We were issued a little cardboard box, in the shape of some sort of building, with a slot on top for coins, like a piggy bank. My world in high school simply did not have room for charitable activities so I am surprised I didn’t pitch this thing as soon as class was over. It must have been for credit, is all I can think.
On the appointed evening it was me and Gary Goldflies wandering around upper Dayton View looking for something interesting to do. We had our little UNICEF collection boxes so it must have also been our intention to collect money for the starving kids. And, finding nothing more interesting, and not wanting to go home too early, we began to knock on doors. We hit a lot of homes on Ruskin, Forest Grove and Tennyson. I remember hitting the Vangrov’s, the Donoff’s and the Jackson’s on Tennyson. We even developed a little sales pitch at the door as we stuck out one of the boxes and told how much the kids around the world needed our help.
But, collecting money door to door was hard work and I think Gary and I did not really have the determination and drive to see the project through. As I recall it was about at the corner of Forest Grove and Tennyson where we sort of looked at each other and said, “Hey, let’s keep the money.” That was it, unanimous consent. We broke into the little cardboard boxes, took the money and put it in our pockets. We threw what was left of the UNICEF collection boxes down the storm sewer at the curb.
I don’t know if any kids in some far off part of the world starved in 1963 because me and Gary took their money; I sure hope not. It was just a few dollars apiece, and it didn’t exactly enable us to adopt a lavish lifestyle. So why didn’t we take it with us to school in the morning and turn it in? I’m afraid the answer to that question will remain unknown forever, for it amounts to: what makes teenage boys do what they do? And, as those of you who are parents of boys know, there is no answer.