The discussion of bathroom facilities had the predictable effect. A wave of giggles flowed through the crowd of 12- to 17-year-old girls. When an adult on stage held up a pair of white long johns, grins broke out, the giggles turned into snorts and row after row of lime green uniforms quivered in adolescent amusement.
Put more than 500 Girl Scouts in a room and that's how it's going to be.
The goal yesterday afternoon at St. Bartholomew's Church in Bethesda was to explain plans for inaugural weekend, when more than 700 local Girl Scouts and equal hordes of Boy Scouts will redirect lost visitors, wipe snow off parade seats and open doors at inaugural balls. But before the perspiring organizers could leave, they had to fight the giggles, the questions asked again and again, the misunderstandings and the teary-eyed young women wondering why they were assigned to the parade when they wanted so much to go to a ball.
The room got hotter, the girls tossed their hair and adjusted their sashes and, of course, there was the inevitable announcement from the back of the room: "I have a lost earring here."
"Four years ago we had a Supreme Court justice at the parade whose seat had a tree in it," said organizer Noel Brinton, pushing hair away from her forehead as ever-widening circles of girls and troop leaders surrounded her with just one more question, just one more problem.
"It takes a little bit of humor," she said, smiling wearily. "The inaugural committee may have misprinted tickets -- people from outside Washington don't usually understand that. They can humor them until the adults come."
Scouts will be posted in each parade stand, calming the distressed. They will even be stationed in front of the press stand.
"The Secret Service told us it's our responsibility to keep them from jumping over the barriers," said Brinton. "Our responsibility!"
A daunting prospect, but, as Brinton said, "The trees in the seats are the biggest problem."
Sixteen-year-old Mona Al-Saigh had already figured out how she'll handle the guests confronted with a tree.
"We can humor them," she said, "or tell them they can climb the tree."
Al-Saigh was scheduled to work at one of the balls, but, the Fairfax resident said, "My parents wouldn't let me. They didn't want me in Washington at night."
She will be joining her friends Julie Fuerth and Shaunti Reidinger, both 17, at the parade, where Al-Saigh said she was looking forward to "meeting people -- other than high school" students.
Fuerth seemed a little disappointed about her assignment.
"We're used to high school dances," she said, adding wistfully, "at a ball, you get to see high society people . . ."
Girl Scouts have worked at every presidential inaugural since President Hoover's, although until last time the presidential inaugural committees didn't station them at the balls.
"They basically thought this was too hard work for the girls," said Brinton. "Reagan got us into the balls. Until 1980, they felt that the demands of the jobs -- opening car doors -- wasn't feminine enough."
The girls standing around her groaned.
The talk was mostly of badges and berets and capes, painstaking descriptions of proper Girl Scout attire (official Girl Scout inaugural berets and capes, long underwear and gloves during the parade, no red tights, "ear muffs a must"). More than one admonition not to "chitchat" during official functions was thrown in.
One organizer did admit that some District girls objected to working at the inauguration for political reasons.
"I was very disappointed," said Hattie Dorman, D.C. coordinator for the event. "People's personal feelings have entered into the situation and I think they were only looking at one segment of the event, the segment being the man, rather than the larger picture. I think later, when they reflect on the experience, they'll want to remember they were part of the inauguration of the president of the United States, regardless of who it is."
Behind her, more pressing concerns were being discussed. A rumor was circulating that Cabbage Patch ear muffs were on sale and that some Scouts were intending to wear them to the parade. Two adults, leaning wearily on a table, straightened up, horrified.
"I'm sure they'll have more sense than that," one said.
The other rolled her eyes.