Friday, June 12, 2009

Father's Day 1972 Revisited, part 10: Death of a Salesman

A person can't spend all his time falling in love and thinking about God--one has to make a living. My dad was letting me, his 21-year-old grown son, stay with him but he also expected me to find a job and pay some for my upkeep. I began pouring over the classifieds in our local newspaper, the Riverside Press Enterprise. I had been a paperboy for them back in the early sixties. The day after Kennedy was shot, I rode my route with my big canvas handlebar bags stuffed full with the papers I'd folded and banded that afternoon. As I peddled to my customer's neighborhood, people were stopping me left and right pleading with me to sell them a paper. They pull their cars along side me, waving a dollar bill in offer for a ten-cent paper! Unfortunately, I had not had the entrepreneurial foresight to stock up with extras before starting my route that day. But I digress. That was in 1963. It is now eight years later and I am living with my dad on a little horse ranch and trying to find a job.

I ran down the columns of minuscule type: Auto mechanic; Bartender; Carpenter; Drill-press Operator; Estimator; Fork lift Operator; Fuller Brush Salesman... Hmmm... Career opportunity for motivated person. No experience necess--will train. Base pay draw against commissions for first 3 weeks, straight commission after. Apply in person, Mon thru Wed. In the late-fifties, the Fuller Brush man used to come by our house twice a year. Dad would always buy something--whether he needed it or not. Being a fellow salesman, they shared a special kinship which would not let dad send the poor guy away without an order or some sort, if only for a whisk broom or two. Perhaps the Fuller Brush man was a fellow Mason and had given dad the secret handshake. Then again, dad had nearly zero sales-resistance himself and so perhaps would have bought something no matter what. I think the man came by our house as regularly as he did because he knew 2982 Gertrude Street was a sure sale.

I put in my application to become a Fuller Brush Man and aced the interview--which probably everyone did--and then, after being shown how to fill out an order form, was given a big Fuller Brush sample briefcase, a catalogue and a territory to work. Off I set, a spanking new salesman with shiny black slacks, white shirt and tie and with my long curly hair carefully rubber-banded and tucked up at the nape of my neck. The mustache had been allowed, but not the beard. It had been reluctantly sacrificed to The Man in the interest of gainful employment.

There were fewer and fewer housewives these days so I'd often have to knock on five or six doors before finding someone home. Then, it would invariably be either an elderly couple, or a middle-aged woman in her forties or fifties. In the course of an hour, I'd found a few folks home, but no one in need of any of our well-made and handy products. I was beginning to get discouraged when, at the next house where someone was home, I got invited in. This seemed a good sign. The woman who'd greeted me with a friendly smile looked to be about forty. Being late July it was quite hot out, perhaps in the mid-nineties, and as she ushered me to the big maple Early American dining room table she called out, "Cynthia, please bring some lemonade for this young man." As I seated myself I noticed, on the wall near where I sat, a large framed picture of a giant half-transparent Jesus standing outside the U.N. building. He had a concerned look on his face and was rapping a knuckle on one of the upper floors. This Jesus had sandy blond hair, a neatly trimmed beard, and was draped in Ben-Hur-like first-century robes. I began to feel an itch under my white collar. As Cynthia smiled and handed me a big glass of lemonade and her mom, with a note of concern in her pleasant voice asked me, "How have your sales been so far today?" I already didn't like the direction the conversation. I could see I'd have to try for a quick sale and, I hoped, a speedy escape...

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