A long, long time ago, I decided it would be a good idea to sell books door-to-door during my summer break from college. What resulted was a mildly traumatic summer that was composed of endless stories in which I can now see the terrifying humor. It only took me ten years.
What follows is a short little thing (what does that even mean?) that I wrote a few weeks back. You know, just in case you were thinking door-to-door sales might be a good entrepreneurial experience.
Let’s get one thing straight: I was neither intoxicated nor adversely affected by illegal substances when I agreed to spend a summer knocking on doors, begging people to take pity on my poor, 20-year old self by purchasing bulky books sometimes referred to as educational resources. How was I to know that I would become the world’s worst sales-woman? That I would get yelled at by old men in underwear for interrupting viewings of American Idol? That I would spend three and a half hours in the homes of strangers, only to walk away with a box full of post-mortem mementos because their mother had just died and OH MY GOD is that a hair brush with her grey hair still matted in between the bristles? She loved that brush and you just really can’t stand to have it lying around the trailer anymore? OK. Sure. I understand. I’ll take it off your hands and haul it around in the back of my red Honda Civic* for the next three months. She always loved the color red? Perfect. Providence. So glad I dropped by.
It began innocently enough. I drove halfway across the country and attended my training where I received an important looking black, vinyl tote that was to contain everything I would need to convert myself into a confident and successful saleswoman. From there, I headed East, into the mountains of North Carolina. I bought a few maps of where I would be selling and did what I called “research”. Or, you know, I found a gas station, bought a candy bar and sat in my car for two hours before joining up with the rest of the enlightened and ambitious individuals who had sold their souls for the prospect of making a randy amount of cash by seeking out children’s play equipment and soccer moms’ SUV’s.
First thing on the agenda: Find a place to stay for the duration of the summer. Knock on doors, we were told. Get in small groups. It will be good practice! And the worst that can happen is that they will say no! Sounded simple enough.
“Hi. My name is _________. I work for __________ and my friends and I are looking for a place to live for the next three months. We are hard-working college students who are willing to pay a reasonable price in rent and, we promise, we won’t require any extra treatment. You’ll hardly notice we are around, except for when our alarm goes off at ungodly times in the morning. But even then, we will hardly make a peep. Promise! I know there are several of us, but we can sleep on the floor. We LOVE sleeping on the floor. You don’t know if you can trust us? Nonsense! We’ve been talking for almost a full minute and a half and I haven’t tried to kill you yet. See? We are completely trustworthy. No? Are you sure? You’re positive? Ok. Well. Thank you for your time.”
Seventy-seven houses later, we found someone desperate enough to say yes. She was a lovely single mother, with a lovely matching child (Boy? Girl? If I’m honest, it was hard to tell which) and we commandeered her spare bedroom, with no floor space to spare. The three of us shared a bathroom with said gender-neutral child and on the occasion that we needed to utilize the toilet, it was first necessary to remove a brightly-colored “training potty” that permanently hovered upon the toilet’s squishy, vinyl seat. It was green. With brown teddy bears. The plan was to stick to a strict schedule which included being in bed by 11:00 p.m. and up at 6 a.m. This almost certainly ensured enough time to shower, pack a healthy lunch and dramatically wallow in the realization that we had, in fact, made the worst decision of our young lives by agreeing to do this job for an entire summer, all while still leaving time for breakfast.
With our housing secured and a schedule set, our first day of independent work arrived. You’ve got to do some scouting, some investigating, some documenting of your neighborhoods, they told us. Pre-mapping, they called it. Get to know who lives where and look for evidence of children. Where the children are, the parents with the checkbooks are also. Swing sets! Stickers! Bikes in the front yard! Write it down, they said, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. So I did. I found the mail men who worked the neighborhood junkets and asked questions like “Can you tell me where all the kids are?” and “I’m looking for small children. Can you help me?”
Surprisingly, they did not provide the requested information.
I decided to try knocking on a few doors. The first house loomed above me, large and brick with bright blue shutters. I felt my heart pound as I heard feet shuffle towards the front door. Trying to remember everything I was taught at training, I turned away from the door, so that just my profile was visible. Legal pad in hand, I looked down and busily scribbled illegible words, hoping to look busy and professional and not at all creepy or like a Mormon on a mission.
I heard the door open. “Honey, whatever it is you’re sellin’, I ain’t want none of it.” A large black woman peered down at me from behind her screen door.
“Oh. Um. No. I, well, um, I’m new in the neighborhood and *swallow* I’m, I mean, you, um, you may have seen me around. Or maybe not. I just, I mean, I am, um...”
Oh, hell. Is this what I am supposed to say? Suddenly my mind went blank. I couldn’t remember any of the script I’d practiced before.
“Um. MY NAME IS ____________ AND I’M HERE TO FIND ALL OF THE CHILDREN!”
Followed by the slamming of the front door.
I slowly walked back down the driveway towards my car. I tossed in my black vinyl bag and sat down in the driver’s seat. I looked at the clock on my dashboard. I’d been working for approximately forty-five minutes.
That was on a Wednesday.
* Not to be confused with the gold Dodge Stratus that I drove for several weeks after my red Honda Civic was stolen. But then I wrecked the Stratus, much to the men at Enterprise's dismay. However, do not fear! My precious Honda was recovered soon after. And the perpetrators left me my very own copy of an Avril Lavigne CD. Win!