My father always had ideas on how we could make ourselves useful.
“How’d you kids like to make a buck?”
It was at this point that both Kevin and Karen would shoot out from wherever they were lurking – Karen especially was known for dropping out of trees – and peel away on their bikes.
My father suggesting that you might “like to make a buck” usually precipitated something that either required rubber gloves and strong soap (as in the can-you-believe-I-got-all-these-old-dishes-for-free debacle), 30 minutes of rubbing his feet (which rarely netted you more than 50 cents), or going door-to-door selling various items.
“You kids just don’t recognize your opportunities,” he’d say. “We got all kinds of chances for success out there!”
And so it was that I was selling door-to-door from the moment that it occurred to my father. Candles, salt-and-pepper shakers, greeting cards, ashtrays: if there was a catalog for it, eventually I would be at your door.
“You’re a kid, for Pete’s sake!” Dad would say, aghast that I was not fully utilizing this angle. “Smile at ‘em! People like smiling kids.” There’d be a pause as he studied my face, looking for ways to boost my irresistibility quotient. “And how old are you again?”
My father was incapable of remembering the ages of any of his children.
“Eight?” He’d frown, take a drag of his cigarette. “You sure?”
“Hmm,” he’d mutter. “We’ll work around it…”
And so it was with a combination of excitement and trepidation that I heard him pulling into the alley one day, shouting, “Pearl! You wanna make a buck?”
By the time I reached the car he had jumped out and was rooting around in the backseat. His voice was muffled. “You wouldn’t believe the deal I got on these. You’re going to make a fortune.” He turned around, holding a large cardboard box.
“Guess,” he said.
“You lack imagination,” he chortled. “Come on! You’re not going to have any trouble unloading these at all!”
He shook his head, disappointed. His oldest child, totally devoid of foresight.
He set the box on the ground, dug through its contents, and emerged, one arm held high. “Ta-da!”
“What is it?”
“What is it? It’s an interchangeable wristwatch band! Look! I figure you can sell these for $2 a piece. We’ve got any color they want as long as it’s purple patent leather or a kind of mustard-yellow faux snakeskin…” He trailed off, considering the salability of these items. “OK – you sell these for a buck apiece. Still, you’re gonna make a fortune.”
A fortune! I smiled, the words “make a fortune” running through my head. Could I, as my father liked to say, “unload” these watch bands? You bet I could!
My head spun as I considered my approach: Hi! My name is Pearl, and have I got a deal for –
“Go ahead,” my dad said. “Grab that other box. Let’s get you started.”
And so I did. I grabbed the other box, tossed it to the ground, and slammed the car door…
On to my hand.
To this day, I cannot truly work out how I managed to slam the car door on my hand, and yet I did.
I stood there, open-mouthed and speechless, my hand in the door. My father, walking toward the back of the house, shouted for me to keep up, that he had a strategy for “moving these bands”. Failing to hear any enthusiasms on my part, he finally turned around.
“Are you coming? Pearl! What are you – Get away from – Why don’t you…”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, Paul,” my mother said, pushing past him and running down the steps. “Can’t you see she’s got her hand stuck in the car door?”
My mother, drying her hands on a kitchen towel, the woman who saw herself as emergency personnel, the sound of choppers and sirens no doubt going off in her head, approached the car.
“You all right?” she queried. “You got it together?” She peered intensely into my eyes.
I assured her that I had it together.
She opened the car door to reveal the once-smooth and now regrettably lumpy aspect of my left hand.
My mother surveyed the damage, turning my hand first this way, then that. The index finger and the middle finger in particular seemed awry.
“Yep,” she said, one hand holding the ends of those two fingers, the other on my forearm. “You seem to have a – Good God!” she shouted, wide-eyed and staring at a spot directly behind me. “Would you take a look at that!”
I turned quickly to look – and my mother yanked, hard, on my lumpified fingers.
“ACK!” I bellowed.
I looked down. The lumps were gone. My mother was turning my hand this way and that. “Can you bend them?” she asked.
“Well there you go then,” she said, and she walked back into the house, dish towel jauntily draped over one shoulder.
Another medical emergency, handled.
I don’t recall what happened to those watchbands. I can’t imagine that anyone turned down the opportunity to own one in any color they wanted – as long as that color was purple patent leather or a mustard-yellow faux snakeskin – so I’m mostly sure that that particular endeavor was a great success.
And if it wasn’t, there would be other chances.
A Meeting in the Meeting
8 minutes ago