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Sunday, April 29, 2012

At The Foot of The Master, or How Much Can I Put You Down For?

My father, as has been mentioned, is a salesman, and a good one at that. Ol' Paul has a talent for conversation, for appealing to the common denominator in any group. He is not shy about using this talent.

“How’d you kids like to make 50 cents?”

Growing up, no matter how many times I heard that phrase, I always fell for it.

“Let’s see how fast you kids can wash the car. Get it done in under 15 minutes and there’s a small DQ cone in it for you.”

Neighborhood kids would follow him to the shed for a rag and a bucket, squeal-y with the anticipation of working their collective asses off for a 30-cent cone.

My father worked as soon as he was old enough to consider working, and he sought to instill in us the same burning desire to toil as soon as we were old enough to hear about it. Like my mother’s belief in the medicinal properties of the Hot Wet Washrag, my father believed in the healing power of work, in the self-affirmation of a steady paycheck.

“I had a paper route when I was a boy. Did you kids know that? Did I ever tell you about the route I had when I was a boy?”

“Yes, Dad.”

I apply for my first job in fourth grade by filling out a form in the back of a comic book. There, next to advertisements for x-ray specs and garlic chewing gum is the opportunity to earn extra money I've been looking for:  door-to-door sales.  Candles, greeting cards, little porcelain salt and pepper figurines of angels, windmills, and mushrooms.  Who wouldn't want to buy these things?

I am, of course, hired immediately.

My father is sitting at the kitchen table when my first catalogs come in the mail. He pats the chair next to him, holds his hand out. I hand him the catalogs.

He flips through one.

“See? You’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’,” he says, tapping the side of his nose. “You’re in a trailer park, you got all these doors right next to each other. Boom, boom, boom, you’re up and down the streets in five, six hours.”

He pauses, lights a cigarette.

“Let me hear your patter,” he says.

“My what?”

“Your patter. Your spiel. Your opening line when they open the door.”

I hadn’t considered my patter.

He slaps his left hand on the kitchen table.

“You lost me,” he says. “You lost me. You lost me and I’m closin’ the door.” He leans forward in his chair, ready to slam an imaginary door.

I put my arm out. “Wait!” I pause. “OK.” I say. “Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?” my father says.

“Hi. My name is Pearl and I’m 10 years old and I’m selling candles and cards and cute little salt and pepper shakers because I want to buy a bike. Would you like to see a catalog?”

My father sits back, taps his cigarette into an ashtray shaped like an outhouse.

“OK. Not bad. Not bad. But hand them the catalog, don’t ask them if they want to see it. You asking gives them the chance to say no. And when you hand it to them, have it open to the candles. Women love candles.”

He pauses.

“And how old are you again?”



He looks at me, frowns. He seems perplexed. “Tell ‘em you’re nine.”


“Nine sounds better.”


“It just does. Trust me.”

He pauses again.

“Oh, and don’t tell them it’s for a bike. Bikes are iffy. Tell ‘em you’re going to band camp or something. People always want to send kids away for a couple weeks.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

“You’re welcome.”


R. Jacob said...

brilliant stuff
oh, and the x ray specs didn't work either!

NotesFromAbroad said...

Again I wish I had had a Dad like that ... and it is so true, People always want to send kids away for a couple of weeks.

Rene Foran said...

Pearl, I just LOVE when you tell stories about your Dad... I always imagine him as a 1960's era Bruce Dern...

Sioux said...

Aaaah...the lie at the heart of every good spiel.

"This lotion will erase your wrinkles."

"Just take this pill/drink this powder and you'll lose weight and you don't need to exercise or change your diet at all."

"This hair dye provides 100% grey coverage."

Lies. All lies. And we know it, but we believe 'em anyway.

Al Penwasser said...

Your dad sounds brilliant.
And, I'm with R. Jacobs: those X-Ray specs sucked. But, they did skeeve Pam Wasilewski out when I sat right behind her all the time.

Katie said...

"people always want to send kids away for a few weeks"

Ain't it the truth?! Sales GOLD!!

jenny_o said...

Your dad was a good teacher. Encouraging. Starting with what you knew and adding to it. Caring that you were successful.

I bet he was a heckuva salesman himself.

Anonymous said...

Put me down for a pair of those mushroom salt and pepper shakers .. I can't resist a good nine year old patter from a ten year old.

Hannah Denski said...

What a great story! I agree with your dad - healing power of work - steady paycheck - always works!

SparkleFarkle said...

Love your pop! You certainly did not fall far from this amazingness tree you call Dad.

Joanne said...

Wonderful. He knew how to handle the public. It's not a gift, it doesn't come naturally. It's a lot of experience, starting even at age nine.

esbboston said...

I think I went to camp either once, or the same one twice. It was in Wyoming, but stiLL part of the Black Hills. I didn't become a salesman until later in life. Maybe thats why it took me a while to find a wife (?).

Macy said...

This is how you made your first million isn't it, Pearl?

We're all making notes here!

Douglas said...

I sucked at sales. Tried it several times but couldn't do it. Never could work up a patter, a spiel. Or, as a few had said... could fake that sincerity.

I picture your dad as either tall and spindly or short and a tad overweight... either way in a seersucker suit (maybe just the jacket with dark solid color pants) and a thin tie often jonesin' for a smoke.

Did he ever sell used cars?

But you gotta love the guy.

Ms Sparrow said...

So, I'm wondering if you passed along the salesman savvy to your boy.
Sadly, making a living going door to door is pretty sketchy these days.

savannah said...

i LOVE these stories of fatherly wisdom, sugar! as someone said, i see your daddy looking like bruce dern or sam elliott - that sort of lanky, easy going, steady guy. xoxoxo

Eva Gallant said...

Love your dad, the salesman!

Pearl said...

My dad was/is very handsome. Five-10, average build, thick black hair and blue-green eyes. I'll have to post a pic of him sometime. He's a looker. :-)

Anonymous said...

As I've said before, I like your dad. I like his routine and patter. I'd buy something from him. I know I would.

Glen said...

great people don't make themselves :-)

Leenie said...

I'll order two stinky candles, a box of Christmas cards, a set of little porcelain salt and pepper windmills, and maybe those mushrooms with the elves asleep under them--if you will promise to go away for a couple of weeks little girl.

Dr Max Tunguska said...

Everybody could do with lesson on selling stuff. I really could, I'm normally so blunt it's untrue. "No honestly, it really is crap...."

Gigi said...

Now honestly, who could say no to a 10 year old passing as a 9 year old selling candles? Your dad knew the market well.

River said...

Ha Ha, tell 'em you're nine. Nine sounds better.
I love my steady paycheck, it's the only reason I still leave the house four mornings a week.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet your dad trained all those little kids that come to my door selling stale m&m's and girl scout cookies.
I can't say no, but I cave when anyone one else say's no, which is probably why I was fired from sales.

Tammy said...

Oh, what wonderful stuff. And hope you got that bike.

darlin said...

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant for a sales job! No wonder I don't trust salespeople, the good ones can almost get me, that was until I learned the art of sales! ;-)

Thanks for the chuckle to go with my procrastination cuppa coffee; these final few papers are getting extremely difficult to keep procrastinating on, so forward I must go and continue with the BS right to the bitter end. It's sort of like being a salesperson, being a student that is, the better the BS the higher the mark... as I laugh. Cheers!

darlin said...

Oh and please do post a photo of your Dad, I'd love to see him! (I'm backtracking and seeing what others are saying in regards to your fantastic post!)

Daisy said...

This brings so many memories of my own childhood and the big ideas for "making money". I still believe in the medicinal properties of the Hot Wet Washrag, don't you???
Daisy's Barbara

Juli said...

I offered a dollar to weed the stone patio today. Maybe 25 minutes worth of work.

The weeds are all still there.

But, when Youngest needs to earn money for a new Skylander.... I don't ever have to lift a finger. :)

Diane said...

Your dad is so much like my dad. Work hard. Work smart. Keep the smile. And the song. Yep. I think they must have gone to the same school. Does that make us related? :)

Symdaddy said...

I've never had any trouble in closing a door on a salesman ... even the nine year old's! Sorry Pearl, but you wouldn't have made a sale here!

Jehovah's Witnesses are the worst kind of door-to-door callers. I generally get rid of 'em by asking what it was that they actually saw then asking for proof. I may be on the Jehovah's Witnesses 'black list'!

Anonymous said...

My father taught me to lie about my age, and I continue to that to this day. Every year, the school would send students out with a box full of chocolates. Every year, my father would say, "Remember, you're seven." I was a very tiny girl. I got away with it.

Pat said...

I think your Dad has a touch of the Tom Sawyers. What fun!

Gaston Studio said...

Great advice from your dad on your selling door to door, and instilling good work ethics in one so young.

vanilla said...

They chose different lines of work, but clearly your father and mine "went to the same school" when it comes to the work ethic thing.

Anonymous said...

"Nine sounds better"LOL Reminds me of one of my favorite Shel Silverstein lines "When I was your age I was ten." Oh for the days when kids could dream of making money by selling door to door. Thanks for the memories.

Susan in the Boonies said...

I ALWAYS wanted to try garlic gum and x-ray specs. Didn't you?

You were so enterprising, and your Dad was OBVIOUSLY shrewd in the ways of the world, and a keen observer of the human condition.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, especially not in a trailer park.

(I'm really not sure what that last phrase meant...but....I thought it kind of had a ring to it....)