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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Did I Ever Tell You Kids About My First Job?

My father, as perhaps has already been mentioned, was a salesman, and a good one at that. He had a talent for conversation, for appealing to the common denominator in any group.

He was not shy about using this talent.

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

And 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 applied 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, was the opportunity to earn extra money. I was, of course, hired immediately and went door-to-door selling candles, greeting cards, little porcelain salt and pepper figurines of angels, windmills, and mushrooms.

My father was sitting at the kitchen table when my first catalogs came in the mail. He patted the chair next to him, then held his hand out. I handed him the catalogs. He flipped through one.

“See? You’re thinkin’. You’re thinkin’,” he said, 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 paused, lit a cigarette.

“Let me hear your patter,” he said.

“My what?”

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

I hadn’t considered my patter.

He slapped his left hand on the kitchen table.

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

I put my arm out. “Wait!” I paused. “OK.” I said. “Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?” my father said.

“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 sat back, tapped 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 paused.

“And how old are you again?”

“Ten.”

“Really?”

He looked at me, frowned. He seemed perplexed. “Tell ‘em you’re nine.”

“Why?”

“Nine sounds better.”

“Why?”

“It just does. Trust me.”

He paused 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, Pearl. Knock 'em dead.”

29 comments:

Eva Gallant said...

I love it! Having worked in sales for years, I can appreciate his thinking!

fmcgmccllc said...

Loved Sales 101, did you get that bike?

savannah said...

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

sweet mary sunshine, but i LOVE this line! xoxoxoxo

Buttons said...

Everyone one should have a smart Dad like that:) B

Simply Suthern said...

Thank goodness my dad wasn't a salesman. I can't sell anything. But he did teach me the importance of work. He had me out surveying when I was 9 or 10. I chopped a lot of brush.

bill lisleman said...

He knew how to work it.
Do you think the following would work?
"Hi I'm Bill, 60 yrs old and saving for my retirement would you like to buy some candles?"

Silliyak said...

Always liked your patter.

jenny_o said...

I got distracted by the ashtray shaped like an outhouse. Is he planning to leave it to Dolly Gee when he, uh, doesn't need it anymore? Or vice versa, I suppose ...

Pearl said...

Good ol' Dad. He does know to talk... :-)

Pearl said...

Oh, and Bill? If some guy came door to door selling candles for his retirement, I just might order. :-)

Camille said...

"People always want to send kids away for a couple of weeks"

Oh my God - how true is that? Wiping my eyes from laughing so hard. Just love your Dad.

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
I loved this in I WAS RAISED TO BE A LERT and I loved reading it again!!! Hhmmmm time for another read of the chapbooks??

Super stuff Pearl - it rang such chords with me because we three sisters were also born out of a caravan (middle one is 14/1/61 (??close?!) and tends to see the world differently...) The brother had the great good sense to not get born until there was bricks and mortar involved.

Warm Hugs. YAM xxx

Saimi said...

Haha love your dad!!! We never lacked for things to do around the farm - working wasn't an option it's just something we grew up doing and if you were a friend spending the night, you'd be working right along side us.

Your dad and mine would have gotten along great!!!

Joanne Noragon said...

The great band's great fruit and cheesecake sale just flashed across my my. My granddaughter and and her skippy little sister, door to door. They make three sales for knocking on a couple hundred doors. Now I see the problem may have been skippy little sister was 10.

Mr. Charleston said...

Boy, things sure have changed. The other day a kid knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to buy some magazines or have my house burned down. I was ready to move anyway. A little sooner than I thought however.

Christian at Point Counter-Point Point Point said...

OK fine. I'll take 10 candles and one pair of windmill salt and pepper shakers. Man, your high pressure sales are effective.

Judy said...

He sounds such a great guy, interested in his kids... my Dad just passed last month, and he watched from afar...

Kathleen McCoy said...

I absolutely love your stories about your Dad, Pearl! He sounds like such a good guy -- and so funny and cool!

Amanda said...

Sounds like you might've gotten your patter from him :)

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

"Patter." Love that line.

Susan Kane said...

The question is: Did you get the bike?

Your dad is precious--what a card.

Jo-Anne Meadows said...

Your dad is amazing and funny.......
and reminds me of my pop

Rose L said...

So your dad was a real con,...er, I mean--sales man!

Pat Tillett said...

That was great. Your dad sounds like a real character. I also did that door to sales stuff. Hey, a kid has to eat, right?

River said...

This is my most favourite of your childhood stories.

Kymbo Whitford said...

Funny enough we were punished for telling lies, mum told us that lies were bad things. She was apparently unaware that the entire world lies to each other everyday and in every way. I wish she'd not only taught me to lie like your dad did but even to encourage me to tell a better lie...

Linda O'Connell said...

When I was ten, the neighbor girl and I went door to door selling hand made potholders. She was cute and nine. I was ten and skinny. She sold all of hers. I sold one. Lesson learned: go alone or choose a homely sales partner.

Joan said...

Haha I love it! Your Dad is good!

Lulu LaBonne said...

Wow - what a training!