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Friday, May 23, 2014

You're Gonna Want to Work on Yer Spiel

Originally posted in 2010, this is for my father, who, along with family and friends, celebrates his 75th birthday this weekend.

Happy birthday, Dad.  

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 tiny collective butts 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 is sitting at the kitchen table when my first catalogs come in the mail. He pats the chair next to him, then 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.

“See?” 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, frowning, perhaps looking for signs of deception. 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, Pearl. Knock 'em dead.”


Shelly said...

Happy birthday to your dad! They just don't make many of them like your dad, my dad, anymore.

Dawn@Lighten Up! said...

Your dad is right: People do like to send kids away for a couple weeks. I sure do.
Happy, Happy Birthday, Pearl's Dad!! :)

Should Fish More said...

Although I'm within a couple years of your dad, he sounds like one of my uncles. When I got a faculty position at a university medical school one asked me if I was ever going to get a real job.

Patricia said...

Here's to your dad, summer camp, bikes, and jobs! In that order. :D

Buttons said...

Happy Birthday Pearl's Dad you are a very wise man. Pearl you are lucky:) Hug B

Diane Tolley said...

Pearl, I love your dad! Happy birthday to him!

Busy Bee Suz said...

I love this. What a man your dad is. Wishing him all the best today and always!

Yamini MacLean said...

Hari Om
Oh those Gemini men and their gift of the gab... I know 'em well; my own father is soon and my brother's this week too! Lovable larkers the lot of 'em. Happy B'day Pearl-dad. YAM xx

Gigi said...

I love stories of your dad! Wish him a happy, happy birthday for me.

Jeni said...

That's about how old I was when I started selling stuff. My first sales venture was Cloverine Brand Salve and I'd usually sell out in a day just along the little neighborhood where I lived (still reside in the same big old house today,) From that I graduated to the catalog with the cards and other assorted products. Sixty years later, I've returned to selling again -Avon products, as a matter of fact. Sold them for 18 years in the 70s and 80s, took a 23 year break and now, back at it again. Not near as much energy these days to really "go get 'em" though!

jenny_o said...

Happy Birthday, Pearl's Dad, and many more!

Here's to Dads everywhere who share their talents with their kids!

Eva Gallant said...

Happy birthday to your Dad...he's just five years older than I will be in August! I remember this post--it's a gem!

Elephant's Child said...

Happy birthday to your dad. And thank him - you did learn, and your speil OFTEN knocks me dead. Fortunately on a temporary basis.

vanilla said...

Happy 75th to the Man with the Work Ethic, the Man who instilled same in his offspring. Good show, Pearl's Father.

Geo. said...

Pearl, you could doubtless sell me things --in fact, you have sold me things, 2 good books!-- because you've got your patter about perfect. And because what you're really selling is the company of a good mind. Priceless.

River said...

I remember loving this story the first time I read it.
Happy Birthday to your dad.

Esther Montgomery said...

You had a much better attitude to work and parents than me. As a fifteenth birthday present, my father got me a Saturday job in a shop. I would rather have had something to unwrap and the promise of more pocket money.

Jackie K said...

That is just gorgeous. My dad was similar to yours. Same attitude to work and the same way of teaching and rewarding us. Such a sweet post! I'm going to assume you sold lots of the catalogue stuff, and that even if you didn't, your dad was very proud of you for the effort :)

Linda O'Connell said...

Happy birthday to your dad. I see where your wit comes from :)

Joanna Jenkins said...

“Your patter. Your spiel." Love that.
Happy birthday to your dad!
xo jj

the walking man said...

May the father of the prodigious daughter have had a wonderful birthday.

So if 9 is good isn't 8 better and wouldn't you be more believable if you carried a tuba around while working your spiel?

Suldog said...

A very happy 75th to your dad. He is now my numerical opposite (I am 57.)

Daisy said...

Happy Birthday Pearl's Dad, from me too.

Indigo Roth said...

Any chance folk will pay to send you to England for a couple of weeks?

Daisy said...

It sounds like you got expert advice from one who knows. :) Happy birthday to your Dad.