Monday, August 02, 2010

Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Salesman

Lawrence – My Hometown

Vacuum Cleaner Salesman

By Richard E. Noble

“I’ve got a lovely bunch of Kirbys
See them all standing in a row
Big ones, small ones
Some as big as your head…”

I was in a back room of a Kirby vacuum clearer store on South Broadway with a room full of other unemployed loony-tunes singing songs from the Kirby Vacuum Cleaner Song Book.

I couldn’t believe it. Was I actually doing this? Was the Kirby guy who owned this store serious? Was the Kirby vacuum cleaner company serious?

I had gone everywhere looking for a job in Lawrence but there was nothing. My Uncle Ray once told me that Lawrence was a boom or bust kind of a town. Obviously this was, once again, the bust side, showing its ugly face. There was one job listed down at the employment office. I had been there three weeks in a row and they had one job. There were hundreds of people, it seemed, gainfully employed at the Lawrence Employment Office and between the whole bunch of them, they had one job to offer the thousands of unemployed who came wandering in through their doors. It was collecting swill for a family who owned a pig farm in North Andover. I was desperate. I took the swill collecting job. I lasted three days.

Swill is disgusting – after learning about swill, garbage seemed a joy and a pleasure. I could bathe in garbage. Garbage is to swill as a burp is to diarrhea.
I would wander into somebody’s backyard, flip the lid on their half gallon swill depository bucket which was embedded into the ground, take one look at the ten million maggots and a tiny, unintended sniff of the contents and start puking. I puked at least ten times in the first two days. On the third day, I made it through the entire morning without puking by holding my breath and closing my eyes appropriately.

At noon I climbed into the front seat with Jethro, the second son of Heathrow, the pig farm owner. Jethro was eating a chopped ham salad sandwich. “How’s it going today?” he asked. He had a mouthful of gooey ham salad, slouching about his open mouth. Little pieces of ham and mayo were dribbling down his chin. I looked at him and gagged. He laughed and consequently made visible the big glob of slop he was chewing and the goopey white bread stuck all over his teeth. I puked all over the floor of the cab. He said, “Don’t worry about it. We’re a little behind. We’ll clean it up later.”

At the next stop I climbed out of the cab without stepping in my puke and disappeared through a swill lady’s backyard and headed towards freedom. I never saw Jethro again. I didn’t even pick up my check for my first two days.

The next day I saw this ad in the newspaper. “Great opportunity for right type person,” it threatened. “Self-starter.” That was me. “Motivated, go getter, leader, good money, great future, willing to accept a challenge, needs to be friendly and must like people.” Wow, that was me in a nut shell. I was skeptical though. This could be another Marine Corps ad. It gave no address, just a phone number. I called and made an appointment for an interview.

The place of the interview was a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner store. I had sold magazines as a teenager. Did not do well. But maybe this was a job selling to walk-in customers? Maybe I’d be working inside this store? What did I have to lose? I certainly know how to say no. I learned to do it as a little kid and I never forgot … no … NOOO, … no no no. I was good at it. What’s the problem?

Inside I met the owner. He was a very personable man. I spoke to him directly, “Can I really make some money selling Kirby vacuum cleaners?”

“I have made more money selling Kirby vacuum cleaners than I have ever made doing anything else. What have you got to lose? You’ve got no job and no money now. You might make something here, or you might not. But here, you at least have a chance”
Here it was, Pascal’s wager in economic terms. This guy should have been a philosopher. I decided to give it a try.

First we had a super-salesmen instruction class. A couple of top notch salesmen gave us a crash course. They were really good and this Kirby Vacuum Cleaner was not just a vacuum cleaner. It was a super-duper machine revolution. A person could not only vacuum a carpet with it, they could clean and shampoo them too. You could wash and polish your floor with it; you could clean your mattress with it; you could polish your car with it; you could drill holes with it; you could sand and refinish a wood floor with it; you could unclog a backed up toilet with it; you could bust concrete and mix cement with it; you could pave a highway with it. It did everything. It had more attachments than a Rube Goldberg perpetual motion machine. To tell you the truth, I loved the darn thing. After the demonstration I could hardly restrain myself from buying one – good thing I was broke.

It was beautiful also. The “chassis” was all stainless steel. It had super-duper better-batter-beater rollers. They beat your carpet as they cleaned. The tubing was unbreakable. You could club an intruder to death with any of the super-duper extra strength attachment pipes. This thing was a vacuum, a mini motor scooter and a home security system. You could ride it to work. It could attack and kill people. It was wonderful. I wanted one.

So there you go. If I wanted one and I had never vacuumed a carpet in my life, why wouldn’t everybody in the world want one? If not the world, maybe just all of North Lawrence?

The next day I was in the “boiler room” drumming up potential sales. We had an unbelievable offer. If a potential customer would just agree to sit and watch a half hour demonstration of a totally new, revolutionary household invention, they would get absolutely free one whole case – that’s 24 bottles – of America’s favorite drink … Coca Cola. How could you beat it?

Obviously there were more lonely people with nothing to do evenings than I would have ever believed. And a free case of coke impressed the heck out of people.

“But, I can tell you right now buddy, I ain’t buying nothing. I got no extra money. I’m just getting by as it is.”
“You mean you can’t use a FREE case of Coke?”
“Sure, I’ll take a free case of Coke if you want to give me one. But I ain’t buying anything.”
“Okay! Is 6 o’clock tonight all right with you and the little woman?”

The first week I gave away about 300 dollars worth of Coke without selling one vacuum cleaner. I met all kinds of neat poor people. I thought my family was poor. All around the neighborhood there were stacks and stacks of people that were worse off than me and my family. It felt great giving all these very grateful, poor folk a whole case of FREE coke. I loved it. This was a great job. Maybe one day I’ll sell a vacuum cleaner too.

And everybody liked my demonstration. It was like being on stage and I was putting on my own play. Everybody ooh-ed and aah-ed – a few even applauded. They all said that one day if they ever came into any money – you know, like if some rich relative died and left them a fortune or that millionaire guy on the TV ever knocked on their door – they would definitely buy the “old lady” one o’ dem cleaners. I made lots of new, nice friends – but no money.

At the end of the week the boss called me into the office. “Ah, you are giving away a hell of a lot of Coke. Right now you owe me over three hundred dollars.”
“I owe you?”
“Well who do you think is going to pay for all this Coke you’re giving away?”
“Ah … Mr. Kirby?”
“Mr. Kirby’s dead. He died a long time ago. I’m fronting you on this Coke until you make your first sale but you seem to be missing the point. If the potential customers don’t buy a vacuum, they don’t get a case of coke.”
“But that ain’t what you told me to tell them on the phone?”
“What are you, little Georgie Washington? That is just what you tell them to get your foot in the door. Once you’re in, you sell them a vacuum or they get no Coke.”

He appeared a little angry.

Of course, what my boss was suggesting was unethical. He obviously didn’t care but then he probably didn’t have Sister Agnes in fourth grade either.
My appointment list dropped appreciably. I stopped offering the case of Coke free. I told my potential customers if they could say yes to one important question concerning my demonstration before I left their apartment they would be entitled to a free case of Coke. Most folks on the phone declined my “just say yes” once in a lifetime offer.

Then I thought up a new idea. I would shampoo one room of carpeting for any couple who would sit through my half hour demonstration. One bottle of super-duper shampoo could clean a number of rugs. It was much cheaper than the free coke. Of course it involved my time – but what was I doing that I had to worry about my time?
By the end of the month, I was pretty good at shampooing rugs. I could do a whole living room in less than an hour. People liked getting a free rug shampoo but they certainly didn’t want no super-duper carpet cleaner.

After a month or two I realized that I was never going to sell one of these darn vacuum cleaners to people in my neighborhood all of whom thought that $200 was an inheritance. But maybe I could use my demonstration model Kirby vacuum to make some money cleaning and shampooing people’s carpets?

I charged twenty-five bucks for a living room rug. I made $150 the first week. By the end of the month I was able to pay off my Coke a Cola bill.

My Kirby sales career ended when during a demonstration, my cigarette rolled out of the ash tray I had resting next to me on the floor and burnt a tiny spot in the homeowner’s rug. The lady was livid. I promised to remove the burnt mark with a super-duper free shampoo with our wonder Kirby stain removing shampoo.

I managed to snip the burnt spot out of her carpet with a pair of scissors when she wasn’t looking and then shampoo over the area about a thousand times until the matting “grew” back together. When I was done I manipulated the coffee table a hair or two with one of the feet covering the hole. The lady inspected but couldn’t find the spot where the burn had been.

I gave her a false name and a phony telephone number and told her to call if she found any problem. The hell with Sister Agnes, this ethics business was too expensive.

I turned in my demonstration model and resigned my commission as a certified Kirby Vacuum Cleaner salesman. But I would still love to own one of those Kirby vacuum cleaners. If I ever win the lottery or a jackpot in Biloxi, I’m going to get me one even if I don’t have any carpeting. And I won’t hide it away in some closet. It is going to sit in the living room where everybody can see it. Call it conspicuous consumption if you want to, but a Kirby in the living room is as good as a Caddy in the trailer park. You better believe it!

Richard Edward Noble is a freelance writer and columnist. His local column, the Eastpointer, won the first place 2007 humor award from the Florida Press Association. He has published several books. All of his books can be viewed and purchased on Contact for bookstore discounts and volume sales.

No comments: