Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Fair View

This is the fair view that I intend to use as the banner for my blog (as soon as I figure out how to do it). :(

What do you think?

Bookfield, Sales School, Part 3

Eventually there was a knock on the door and it was the guys, Chip, Davie and Gregg, letting us know it was time for dinner. We all took the elevator to the lobby as one happy little group. Everyone was so energetic and upbeat. The five of us exited the hotel and struck out walking for the Shoney’s Big Boy about five blocks away. Like many groups walking together, we walked down the sidewalk in twos. I was next to Mary, and we chatted away happily about college life. Chip walked up beside us as if he wanted to talk to me. Mary moved in front with Davie. Gregg was ahead of us.

“How was your trip down to Nashville?” he asked looking into my eyes and smiling.

“The flight was okay, but the bus from the Hermitage wasn’t there and I had to pay for a cab.”

“That’s too bad. I hope it didn’t cost too much. At least you’re here with us now, and I’m glad that you came.” He put his arm around my waist in a friendly way. I returned the gesture, giving him a little pat on the side. It felt so supportive to have his arm around me, but I expected that he would withdraw it after a brief time. He didn’t. So we walked all the way to Shoney’s arm-in-arm. I wondered if he was flirting with me and the thought of it excited me because he was so damned handsome.

When we got to Shoney’s, Chip removed his arm from my waist before any of our group could look back to see. It just kind of left me wondering what that was all about. Chip sat next to me at dinner. We all had greasy hamburgers with fries and coleslaw. Chip and Gregg joked how they ate all of their meals at this Shoney’s last year because it was cheap, and it was the only place that served breakfast at six o’clock in the morning. We agreed to meet there the next morning, eat breakfast and return to the Hermitage in time for the seven o’clock meeting. We finished dinner and walked back to the Hermitage. Again I walked next to Mary. The men walked behind us, laughing and joking. Mary and I were still getting to know each other, and we didn’t pay particular attention to the guys’ conversation.

Mary and I went to room 515 together. According to the schedule, this would be our last opportunity to get a good night’s sleep. Also, we had to be up by at least five-thirty in the morning to meet the guys at Shoney’s. We put on our night gowns and lay down on the bed. She had already chosen the left side, which was alright with me. It was too hot in the room to have anything but the sheet over us. The busyness of the day was over and I started to think. I guess she did too.

“Sue, where do you think we’ll end up for the summer?”

“I don’t know. The furthest south I’ve ever been is the most northern part of South Carolina.”

“I’ve never been south before either. I mean except for this trip to Nashville. What was it like in South Carolina?”

“I don’t really remember. I was only thirteen and my family went to see a total eclipse of the sun.”

“Really, I’ve never seen that.”

“What I remember most was that it got twilight dark during mid day, the birds stopped singing and the passing cars put their headlights on.”

“I’m a little bit scared.” she suddenly admitted.

“Me too. But at least we’ll be together, and that we know for sure.”

She reached her hand out to me and we clasped our hands for a few minutes. It was very comforting to have her there close to me with all of the uncertainty ahead of us. I felt almost ashamed for asking for a rollaway bed and then telling her I did. I don’t think that she had asked for one.

The entire group, about 150 people met together Monday morning at 7:00 AM for the start of training. We all sat in the hotel conference room on folding chairs with our identical light tan sales cases at our feet. I sat next to Mary. The twenty or so sales managers were all seated in the front row. First we were welcomed while ‘Me and Mrs. Jones (we’ve got a thing goin’ on)’, an old song by Billy Gregg, was played over the loud speaker system. We then listened to a motivational talk. The person who gave the talk was upbeat verging on manic.

Some group sloganeering took place after that. A slogan would be cheered by Robbie and the managers, and the audience was asked to repeat it. We never repeated it loud enough for Robbie, though, and so the repetitions went on until I for one, was hoarse. It reminded me of the Marines, when recruits have to say, “Yes sir!” to the commanding officer as loudly as possible.

Next, the key factor in selling books, the approach, was demonstrated. On the risers at the front of the room, a working screen and storm door was set up. It was supposed to be Mrs. Jones’ front door. Robbie stood behind the door and played the role of Mrs. Jones, the potential customer. One at a time, sales managers had to go up onto the stage, knock on that door, give the approach and role play with Robbie. The first manager who went up would demonstrate the perfect approach. I strained to see and listened carefully. He knocked on the door three times and then retreated a few paces from the door. Robbie stopped the action and explained how essential this move away from the door was. We did not want Mrs. Jones to feel threatened when she opened her door. We wanted her to be drawn to us, to lean on the door, grasping the handle, straining to hear our every word. The demonstration continued. The manager said, “Hi there, Mrs. Jones! My name is Mark Treland and I’ve been calling on all of the church folks in the neighborhood. Just wanted to come by and see you. You all do go to some local church, don’t you? May I come in?” He made a slight gesture with his hand towards the door as if to precipitate it being opened. His delivery was slow, and deliberate. He used a southern drawl and his eyes twinkled in a friendly and sweet manner. His face looked sincere and focused as if Mrs. Jones was the only human being on earth that he had any interest in. He was absolutely mesmerizing and I was twenty feet away. Robbie gave the desired response. He, as Mrs. Jones, unquestioningly opened the door.

“Wow, could I do that?” I wondered to myself. The skits continued. The next manager came up to the door in a cocky manner and knocked. I guess he was really nervous and forgot to back away from the door. Robbie yelled from the other side, “Get away from my door or I’ll shoot!” Everyone laughed at the manager that had erred.

“Let me try again…” he pleaded, knocking on the door again and backing off.

“Next!” yelled Robbie curtly from behind the door. The audience laughed again. Every manager had to go up alone and face that door with Robbie behind it. None of them were allowed to succeed, and all of them were mocked for their failure. Robbie slammed the door in their faces, and screamed at them. At first the managers were confident, but as each one was mocked, the next was progressively more nervous when facing the door. Robbie explained that we should not be intimidated or personally offended by a door slammed in our faces. We should expect it. Every slammed door brought us closer to an open one, and a sale. Each ‘no’, brought one closer to a ‘yes’.

I heard what he was saying, but found myself deathly afraid that I would be called upon to go to the front of the room to give my approach, and be mocked, even though I knew in advance that only the managers would be called. It was clear to me however, that we were all vulnerable to public shaming, as was seen fit by Robbie at any time. I sure as hell was going to try to stay on his good side, and I guessed that that was the point of the opening demonstration too.

I was really glad when the group teaching part was over and we broke into little groups to practice the approach. We broke into work groups of four or five people plus a sales manager to role play the approach and later give the completely memorized book demonstrations to each other. I hadn’t completely memorized all of the book demonstrations yet. I knew the one for the Bible Dictionary and Family Bible Library, but was shaky on the Health book and educational set. The practice role playing was a good opportunity to learn the demonstrations once and for all, and there certainly was motivation to do so. To my relief, I was not the only one who didn’t know them all by heart. Mary knew them better than me, but she needed work on the Health book demonstration too.

We were taught to learn a southern drawl as soon as possible. The sales managers took turns coaching us using their past experiences. At any time, one could be called on to give a demonstration publicly or to Robbie entirely from memory. I feared this. It would be like a college oral exam in front of all of ones’ peers, no stress there. Right. All of the subsequent group events were high pressured. Sales managers who role played demonstrations in front of the entire audience were chided and debased for failure to sell books to the always difficult ‘Mrs. Jones’. Group repetition of Parchment slogans continued daily. We practiced saying, “You cute little bugger, don’t you ever die!” to ourselves. Chip’s group, including me, went to breakfast, lunch and dinner together. No free time was scheduled, and typically to complete all assigned work, we stayed up until 1:00 or 2:00 AM each day. Needless to say, we only got about 4 hours of sleep each night.

I remember telephoning my mother one night. I told her that I felt that Parchment was trying to brainwash us. I was surprised when she replied, “Well honey, you can always come home.” Enough said, I was determined to stay. I couldn’t stand the thought of giving up and going home in the first week, or ever. I’d never hear the end of it about my failure from Mom, and more was at stake here. I had to earn my independence; no one said it would be easy. Right then and there, I made a pact with myself that I would do what ever I needed to keep the job with Parchment and survive the summer. I didn’t need to be brainwashed to learn to judge for myself how best to succeed selling books. So some or most people might be brainwashed, but not me. I could remain intact, thinking for myself.

That night I asked Mary, “Did you know that the tactics that the company is using are the same kind used for brainwashing groups of people? Do you think that the company is trying to brainwash us?”

She replied in a somewhat frightening monotone, “I am sure that everything the company is doing is in my best interest...” I felt kind of like the body snatchers had gotten her.

During the whole week, Chip continued to be flirtatious with me. A day after the walk arm-in-arm to Shoney’s he asked me, “Did you like that? Did you like my arm around you?” This was followed by a longing look.

“Yes.”, I said and I returned his look. He reached out and squeezed my hand and smiled. He leaned forward and gave me a little kiss on the lips. His lips were warm and wet. My heart pounded with excitement and I hoped he couldn’t hear it. He looked around as if to make sure no one had seen us, then we parted to attend our next meetings.

Later that night he took me aside in a hallway and asked if I liked him, and if I wanted to tour the hotel with him. I wasn’t exactly sure what he had in mind, but said, “Yes.” I was so attracted to him that I didn’t really feel in control. We held hands as we walked down the stairs to the basement of the hotel. There we found a deserted storage room filled with discarded mattresses and broken furniture. We sat down on a pile of mattresses and started kissing seriously. His hands roamed over my body and I held onto his strong shoulders.

Suddenly Chip whispered, “Don’t you think God would like to see us as he made us?”

At first I didn’t understand what he meant, so I said, “Excuse me?”

“Like God made us, when we were born.” he repeated seductively.

It was as if someone had thrown ice water on me. What did God or religion have to do with what he apparently wanted? Twisted! I was put off by his abruptness, too. I didn’t really go with him exploring the hotel with it in mind that we would have sex. Apparently he did. A relationship or even a date would have been nice. I decided that the whole venture with Chip was a terrible mistake. He thought that this disgusting line would make me strip for him? It was so insulting. I also wondered what other women bought the line. I sat up and said, “That line works for you?”

“Um, what’s the matter? I’m sorry; we can just hold each other if you like.”

“I’m really tired Chip and I’d like to go back to my room.” I didn’t voice my disgust with his tactics, however, because he was after all my sales manager. He did not seem offended, nor did he pressure me. He gallantly walked me to my room, to make sure I was okay. When I got there I didn’t tell Mary what had happened because she had been friends with Chip for a long time and I had no idea what their relationship was.

During the week we also learned all the details we needed to know to sell books. We learned how to scout the territory, read mailboxes and memorize names, and make connections through local churches to the residents. We learned how to manipulate the customer by getting that first ‘yes’ that gained entry to their home. From the time they opened the door to when the books were delivered at the end of the summer, and final balance collected we would control their every response. We learned how to pressure and intimidate the customer into making a purchase and handing over the deposit, even if they really didn’t want to. We would begin to fill the sales slip out before any sale was agreed to. Delivery was a deliberate exercise in control. We were supposed to rush in the door, and begin unwrapping the books all over the floor with great excitement hopefully attracting any children in the house. Mrs. Jones would be too ashamed not to accept the delivery and pay us the balance after that. Every aspect of day to day selling and survival was covered. We learned how to ask Mrs. Jones to feed us for free so that she would be shamed into it by saying, “I’d give you a quarter, Mrs. Jones for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” was the recommended line. There was even a separate lecture for women sales people on how to not become a victim and how to spot and handle troublesome men. That lecture did not do much to allay my fears that being out and about all summer could make me vulnerable to God knows what.

The schedule for every sales week of the summer would be the same. On Sundays, all money collected from the previous week was to be ‘remitted’ to the company with the week’s sales statement. The ‘remitted’ money would be held in an account for each sales person. The sales statement included expenses, number of hours worked each day; number of demonstrations delivered each day, daily and total sales, and all deposits. Attendance at Sunday sales meetings was required. Failure to miss two meetings in a row was grounds for termination. On Monday morning one was not to eat until one had sold a book to get the money for breakfast (hopefully). Working hours were from 8:00 AM to 9:00 PM Monday through Saturday. The goal was for us to work at least 80 hours per week. We were supposed to sell books every week of the summer, leaving one or two weeks at the end of the summer to deliver the books we sold. Our last day of the summer was to be spent being debriefed back at headquarters in Nashville. This was also when accounts would be settled and we would be paid what was earned all summer.

The goal was to sell enough books during the summer to make money to live on, and have money left over to bring back to school. To do this we needed to knock on enough doors, and get into enough houses so that we could give 15 full demonstrations every day. Parchment had it all worked out that this formula would result in the basic number of book sales to meet the goal. To be able to make all of these demonstrations in one day we had to spend no more than 20 minutes in each house. “Pretend your sales case is a time bomb you are sitting on ready to go off in 20 minutes if you don’t get out.”, said Robbie. “Every ‘no’ leads to a ‘yes’. Every slammed door brings one closer to the sale. Work the territory like a spider spinning a web, be methodical and don’t skip houses. All territory is good territory, there is no such thing as bad territory.”

Some of the ‘trainees’ suffered under the stress of the week. I remember one young man sat on his sales case in a corner of the hallway trembling and repeating the demonstrations over and over to him self. Each time he made a mistake he would chastise himself out loud. He and a few others ended up dropping out during sales training week because the stress was more than they could bear. Gossip about these ‘failures’ was abundant. Mostly these people were ridiculed because they couldn’t cut it. We were better than they because we stayed on.

Any complaint about the training or schedule was not well received. As a matter of fact, any show of doubt, dissent or even weakness was rewarded with a private, or worse yet, public browbeating by Robbie or a sales manager. I tried my best to stay in line and comply with any directives. We were also taught that under no circumstances were we to share our weaknesses or pain with any colleagues and especially not with our roommates, as it was bad for morale and might spoil their sales too.

One afternoon we visited Parchment headquarters in an industrial park outside of Nashville. The halls were lined with photos of successful sales people going back for years. I think that they went back to the 1930's. The black and white photos from that time were all of white men with crew cuts and many with horn rimmed glasses. Further down the hall, the pictures were in color and I saw an occasional woman or black who was a star sales person. Minorities and women were very rare, and I wondered why.

Financial aspects were more rumored than covered out right that day. The scuttlebutt was that a good summer for first year sales people was $3,000 to $5,000 net earnings. Success in the second year meant net earnings of $7,000 to $8,000 per summer, although earnings of $15,000 and up were not uncommon, and sales of $20,000-30,000 were rumored for people who sold three or more summers. Of course, in the second summer one could be a sales manager and get a cut of sales peoples’ earnings from the company’s share. In other words, Chip was going to get a cut of Mary’s, Davie’s and my sales this summer.

There wasn’t really enough room for us to practice our demos inside the building and it was really noisy in the halls with all of the sales people repeating demonstrations to each other. Chip suggested that I go outside on the lawn with him to practice. At first I was a little suspicious of his invitation, but when I got outside, Mary and Davie were already out there. It was much more peaceful outside in the sunshine. Mary and I quietly practiced with each other, taking turns being the sales person, or Mrs. Jones. Mary was a kind study partner. What we were doing was not unlike cramming for finals at college. Chip took turns practicing with us and giving us the benefit of his experience. What I remember most about that afternoon was the killdeer swooping around the building in the bright sunshine calling, “kill-dee, kill-dee, kill-dee…!”

Excitement started to build toward Friday night, when territories were going to be announced. There was whooping and laughing in the halls when people found out their location assignments. Some quietly voiced disappointment with a particular locale or selection of roommates. I was glad that since Mary and I were the only women in sales school this week we already knew we would be roommates. Parchment would never have men and women room together. Finally, Mary and I learned that we were assigned to Athens, Georgia, a small college town not far from Atlanta that was also home to the University of Georgia. We had the whole town and surrounding Clark County to ourselves, and would, of course, be roommates. Neither of us had ever been that far south before. The area was unknown to us, but at least we knew where we were going.

A ride had been arranged for us with other sales people whose territory was adjacent to ours in Oconee County (south of Clark) and we were to leave from Nashville early Saturday morning.

Bookfield, Sales School, Part 2

I waited in the hotel lobby alone. There weren’t too many people there, and none of them were college aged. Where were they? How would I recognize them? I bided the time by looking around from my secure vantage point, a chair placed against a wall of the room. The red and gold carpet was faded and the pile was beat down. Some spots were worn bare. Dark, heavy curtains hung over tall, dramatic windows of hazy glass. The ceiling was ballroom height and lit by chandeliers with a noticeable number of unlit bulbs. The air was close and musty. At one time this must have been a grand and elegant place, but now through years of neglect it seemed cheap and used.

Time went by and my thoughts went back to what had brought me here to this hotel lobby. What had brought me to accept a summer job with so many unknown aspects. There was a real scarcity of summer jobs in suburban Long Island, where home was. My chances of finding something there were nil. Last year was a complete nightmare. I was home alone with my Mom. She and Dad had divorced when I was thirteen. Mom was irretrievably embittered by the experience and took it out on the only other person in the house that summer; me.

She would scream at me that my inability to find a summer job was my fault because I didn’t want one enough. She’d say, “You spoiled, lazy, snot nosed brat! You think that money grows on trees! I work hard all day to support you ungrateful brats. Your fucking, good for nothing, bum of a father never sends child support. You’re growing up just like him. You don’t give a shit about helping me out. Get out and earn your keep!” She’d yell, “Get out there and pound that pavement!” There was always a tiny voice in me telling me that I couldn’t be all that bad at such an early age, but I took what she said to heart anyway.

I didn’t drive yet, nor did I have a car, so any job I found I had to be able to get to by bicycle. Public transportation did not exist there either. This kept jobs at all of the shopping malls out of my reach. Mom expected me to ‘pound the pavement’ for eight hours a day, every day, until I got a job. It took me weeks to find one last summer, and each day that I returned home I feared that if I hadn’t pounded the pavement long and hard enough, Mom would pound me verbally. She was not above becoming unpredictably violent either, and although this was sporadic, I feared her. I had feared her my entire childhood. She had three inches on me and at least 30 pounds. Sometimes she would chase me out of the house and not let me back in until after dark. My twin sister and brother had made their quick escapes as soon as they could. My brother attended an Ivy League School and worked summers there in the greenhouses, and my sister worked at Saratoga Race Track the first summer and Parchment the next. Taking Mom’s haranguing during high school had been enough for my brother and twin.

My first summer home, I found a job at a local hotel as a pool side cocktail waitress. I remember my interview. This big fat ugly Italian guy with sleazy written across his face was hoping I would attract customers to the hotel. “Do you look good in a bikini?” he asked with great interest.

“Yes, I look great in a bikini.” I answered reluctantly, but with ‘go get them’ career like enthusiasm. I guessed I would look okay in my blue bikini with the tiny white checks. But I certainly wasn’t any bombshell. At nineteen, I was five foot four and one hundred pounds, really petite and naturally thin as only a teenager could be. I had shoulder length dirty blond hair and green eyes and freckles. People have always told me I was ‘cute’ and had a wonderful smile.
“Would you wear thigh high white patent leather boots?” he drooled.

“Um, no. I mean, its summer, I have some nice white sandals with a heel.” I was pretty scandalized by the thought of the bikini, wearing boots was too much. Was he going to ask me to be a prostitute, or what? But it was a job, and I was desperate. He settled for the sandals, what a relief.

That job was pretty degrading, although thinking that someone would actually want to see me in a bikini raised my self esteem somewhat. All summer the hotel had very few guests. I didn’t end up serving too many drinks and feared I would be fired. A few of the people were staying at the hotel the whole summer. They were very nice, and used to order sodas from the bar, so that I would look busier. I got to know these ‘regulars’ and when they found out I had been captain of my synchronized swimming team in high school, they would pay me a buck to do a synchronized swimming trick in the hotel pool for them. It was kind of bizarre, but it was nice to cool off, and I liked it better than being a cocktail drink waitress.

At first my Mom was pleased that I had found a job. But in just a few days she was shrieking at me again. “I can’t stand the sight of you just sitting around the house after work! Just get out of my sight! You’re so lazy. That job isn’t really work. Strutting around a pool all day! You hardly make any money in tips. I can’t figure who would want to look at you anyway. It’s not like your busty or anything. Why don’t you get a real job, or a second job?” She’d lunge at me and I’d run out of the house in fear for my life. When I’d return to the house she would say she missed me when I was at school during the semester and she wanted to hug me. I was afraid to get that close to her because she might reverse moods suddenly. I tried to stay out of her way and just survive the summer last year.

I was bound and determined for that not to happen again in the summer of 1976. It was the two hundredth anniversary of our country’s independence on the fourth of July and in late August I would turn 20 years old. I would be an adult, not a teenager. INDEPENDENCE. That’s what I wanted most. Independence from my abusive, degrading, controlling mother. Independence for me. I needed to know if I could make it on my own. I considered staying in my college town for the summer, but I had heard that jobs were scarce there as well, and Mom wanted me at home, under her thumb. Both my sister and brother had already made their escape from Mom, and I was all that was left for her. I considered declaring myself financially independent from my mother, but she promised that if I left her without my dependent tax deduction, she would disown me and never send me another penny. She wasn’t kidding. Her threat truly frightened me and I didn’t think I was ready to challenge her, never having been financially independent before.

When I heard about the job with Parchment from my twin sister Evie it seemed the perfect answer. Mom would support it, because it was a job for the whole summer. Yet, I would be away from home for the entire summer and free from the threat of abuse. Better yet, it would be a true test of whether I could make it on my own. It would be a step in my search for independence. I never could get Evie to tell me much about what the job was like, though and that left me a bit suspicious about the whole enterprise.

But here I was in Nashville, now having to deal with the reality of my choice. The whole summer of 1976 was an enormous unknown to me. I had taken this job selling bible books door-to-door. I was to be trained for one week at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, and then sent to a Southern location for the summer. This unknown location, to be determined by others and revealed to me the night before my departure, would be my sales territory and home for the duration of the summer. I chose to view it like the Tolkien’s Trilogy. Frodo made a perilous journey of there and back again to fight Sauron’s evil forces and destroy the one ring. No evil forces were in sight for me, I’d just be selling books, but it was a journey that would take me to who knows where and back again. I would try to face the unknown, and my fears on a day-by-day basis.

So, there I was waiting to meet my fellow sales people, who had already checked in but were out and about. Most of them were from the mid-West. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (I hate to wait) but was at least an hour. Finally four college-aged people came into the lobby. I watched them from my safe perch, feeling suddenly shy and not daring to rush up to them immediately. A young man in an untucked orange tee shirt and jeans was the standout in the crowd. He had tanned and solidly built guy with striking farm boy cuteness and a sun burnt nose. His short hair was darkest brown, his eyes were piercing blue, and he sported a small moustache. He was at least six feet tall and well muscled. I pictured that he got that way hauling bales of hay, or some other rigorous farm work. I don’t think I had seen any guys as handsome as him in my whole college.

My urge to join the group won over my shyness, and I walked up to the young man and introduced myself. “Hi! I’m Sue Fairview. You wouldn’t happen to be from Parchment, would you?”

He looked me over from head to toe in a manner both rude and flirtatious and said, “Yes, nice to meet you. I’m Chip, and this is Mary, this is my brother Davie, and this is Gregg. We are all from Missouri.” He smiled broadly, quite pleased with himself, it seemed.

I never would have guessed that Davie was Chip’s brother, he was so unlike him. He was shorter and less sturdy looking than Chip, to begin with, had buttery blonde curly hair, but he had same blue eyes. He had an angelic face, and I knew he was a nice guy, just by the sight of him.

Gregg’s most noticeable feature was his height. He was six feet four inches or so I would have guessed. He was also quite handsome. He had very short brown hair, almost a crew cut, but the long bone structure of his face, especially his strong chiseled jaw, was beautiful in a very masculine way and he carried off the look quite well. Let’s face it, he was a hunk too.

Mary was taller than me, maybe five foot six inches. She was sinewy and her bone structure was sturdy. She had wide and strong looking hands. She looked like she could lift those bales of hay right beside Chip. She had pale blonde hair and pale blue eyes set far apart on a wide but pretty face with high cheekbones. She had a small mouth with thin beige lips and a straight nose. She had a very square jaw though, that seemed out of place on her face and gave her a somewhat hard look.

“Um, I’m from Long Island, New York. Glad to meet you.”

Chip continued to speak on behalf of the group. “I’ll be your sales manager this summer. I am also managing Davie and Mary this summer. You and Mary will be roommates and share territory for the summer.” Mary and I searched each others’ faces for answers to all of those unasked questions between us. I could tell that both of us wanted to get to know each other quickly, since we would be spending the whole summer together.

I felt relieved to make contact with my colleagues. They all seemed so nice so far. We all went upstairs so that Chip could introduce me to his boss, the sales director. He explained that sales directors oversaw sales for a region of the country. Robbie, our sales director, had twenty or so managers reporting to him, and would be in charge of sales school this week. More weeks of training would take place after ours as colleges let out for the summer, and the total number of sales people in the U.S. would be up around a thousand or so.

We caught up to Robbie’s group in the hallway, which was suddenly crowded with Parchmenters. “Sue, this is Robbie, our sales director.” said Chip. Robbie looked up from the crowd of Parchmenters obviously trying to score points with him. He looked older than the rest of us, maybe thirty. But somehow he looked boyishly immature at the same time. His shock of thick black hair fell over his white small featured face. His eyes were dark brown and I saw nothing discernable when I looked into them. He kept a poker face while he sized me up. Robbie shook my hand firmly with his soft hand and said in a flirtatious manner, “Hi, so nice to meet you.” He squinted his eyes at me and continued. “You do look a lot like your twin sister Evie. But, I think she’s cuter than Evie, don’t you Gregg?” Robbie moved around as if to see me from all angles, or check out my ass.

“Yeah.”, replied Gregg as he also looked at my face in an analytical, but not disinterested way. They went on about details of this comparison and I felt uncomfortable being the center of attention at all, but somehow flattered at the same time. It’s disconcerting to meet strangers that know your twin, and so recognize you instantly and know something about you already. I smiled and pressed my back against the hallway wall for support. Maybe they thought I was cuter because my hair was longer than Evie’s, and of course, she had a boyfriend already.

Robbie gave us stapled copies of the week’s agenda, and Mary and I went to our room to look them over and get acquainted. “Well, I guess I’ll start by telling you about myself.” Mary said. I’m majoring nursing in college and I’m from Kansas City and I belong to the Church of Latter Day Saints.” She had an open and friendly manner. “It’s your turn.”

It was the typical introduction given between college roomies. “I go to school at the State University of New York at Cayuga and my major is biology. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, but I don’t go to church anymore.” I was reluctant to tell her that I was an atheist. I thought that since she was religious, it might come between us. “I am from Long Island, New York.”

“Wow you’re the first New Yorker I’ve ever met. So you live in the city?”

“Not really, I was raised in the suburbs. Where my school is there are mostly dairy farms and apple orchards. It’s about three hundred miles from New York City.”

“Oh, I didn’t know there were rural areas like that in New York.” She changed the subject. “I guess we have to share the bed tonight.” She didn’t really seem as put out as I did about it.

“Yeah, I called for a rollaway and there weren’t any available.” We smiled at each other. We both found ourselves in the same predicament. Future largely unknown, thrown together in a small hotel room, expected to be ready to sell books door-to-door at God knows where in just a week; we bonded quickly out of necessity.

We reviewed the week’s agenda together. “Gosh, events were scheduled every day starting at 7:00 AM and they don’t end until around midnight!” I said. “So much for sight seeing in Nashville.”

“Yeah, Chip told me we would be too busy for that. But we all go out as a group to meals together; Chip, Gregg and Davie and us, and that will be fun. Of course you will come with us.” It did sound like fun, and she seemed so excited to include me that I couldn’t wait until dinner time. Finally I was with other people and felt like I belonged.

Earth Shattering Event

Apparently, my first ever blog post amounted to an earth shattering event; crashing dsl connections in my entire state! Not that anyone at the phone company is admitting to it, but they never know what is going on. I think oblivious is the word. Stay tuned kiddies for the rest of the story...

Monday, February 27, 2006

Bookfield, Sales School, Part 1

Mom had driven me to LaGuardia airport from home, so, the airplane landing seemed like the first step of my first journey that I had ever taken alone. The sound of the wheels touching the ground was muffled from inside the plane, but the force of wheel against pavement pulled my head back slightly. I was on my own. As we taxied I strained to see the Nashville Airport terminal. It was a small cinder block building only distinguishable from other small airplane hangers nearby because of the white letters on it bidding me, “Welcome to Nashville”. I was glad the airport was small, because it would be easier to spot the expected welcome group from Parchment. The plane parked a hundred yards or so from the terminal and I undid my seat belt. I took my green duffel bag and tan sales case down from the overhead storage compartment and waited to exit.

I walked with the other passengers into the terminal. One by one, the other passengers were claimed by waiting loved ones. “Grandma, Grandma!” exclaimed a little boy who rushed forward to hug the elderly woman walking ahead of me. Couples and families embraced, reunited. For them the trip was over. The crowd of passengers dissipated quickly. Off to their homes and families, I supposed.

I surveyed the crowd. The terminal building was small enough that I could see from one end to the other from the gate I had arrived at, there were only four gates. Supposedly, a group of other college students, like my self were arriving in Nashville today and a bus was to be provided to take us all to the hotel. I saw no groups of people fitting that description or even anyone who was alone, like me. I walked across the speckled, moss green linoleum floor to the ground transportation booth, but it was Sunday afternoon, and no one was on duty there. Ticketing was just a few paces up ahead and so I went there and looked at the arrivals board. My flight was the last to arrive that afternoon; no more flights were scheduled that day.

Ten minutes into my first independent foray and I was marooned at the goddamn airport. I looked around the airport and the number of people there had already dwindled down so that they could be counted on one hand. The people I was supposed to meet weren’t here. The bus wasn’t here. I sat down on one of the bowl like black plastic chairs to think. A tear rolled down my cheek. I had expected the comfort of meeting my new friends, and having the travel arrangements taken care of. I felt stressed by the situation. It wasn’t going as planned.

But what if the bus was merely delayed and on its way? It could be transportation was planned for me, and it just wasn’t here yet. Maybe I should wait a while before I worry too much. So I waited twenty minutes. I tried to relax, but as each minute went by, and I looked at my watch, my tension only grew. Every five minutes or so I walked out side of the terminal and looked down the street both ways to see if any thing was coming. The bus didn’t come. Surely if it was coming, it would have been here by now. Finally I felt justified in taking some action. No one could say that I didn’t wait.

I fished around in my pocket for change and opened my sales case to hunt for Parchment’s phone number. Finding both, I got up, picked up my duffle bag and sales case and found the pay phones. I put a quarter in the slot and dialed Parchment’s number. The phone rang and rang. I guess no one was there because it was Sunday. I tried another Parchment number, also with no response. I looked at my watch. I had been in the airport for forty-five minutes already. There was a Nashville phone book on the shelf under the phone and I pulled it out. I looked in the yellow pages under hotels and found the Hermitage, where I would be staying. I dialed that number.

“Good afternoon, Hermitage Hotel, how may I help you?” the woman at the other end answered.

“Hi, this is Sue Fairview, and I’m with the Parchment group. I’m at the airport waiting for the bus to the hotel, and its not here.”

“I’m sorry, the last bus left there over two hours ago. You’ll have to take a cab to the hotel. Don’t let the driver charge you more than twenty-five dollars. See you soon, bye!” She said in that cheery down home voice.

I hung up the phone. Twenty-five dollars! I only had one hundred dollars on me to last the whole week! A fourth of it was gone just like that. My worries crested and another tear fell down my cheek. I retreated back to the same black chair and sat down again. I held my head in my hands. I didn’t want any one to see I was upset, not that there was anyone there to see. I sobbed as quietly as possible. Would I have been better off if I had stayed home? The quick thought of home made me marshal my resolve to be independent. I tried to minimize the inconveniences I faced so far. This was just a small set back. I knew I could overcome this.

I got up, picked up my things and walked outside again. There was not a cab in sight. I swallowed hard and went back into the terminal to the phone. I looked up the number of a taxi cab company and dialed. I could hardly understand the southern accent of the individual that answered the phone. The wait would be twenty minutes. I stood outside waiting, some how feeling that if I sat in that black chair; I would not find the resolve to leave it again.

Finally, the cab arrived. The driver sprang out of the car to open the trunk for me. He was a black man in his fifties, I’d guess. The short tight curls of his hair were white, and his eyes were tinged with red at the corners. He picked up my duffle bag and sales case and put them into the trunk.

“Are Y’all alone?” he asked.

“Yes.”, I said despondently. “Hermitage Hotel, please.”

He shot me a sympathetic glance as we got in. I guess he could tell I had been crying. He tried to cheer me up by talking about the Grand Ole Opry. He though that Minnie Pearl was funny. I had hopes of doing some sight seeing, not ever having been in Nashville before. But I kept focused on the cab’s fare meter. What would I do if he tried to charge me more than twenty-five dollars? Would he take a longer route to try to gouge the fare? How would I know if he took the shortest way? I looked out the window. I expected to see high rises, maybe a skyscraper, like in New York City. Highways, streets, route numbers I didn’t recognize, and nondescript buildings were all I saw. The meter kept adding up my fare. I couldn’t tell if we were any closer to downtown. After a while I saw a green highway sign for downtown Nashville, and to my relief, the cabbie went that way. The buildings were not very high here either. The meter was already near twenty dollars. What if the fare was thirty, or more? Without warning, we pulled over.

“Hermitage Hotel.”, the cabbie suddenly announced. We both got out of the car and he opened the trunk and brought my stuff to the curb. “That’ll be twenty dollars please.” I opened my wallet and handed over the money for the fare. He took it saying, “You take care now, y’hear.”

“Thanks.”, I muttered. I picked up my bags and looked at the hotel.

I looked around the lobby quickly to see if any of the Parchment group was there. Again I saw no one who fit the bill. I walked up to the check in counter. The woman behind it looked friendly and just being there made me feel better. I was silly to worry so much about getting here. I made it and that’s what counted. “Good afternoon, and welcome to the Hermitage, do you have a reservation?” It was the same woman I had spoken to on the phone from the airport.

“Yes, I’m Sue Fairview, I called earlier from the airport. I think I have a reservation.”

“Oh yes, glad you made it. Was the cab alright?”

“Yeah, it was only twenty dollars.”

“Good.”, she said as she rummaged through the reservations. “Okay you are in room 515 on the fifth floor. We had a little over booking problem and some of you Parchmenters have had to double up. You’ll be staying with a nice young lady named Mary.”

“I have to share my room?” The thought was immediately unacceptable.

“Yes I’m sorry for the inconvenience, but nothing else was available, and she was the only other female checking in with Parchment. I’m sure you two will get along just fine.”

It didn’t seem that I had any other choice in the matter, so I took my room key, picked up my bags and went to the elevator. I had roomed with strangers before in college. My freshman roommates were strangers at first and friends later. If Mary was the only other woman there, perhaps I’d better get to know her sooner any how. We’d probably be roommates for the whole summer. On my way down the hallway of the fifth floor I noticed for sure that the hotel had a scent of mildew and also a musty smell. It didn’t seem to be air conditioned either. I found the room around the corner from the elevator. I paused outside the door. If Mary was in there, perhaps I should knock first. I did, but there was no answer. I opened the door without problem and got another surprise. There was only one bed.

I surveyed the room completely. There was no couch, no rollaway bed in the closet, no place but the one bed for both of us to sleep. Mary’s things lay about the room. There was a suitcase, and clothes thrown over a chair. It looked like she had already been there, changed and left. I picked up the room phone and called the front desk.

“Hello, this is Sue Fairview in room 515.”

“Yes how may I help you?” Again, it was the same woman from the front desk.

“There is only one bed in 515 and there are two of us checked in. Could you please send up a rollaway bed?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, but the group from Parchment this year is so big that we have already used all of our rollaways. The bed in your room is a double bed. We sent all of the cots to rooms with two people and single beds. Again, I apologize for this...”

“Thanks anyway.” I hung up the phone and sat on the only bed. I breathed a heavy sigh. After a few minutes of convincing myself that everything would be alright again, I went to the bathroom and freshened up to prepare myself for meeting the other Parchmenters. I looked at my sales case, and opened it one more time.

I had received my sales kit from the Parchment Publishing Company some time before my sophomore finals. Inside the cardboard shipping box was a light tan fiberglass sales case that looked rather like a large tackle box. The enclosed letter explained that in the remaining weeks of the semester I was to study the enclosed sample books, memorize the demonstrations for each book, read the enclosed inspirational paperback books by Dale Carnegie, and sign the registration form. The registration form indicated that I agreed to follow the direction of sales management to the best of my ability. Failure to do so could result in immediate termination. I signed reluctantly.

The sample books consisted of a Family Bible Library, a Bible Dictionary, a health book, and a set of educational books. The Family Bible Library was actually a ten volume set that sold for about $100. From that, Parchment would get $35, and I could keep the remaining $65 as profit. The Family Bible Library, or FBL, was a sort of an encyclopedia of bible stories. Non-denominational and written for youngsters, it was illustrated with sketches and photographs and was bound in an ivory colored leather-like material with embossed gold lettering.

The Bible Dictionary was actually a dictionary of the words used in the Bible with scriptural cross references. Bound in a textured brown vinyl with gold letters, it resembled a Bible. The selling price was about $30; my profit was $20 for each sold.

The health book had a red cover and was a basic how-to guide to health. It covered nutrition, first aid, and the like. It sold for slightly less than the Bible Dictionary.

The educational books covered basic science, American history, and etcetera. The construction of these books was a bit cheaper and the coverage of each topic seemed superficial at best. What struck me most was that the focus of the American history book was notable assassinations, Lincoln, JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King. I could see value in the other books, but did not have any interest in selling the educational books.

The demonstrations were sales scripts that when performed for the customer would result in a sale. The ‘approach’ script was designed to gain entry to the customer’s house. It went like this:

“Hi there Mrs. Jones! My name is (insert your name) and I’ve been calling on all of the church folks in the neighborhood. Just wanted to come by and see you. You all do go to some local church, don’t you? May I come in?” The sample customer’s name was always Mrs. Jones. The actual name was to be determined beforehand from the mailbox or a neighbor.

The script also included what can only be described as stage directions, like, ‘Complement the customer on the first thing you notice in the house. Sit down facing the gathered family on your sales case, opening it behind you.’ There was a scripted demonstration tailored to sell each book or set of books. Most memorable was an introductory line in the FBL script that read, “Mrs. Jones, don’t you wish that Bible study could be as exciting as the Fourth of July?” Each script was several pages and all together it seemed like a lot to memorize. There was also a closing script which focused on filling out the order slip. The customer’s name, address, number of books to be ordered, and amount of down payment (half of the total was suggested by the Company) were all to be completed. Books would be delivered at the end of the summer. Conspicuously absent was any wording dealing with whether the customer wanted to buy the book or not.

I closed the sales case. I summoned up the courage to take the next step of my adventure, and left the solitude of my room and went down to the lobby to meet up with my group.