I stepped out of the van at the corner of Greenwich and Gough Streets, in San Francisco’s Marina district with my heart in my stomach. Although it was Monday and I had a brand new sales goal, I didn’t believe I’d achieve it. I’d never come close during the five weeks I’d worked for Post Street Sales Organization.
Ignoring the “no solicitors” sign, I knocked on the first door, took two steps back and waited. No one answered. I moved on to the next door, and the next, repeating this procedure until at last a door opened. A thirty-something woman with uncombed hair in a wrinkled housedress regarded me with annoyance. I heard children running around in the background of her modern flat, which smelled of toast. Maintaining trustworthy eye contact, I launched into my canned speech.
“Hello, I’m the Shaklee distributor in your area. I have some information on how you can cut down on pollution.”
I focused my gaze onto the floor behind her, and began to walk in. We’d been instructed not to wait until we were invited, just to “follow our intention” inside. The woman blocked the way with her body.
“No, thank you.”
I repeated variations on this scenario along Greenwich Street until, after about a dozen rejections, I sat down on a doorstep and wept. A box of Pepperidge Farm Lido cookies and a quart of milk made me feel slightly better. Stomach distended, I resumed my drudgery. After a few more nobody homes and door slams, an older man let me in. I sat on his faded couch and he joined me.
“This is our non-polluting all-purpose cleaning product,” I said, pointing to a photo in my presentation notebook. The profit margin on the cleaning products was so low it was barely worth selling them, but they justified our ecological spiel. The man listened politely while I expounded on Basic H’s super concentrated formula.
“You don’t want any, do you?”
“I’d like to try a quart,” he said.
Encouraged, I talked him into a ordering a bottle of multi-vitamins as well. Back on the beat, I endured a few additional rebuffs before treating myself to a sandwich. After a cookie stop, I followed a woman into her washed out industrial beige/grey/green apartment building. The odor of musty rugs, stale onions and ancient heating pipes hung in the air. I knocked on all of the doors on the first floor, then dragged my three hundred pound feet up to the second. When that floor yielded no results I had another cookie. The building seemed to suck my very life force. Climbing to the third floor was like scaling Mt. Everest. My head was so full of cotton that I was almost glad no one answered. Outside I gulped air, and finished my cookie stash.
Only one person answered the bell at the next building. She cut me off to say, “No, no, we don’t want any,” through the tinny speaker. Just next door a muscular black man invited me into his studio apartment. A king-sized bed, and what I thought was a religious altar, dominated the room. A zebra skin hung behind a low table. Elephant tusks formed an arch over it. But the table didn’t hold saintly images or incense, just two long, dark sex toys. Although we were supposed to pitch anyone who let us inside, I asked him if he intended to buy anything.
“I just want to get it on,” he said, wriggling his hips.
I made a hasty exit. I might have just turned eighteen, but I wasn’t completely stupid.
Finally a young woman invited me in. She wanted to lose weight, so I gave her my speech about maintaining blood sugar levels with protein drinks. The sugar buzz from all of the cookies I’d consumed had evaporated, leaving me in a hypoglycemic low. When the young woman ordered a can of vanilla protein powder I had to restrain myself from tearfully hugging her, or curling up on her couch for a nap.
I celebrated the sale with a bag of peanuts.
A few rejections later it was time to meet the van. Back at the office I wrote up my orders, and filled in various financial reports. I was way behind my goal, but hopefully I’d do better the next day.
On Tuesday I cried on doorsteps in the Haight. Wednesday, I ate my way across Noe Valley––from Just Desserts to Bud’s ice cream shop. Rain drenched me in the hills of Mill Valley on Thursday, where I had no luck finding customers or corner stores. By the afternoon I was so hungry I asked the first person who answered her door if she had any food I could have. Startled, she asked me to come in, which I interpreted as a “yes.” I opened her kitchen cabinets, frantically searching for snacks.
“What are you doing?” She asked, although I was obviously taking her up on her offer. I was flattered when she asked me who I worked for and wrote down the number, although it was kind of confusing since she hadn’t let me do my sales pitch, or given me so much as a cracker.
When I returned to headquarters the manager called me into her office. The Mill Valley woman had phoned.
“You can’t just ask people you food, you know,” the manager said.
“You can’t look through people’s cabinets.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, trying to look pitiful.
Unfortunately they didn’t fire me. It took six months and twenty pounds until I finally threw in the towel.© 2012 Stacey Alysa Dennick, all rights reserved.