Selling door-to-door can be gruesome work
John Steele tramped down the scorching hot avenue talking to himself. In his sweaty right hand, he carried a heavy Kirby vacuum cleaner.
“Okay, Johnny, today’s the day we win that commission bonus for the most sales in the month of July.”
John had been dubbed the best salesman that Kirby Vacuum had seen in over twelve years. Just twenty-four years old, he was a black-haired, blue-eyed, spark plug, with an infectious smile. Everybody loved John.
“With that bonus I could take the family to Disneyland next month... won’t they be surprised.”
His wife loved him, and his two kids thought he was the greatest dad in the whole wide world. Every morning he got up and tried to do the best that he could. That’s why people loved John. He just had that special something about him that everyone wished they had.
Today was no different. As he pounded Palm Street with his demo vacuum in hand, his only thoughts were of making that first sale.
“Go away! We already told you we don’t want one.”
“When was the last time you saw somebody from my company?” asked John.
“This older guy came by here just last month. Even gave us a free demonstration.”
“Do you remember his name?”
“No, not really, all salesmen look alike to me. Goodbye, already.”
John got pretty much the same story from every house that morning.
“Well, evidently this area has already been canvassed. Time to move on.”
He found himself at the end of the cul-de-sac with only one house left to approach. He straightened his tie and wiped the tops of his dusty shoes on the back of his pant legs. He lifted the heavy vacuum, put on his best smile, and headed for the front door.
“This is it, John. It’s ‘show time’!”
He knocked intently on the front door. He could hear the rattle of the chain lock being unhooked from the other side. The door slowly opened up about six inches.
“Yeah, what is it?”
“Good afternoon. My name is John Steele, and I’ve come by today to give you a free demonstration of the wonderful Kirby Vacuum Cleaner.”
The door swung open. He was greeted by a short roly-poly man dressed in yellow boxer shorts and a white, sleeveless undershirt. Unsightly hair grew all over his shoulders and back making him look like a small bear. John thought he resembled Danny DeVito.
“You mean, you’ll come in and vacuum my house for free?”
“I will demonstrate how Kirby Vacuum Cleaners can clean better than any other vacuum cleaner on the market today.”
“Come on in then, young fella! If you can clean this mess, I’ll buy one for sure!”
John entered the house and the first thing he noticed was a terrible stench that almost made him turn around and leave. This guy lived like a pig. There were piles of newspapers, clothes, and dirty dishes scattered all over the place.
“My name’s Casper, Ben Casper, but people just call me Benny.”
They shook hands firmly, and John made a mental note to wash up after he left.
“Excuse the mess,” Ben said, apologetically, “but I guess that’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”
“Yes sir, that’s why I’m here.”
One of the things John disliked most about this job were people who tried to take advantage of him. This guy actually thought John was going to clean his whole house.
“Well, pardon me for saying so, Ben, but this room needs more than just vacuuming.”
“This room? Ha! The entire house looks like this! I can’t even find the kitchen sink anymore. You see, John, my wife quit cleaning up after me just about the same time that vacuum cleaner salesman came by. Now, nothing gets done! I’ve had a mind to just pack my things, leave her here, and move to another house.”
It smelled like something was rotting in the room. John went straight for the sale, so he could hurry and leave.
“May I ask what brand of vacuum you’re using right now, uh, Benny?”
“Sure, sure, I’ll show it to ya. The damn thing’s brand new. The wife bought it about a month ago. A fella come by, just like you, selling the things. I’ve never used it; I just keep it stored in the closet.”
“Well, I’m sorry to hear you’re not getting along with Mrs. Casper. Is she at home today? It would be easier to show you both what I have to offer and then you can decide together which Kirby would best suit your needs.”
“Martha? Yeah she’s here, but she never leaves her room anymore. Just plain won’t come out. Like I said, she won’t clean the house. Hates cleaning up after me, that’s for sure. We must’ve had at least a thousand arguments about it in the past. But there’s nothing I can say to change her mind now.”
“And why’s that, Mr. Casper?”
“She won’t talk to me no more, that’s why! She told me I had ruined her life and that she wanted out of the marriage for good. Said she had met a new fella, a door-to-door salesman, and that he treated her the way she deserved.”
“I’m really sorry to hear that, Ben. Maybe I should come back some other time.” John couldn’t take the smell in the house anymore. It was making him sick to his stomach.
“Well, don’t rush off just yet! I thought you wanted to see my vacuum cleaner.”
“All right, Mr. Casper, let’s get your vacuum out and take a look at it, shall we?”
“Well, like I said, it’s brand new, but I’ll show ya anyway.”
“I’d like to use your vacuum to clean a small carpet area and then clean the same carpet with the Kirby. You won’t believe what your vacuum leaves behind, Ben.”
John followed him through the cluttered living room to a narrow hallway. There was an old wedding picture on the wall.
“Is this you and Martha?”
“Yeah, that was taken over twenty years ago, the day we got married . God, I loved that woman back then. We were the happiest couple around. Everybody said so.”
Ben stopped in front of a large linen closet. There was a chain and padlock on it. The smell in the house was almost unbearable.
He fumbled in his pocket for a large ring of keys. After finding the right one, he unlocked the padlock and the chain fell to the carpeted floor.
“She was going to leave me for some vacuum cleaner salesman. Can you believe that? Leave me! Just like that!”
“Why do you lock this door, Ben? You trying to keep robbers from stealing your vacuum?” John smiled at the joke, but Ben looked real hard and serious at him.
“No, I didn’t want anybody to steal my wife!”
He swung the door open. John lost his lunch all over the hallway carpet. As he continued to retch, old Ben went right on talking.
“She had her bags packed! Said she was never gonna clean, cook, or wash another thing for me for as long as she lived. I begged her not to go, but she wouldn’t listen.”
John tried to pull himself together, wiped the spittle from his mouth, and then looked into the closet.
The inside of the door was deeply scratched and caked with dried blood. Martha lay in a heap at the bottom of the closet. She must have weighed less than sixty pounds when she died. The tips of her fingers were bloodied and gnarled. Next to her stood a brand new Kirby vacuum. Ben pulled it out of the closet.
“Well, would ya just look at this. What a coincidence. Isn’t this the same company you work for?”