Friday, November 11, 2011

My First Job: Self-Employed Salesperson

(When I really try to remember all the jobs I've worked in the past 60 years, I tend to doze off.  The snoring soon awakens me.)

My very first job was as a self-employed salesman; a carpet sample salesman.  My uncle Willie was a carpet salesman and the trunk of his Impala was full of carpet samples he was willing to give me.  

These carpet samples were just the right size to mediate between the cold hard steps in South Philadelphia and the rear ends that were seemingly highly susceptible to the piles.  There was lots of sitting out on the steps in my neighborhood and these carpet samples seemed like a gold mine.  My cost was right: free!  Any money I got in exchange for them was pure profit.  I set the price at a quarter, 25¢.  I thought 25¢ was a reasonable price.

After a short time of asking everyone seated on their front step between my uncle's house and my house, just one block away, I realized that carpet samples weren't as easy to sell as I thought.  People could see they were samples, samples they thought should be free.  I persevered and I managed to sell four on the street where I lived.  One to Mrs. Foulkes who lived in the house across the street from me with the fake stone front.  One to Mrs. Sherman, the old Jewish woman who sometimes beckoned me into her dark house on the Sabbath, to run to the store for her.  One to Mrs Chern the Italian mother of Lucille, a girl my eldest sister's age, and Tony, a boy of my age, who dressed more stylishly and acted younger than did my mother.  Finally one to Mrs. Gervasi, the Lithuanian wife of an Italian with three boys, later to give birth to twin girls at age 40, which was the talk of the street.

I ran home to show my mother the four silver quarters; I was proud and I still had an armful of samples.  I felt my fortune lie ahead.  I ran up the three cold white marble steps, the large middle one worn in the center from years of shoes turning and shuffling whilst opening the front door.  
Not my exact steps but that wall is covered with the kind of fake stone installed on the Foulkes' 
Worn enough that a depression held water after a rain or after its weekly scouring with Comet cleanser.  
Megan Hildebrandt
I burst through the wooden door painted with its faux wood grain in shades of salmon, ocher and burnt sienna, knocking the inside brass door knob into the wall shared with our divorced waitress neighbor in the row house next door.  I ran through the living room/dining room first floor and found my mom in the shed kitchen washing dishes in the white one piece cast iron sink with drain boards on each side.   
Saving the Kitchen Sink
I stood before her with four worn silver quarters in my upturned left hand and free carpet samples in my right arm.  My inflated head was about to explode with pride.  I explained how Uncle Willie gave me carpet samples that I sold to four neighbors, for a quarter each.

rhine4321 on eBay
  My mom looked down at the quarters, drying her wet hands on a tea towel.  She then looked at Uncle Willie's free samples and there was a silent pause.  I knew my mother well enough to know that this pause was not a good sign.  The pause seemed to gain weight as it grew longer.  The pause ended with a blow that deflated my big head and would leave me quarterless.

She told me I didn't deserve the money paid for the samples.  That since I received the samples for free I should not take any money for them.  I was to trace my steps and not only return the money but give away the carpet samples.  That was the right thing to do.

Devastated I was.  Devastated and broke with a not so proud deflated head.  So much for capitalism.  I am not sure but, I think my mom was a socialist or maybe a philanthropist.  Well at least she wasn't a successful self-employed carpet salesperson.  Nor was I.

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