The Traveling Encyclopedia Salesman

Few things make you feel as alone as being surrounded by people you don’t know. Being surrounded by people you know who don’t know you back is one of them. Being with people who are the ones who are supposed to know you, but don’t, is even worse.

In my business, no one ever gets to know me, and I don’t really get to know them. A lot of people think that sounds lonely, but let me tell you, true loneliness comes from somehow being alone when you’re with company.


The last time I was ever with someone who knew my name before me telling them was at my ten year high school reunion. Yet, although everyone was supposed to know each other, what was the first thing I saw when I walked into that old auditorium? Little sticky name tags. Here I was, my old home town, surrounded by people who “knew me” and yet they couldn’t have told you my name without me writing it down for them first.


Well, my name’s Pete, but when I went to write it on that name tag something just didn’t feel right, I had gone so long being only with strangers that I couldn’t do it. So I wrote “Tobias” on that sticker and slapped on my chest with pride.


I was Tobias. From Mrs. Jenkins homeroom. I sat behind you in math. We were lab partners freshman year. I was on the football team, chess club, and I played the saxophone like a cool son-of-a-bitch. Everyone remembered Tobias. Everyone said Tobias had lost weight, looked great, had a great suit, and that he must have done well for himself as a traveling encyclopedia salesman.


But no one remembered Tobias, because Tobias never went to Birstwith High School, Tobias never went anywhere, because Tobias was just a name written on a sticker.
And no one remembered Pete.


I never felt lonelier before in my life, so I packed my briefcase, grabbed my box with my sample encyclopedia set, and left town that night on The Number 26 bus. And I have never returned.


I’m a seller of books that know everything about anything, or at least that’s what I tell people when I’m selling them. Sometimes I read through them, passing through the Es, and the Gs, and skipping ahead to the Ws. We’ve got Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King, but I think Tobias from Mrs. Jenkins homeroom has got a better chance of getting in there than Pete, the traveling encyclopedia salesman.


There are however ten Petes that did make it into my encyclopedia collection. Such as Pete Maravich, also known as Pistol Pete, the American Basketball player, born June 22, 1947. Or Pete Rose, the American Baseball player. Or even Pete Weber, the American bowler. But there’s no Pete Huffor, the American encyclopedia salesman.


To be continued…



9 thoughts on “The Traveling Encyclopedia Salesman

  1. As the person above me said, you shouldn’t expect anyone to recognize you when you’ve left an impression as someone then came someone else, someone that is not you, someone that you, yourself, do not recognize. And by the way, I’m a new reader, and I was wondering what is the story behind the number 26? Btw awesome story!

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    1. Well, as part of the story still remains to be continued, I’m hoping his lacking of a true identity becomes more understandable. But I don’t think he wants to be recognized. Thanks for reading and showing interest in the blog! The Number 26 is an imaginary bus line, and the point of the blog is to capture a fleeting moment in the passengers aboard the buses lives. It is basically a creative writing prompt. The purpose and end dream of the blog is to become a little community where writers, particularly new writers, can share and promote their own writing. For this reason, the stories here all have different themes, styles, and plots, and writers are given more or less full artistic liberty within their stories- the only rule being that the story captures a protagonist along The Number 26 bus line. Check out some of our other stories, and consider writing one yourself at https://thenumber26.net/tell-your-passengers-story/

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  2. I had to laugh at this. My former husband and I attended a party once where the hostess put out name tags. I picked up two random (mismatched) tags and then everyone followed suit. It was great fun, but I can’t tell you who anyone was.

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