Check out part one here- https://thenumber26.net/2019/03/11/the-traveling-encyclopedia-salesman/
I walk up to knock on the door. I knock hard with authority and confidence, but not too hard, and not too quickly- I’m not eager, I’m not in any hurry. I’m relaxed, I’m cool, I’m chill, I repeat these things in my head, like a mantra. I knock out the rhythm to a playful children’s rhyme, something everyone can remember, but hardly anyone can remember the name of.
Knock knock. Who’s there? It’s Pete Huffor, the American Encyclopedia Salesman extraordinaire.
I hear slow off balanced footsteps approaching from behind the whitewashed door. Perhaps a limp? Definitely someone old. By the sound of their steps, I can tell it’s someone small, they’re too quiet to be the footsteps of a large person. An old short woman perhaps?
Before the steps make it to the door, I quickly pull out some spectacles from a pocket inside my coat and set them on my face. They’re not prescription, nothing more than glass, but I predict this sell will require me to be as unintimidating as possible. Nothing makes a man look as innocent and unthreatening as a good pair of glasses with thick solid frames. How could I possibly be intimidating? Look at me, I can barely see.
I also look put together. Standing on the porch in my three-piece suit. A cheap suit. A European brand with a European name and logo no one’s ever heard of before, so they all assume it’s something extravagant and sophisticated. Trust me, it isn’t, but like everything else, it doesn’t matter what it actually is, but rather all that matters is what it appears to be.
A short old woman answers the door. She has short white hair, and spectacles that magnified her eyes so much you’d think she’d kill ants by accident just by looking too closely at them. She was so short and stocky her resembled an old white tree trunk. She was perhaps the kindest and most unthreatening old lady I’ve ever seen. She looked like the kind of woman who just baked cookies all the time and was always looking for someone to give them away to. And judging by her aprons and the flower on it, I’d be willing to bet she was baking some right now.
I was glad I choose to wear my fake glasses.
Before she could get out even a greeting, I started in on my spiel. That’s rule number one in the sell- always strike first and always strike early.
“Good afternoon miss!” I give a wide smile, showing off my perfect white teeth, “How are you today? My names Frankie Tumbleton, and I was just wondering, how would you be interested in having the entirety of mankind’s collected knowledge and history at your disposal with nothing more than a flick of your wrist?”
“Well.” She seemed a little flustered, which is always good in a sell, “that certainly does sound amazing.”-
-“Amazing it is not! It can all be yours today for just a couple feet of shelf space and a small flat payment of one hundred and ninety-nine dollars, and ninety-nine cents.”
“Oh, you mean an encyclopedia set. I am sorry to waste your time deary, but we’ve already got a set. But I’ll tell you what, since you’re here, I won’t let you leave without a few of these cookies I just pulled out of the oven.”
“Well, now that does sound wonderful miss!”
“I’ll be back in a Jiffy.” She said as she disappears into the house.
I have never understood people like this woman. The more you let them give you, and the more you let them help you, the more they tend to like you. It’s like they bond with you for no other reason besides you appreciating their gifts and time. I’ve always found it ridiculous.
She returned after a minute with a little baggy of fresh hot cookies which she passed to me from behind the door. If you ever encounter a salesman at your door, as this woman clearly knows, never invite them into your house. You might as well invite in a vampire. Because that salesman, as any good salesman knows, isn’t going to leave without making the sell. Which is rule number two, never leave without making the sell.
So I stayed on the porch and sampled one of her delicious cookies. In Between mouthfuls, I complimented her baking skills.
“Say, have you heard of Pete Desjardins? The American diver?”
“Well no, I can’t say I have.”
“Really!?” I said faying surprise. “Say, how old is this Encyclopedia set of yours?”
“I don’t know, maybe five or six years old.”
“Well, that explains it then! Pete Desjardins, the world famous Olympic diver, didn’t become famous until after nineteen twenty-eight.”
“Oh, well, I’ve certainly never heard of him. I suppose I don’t keep up with water sports.”
“I’m really surprised. He’s quite famous.”
I started eating another cookie, giving some more compliments on the quality of her recipe. I asked if she could write the recipe down for me, and she went back inside the house to get a pen. This is good, having a pen ready makes writing a check a tiny bit easier. She returned after a few moments with a pen and began writing down the recipe for me in my journal. A fake journal full of fake notes about fake encyclopedias I’ve never actually sold.
While she was writing, I continued with my selling, “You know, a lot of things have happened in the past five years. That’s the one downside about encyclopedias, they become obsolete so quickly. That’s why the encyclopedias supplied by my company replace our customers’ sets every five years. Completely free of charge.”
This seemed to gain some ground with her. “Really?! Well, I do say that does seem like a good deal.”
“Believe me miss, It’s the best deal I’ve ever seen. We are the only ones that provide, for absolutely no additional charge to you, replacements.”
“Well, that’s very impressive, but I still don’t think I’m interested at the moment. Two hundred dollars is a lot of money.”
“One hundred and ninety-nine,” I corrected.
“Yes, but still.”
“Well, I tell you what,” I replied while scratching my neck, feigning discomfort. “You seem like a very nice lady. So. I suppose. We have a special deal we do sometimes where we recycle old books and paper. So if you were to give me your current obsolete set today… I could cut your price in half.”
“Well, It isn’t normal. But for you, yes.”
At this, she finally succumbed to the great offer and wrote me a check for one-hundred bucks with the pen she already had handy. Of course, I can’t be expected to carry around hundreds of books with me everywhere, so I told her to wait for her new set to arrive in a couple weeks.
Of course, as I’m not actually a real salesman at all, I know the books will never arrive. But before I left, I had her fill out a lot of professional looking documents saying the books definitely would arrive, and that every five years afterward a new set would come too. Although, by the looks of her, I don’t know how many more encyclopedia sets she expected to outlive. She had fifteen years left, tops.
In the end I left with her old set of Encyclopedias, which I sold at a pawn shop later that day for twenty bucks, a check worth one-hundred dollars which I cashed at the nearest bank under an alias I’ve been using for years, and a little bag of delicious cookies I ate on the Number 26 bus out of town.
To be continued…