Natural Born Killer…Salesman
Natural Born Killer…Salesman
Summer Vacation My A*#
OOH …Here’s One Thing
by Jim Johnsen
Here I sat in our ’72 yellow wood paneled Country Squire wagon, windows wide open with the hopes that somewhere, somehow we would find a gasp of summer breeze. The air could only be described as fetid. My older sister, Denise, had finally fallen into a deep nap in the back seat next to me, glued to the vinyl seat by the hellacious heat and humidity. My mother, part saint and part meditation expert, sat perfectly postured in the front seat looking straight ahead at the vertical pile of wrecked cars directly in front of us. My dad said he would be right back. That was four hours ago. Every once in a while we would hear gunshots not too far away. It was Baltimore after all.
Four weeks earlier, as I strolled back from 4th grade for the last time, I dreamed of all the fun I was going to have that summer. I had a great group of friends and many of our families loaded up the car and moved to the lake for the whole summer. This was back in the days when boys roamed free while moms made lemonade and fried chicken and dads were mysteriously distant until mom shouted dinner out the back screen door. There were no alarm clocks in summer. But as soon as the sun rose, like a surfer, I shot from a horizontal to a vertical position in one move. Thirty seconds later I had the glass milk bottle in my hand and was drenching my 8 essential vitamins and iron laden Frosted Flakes. Baseball mitt on the handlebars, Atlanta Braves hat on the head and I was gone until dinner. Swims in the lake, pickup baseball games, rides to the 7 Eleven for Slurpees, sharing Mad Magazines in the backyard and trading baseball cards were all on tap. Long short…I dreamed of summer all year long.
That day however, I felt my knees buckle as my father opened the front door and I saw my mother and my ashen sister sitting on the couch. As he put a hand on my shoulder he asked me to take a seat. He then told us he had some great news as he looked us squarely in the eye. “This summer we are going on a fantastic road trip kids.” As he unfolded the Michelin map marked up with red magic marker lines and stars, I could feel my brain enter its emergency shut down mode procedure. While by the 4th grade I still wasn’t old enough to understand my dad as a person, I did have enough street smarts to understand that when my father was driving the boat, there was a second agenda, and it usually involved sales.
And so the next day we packed up the car with shorts, tee shirts and bathing suits, as well as a trim kits, poster panel samples and an enormous box of marketing brochures. Mom brought plenty of reading material with her as she had been on these “adventures” before. Dad is perhaps the best salesman that I have ever met, largely because selling was never selling to him. He loved and still loves talking to people, getting to know them and their families and in the course of patient conversation, figuring out if there is anything he could do to make their lives better. I truly think he was born with this skill set.
But the bad news is that summer we traveled from Duluth GA to every major and minor market east of the Mississippi. From Memphis to Fall River RI, from Chattanooga to Pittsburgh, from Toledo to Dothan AL, we crisscrossed the eastern United States until we wore it out. Along the way, between “fun” stops at our favorite motel, the Scottish Inn, which always had a pool and a vibrating bed, Dad would park the
unair-conditioned car at the front entrance to an outdoor advertising office, or any place that owned one or more signs for that matter, and tell us he just want to say “hi” to this old friend of his, brochure under the arm and trim kit in his hand. Often he would be back in 15 minutes, but sometimes we would wait for what seemed like an eternity. He would always come out with a smile on his face and almost always with an order.
I never made it to the lake that year, but I did collect a whole host of material to last a lifetime. On that first day of 5th grade when it was my turn to share what I did that summer, I swallowed hard and then let it fly.
…A Childhood memory…as loosely told by Jock Gibb, Formetco
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