2019-04-12 / Commentary

The Book Biz

I’m just saying...
Julia Rogers Hook

As many of you know, I lived in the “City of Angels” for many years. I went on a whim with two girlfriends during my junior year at Carolina, fell in love with California, and stayed for almost 30 years.

My first job in Los Angeles was selling encyclopedias door to door. It wouldn’t have been my first choice of a job but back then I was still, as they say, wet behind the ears. I had no idea how to do much of anything but be a student with an allowance and there were no positions like that in all of L.A.!

But I was lucky. The company I landed in was basically one big family and my bosses took me under their wings. My girlfriends immediately didn’t want the job and perhaps if I had understood it literally meant going door to door, I wouldn’t have either. But the man in charge of the company was so charismatic and sparkly I was totally enchanted with the idea of “spreading knowledge” and making it affordable and available to everyone.

It was the knocking on doors that got me. In the south, when I was growing up, if a door-to-door salesman showed up everyone called everyone else to warn them not to answer their doors.

But I wasn’t in the south anymore and in my 20-something mind, I was “expanding my horizons” by selling these books. I imagined everyone…all the young mothers and their curious little tots, circling around me as I showed them the sample book and how amazing the pictures were. I visualized them passing the sample around and using the overlays that explained how the body worked or oohing and aahing over the colorful maps. In my mind, who wouldn’t want these books? They really were a great product and the payment plans could be adjusted for all incomes. This was going to be the easiest money I ever earned, I thought to myself.

That was NOT what happened.

What REALLY happened was when we would get dropped off in neighborhoods, even the smallest child seemed to know we were selling something and ran home to tell their mothers. The mothers would then shut their doors and go to the back of the house to pretend they weren’t home…just like in the south.

It was a humbling experience.

My team’s boss thought the reason I wasn’t making any sales (or money since we worked solely on commission) was my initial approach to the potential customer. He thought my “greeting skills” needed work so he decided to take me out with him to show me how to “get inside” and “make the sale.”

The next day off we went. His name was Jim and he had that illusive salesman’s magnetism that got us into the second house we knocked on.

It was a young couple and the wife was expecting. They were totally our target audience. After the initial pleasantries were out of the way, Jim began his sales pitch. Even though I should have been listening and paying attention my mind was wandering. About that time the cutest, tiniest kitten I ever saw came stumbling up to me and meowed. I was immediately besotted and picked it up in spite of a STERN look from Jim. Of course that sent his sales pitch off the path onto the rocks until the couple and I stopped talking about the kitten. Jim began again and the kitten and I sat there quietly beside him. The kitten was purring and I was trying my best to pay attention.

And then I saw Lily.

Lily was a five or six foot long python!

A python is a SNAKE!

There was a SNAKE loose in that house! And it was slithering right to me! And the kitten!

Jim was still talking about the encyclopedias and had no idea what was going on. The couple was listening intently and oblivious to the fact that a six-foot snake was headed towards my feet.

I didn’t want to interrupt Jim again, but really…I thought this might be pertinent information. As the snake got closer to my feet, the kitten noticed it. She was NOT happy. She was terrified! And if I was a 10-ounce fur ball in a room with a giant furry mammal-eating snake, I wouldn’t be thrilled either.

The kitten began to climb up my chest. I was wearing a spaghetti strapped sundress that day and in the kitten’s fear and terrified escape attempt, her little knife-like claw cut one of my straps leaving me with only one! I immediately put my hand up to hold up my dress because by now, the kitten was on the back of my head and hissing at Lily. Lily was placidly inching her way up my leg and occasionally flicking out her tongue. I wanted to grab the encyclopedia sample from Jim to see if it was true snakes smell with their tongues because it seemed Lily thought the kitten was a snack.

Just as Lily began to circle my body, the man noticed her. He told me not to panic…a tad late…and began to unwind her while I held a very scared and angry kitten as far away as I could. They ended up buying the books and Jim was happy and ready for the next house. As I trudged along beside him with my hand on my torn dress, I began to fervently pray the next house we went to didn’t have pets. Of ANY kind.

I’m just saying…

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