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The door-to-door salesman: an endangered species; the "hot doorbell" and a myopic dog that mistook his leg for a fire hydrant are just two reasons this ladies underwear representative retired from the selling game.


How long has it been since you'vehad the satisfaction of slamming your front door on a salesman's foot?

Can't remember, right? That's becausethe door-to-door salesman is fast going the way of the stickleback, the day gecko, the Hawaiian dark-rumped petrel, and other endangered species. Blame it on the convenience of neighborhood shopping malls and shop-at-home services if you like. But I know the No. 1 reason. One can't very well have participated in the door-to-door selling game for 15 years without knowing the No. 1 reason.

The ordeal began during my sophomoreyear at the University of Michigan. I had sailed through the first year nicely on my lifetime savings of $600. But by the second year I was faced with the decision of either taking a part-time job or giving up the habit of eating. As fun-loving fate would have it, I signed up to sell ladies lingerie door-to-door.

As I was fresh off the farm, mybackground in feminine underpinnings extended no further than the Sears, Roebuck catalog. Oh, I could distinguish between a girdle and a horse harness, but that was about it. My "training,' which lasted all of five minutes, did nothing to relieve the thought that I never should have left the farm. It consisted of the proper procedure for measuring a woman's leg for our "personal fit' silk stockings --ankle, calf, and, so help me, thigh. Then I was to determine the correct length by having a woman stick her foot in a loop of tape and running the tape up her leg. As high as 38 inches! You try that on a five-foot girl and you've got trouble, Buster.

Now that I was trained, the"trainer' put me into his car, along with an old beagle hound he said his kid had dragged home from school the day before, and drove us out to what he called--if you'll excuse the expression--"virgin territory.' The dog rode in the front seat.

According to the sales manual, discoveredlater in a pocket of my sample case, the trainer should have made the first few calls with me before turning the territory over for me to deflower. But once he saw the knee-deep snow, he suddenly remembered an appointment back at the Michigan Union, leaving the hound and me and my trusty tape measure to face the world.

I guess you could call it beginner'sluck, because for the first block I couldn't catch anyone home. They were home, all right, I just couldn't catch them at it. Not that I expected to be greeted like a long-lost husband carrying a Tiffany shopping bag, but at one house the shades were being pulled as I came up the walk. Another house had a "Meezles' quarantine sign swinging from the doorknob. Next door, a woman called in her kids and let out their dog. I was confronted by this same dog three houses running-- and I do mean running. Up ahead, a woman dashed out with a bucket of water to ice her front steps.

By this time I discovered I was servingas a rallying point for every stray mutt and prereform school kid in the neighborhood. Sometimes I'd dodge a little sled. Sometimes I'd duck a little frozen snowball. Sometimes I wouldn't. The dogs that weren't worrying my genuine cowhide sample case were worrying me by jockeying for pole position on my ankles. When finally this myopic old hound that had ridden out with me mistook my leg for a fire hydrant, I said to myself, "To heck with a sale, I've got to get in somewhere out of the dogs and kids!'

That's when I made connectionswith my first "hot doorbell.' I had come to a house with uncrayoned siding and a cat with a full-length tail on the porch rail. So naturally I pegged it as a house without kids or a dog. And when I spotted an old gentleman sitting in plain view behind the picture window and smiling and nodding as I approached, I took him to be perhaps a retired door-to-door man--or at least one of those rare people with a bosom fairly sloshing with the milk of human kindness. It was probably at that moment that the sadistic old goat was throwing the switch that sent some 5,000 volts into the doorbell system.

At any rate, one second I was pushingthat innocuous-appearing doorbell button, and the next second I was lying flat on my back at the foot of the steps with my underwear samples scattered from hell to breakfast.

For all their shortcomings, thatcontingent of kids helped me to my feet and, accompanied by ribald remarks that belied their age, collected my wares. I don't know what I'd have done without them. I do know what I would have done with that one little loudmouth had my misaligned hip allowed me to lay hands on him. He followed me into the next block yelling, "Hey, mister, you left a pair of ladies' pants hanging in the pine tree!'

Making the daily sales quota thetrainer had set for me was by now furthest from my mind. Closer by far was nursing my hipbone back into its socket and then finding a bus stop. Unfortunately, I hadn't accomplished either when I happened to pass a house where a woman was unloading groceries from her car. The devil said, "She's a sitting duck. If you limp up and give her a hand, how can she refuse to look at your stuff?' And for once he was right.

So there we were in her living room,remnants of my samples spread out on the sofa and across the coffee table, when she happened to glance out the window. "Oh, my gosh, it's my husband!' she exclaimed. "I don't know what he'll think about this!'

Grabbing up my stuff and jammingit into the case, I said, "Where's the back door?'

She said, "We don't have one.'

I said, "Where do you want one?'

But believe it or not, here is where Igot my first two orders: "Get out and stay out!'

Safely out in the snow again, I wasreminded of a story the trainer had told me on the way into this virgin territory. One of his recruits who wasn't doing well finally got so desperate that when a woman answered his knock on the door, his sales pitch was, "Would you like to see some nice merchandise?' She of course said no. Then he asked, "Would you mind if I stepped in and looked at it? I haven't seen the stuff in two weeks.'

Was that a bus stop I saw beforeme? It was. Was that a kids' snow fort on my way to it? It was. And out from behind it came this deluge of runny-nosed kids, yelling such endearments as "Yer a funny-lookin' man!' "How come you walk that way?' "Whatcha comin' to our house for?' "Hey, ma, here comes a peddler!' and "Here boy, here boy!'

Before I could tell them that Iwouldn't come to their house if ma were Princess Di and Charles were on an expedition to the moon, Boy, a Russian wolfhound with a thyroid condition, came charging out from behind the garage. Ma, to her credit, dashed from the front door in time to grab him before he could nail me. And while she restrained the slobbering beast, the little man of the family slipped around and bit me in the leg. No kidding, my calf still bears the scars where his dear little teeth were embedded.

With things going so well, ma hadno choice but to usher me into the house. With any luck at all I'd have tripped over the welcome mat and gone directly to the hospital instead.

"I'll take your things,' ma said theminute I was seated, giving me to think that finally I had a live one. But no, she was just clearing my lap so the dog could jump up and dry his feet and not mess up the carpet. Not until he had churned my slacks into proper consistency for a bed did the thought occur to ma that I might be clothes conscious to the point of not wanting slush soaking through to my shorts.

"Maybe the man doesn't want youup there, Boy,' she remonstrated and reached over to force him down by scratching his head. By skillful maneuvering I finally managed to unseat the animal, but not before impaling an ear on a spike in his collar. After that, things went downhill quickly.

Before I could get my pantsand shorts separated, his place was taken by the baby, casually attired in wet diapers. Not that it mattered a whole lot. After planting about 23 hours of an all-day cherry sucker on the collar of my white shirt, she proceeded to keep out of mischief by tying "da did bad woof' to the floor lamp with the ends of my necktie. Had it not been for ma's noticing the coarse quality of my breathing when she did, I might have joined the ranks of the extinct right there.

"Maybe the man doesn't want toplay that game, dumpling,' she suggested with pride at her little girl's ingenuity.

No, the man would have preferredthe game be called on account of wet grounds. But even that was forgotten when I saw that the kid who had bitten me had now gutted my sample case and was trying to pull my last good silk stocking over his galosh. Luckily, I still had enough air to get ma's attention by clearing my throat.

"Are you sure the man wants youto do that, lover,' she said, helping to jerk it free of the buckles.

Knowing that I was responsible forlost or damaged samples but forgetting that I had been necktied to the floor lamp, I made a lunge for the kid. And while I lay there on the floor hors de combat, I could only watch as this girl dredged up out of the mess a --well, it was a panty girdle with a removable crotch, that's what it was. I had buried the thing in the bottom of my case where I thought it would never be discovered. Now here it was, being waved like the American flag at Fort Sumter in front of little children and an adult of the opposite sex.

"Oh, that's just what I've beenlooking for!' ma exclaimed. Well, well, well, a sale after all. And I was trying to estimate if my 16 percent commission would be enough to cover the silk stocking and the pair of pants in the pine tree when she asked, "Do you sell the crotches separately?'

She might as well haveasked me if goldfish have headaches, of course. But on the price list, sure enough, the crotches could be sold separately --at three for a quarter. And that is what she wanted, as her "old garment' was still "going strong.'

I was writing up the orderwhen the breadwinner for this group came home from what must have been a long day's work cleaning sewers with a short-handled shovel. He also gave the impression he was accustomed to returning to a tidy house and being greeted by an ardent wife, a welcoming committee of offspring, and a hot meal on the table. Instead, the living room had been done over in wall-to-wall lingerie samples, his wife was sitting on the floor with a complete stranger, the kids were engaged in snapping each other with the straps of the girdle, and the only thing on the kitchen table was the baby in wet pants licking the butter dish.

I've since thought of several remarksto bridge that cold moment of silence. Each was an improvement on what I did remark: "Your wife was interested in some new crotches!'

I was up and around again in threedays. Oh, I still have a slight limp, and my neck is restricted to a 20-degree swivel. There may also be something wrong with my head. I was one of the last of the species, you see, to give up the door-to-door game and begin working for a living.
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Author:Stoddard, Maynard Good
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1987
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