Today Is The First Day
Of The Rest Of Your Life
The sign in the window of Eddies store read:
New and Used Vacuum Cleaners
Sold and Repaired.
Hank opened the door and walked in. A man sitting at a desk, operating a hand calculator looked up at Hank and then back down at the calculator. “Have a seat, kid, I’ll be right with you. I’ve got to finish some counting here. Have a seat.”
Hank looked around the office. It looked like an NCOs office. The walls were covered with pictures, every one of them with him handing another man a trophy or plaque while the two of them stared straight ahead into the camera. They never looked at each other. And everyone had big grins. From the number of pictures on the walls, Hank concluded that Eddie’s was a fine place to work. It seemed like there were a lot of happy times at Eddie Repulski’s Vacuum Cleaner Store.
There must have been a lot of optimism, too, because for every picture of a happy salesman, there was a framed slogan or motto or uplifting phrase to guide the successful salesman not only through his workday but throughout his personal life as well.
There were slogans like, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” which Hank expected to see and some he didn’t expect to see like, “The next door you knock on is the first door of the rest of your life,” and “Knock, and the door shall be opened,” and “When the saints come marching in, vacuum cleaners will clear the way.”
Hank was starting to fall into a trance when the man put his calculator down and addressed him.
“I’m Eddie Repulski. What can I do for you, kid?”
“My name is Hank—”
“Hank. I like that name. Good name there.”
“Thank you. Like I was saying, I think I want to sell vacuum cleaners.
“Have you ever sold anything before—door-to-door?”
“You mean like Boy Scout tickets?”
“I mean like vacuum cleaners.”
“No sir, but I have sold Boy Scout tickets.”
“Who gives a shit?”
“Don’t worry about it, kid. I like the way you handle yourself. I’ll make a salesman out of you. You’re a good looker. Old ladies will buy from you and old men, too, probably, and young mothers. You’re a good looker and that counts for a lot in this business. Yes sir, you could set records. I hold the record, you know, back in Chicago, I sold 60 machines in 30 days back in the 40’s. That’s two a day—every day. I was twice as good as vitamins. Look, I was just about to start my sales meeting so why don’t you come back and see what you think?”
Hank didn’t know what to think. Eddie made it sound like all he had to do was go out there and if he was right it would be the best deal he had come across in quite awhile.
The room looked like a science lab in a low-budget Hollywood movie with strange looking vacuum cleaners of all makes and models littering the floor along with jars containing all the major dirt types known to mankind.
Hank was about to discover that this was Eddie idea of heaven—vacuum cleaners, dirt, and an audience.
Eddie wasted little time getting into the meat of things. “Boys, I want you to meet a new man, here. Name is Hank—Hank something.”
Eddie didn’t even know Hank’s last name but he sure didn’t let it bother him or slow him down for that matter. He just kept going, doing what all good vacuum cleaner salesmen hope to do some day, which is lead a group of other salesmen in a sales meeting. There were twelve men and two women that day sitting in folding chairs watching Eddie perform.
He covered all the bases, showing them all—Hank for the first time, most of them for the hundredth time—how the machines could suck dead skin and germs right out from inside a pillowcase or even more impressive, collapse a competitor’s bag in direct, nozzle-to-nozzle, competition.
When he finished that he lined up the long rows of little dirt piles using a competitor’s machine—the way you had to do, he told them, if you wanted to make a sale. And if you don’t really want to make a sale, he teased, well then, all you’re doing is cleaning some stranger’s rug. “You have to have these piles,” he said, his eyes gleaming like those of a small boy looking at his first puppy. “Don’t even try to close until you have at least fifty piles.” And then he paused and stared up at the ceiling as if he had just heard a train whistle blowing in the distance.
“Boys, I feel the spirit coming over me. Come on. Let’s hear it. Let Hank what’s-his-name hear it.”
The spirit he felt coming over him was the vacuum cleaner fight song. At his command, everyone rose from his seat. Eddie’s hands went high in the air and came down hard, and with the downbeat, every voice in the room boomed out the fight song.
Door to door salesmen, that’s what we are.
Door to door salesmen, reaching for the stars.
We never quit, and we never sit.
We just keep knocking cause we have true grit.
Fifty piles of dirt, fifty piles of dirt,
Line them in a row, watch your sales grow.
Door to door salesmen, that’s what we are.
Door to door salesmen, reaching for the star.
Near as Hank could tell, everyone in the room was singing the song to a different tune and no one appeared to really know the words but no one seemed to care. It was a lot like watching the Star Spangled Banner being sung before a ball game. But Eddie believed.
It occurred to Hank that surely he must be in the presence of a 14 carat, 99 and 99/100 percent pure nut. Just the idea of collecting and lining up some stranger’s carpet dirt made him cringe in his chair.
What else could Hank do?
Oh, there’s always something else he could do but he was tired of just doing something else. He wanted to do the thing he was meant to do but if that was ever going to happen he had to have the right doors open up. And this, sadly enough, was where Eddie Repulski came in. Hank didn’t know how to open a lot of doors but Eddie did. His job was getting doors to open.
Eddie didn’t wait for the sales talk to be over before calling Hank up before the group to ask him what he thought.
“Son, do you think you can do this? Do you think you have what it takes?”
Hank wasn’t sure if he had what it took to sell vacuum cleaners but he damn sure knew he didn’t have what it took to say no to Eddie—not with the show he was putting on.
“I think I can do it, Mr. Repulski.”
“Eddie, son, call me Eddie. You’re one of the boys now.”
“Do you want someone to go around with you today,” Eddie asked, “or you want to jump in cold turkey?” Cold turkey is an expression that doesn’t seem to have any real meaning but most people understand the implied meaning that cold turkey is the way to go—if you can do it, or as any wise salesman could tell you, it’s not what you know but what you show and if you don’t know a lot, just show ’em what you got.
Hank didn’t have a clue how to go about selling a vacuum cleaner but he didn’t feel like watching anyone else do it so he elected to go it on his own. This decision pleased Eddie, which in turn pleased Hank so—so far, so good; everyone was pleased.
“Just don’t expect much the first day,” Eddie warned, “or even the first couple of days. Just practice what you saw here and you’ll be selling two machines a week in no time.”
Eddie had one of the men start putting together the equipment that Hank would need while he continued with the pep rally.
“If the buyer says she can’t afford the machine you ask her what’s more important than a clean house. What is she going to spend the money on if she doesn’t spend it on her family’s health?
“If her husband says they don’t need a new vacuum cleaner you ask him what was the last tool he bought for himself and didn’t his wife deserve something nice, too—something like a new vacuum cleaner.
“If some old man says he’s too old to buy an expensive new vacuum cleaner you tell him how happy his kids will be to get something they can really use when he’s gone.
He always referred to the people as buyers because that’s what they were, he told them—if you do your job right. The last thing he told his team almost knocked Hank out of his chair.
“Just remember this,” he said. “You’re honest, hard working folks making a buck the American way, so don’t let no one kick you out on the street. Remember you have as much right to be in their house as they do. You’re selling them a vacuum cleaner.”
Eddie asked them to sell—not for Eddie’s sake—or even for their own sakes. Instead, he asked them to sell vacuum cleaners for the glory of mankind. He asked them to excel for the purpose of excelling. He asked them to do what only they could do because they were the only ones who could do it. He commanded them all to be somebody. He demanded it.
Hank was shaking when the meeting ended but as he looked around the room he realized that he was not alone.
When he was finished Eddie went right into his office like a rock star leaving the stage. It was out of his hands now. He had done his job and now it was up to his men.
While he signed out for his equipment, Hank listened to the team, his team, reacting to the speech.
“By God, I’m going to sell a machine, today, if I have to stay out until midnight,” said a man who looked like he stayed out till midnight, last night.
“Oh yeah,” said another. “Well, I’m going to sell one this morning, and then I’m going to sell another one this afternoon.”
“I’m going to knock on a hundred doors by noon,” said another.
“If I can’t sell a machine today, I’ll eat my hat,” said a man who didn’t wear a hat. “Eddie did it for a month in Chicago and if he could do it for a month, I can do it for a week. Five machines this week. You hear me, boys?”
“I’m going to sell six.”
“I’m going to do ten or I’ll quit.”
They were rolling now. The boys were in the tunnel ready to run onto the field. The fuse that Eddie had lit was about to explode as the team’s confidence reached new heights of excitement and anticipation.
By the time they had reached the front door, they had decided on an area to canvass. They were going as a unit, today—a team. Maybe the greatest team in the state, the country.
They were going to flood the zone, knock on doors until their knuckles hurt and set records that would stand for years. One day they would talk about today at another sales meeting and no one would believe it.
A Day For the Record Books
“Okay, let’s go get ’em.”
“Lakewood, then. Is that agreed?”
“Let’s do it.”
“For Eddie,” said one man.
“For Eddie,” echoed another.
“Where are we going to meet?” asked one of the women.
“We can meet at Denny’s on Sixth Street.”
“Okay then, Denny’s it is. Let’s go.”
Hank’s heart was racing as he walked—ran—to his car. He loaded a vacuum cleaner, rug washer, some supplies, a few accessories, and a few tubes of spot remover into his trunk. The spot remover, it turns out, was the key to getting into closed doors. Half the men were already there and eating when he arrived at Denny’s. He ordered a coffee and a bagel and waited for the others to arrive.
The men were still talking about Eddie’s speech, the best damn speech, most of them agreed, that Eddie had ever given. Hank figured he must be pretty lucky to be working for a man like Eddie and to be starting on a day like today.
Eddie had begun his speech at 7:30 and it was over by 8:00. By 8:30 everyone had arrived at the team’s Command Post set up in the corner booth of a Denny’s restaurant and by 10:00 Hank was working on his third refill. No one had left yet, and even though a few were still talking about the speech, most of them were now talking about other stuff—sports, politics, car payments. Hank thought by this time they should have been out on the streets but he wasn’t about to say anything. He was just a rookie. Maybe, he thought, it didn’t take that long to knock on a hundred doors.
At about eleven, the men decided it was so late that they might just as well hang around for lunch so that once they did hit the streets they could stay out.
The men finally did hit the street about one o-clock; but it was hot and stuffy and Eddie’s talk was over five hours old now, and besides, whoever chose Lakewood didn’t know what he was talking about because these people wouldn’t let you in if you were giving the machines away. By 2:30, most of the guys had gone home for the day. Hank quit at three. On his way home he stopped at the store, mainly because he felt he should still be doing something. Eddie saw Hank walk in and called him into the office.
“How’d the first day go, kid?”
Hank didn’t know quite what to say so he just kind of tilted his head.
“How did Lakewood work out?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Repulski.”
“Call me Eddie, kid. You’re part of the team, now. That is, if you want to be.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Repulski—Eddie.”
“Tell me, kid, what time did the boys finally hit the streets?”
Hank paused but couldn’t bring himself to lie to the man who had just hired him.
“About one, Eddie.”
“And when’d they quit?”
“Two hours, uh.”
“You know what that tells me, kid?”
Hank was feeling a little sick. No sir. I mean I don’t know what that means.”
Eddie smiled. “It means I gave one hell of a speech this morning. That’s what it means. Any time I can get a dozen lazy, shiftless, shit holes to work for two hours, I know I’m doing some kind of job. You know what I mean, kid?”
Hank decided that day that he would give Eddie more than two hours. If Eddie said the sales were there, he believed him and if he said all you had to do was knock on the doors, then by God, he was going to knock on the doors. And the funny thing was that it looked like Eddie was right.
© 2011 Phil Terrana