No Intrinsic Value

Harvard classicsThis is the second installment of the series about the time I was traveling in encyclopedias that began here.

My memory of the summer of ’69 is a bit fuzzy after all these years, of course, but here is what I remember of a typical day when I went to work for P.F. Collier. Alas, I don’t recall everyone’s name after all this time.

We’d assemble at the office in Reading, PA, around noon or maybe a bit later. The big pooh-bah, maybe his name was Lester, would go over any announcements and then there’d be a rah-rah session to get us in the mood to sell, sell, sell. This generally consisted of selecting one of us kids to get up in front of everyone and recite the opening page of our spiel in as enthusiastic a manner as possible, just to get us psyched.

We were all assigned to teams with a team leader who was probably in his late 20s or early 30s. Four of us to a team, plus our leader, so we’d fit in a car. He’d drive us to our location for that day, but as we generally didn’t need to start until mid-afternoon (4 PM or so) when people started getting home from work, we’d go for a leisurely lunch first. Those lunches were fun as we all got to know each other.

Our team consisted of one girl and three boys, and I do recall the name of one of the fellows. Marty. He was a little bit older by a couple years than the rest of us kids, and he loved Porsches. He was always talking about them. And he’s one of the few people I’ve known who pronounced Porsche correctly as two syllables.

The others may have been Sharon, Pete, and our team leader Dick who was maybe 30.

Anyway, the other kids were already experienced by the time I started, so that first week Dick dropped each of them off in their neighborhood and told them where and when to meet him to be picked up that evening. Then I simply observed him as he and I went door to door until someone answered and admitted us, and he went through the spiel that I was learning. He was very good. He had the patter down to a T, and although he departed from it by a word or two here and there, he sounded like he was speaking pretty much off the cuff.

He sold (placed) an encyclopedia set that evening, and I pretty much got the hang of it.

When Dick let me go solo, maybe a couple evenings later, the very first house that I knocked on was answered by a fellow with a goatee who looked like your stereotypical college professor. As it turned out he was a professor of philosophy at a local college.

When he found out that I was peddling encyclopedias, he stopped me cold and said, “Don’t bother. I believe encyclopedias have no intrinsic value.” 

Whether I was demoralized by that encounter or simply had bad luck, I didn’t manage to sell (place) any encyclopedias that evening.

When Dick picked me up at the appointed meeting place around 9 PM, I told him about the encounter with the philosophy prof. He was annoyed and I heard him grumbling under his breath as he drove us back to our cars, “No intrinsic value…” 

The rest of that week I didn’t fare any better, but Dick told me this was fairly normal. It often took a week or even several weeks to hit one’s stride, but once you did, the commissions should start coming regularly.

Sometime in the next week or two the phone rang one morning around 9 AM at our house. My mother answered and called me, saying it was the encyclopedia people. It turned out to be Sharon’s mother. She said that when she got up that morning Sharon wasn’t in her room, and it looked like her bed hadn’t been slept in, and did I have any idea where Sharon might be, she had called Lester and Lester had given her the numbers of everyone on Sharon’s team and… 

I had to tell her that, no, sorry but I had no idea where Sharon was.

When I went in to the office that day, there was Sharon and she was all apologetic. Apparently her mother had called everyone on our team. According to Sharon, she had simply woken up earlier than usual, and since it was such a beautiful day, she had gone for a walk in the garden. Presumably she had made her bed as well.

Well, that settled that. I was just glad that Sharon was ok.

Oh, yeah, I ought to mention that very often when Dick dropped us off in the evening, before we all went to our cars to drive home, we sometimes stopped in at the Crystal Room (I think that’s what it was called) on Reading’s main drag. And had an adult beverage or two. We were never carded. I was 20 at the time, and up till then it had simply never occurred to me to try to slip into a bar.

To be continued…

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