This is the third installment of the series about the days when I was traveling in encyclopedias; it began here.
I’ve previously mentioned that coming from a small town in Pennsylvania, I didn’t get to know many folks of the Black persuasion.
Even after two years at Penn State, that hadn’t changed. Certainly there were Black students on campus, even a few in some of my classes, but I hadn’t gotten to know any. Mostly because none of them lived in the same dorm as I did, at least not on the same floor.
As it happened, one of the fellows who worked at P.F. Collier that summer was Black. Also as it happened, 1969 was pretty much the year when Black became the preferred term, having gradually supplanted Negro over the past two years. (Don’t quote me on that; I’m not an expert on race relations, so I may be off by a year or so, but that’s how I remember it.)
Anyway, while Lloyd was not on the same team (I mean the same sales team) that I was, I would often see him when I came to the office. He and I were both early birds and so we’d each be sitting in the outer lobby waiting for Lester to open up.
I remember the first time I saw him sitting there in the lobby reading a Black oriented newspaper or magazine, and I wanted to strike up a conversation with him. Now imagine the most embarrassing, cringe-worthy thing that a clueless white person might say to a Black person under those circumstances, keeping in mind that this clueless white person did not consider himself in any way prejudiced and merely wanted to start up a conversation, still this white person was clueless. This white person being me, of course.
So have you imagined that cringe-worthy remark yet?
Great. Because I’m not going to tell you what I said.
But I’ll tell you what Lloyd’s answer was.
And he ignored me for the rest of the time that we waited for the office to open.
Well, despite that less than auspicious beginning, we somehow or other managed to become friendly over the next few weeks. He even had me over to his house once. So he didn’t hold a grudge.
At some point the teams began going on overnight trips to towns farther away, and P.F. Collier paid to put us up in a motel. One of those trips was to Tower City. As it happened, Tower City was where Tim Toward, whom I knew from Penn State, lived; I’ve written about him before. Alas, I didn’t know his address nor his number so I had no way to reach him while I was there.
But Lloyd’s team had also gone to Tower City, and the first evening, just as darkness was falling, we ran into each other. He wanted to keep on a bit longer but he was well aware that folks, especially in a small town, might be uncomfortable if a Black man came knocking on their door after dark. Could I be his wing man, just to let him get his foot in the door?
Sure, no problem. I still hadn’t had any luck after several weeks of trying to sell (place) encyclopedias, so I was only too happy to help him out. We started knocking on doors, with me in the lead, and him holding back. I’d do the opening spiel, and when we finally got someone to invite us inside, Lloyd took over and I bowed out gracefully.
I think it was the second day that we were in Tower City that my luck seemed to change.
I finally made a sale! Or rather, I finally placed an encyclopedia.
I was so excited, I could hardly wait to show our team leader Dick.
When I met Dick at the agreed meeting place, he was delighted that I had finally broken through, but when I showed him the signed agreement, his face turned dark.
To be continued…