Quitting the Trade

P F Collier receiptThis is the final installment of the series about the days when I was traveling in encyclopedias. The first post can be found here.

I did manage to sell one set of encyclopedias, but oddly I have no memory of making the sale. I do, however, remember when Lester gave me the check. He made some crack about not understanding why they paid me for it but they did, so presumably there was something iffy about the buyers. Nor do I know what that two dollar fine was for.

But after maybe six weeks, I guess, I had had enough, and my mother was hounding me to get a real paying job because I wasn’t making anything with P.F. Collier, so I quit. I don’t think they missed me.

Why did I stay so long if I wasn’t earning anything? Because they kept telling me that I was just about to break out, and I believed them. There may also have been an element similar to a gambler on a long losing streak who thinks his luck just has to change. Why didn’t I “break out” as they put it? Possibly because I didn’t really believe in what I was doing. Oh, I thought that overall they were selling the encyclopedias and other books for a reasonable price overall, and I thought that encyclopedias did have intrinsic value (pace that philosophy prof), especially in the days before the internet, and Britannica was probably the best one on the market, but I thought their sales tactics were deceptive (and this was before I found out that…well, keep reading). So I was sort of torn between wanting to make the big bucks and not really having my heart in it.

One evening, a week or so after I had quit, when I was at home alone, there was a knock on the door, and who should it be but Diane Lazinsky, one of the kids who was still pitching the books. She was on Rick’s team now, so obviously he had brought her and one other kid, Jeff, to Richland. I think Rick took the other team members to a neighboring town. I remember Diane’s name because I had her write it down for me.

You see, on one of my sojourns to a little community named New Philadelphia while I was still on Dick’s team, I had practically sold a set, but the potential buyer said he needed a few weeks to get the money together for the down payment, if I could come back… He sounded pretty sincere. Since I wasn’t working for the company anymore, I offered the sale to Diane, but I had another reason for wanting to revisit New Philadelphia. She gladly wrote down her name and number for me. (I still have that little piece of paper.)

She and I spent the evening wandering around the streets of Richland and chatting, so she didn’t make any sales that evening. At 9 PM we went to the pickup place and met up with Jeff whom I also knew slightly. And we got to talking. Jeff had apparently done more reading in his sales notebook than I had ever done.

Remember when I mentioned way back in the first installment of this series about the sales spiel pointing to a photo of the encyclopedia with the price $799? The clear implication was that $799 was the retail price of the Encyclopedia Britannica, but if you read the fine print, which I never did, and of course the potential buyers never had a chance to read it because we turned the page too quickly, you found out that the price was for the gold plated deluxe anniversary edition. Meaning that the regular retail price (if there even was such a thing) was a lot less. As I said, we were supposed to memorize the sales pitch verbatim; there was a reason that it was worded the way it was. We never actually said that the retail price was $799, only vaguely implied it.

When Rick came to pick up Diane and Jeff, I handed him the paperwork for a soliciting fine. On one of the trips to a town in Lancaster County while I was still on Dick’s team, I had been stopped for soliciting without a permit, but they just took my information and later mailed me the ticket, which arrived after I quit. I had paid it as I didn’t want it hanging over my head, and now I gave the info to Rick, who said he’d reimburse me, though I knew he never would. And he never did.

A week or so later on a Saturday, Diane and I made our way to New Philadelphia and she got the sale. Then we went to see the real reason that I wanted to go to New Philly. Ed Stutz, a fellow that I knew from Penn State, had dropped out or flunked out and had now been drafted, and this was his last weekend at home before being shipped off to Vietnam.

We spent an hour or so chatting with him.

Oh, one more thing. Diane told me that Kathy, another of the P. F. Collier kids, was currently laid up in the Reading Hospital, so I made a point of going to visit her. Among other things she told me that Sharon (remember Sharon? She who claimed to have gotten up early for a walk in the garden?), anyway, Kathy told me that Sharon and team leader Dick were an item, and Sharon had not taken a walk in the garden that morning, and if she made anybody’s bed, it wasn’t her own. I had never suspected a thing.

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