She threads her way through the cars on this swirly cold day, coming up my son’s driveway, and with the winter sun and the wind blowing her shoulder-length hair in her eyes all I saw at first was that eager smile and clipboard, and I figured she’s one of those Jehovah’s Witnesses coming to save my soul. But then I see that she’s wearing mustard-colored shorts and black stockings. They’re not even tights. They’re more like pantyhose, with a pattern in them, and there’s a big snag, almost a hole, on one thigh – it’s not real noticeable but I see it. She looks pretty trampy. So then I think, okay, she’s probably selling pest control.
Turns out she’s with Kirby vacuums, but she doesn’t have any equipment or even a car as far as I can tell. She must have been the advance gal for the salesman. That was my first job after babysitting when I was a teenager, I tell her, doing telemarketing for Kirby but I don’t mention the way me and the other girls got treated like meat. This little girl, her smile gets even bigger, she clutches her clipboard to her chest and says, “Do you have any advice for me?” She already told me she graduated early so I’m guessing she’s maybe seventeen and a half, at the most.
I open my mouth but then stop. I want so badly to tell her, Yeah, go home and put on some long pants. Don’t smile so much. Stand up straight. Make your voice deeper. But instead I tell her the truth, which is, you’re selling a really quality product. You can, you know, be proud of that. Have confidence in your product.
And I wondered about a kid who has was so desperate for work she’d go door to door selling vacuums and what kind of home life would let her outside looking like that. We said our goodbyes and she went up the street. A few houses away, I pushed the stroller across the street to catch up with her. “I have a question for you.”
“Yes?” She clutched her clipboard like it was a life vest.
“Do you have any Mace?”
“No, I was going to get some but it’s my first week and I haven’t gotten around to buying any.”
So I fished around in the stroller and gave her mine, and I wanted again to tell her, wear long pants. But how do you say that without scaring her? After I gave it to her I realized that now I was pretty vulnerable too, but I’m crusty. I have an attitude toward people, and I believe I will see trouble coming before it gets to me. That’s what you get for living this long.
That night, I told Bill what happened. He looked all squinty-eyed at me. “You got taken,” he said. “They put her out there looking helpless and people want to buy from her.”
I said, “Maybe she was being played that way by some creepy sales manager, but I don’t think she was sophisticated enough to run that game. At least she didn’t seem so to me.”
He shrugged. “She got your Mace.”