I know this will come as a great disappointment to you all, but I’m a really bad salesman. 

The year was 1994 and I had just moved to Lewiston with a very nice school teacher. I had promised to get a job and all that noise and so I answered the very first ad I saw in the local newspaper, which happened to be the Lewiston Sun Journal. 

The ad was seeking hardworking and responsible folks like myself for phone sales and so I called in and made a bid for the job. What do you know? I got it immediately, and without so much as a live interview.

“Welp,” I told the girlfriend, “I got a job and start tomorrow.” 

“Great,” she said. “What will you be doing?” 

“Why, I’ll be selling phones, according to the ad.” 


I find it hard to believe I’m the only one who’s ever made that mistake. 

So, I got to my new workplace, which was a sparse office located over a bar somewhere in the Roak Block in Auburn. The office had a bunch of desks, each topped by a landline telephone and a clipboard with a hefty stack of papers clamped to it. 

There might have been a water dispenser in there, too, I don’t really remember. What I do remember is that during a brief orientation we were told that we would be selling magazine subscriptions to random strangers, each of whom would be just sitting down to dinner when we called.  

There was a kind of script that we were to read from when approaching these strangers with our exciting offers.

“Hello, sir or madam,” we would begin. “My name is (your name here) and I’m hoping to talk to you about an exciting offer I can extend to you and your family for a limited time only. Blah blah blah, Field and Stream, blah blah blah, American Line Dancing Monthly, blah blah blah The Garden Gnome Gazette and all that for the incredible price of …” 

I don’t remember the price. I don’t remember the magazines. What I recall mostly about that weird stint in phone sales (it’s not actually about selling phones, you know) is that I stunk at it. Stunk bad. 


You get yelled at a lot in that line of work, I can tell you that. You get hung up on, too, which was OK with me because my job really was just to call as many of the provided phone numbers as quickly as possible, hopefully selling some really rad magazines along the way. 

The funniest part of the gig was actually having conversations with those extraordinarily patient people who stayed on the line long enough for the conversation off-script. 

“You’re actually selling magazine subscriptions over the phone?” one woman guffawed. “That’s gotta be the worst job ever.” 

“It really is,” I confided. “The only other option was bowling shoe deodorizer, but the spray makes me sneeze.” 

What followed was a friendly chat about lousy jobs and how we all have to work them from time time. By the time the conversation was over, I had my feet up on the desk and I felt that I had made a real connection with Emily Q. Ditwither of East Up Chuck, Indiana. I made a new friend that day and in fact, we still exchange cards at Christmastime. 

OK, that’s a lie. I never talked to Emily Q. Ditwither again, although I like to believe I’m in her thoughts. 


By the second or third day on the job, my “sales pitch” had been whittled down to more or less a cringing apology for the obviously pointless intrusion I was making into the lives of these strangers. 

“Hello, Evan J. Rumfinkle,” I’d say to the nice man in Boise. “I’m really sorry to be bothering you because I seriously doubt you’re going to want anything to do with the pathetic product I’m peddling, but if you’d allow me to make my pitch, maybe we could talk about other stuff after?” 

Oh, the fun conversations that followed this ineffective spiel. One lady appreciated my candor so much, she almost bought a subscription from me.

Almost. I never actually sold a single one. 

So, at the end of each day, all of us phone sales persons would line up at the door and the manager guy would peel off a few sweaty bills for us. 

“How’d you do today?” he’d ask. 


“I think I’m getting into the swing of it,” I’d say, equivocating just long enough to get those bills in my hand so I could go to the bar downstairs and spend them. 

The fellow never seemed overly concerned with how many magazines we sold, which to me was a clear sign that this whole gig wasn’t about sales at all, it was just some black ops experiment to determine exactly how long a human can survive in a situation in which he knows he is utterly useless. 

The answer, apparently, is a week and a half, because the whole operation shut down after that. The office was cleared out so quickly, it was like it had never been there. 

The bar was still downstairs, though, so that was all right. 

My inability to sell should have been obvious by the time I was 10 years old, when I was convinced I could become the richest kid on the block by selling the weekly newspaper known as Grit. I even spent long minutes crafting my sales pitch for that gig. 

“Wanna buy a Grit?” 


“Hey, lady. You wanna buy a Grit?” 

“I have Grit. You wanna buy one or something?” 

Once in a while, a kindly old-timer would be impressed enough by the sight of a freckle-faced youngster trying to make money on his own that they’d stop and try to coach me along. 

“Well, young man,” they’d say, hands on their knees as they bent to speak to me. “Tell me why should I buy a Grit from you? Exactly what will I find inside one of these newspapers?” 

You know? In hindsight, I probably should have put SOME effort into researching the product I was trying to sell because I had absolutely no idea what you’d find on the pages of Grit. The only article I ever read in there had something to do with teat balm, but I only looked at that because I thought it was going to be something else entirely. 

After the failure at over-the-phone magazine sales, I got out of the business altogether and never tried to sell another thing, unless I was unloading my own property on eBay or Craigslist.

In 2014, 20 years after my first and only foray into phone sales, I sold a set of left-handed bongos through the Facebook Marketplace. The buyer? Astoundingly, it was one Emily Q. Ditwither of East Up Chuck, Indiana! 

No, not really. Wouldn’t that be cool if it were true, though?

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