Saturday, June 1, 2013


A song can bring back memories, both good and bad. Sometimes they are stupid. One that brings both bad and stupid memories for me is "Walking In Memphis" by Marc Cohn. I didn't like the song from the minute I heard it on the radio, but started hating it even more because I associate it with my short lived stint as a waterless cookware salesman. Let's set the time machine for May 1991.

My parents always wanted me to get a summer job when I was in college,but I have always had a hard time finding a good job. The problem with being in a college town (contrary to what people say Springfield Missouri is a college town) The News Leader is filled job notices for crappy direct sales jobs in the spring. They are usually a mass recruiting for commission only sales of expensive stuff nobody would cleaning products or waterless cookware.

The people recruiting and training for the waterless cookware company were from Texas. This was the start of my dislike for Texans, with the exception of Joe Bob Briggs, Mike Nesmith, Roky Erickson, Stephen Stills, Morgan Fairchild, the Dixie Chicks, ZZ Top and the late Molly Ivins. They are just really arrogant, obnoxious, pushy, hot-headed people, who believe that everyone should do things their way, nobody should tell them what to do and you are worthless if you don't want to be like a Texan. They believe that nobody in the other states measure up to their greatness and they really shouldn't have to be a part of the United States of America. This is why they keep wanting to secede from the Union. "So help me Mitch Miller!" (Sorry, I had to throw a Stan Freburg reference here).

The other problem with these people were they were sales types. They worshipped at the all mighty alter of Zig Zigglar, who they claimed had worked for their company (Big whoop). They believed selling this stuff was more important than anything in the world. Forget your family, your girlfriend, even your college education and your future career, you are now a member of the cult of waterless cookware. You should even stop to eat, rest or go to the bathroom until you have made a sale. They actually told that I would be better off dropping out of college and making waterless cookware sales my career.

This cookware and fancy china they wanted you to sell was $800 in 1991. Gosh knows what it would cost now in 2013. That made me realize I was not going to be able to make any money, because nobody was going to pay $800 for this stuff.

The Texans in charge of the Springfield office were a guy and his fiance (I don't remember their names and that is good because they might sue me if they read this). They trained us in how to make sales calls and give these demonstrations on how to use the cookware. We were given literature about the company and these two were in just about every photograph.

This is where the song "Walking in Memphis" comes in. This Texas cookware guy was constantly singing that song, when he wasn't lecturing me on how I needed to have more "zeal" for selling and I should accept Zig Zigglar as my personal Savior. His fiance was even more obnoxious than him, as a matter of fact, she was downright hateful (I will be politically correct here and not use that word that begins with a "B").  She looked like Liza Minnelli, only with out the giggly, bubbly personality and more make-up. Among the things I didn't like about her was she didn't like The Simpsons and she said Imo's Pizza was "the worst pizza she ever had."

They trained us to do these demonstration of how the cookware worked. They told us the easiest thing to cook was carrots. For some reason the Texas had some sort of stupid rule that you were not supposed to peel the carrots. They were obsessive about this carrot rule. Everyone in the group had to give a practice demonstration in front of the other recruits. I decided that I was not going to tell people to not peel their carrots. My mother peels carrots before she cooked them, my Grandma Jones peeled carrots before she cooked them and my sister, Villanova, peels carrots before she cooks them, and since I'm a laid back, "do-your-own-thing" liberal, I was going to tell people that it was okay to peel your carrots. I was doing my demonstration and I got to the carrot preparation. "Next you wash and peel your carrots," I explained to the group, like I was an infomercial doofus. Those words had barely left my mouth when the Cookware Sales Queen of the Lone Star State snaps, "You are not supposed to peel the carrots." I tried to be diplomatic and said, "You can leave the peel on, if you like, or peel them if you want." She went ballistic, "I SAID YOU DON'T TELL THEM TO PEEL THE CARROTS! YOU ARE TO LEAVE THE PEEL ON THE CARROTS! DO YOU NOT KNOW HOW TO FOLLOW DIRECTIONS?"

In review, if anyone ask you what Texans are passionate about, you can say they are anti-gun control, anti-gay marriage, anti-evolution and anti-peeling carrots. Here I should mention that in training they wanted us to say that eating food cooked in waterless cookware was "better for you than fast food." However, if the person you were giving the demonstration to said it was easier for them to eat fast food than pay $800 for waterless cookware, then you were supposed to tell them that fast food companies give much of their revenue to "an undesirable group" such as pornographers, atheist organizations, gay rights organizations or devil worshiping churches.

"I don't think that is ethical?" I questioned them on this practice.

"WHY DO YOU NOT WANT TO DO WHAT WE TELL YOU?" The Cookware Sales Queen of the Lone Star State yelled at me. "We have won awards as top sales people with the company. We know what we are doing!" She was so mad her thick layer of make-up was starting to crack.

Next day, I had to go out with the Cookware Sales King of the Lone Star State, who would burst into singing "Walking in Memphis" every five minutes. He had the names of girls and newlywed couples he wanted to try to sell waterless cookware on index cards.

"We have a person at the home office that can access membership list of sororities and wedding gift registries," this guy said between random lyrics of "Walking In Memphis." Thinking about it this now, this seems very unsafe and an invasion of privacy. Hopefully there are now laws against obtaining this information because this would be a treasure to sexual predators. 

I casually mentioned that I was not interested in talking to a girl named Andrea, who I had been in a bad relationship with, especially since she said she hated me and I told her I would never speak to her again (Although, I did look up her name on Facebook - Her profile listed Sarah Palin as a person she admired and she belonged to group "Women For Todd Akin" - I'm glad now that she hated me). The Texan kind of ignored that comment. I also mentioned that I probably would not get any sales from the girls i went to school with in Lebanon, because they hated my guts.

Not the real Eunice Moneymaker but a reasonable facsimile

I then saw a card that made my blood run cold with disgust and fear: "Jack & Eunice Strapp - From Lebanon now living in Springfield." Those who have read the old blog and this one recognize that "Eunice" is the name of the girl I liked in junior high and high school, Eunice Moneymaker. At that time, she had just gotten married to muscle-bound athlete named Jack Strapp, Lebanon High School Class of 85. This guy lived on a diet of steroids and was know to beat people to a bloody pulp if they even spoke to Eunice. I knew that I was not going to their house, because Jack Strapp would beat me to death and leave the remains at the curb in a Hefty bag. Well, it was the Cookware Sales King of the Lone Star State's turn to go ballistic on me this time.

"YOU WILL NEVER MAKE A SALE IF YOU DON'T LEARN TO TALK TO PEOPLE! FOR A PERSON WHO IS STUDYING COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA, YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH TALKING TO PEOPLE! I AM GOING TO MAKE YOU GO TO THEIR APARTMENT TODAY AND GIVE THEM A DEMONSTRATION!" The problem wasn't that I didn't want to talk to people, I just didn't like confrontation or death.I also didn't want my death certificate to read "Beaten to death while pretending to cook unpeeled carrots."
We went to four of the addresses on the cards. Two of the girls were not at home and at the other two, we talked to roommates who really wouldn't tell us when the girl  One of the names on the index cards was a girl that I graduated with at Lebanon High School. I mentioned I knew this girl and Tex decided he had to "make sure" I made a sales call on her. She also wasn't at home and her roommate, a friend of Eunice's, wouldn't let us in. She kept the door chained, but that didn't stop Tex from talking.

"We will check back later. I want to make sure Mr. Desdinova discusses our product and gives you and your roommate a demonstration. He seems to be intimidated by women." Great! Not only can he not figure out that people don't want to hear about the virtues of waterless cookware, he has to humiliate me in front of girl's from Lebanon, who didn't have a high opinion of me in the first place."While I'm talking to you, let me ask you if you know this couple and is this their correct address?"

"Yes, that is where Eunice lives," She answered then she gave me a dirty look.

"Good, I'm going to make sure Mr. Desdinova give Mrs. Strapp a demonstration of our product. Mr. Desdinova is trying to get out of this by claiming  that her husband will beat him up."

"He probably will," she said.

"Most people are really happy to have us in their homes and giving a demonstration of our product," he explained with unabashed enthusiasm before uttering an even stupider statement. "He also has nothing to worry about, I carry a gun for my protection."

We left and drove across town to the apartment where Eunice and her husband lived. I lucked out because they were not at home. No beatings and no shootings. I wonder if  it was just luck or Eunice's friend called and said, "Dedinova is on his way over to your house with an obnoxious guy from Texas that looks like a cross between Mike Stivic (Top) and Rollie Fingers (Bottom)...they are going to try to sell you waterless cookware. Hide and don't answer the door."

The Cookware Sales King of the Lone Star State at the end of the day decided that I needed a "goal" and an "ultimatum." He gave me a stack of the index cards and said I had to talk to at least five girls the next day alone or he would "chaperon" me the next week on calls. I agreed to it, because I noticed that many of the names were girls I had class with at SMSU. With the exception of Andrea, I got along good with girls I had class with at SMSU, who were from KC and St. Louis, I just didn't get along very good with girls from Lebanon (Andrea was not from Lebanon but another small town. I can't remember which one - I think they have a fair there).

I noticed that the name of one of the index cards was a girl named Annette. I sat next to Annette in film history class and made her giggle uncontrollably during Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata by simply saying "This movie blows." She was a beautiful girl with long, jet black hair, blue eyes and a nice tan. Annette was my first sales call. She invited me into her apartment and I told her what I was doing. She said that since she was graduating that week, she would be moving back home to St. Louis, so she wouldn't be available for demonstration. I explained my situation and asked her about some of the other names on the index cards. Annette must have felt sorry for me having this crummy sales job, because she was very courteous, helpful and hospitable. When I told her about the training session, she said, "She yelled at you for pealing carrots? What a bitch!"

From Annette's apartment, I drove back to campus and went to the Alpha Sig house to talk to Julie, a cute, bubbly blond. She was also graduating and going back to St. Louis. When I also told her about the job and what had went on in the training session, she too said, "She yelled at you for pealing carrots? What a bitch!"  

From the Alpha Sig house, I went to Sigma Kappa house and talked to Johnna and Chantel. Chantel was headed home to KC after graduation and Johnna was leaving for the summer but said I might contact her in the fall. Both Johnna and Chantel said, "She yelled at you for pealing carrots? What a bitch!" Chantel wondered if they had medication for behavior like that or if society would be better off if Tex's fiance was put under psychiatric care for outburst like that.

My next stop was the Tri-Sig house, where I talked to Sandy and Kerri, two blond girls who looked like they should have been sisters. They were leaving for the summer but said for me to come back in the fall if I was still working for that company and give a demonstration to all of the Tri-Sigs. They said that it would be fine with them if I wanted to peal the carrots.

I also went to the apartment of an attractive, but rather tall blond named Jill, that I had some classes with. She was leaving Springfield for her home in KC, but would be back in July. She was also appalled by the fact that I got yelled at for wanting to peal the carrots. Jill gave me some encouragement. "I'm sure something better will come along for you. You are a good person and very smart." I gave her a hug and left with a smile on my face. Not sure if the Texans would have approved of my hugging someone who didn't buy any waterless cookware, but then again Tex was ready to shoot Jack Strapp.

Now I could go to the office and show the Texans that had talked to SEVEN leads that day. Naturally, all my work wasn't good enough for the Texans. "You should have gotten these girls to give you their addresses in St. Louis and Kansas City," Mr. Waterless Cookware of Texas complained. Dejected and demoralized after I had, like Napoleon Dynamite's brother, spent a wonderfully fun day of "talking to fabulous babes."

When I arrived at my apartment, there was a message on my answering machine from one of the professors in the media department. I returned the call the next morning to find out that I could use my independent study credits for an internship in the news department at KOLR-TV. No pay, just credit and experience. The choice had to be made between working in a TV newsroom with broadcasting professionals or being forced to try and sell expensive waterless cookware by crazy Texans. I chose the KOLR internship.

I took the sample cases filled with cookware, silverware and dishes back to the office on South Campbell. Tex wasn't too upset and seemed to be happy for me, but his fiance gave me a tongue lashing.

"How could you make such a stupid mistake? You are throwing your life away. You will never amount to anything if you don't continue with us. Don't you know that nobody likes the news media people!" Like people just love door-to-door-cookware-sales people.

I interned at KOLR-TV over two semesters as part of the independent study program. There I got to meet and work with Tom Trtan, Ted Keller, Steve LaRocco, Jill Jensen, Lisa Forgey, Dan Lucy, Scott Opher, among others (in case I forgot someone). I also had a wonderful supervisor and teacher, Lissa Page-Wood, who was always very encouraging to me. At KOLR, I learned hands on about news gathering and TV production. While I haven't had a job in TV, I use much of what i learned from the news team putting together radio news.

You notice I haven't given you the name of the waterless cookware company or the couple from Texas. It isn't because I didn't want to embarrass them, because I would love to do that. It is because I can't remember the name of the company or either the guy or the gal from Texas names. The girls names I remember. As a matter of fact, I've tried to find them on Facebook, sadly to no avail.

This ugly episode had kind of blocked it from my mind until I started hearing "Walking In Memphis" again on local radio, causing me to have back flashbacks to the strange moment in my college career. This blog post was supposed to be quick and easy for me, but the memories came flooding back like a backed up septec tank. It took me a week to write this and get it posted. Retro music, oldies or whatever you call it can trigger memories, both good and bad and stupid.       

1 comment:

Leanne Jernigan said...

Sweet blog! I followed you on google friends connect, so you should probably follow me too.

~ Leanne

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