When I was young, long before Encyclopedias were available online, employers used to drive young people far from their homes, drop them off in strange neighborhoods and abandon them there until 10:00 at night hoping they would return to the office bearing signed contracts for Encyclopedia purchases. Most of the time when dropped off, we (the young sales people,) had no idea where we were, nor did we know the way home. And if we didn't make it to the pick up on time, we were stranded.Try to imagine me, way back then, a hapless youngster just coming off a failed marriage and not wanting to admit defeat by returning home to Mom and step-dad, (or for that matter Dad and step-mom,) so I decided to take it on the road.
Myself, and other eager job applicants, after answering a promising ad in the newspaper for "Management Trainees," were instructed by a very forceful and impressive Vice President of the company to memorize an hour-long speal which started like this: "Hello there! I didn't mean to bother you. I'm talking to all the families in the local area and I'd like to ask you a couple of questions. Do ya HAVE a minute?" ( For some reason we were supposed to say "HAVE" really loud.)
If, in fact, the homeowner did have a minute, we were then required to risk our lives by entering the home of total strangers and delivering a long, memorized presentation offering the homeowners an entire set of Encyclopedias for FREE if they would only agree to sign a contract promising to pay $300 for updates.(Ahem. Okay, maybe it sounds like a rip, but it was a reputable Encyclopedia and I was just doin my job...)
Sometimes "Doing my job" meant hiding out most of the night. Often the driver of our car had no idea what type of neighborhood he (or she) was dumping everybody off in so we would end up on a corner where (for instance) heroin was being sold.
I remember one night saying, "Hey, drop me off by that liquor store," thinking I would have a nice, safe place to wait for my ride. But when I entered the establishment the guy behind the counter looked up at me really weird and said, "What are you doing here?" to which I replied, "Oh, I'm gonna be selling books in the area."I watched the blood drain from his face as he growled, "If anyone sees you in here, you're dead! "
Well, I saw no reason why a store owner would lie to me about such a matter (especially when, after hearing those words, I didn't even stick around long enough to buy cigarettes.)Instead I went outside, found a large bush and hid in it for the next seven hours. (You should have seen the expression on the faces of the dealers and addicts hanging out on that corner when my ride drove up and I came bursting out of the bush and jumped into the car screaming "Go! Go! Go!" Quite a surreal experience for them, I'm sure.)
But at least I survived to be dropped off again the next day.
After a few weeks of this perfectly normal lifestyle, if you are still crazy enough to show up for work every day they make you a "Trainer."I decided to refuse the promotion because I simply did not have the heart to "train" the poor fools who were now busily memorizing their speal, thinking there was actually a real job in it for them.However another hardcore veteran (of more than a month of this craziness) decided she would accept the challenge of taking a couple of fledgling "Managerial Trainees" out into the field to test their wings.*****
In many parts of the United States there are laws, regarding door to door sales, requiring the selling party to obtain a permit in order to work certain areas. Well, since we never knew where we were going when we left the office each day we never had permits, and this young lady and her trainees were unlucky enough to hit the door of a citizen who knew about the law and decided to call the Police.Fortunately the three girls were only walking down the street when the Police drove up and asked to see their permits. The trainer, knowing company policy in such a situation (especially when not caught actually knocking on a door,) was to lie to the police, did just that, claiming they were simply three innocent young ladies taking a walk. (Of course when the officer asked where they were going, they didn't know what to say. And further questioning uncovered the fact that none of the girls even knew what city they were in.)
Well, the police officers informed them that they had ten minutes to walk out of the neighborhood which left the trainer in a bit of a pickle. How could she and her trainees leave the neighborhood when they were supposed to meet their ride at 10:00pm a mere three or four blocks away? I mean, if they were unable to meet their ride, what were they supposed to do? Call their parents to come pick them up when they weren't even sure what city they were in?
I can imagine the expression on the faces of the trainees as their experienced instructor arrived at a simple resolution to their problem: They would all spend the remaining 3 hours of their work shift sitting in a tree.
Sure enough, the trainer's experience paid off. The police car, cruising by a while later to make sure they had left, passed right by their tree without a second glance.
For some reason both of the trainees failed to show up for work the next day, leading the rest of us to suspect that something must have freaked them out.
But not me. I kept coming. No matter how tough things got pounding the pavement selling books, (or hiding in foliage) it was still better than admitting defeat and moving back in with my parents who would surely give me a painful lecture on how they had warned me about getting married so young. Besides, for some reason it felt kind of cool wandering around strange neighborhoods at night. It was more interesting (you know) than regular life.
Now, before continuing on about my adventures, I will try to explain to you the mystique of pursuing such a bizarre line of work.
First of all, this country is beautiful. I simply can't stress that enough. And though it has been more than two decades since these events took place I refuse to believe that such soul-wrenching beauty can ever be truly lost, even with millions of reckless human beings trampling carelessly about as we do.
Secondly, most people are good. I can't list here all the kindnesses which were bestowed on me during my times of extreme need. It is the odd person, hiding out or wandering around in "predator" mode, who makes a neighborhood unsafe, not, generally, the residents.
And finally, living under such conditions as a door-to-door Encyclopedia salesperson experiences on a regular basis, (what with being alone after dark in strange and often dangerous neighborhoods,) a person can pretty much consider themselves to be in grave danger most of the time. And the effect of this particular mind-set is that all senses, such as sight, hearing, and smell, must be turned up to hypersensitive (you know, "radar on,") if one is to survive the day.
At such a young age and bursting with all that energy, I needed to be as alive as I could be, and experience existence as strongly and as profoundly as possible. Besides, one is never more alive than when faced with imminent death, right?Well, enough of my philosophy. To continue with my adventures...
One day the Vice-President of the Encyclopedia Company called me into his office and asked,"Are you a little bit bisexual?"
"What?" (I was young, but I had enough work experience to know that this was an unusual question for a boss to ask, even in this profession.)
"Are you a little bit bisexual?" he repeated.
"What?" I also repeated, and won the stand-off as he dropped the question.
"I want you to take a road trip, across country, working a-state-a-day from here to Oklahoma City."
"Okay," (After the "little bit bisexual" question, this request sounded pretty reasonable.) "What's a road trip?"
"You will leave Tuesday to help the new District Manager open an office in Oklahoma City. You'll work in a different state every day until you arrive. I've rented you all a house.
"From that point on, my memories of places, times, and events are a bit of a blur what with driving so many hours across state after state just to be dumped out of the car at 3:00 p.m. now not even clear where my general location would be on a map.
Usually we stopped in the smaller towns, you know, towns less frequented by circuses, medicine shows (and...well... us.)
Each day as I stepped out of the car and then watched it drive off with our only map, I noticed that the houses in these little towns appeared to be so charming and far apart compared to the houses in my beloved "Cement City." And there were so many more trees!
I also noticed, what with there not being fast food places on every corner, (heck, there weren't even that many corners) that as the sun began to set irresistible food smells emerged from almost every home, sort of drawing me in.
I was lucky enough, during these days, to experience some really wonderful social times with people I had never before met and will never see again. Many families welcomed me into their home and some actually wanted Encyclopedias! Of course others wanted me expelled from their neighborhood as soon as they noticed me walking down the street.
It was at about this time I began noticing that these smaller towns often have grave yards in the most unexpected locations. In fact, many neighborhoods appear to have their own personal burial areas.
Gradually I began to seek refuge in these little boneyards at times when people were unnecessarily cruel, or when I didn't feel well and needed a place to rest where residents wouldn't notice "a stranger in town" and call the police.
During these quiet graveyard visits I often enjoyed wandering around reading headstones and wondering about the people buried beneath them. Sometimes I asked the local spirits to help me sell some freaking books so I could go to my pick up place and maybe catch a nap before my ride came.
Surprisingly, this communing with the spirit world often seemed to help. So much so, in fact, that I began asking the driver to drop me off in "graveyard neighborhoods," (a practice which would eventually backfire, as you will soon see.)
In Southern California we have almost no weather. There's an old joke that I can't remember exactly, but it goes something like:
"California has only three seasons; Earthquake, Fire and Riot."
One day when I was walking along a main street in Oklahoma City the wind began to blow... hard.
Well, having no experience in the area of aberrant weather phenomena, I continued onward without a care. However soon the wind was so strong I decided I'd better grab onto a street-light and wait things out.
Boy was I surprised when the wind grew even stronger, lifting my feet right off the ground!
Fortunately there was a short break in the wind's force which allowed me to run into a convenience store which was, (as it should be,) conveniently located across the street. I came bursting through the doors and then, figuring I was safe inside, decided I would buy something to snack on until the wind died down.But where was the counter guy? And why would he leave the cash register all unattended like this?
I looked around the store and, to my surprise, found the counter guy in the center row of the store, all hunched down with his arms over his head.
"Hi!" I said.
He looked up at me, appalled, and yelled, "What are you doing? GET DOWN!"
Well, when in Rome... So I sat down on the floor, put my arms over my head and asked, "What are we doing?"
"Tornado!," he said, looking at me as if I were a total idiot.
"Oh!" I said, starting to get the picture. "Well, what happens if it hits this store?"
"We die!" he growled.
But the tornado passed us by, leaving me alive to sell books another day.
About a week later, I was having one of the worst days of my life. Everybody hated me and they all said I talk too fast. Worst of all, I had cigarettes, but NO MATCHES!
I knocked on a door and, after the resident assured me that she did NOT have a minute, now or ever, I asked very timidly, "Do you think I could borrow a match?"
Well that woman started yelling at me in such a manner as to actually bring tears to my eyes (probably because I still didn't have a match,) and by the time she was through verbally ripping my head off I promised myself I would never, EVER, ask another homeowner for a match, no matter how long I might be forced to go without a cigarette.
Sadly I moved on to the next house and bravely knocked on the door.
Much to my surprise the most gorgeous blond human being you could ever imagine opened the door, leaving me at a total loss for words.
"Well, HELLO THERE!" (The homeowner spoke these words to me as if I were holding one of those big Reader's Digest Winning Sweepstakes Checks in my hand or something. However I was still a bit shaken and barely to speak, probably because nothing good had come of the day up to that point, and I was a little confused by this new turn of events.)
I heard the voice say, "What can I do for YOU?"
Through the muddle of my confusion I found my voice and asked weakly, "Do you have a match?"
"I have anything you want!"
Those magical words marked the beginning of three of the best days of my life. I didn't return to the rented house, I didn't get dropped out of the car, I didn't knock on stranger's doors. I just stayed in that little house and, well, enjoyed some of the most beautiful sights Oklahoma City had to offer. Over and over and over.
The nights, sticky and hot, matched my mood perfectly and time passed far too quickly.
Finally coming up for air, I learned that my new friend was growing a large crop of corn in the back yard. However there was something strange about the wire fence that surrounded the corn. Wherever the fence touched a corn stalk, the leaves appeared to be all brown and dead.
I asked about this strange phenomena, and learned that the fence was electrical.
Why would anyone put an electric fence around a corn field?
Well, it turns out the corn was protected by an electric fence because there were dozens of marijuana plants growing in between the corn stalks. (Sometimes life is SOOOO good...) However,I was soon forced to leave my blonde friend behind hoping, of course, to return... but that was never to be.
The District Manager I had traveled to Oklahoma with turned out to be, well, homosexual, and had apparently chosen me for the trip with the idea of our having more than just a business relationship.(Ohhhhh,,,,That's what the "little bit bisexual" thing was about!!!)And, since I had recently shown myself to be heterosexual, well, I was outta there.......and on my way back to California.
By this time I was finally reaching the point where I'd had just about enough adventure and was almost ready to begin a more normal way of life. I was still requesting graveyard neighborhoods where I would spend more and more of my work hours communing with the spirit world (while spending less and less time trying to sell books.)
My co-workers noticed this and mischievously decided to take me to a neighborhood where there was a particularly large and ominous graveyard. They then dared me to allow them to pick me up at 10:00 p.m. near the end of a long driveway leading deep into the cemetery.
I agreed, no big deal.
But when the pickup time came, the car didn't. And it didn't come for an hour after that or for an hour after that. Not even for an hour after that.
As I was waiting, I noticed that the moon seemed to reflect the blue of the night sky onto everything in sight, including me, making me to feel, momentarily, like one of the grave markers -- cold, lifeless and void of resolution.
But there was also life everywhere, insects buzzing, crickets chirping, the occasional night bird or animal sound. Sometimes I would hear a "whoosh" and then the rustling of leaves as they danced around in the night wind.
I felt at home. I was not knocking on strangers' doors. I was not being driven always further and further away from every place, thing and being I had come to need and understand. I was in a beautiful cemetery, a resting place with peaceful companions.
I decided to lie on the ground and watch the clouds glide lazily over the shadowy face of the Man in the Moon...
And they still did not come.
Now my trust in my co-workers was breached irreparably. Certainly they didn't HAVE to leave me sitting alone in a graveyard for an extra 3 1/2 hours. They were probably having dinner and drinks while leaving me abandoned in a huge cemetery, you know, to "teach me a lesson."
But it just didn't work out that way.
When my coworkers finally did arrive to drive me back to the office, I approached the car casually, opening the door and climbing in, greeting them in a friendly manner.
I'm pretty sure they were expecting my to ream them a brand new anal passageway for leaving me alone in Spooksville for hours ...but no.
I never even said a word about it.
I'll always remember the expressions on their faces as I gazed calmly out the window into the darkness and they stared back at me, sort of in awe. It was almost as if they were... afraid of me. Like I was some kind of emotionless zombie or something.
But it really wasn't that way.
I was calm because, during the three or four hours I spent sitting alone in that graveyard, I had experienced the most peace, quiet and just plain safety I'd found since I started in that crazy line of work.
Lets face it, a graveyard late at night is the last place most people tend to go. And, after having all that quiet time to think things over I realized I had come through this experience, this ENTIRE experience, a much older and wiser very young person, because I now knew these simple truths...
The dead have no arms or hands to grab us, strike us, or strangle us with. The dead have no legs to kick or trip us with. They have no brains with which to judge us or to plan our demise. They have no guns to shoot us no knives with which to slice us into pieces . They don't even have drugs to addict us to, or needles to spread diseases with.
We can all spend as much time as we want in a grave yard, sitting or sleeping or even just thinking, and the dead will remain quietly beneath us (or beside us,) in peaceful coexistence.
Spending all those hours alone in a graveyard late at night didn't teach me what there is to fear of the dead. Oh no, just the opposite.
I believe the true Lesson of a Graveyard is this:
One need never be concerned about harm being done to them by the forces of the dead... those spirits are already at peace.
It's the living we need to worry about.