Southwestern, Chapter Three: The Confusion

THE CONFUSION

Grants, New Mexico.

Fun fact about New Mexico: in 2006, the state ranked 49th in education and 45th in average household income. Not-so-fun fact: Ricky and I were going to spend the summer walking door to door in New Mexico peddling books. Educational books. Expensive educational books.

I didn’t know all of that the day we learned we were heading to New Mexico. In fact, I knew next to nothing about the state. The only cities I knew of in New Mexico were Santa Fe (because to this day I still have all the state capitals memorized), and Albuquerque (Weird Al taught me everything I know about Albuquerque).

I had no idea what to expect when we got to Grants. Ricky and I took some time the evening before we left for New Mexico and tried to scout the area a little. In the short time we spent researching, we realized there wasn’t much to it.

We gathered up as a group one last time for the evening after everyone had had time to research their summer destinations. One crucial part of the summer had been left undiscussed. Frankly, I hadn’t even thought about it. I wasn’t the most critical thinker back then (still the case, for what it’s worth). But it was time for Andrew to tell us about where we’d be staying.

Oh, right. We’d need a place to sleep. I suppose I thought we’d be in an apartment for the summer. Or perhaps one of those extended stay type of hotels. We were working for this book company, so I figured they’d have a place prepared.

“Alright, guys. Listen up. It’s up to you to determine where you want to stay this summer,” Andrew started. “Now, remember, you’ll want to keep your costs as low as possible. You are your own boss. You are running your own business.”

It still wasn’t sinking in. Not fully, anyway.

“It’s Thursday today. We’ll make it to New Mexico by Saturday afternoon. You’ll want to have your lodging secured no later than Monday night, so you can start selling books Tuesday.”

“I’m sorry…where exactly are we staying?” Shanna was as confused as I was. Bless our hearts.

“That’s up to you.”

Have you ever been so excited for a new opportunity, but then learn that there is a major problem that you might not be able to overcome? You keep smiling on the outside, but in your head you start to panic a little. That was Shanna. That was also me. I shot a look to Ricky like ‘did he just say what I thought he said?’ and Ricky just shrugged.

I should point out that I was one of the last people to sign up for this summer gig. My buddy Travis had been planning to do this since February. Ricky had been on-board since March. They knew about this ahead of time. Me? I made the choice to sell books two weeks earlier. To say I was clueless about what this “internship” fully entailed is an understatement. Evidently Shanna hadn’t been made aware of the living arrangements either.

“I would recommend putting your door-to-door skills to the test right off the bat. This is how it’s done. When you get to your city, go find a nice neighborhood and go door to door asking folks if they, or someone they know, might have a spare room for the summer. Look, I know that sounds crazy, but I have yet to have a seller not find housing this way. And this is my eighth year now. People want to help, all you have to do is ask.”

“Wait,” said Shanna, speaking the same words I would have used. “You’re telling us to go door-to-door and ask strangers if we can stay in their home for the summer? You can’t be serious.”

“I’m dead serious. And you should be, too.” Andrew noticed a few more of us looking as incredulous as Shanna, so he did this odd shoulder shake thing, then did his best to ease our minds. “Look, we do this every year. This is a tried and true method. Find a nice neighborhood and start knocking on doors. If you get anyone who seems to be wavering, don’t take no for an answer. Make the sale. If you have to make an arrangement to rent a room in someone’s house, so be it. It’d still be way cheaper than an apartment, most likely. But best case, you’ll find an old church lady with a couple spare bedrooms who’ll let you stay for free.”

Travis was next to me, nodding his head. He’d known about this. He glanced over and saw me sweating. “It’s not a big deal, dude. Remember, you smile when you talk!” He laughed at his own joke. I was too worried to be mad.

This may be the first time in my life that I was keenly aware of how anxious I felt. And if realizing I was essentially homeless for the summer wasn’t enough, one look at Ricky showed he didn’t have a care in the world. “I guess we’ll figure something out,” he said. Yeah Rick, I guess we will.

2 comments

  1. I am waiting for part 4, my experience (summer ’96 in northern NJ) was interesting with rent by the hour motels, sleeping in parks, living out of my car with 2 others, etc. I can only imagine part 5 and 6. I forgot a lot of details of other jobs or time periods in my life, but selling books door to door was so random and unique that it is hard to forget it.

    Liked by 1 person

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