Southwestern, Chapter Ten: Momentum

Three weeks had passed since my first crisis of conscience of the summer. It was enough time that I was able to talk myself into a justification for selling over-priced educational materials to people who probably couldn’t afford them. It was their money to spend, so who was I to tell them what they should do with it. I still thought about Juan and Lucy regularly, though.

By the fourth week, things were status quo, meaning, I wasn’t finding much success. My sales record was getting better, but still not quite to the level of my colleagues. Every Sunday when we got together in Albuquerque, I could feel myself tense up when Andrew got ready to announce the stats. I feared my numbers would be a fraction of everyone else’s numbers. More often than not, that was the case.

It was becoming more and more obvious to me that I was not a good salesman, although it was a bit of a conundrum. I possess a natural ability to quickly establish good rapport with people, so getting through my sales pitch and getting people to buy into the idea of what I was selling became easy by the fourth week. That’s “good salesman Sam”. The problem was that their entire countenance would change when I brought up the cost, and the second I felt like the cost was too big of a hurdle for a family, I stopped trying to close the deal. That’s “bad salesman Sam”.

My numbers were terrible. Each Sunday, I got first-hand confirmation that my numbers were terrible. By the time we’d been in New Mexico for a month, I was supposed to be making three hard sales every day if I wanted to keep pace with the average seller. I was pulling maybe three or four over an entire week.

The saving grace was the fact that Ricky was also at the bottom of the rankings. He’d started out pretty strong, but the next couple of weeks hadn’t been nice to him. It seemed to us that our region was just a particularly difficult place to sell. While meeting up with everyone on Sunday after the fourth week, Andrew informed Ricky and I that he was going to come down to our region the following Tuesday to shadow us. He wanted to see firsthand what we were struggling with so he could help course-correct and get us back on track.

All day Monday I thought about Andrew coming down to shadow me. I asked myself what I was doing wrong, why couldn’t I seem to close the deal on these demos I was giving? I didn’t want to admit it, but I already knew the answer. It was self-sabotage. After having a bit of a crisis of conscience following my first sale, I struggled with guilt. It was fairly simple, actually. But the thought of trying to explain that to anyone else was terrifying.

Later that night, I got my routine “check-in” call from Andrew.

“How’d it go today?” I could picture Andrew with his hat on backward sitting cross-legged on a couch, hunched over his notepad and chewing on a pen cap with his phone on speaker.

“One hard, four soft,” I reported. I was lying. I’d resorted to padding my stats so I didn’t look so pathetic. The hard sale was real, because I couldn’t figure out a way to fake those, given that there was actual money paid to legitimize the sale. Soft sales, however, were much easier to fabricate. All it took was a little check mark in my slog and a legitimate address with a good enough story about the ghost family that lived there. I was creating a problem for later in the summer, but I had a couple more months to figure out a solution.

“Alright. Alright. That’s not a bad start to the week. So good job on that.” Andrew paused for a few extra seconds, no doubt trying to decide what I was doing wrong. “Look, I’m coming down there tomorrow and we’ll get this straightened out. I don’t want to alarm you, but frankly, your numbers are lagging a little.”

Great. Even my fake-ass numbers were lagging. This was so much worse than Andrew thought.

The next morning, Deb was a little thrown off by the third man in our booth at the diner. Andrew ordered coffee, an omelet with peppers and bacon, and a small plate of pancakes. Ricky and I ordered our customary oatmeal and fruit, both of us a little green with entree envy. Andrew parked his car behind the diner and hopped in my car for the ride out to the southeastern edge of the town.

By 10am, I had two hard sales, no soft sales. Andrew instructed me to stop taking soft sales. Either close the deal or move on. Simple as that. By noon, I had two more hard sales. In five hours, I had matched my best weekly total for sales. Andrew was perplexed.

“So…why are you able to sell like this when I’m here, but this doesn’t happen when you’re by yourself?” Andrew was asking a question I didn’t want to answer, so I didn’t.

“Are you sticking to your plan? Are you knocking on your 80 doors a day? Because you obviously have the talent to sell these books, so the only reason I can figure that you’re not getting sales is because you’re not knocking on doors.”

This floored me. I was livid, though I’d never show him that. It had absolutely nothing to do with whether or not I was knocking on doors and had everything to do with the fact that Lucy was NEVER going to spend more than an hour looking through her $300 set of books. I was knocking on doors, but I didn’t believe in the product I was selling. I sold Juan something that was going to collect dust for years before getting sold in a garage sale. That was the problem.

But how do I explain that to Andrew? Well, I just avoided it.

I explained that I was, in fact, knocking on my 80 doors per day (which was true) and that probably 80% of the people answering those doors were retired and had no need for what I was selling (which was partially true). Essentially, I was trying to convince him that me and Ricky’s region was hot garbage for selling books. Andrew didn’t disagree, but he also thought we ought to stick it out a few more weeks in Los Lunas. He had a feeling that our luck was about to change.

Andrew gave me a goal to have a total of 10 hard sales by the end of the week. That meant five more sales in four and a half more selling days. It was a reasonable goal.

I drove Andrew back to the diner around 1pm so he could get his car to meet up with Ricky for the afternoon. On the way back to the neighborhood I was working, I stopped at a gas station to get fuel. I thought about what had transpired that morning. Four sales in five hours. I felt pretty good about that. I was feeling somewhat optimistic again. Re-energized, to an extent. I would go so far as to say I was actually excited to keep the momentum going that afternoon. Hell, maybe I’d get another four sales by the day’s end.

I ran inside the gas station to use the restroom before commencing my afternoon. I remembered that Andrew had spilled some coffee in my cupholder that morning, so I grabbed a bunch of extra paper towel to clean it up.

On the way out to my car, I started feeling the slightest bit lightheaded. I sat down in the driver’s seat and leaned back, closing my eyes. I grabbed my water bottle and took a couple healthy swigs of water. I figured I was just dehydrated.

Another minute later, I pulled out of the station heading toward the street I’d been selling before lunch. Halfway there, my nose started running. Because I was a nineteen year-old slob, I snorted and wiped my nose with the back of my hand. By the time my hand returned to its spot on the steering wheel and I noticed the bright red smear on the back of it, my nose started dripping blood. I’m not talking about a slow drip here. It was as if an artery had been severed somewhere in one of my sinus cavities. It was so bad I had to pull the car over.

For the next ten minutes I used the partially coffee-soaked paper towels to plug my nose to help stop the bleeding. But it wouldn’t stop. Instead, the blood would just pool up in the back of my throat and I’d have to spit it out to avoid swallowing it. My shirt had blood all over it and I knew I couldn’t go out on the street selling books like that. Another ten minutes later, I still couldn’t get my nose to stop bleeding. I took the small ice pack from the lunchbox I’d bought earlier in the summer and pressed it firmly into the side of my nose. Five minutes later, it finally stopped.

I looked around the car, littered with bloody paper towels. My shirt, my hands, my face. All covered in varying levels of dried blood. The temperature outside was somewhere between 102 and 900 degrees. All I could do was laugh. Here I thought I was finally getting some momentum, I was finally going to break through and get on a good run of sales. And then my nose turns into a faucet and my afternoon gets hijacked.

I drove back to the house in Bosque Farms. It was around 2:30 in the afternoon, so the initial the plan was to change clothes, refill my water bottles, and head back out to finish the day on a strong note. After pulling on a new shirt, I sat down on the bed.

The next thing I knew, Ricky was shaking me awake.

“You good?” he said.

Groggy, I just grunted at him. I wasn’t super aware of what was going on, but it dawned on me that Ricky had dropped to the floor and was doing push-ups.

It was 5:55am the next morning.♦ 

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