For instance, does anyone else remember those door-to-door fundraising dessert sales from middle school? Where they would call an assembly and hand out pamphlets of their products and persuade you to hock them to neighbors by giving you incentives like a secret agent voice changer or some other toy that ended up being a Burger-King-quality disappointment?
I kicked so much ass at those.
I don’t think I ever figured out that the brand-name game console prizes (the PS2! So chic! So enduring!) were only handed out if the seller broke absurd sales goals, like 450 items. Such digits were virtually unattainable, even for a junior salesman of my caliber.
But I was happy to settle for the much-more-easily-winnable material rewards because I didn’t yet understand the concept of standards of expectation or return on time investment.
What I did know well was all the best sales tactics and the contours of the catalog; which items were most popular, how to persuasively mention the pre-Christmas delivery and an arsenal of other tricks. Most of the time, all I had to do was point out the large-print stamps on certain selections reading “Fair Trade” and “Organic” to convince neighbors to become buyers. Upper-middle-class people loved that shit.
The point of this story is: when I was making my rounds trying to sell “An assortment of coffee, confections, pastries and gift baskets” — the pitch I used at every door — I rang my Muslim neighbor’s doorbell to see if he would buy into the consumerist indoctrination of a charismatic youngster. I only made it halfway through my pitch for what the catalog had named “Turtle Dream Bars” before the man hurriedly slammed the door in my face.
Naturally, I was flabbergasted. This experience had single-handedly taken me down from that afternoon’s selling high, and all but crushed my hopes of earning any prize greater than a rainbow slinky. This moment, I decided, had to be the most devastating moment of my youth: it had totally put the kibosh on my quest for prizes, not to mention my teenage consumerist indoctrination.
Later, after retreating home, I tried to make my brother understand the gravity of the situation: “Not only did the guy not buy my things, but he was so rude about it. Does he not realize I’m only three items away from the mini-copter launcher?”
It just didn’t make sense to me that somebody might not want to buy a single order of cookie dough from a charismatic youngster such as myself. Had my advertising skills slipped up? Was I already past my prime as a salesman?
But this couldn’t be all my fault. I hadn’t really done anything wrong, I was simply selling some pastry corporation’s dough for “homestyle chocolate chip cookies” and “grandma’s very special blondies.” What could be more wholesome? No; the real root of the problem, I determined, was obviously culture clash.
My brother double-checked to see if I was in fact talking about the family next door before pointedly asking me if I knew that I had just tried to sell dessert foods to an Muslim family in the middle of the afternoon during the month of Ramadan.
I was young, but not too young to know what Ramadan was. We had glazed over the topic of Islam in a sixth grade CORE unit, and it just so happened that among the facts that I retained were the basics of Ramadan and prayer rituals. I knew enough to associate the month of Ramadan with practices of fasting and avoiding temptation during daytime — habits which aren’t necessarily conducive to shopping the confection market.
But that’s the problem: I was seeing everything in terms of my own goals. My neighbors were no longer actual people with varying beliefs and desires but just prospective buyers. I was so sure I could sell them anything, but that just goes to show how, in a lot of ways, I knew Otis Spunkmeyer better than I knew the world.
Believe it or not, DYLAN GALLAGHER wasn’t always so perfect — he just is now. Find out for yourself by contacting him at firstname.lastname@example.org.