Thursday, December 31, 2009

Traveling Salesmen

Okay here's something I love about my husband: he used to be a traveling insurance salesman.  I didn't realize until I met him that anyone actually knocked on people's doors trying to sell them stuff anymore.  If a stranger knocked on my door I'd probably lock myself in the bedroom and call the police, nothing good could come from someone who is obviously unable to use a phone or email.  But he did it, and he was good at it.  By the time he was about 23 he was one of the top producers in the nation for his company.  He doesn't do it anymore, for one thing because I think these companies now realize that the days of the traveling salesman have died with the people who actually lived in the days of the traveling salesman, and also because it was stressful, putting on an act, a different act, for every house you entered and trying to guess the right act as soon as the door opens.  But like I said, he was good at it, and I now reap the benefits both in a slowly dwindling renewal check and more and more exaggerated stories. I sometimes try to get him talking about his sales days.  The other night I asked him how he would sell this charity stuff over the phone, like I have to try to do every day.  We talked and laughed for hours.
Justin and his partner Jerry and Marshall and Justin's dad and there are others whose names I hear regularly in the stories always worked in groups.  They would travel to small towns together, stay in cheap hotels, get breakfast in the morning and head off in different directions down the street, planning to meet back for an early lunch.  They sold life insurance and cancer policies mainly to older people to whom letting strangers into the house was not so frightening and weird.  There was always friendly competition going on and they would sabotage each other every chance they got.  Jerry came to lunch one day talking about the woman across the street who he had just called on.  She was sold.  He just had to get the papers in order and head back over there to get them signed.  At that point Marshall stood up flipped his plate onto the table, food and catchup flying and walked out the door.  Nobody payed much attention as Marshall was given to these little outbursts they went back to eating. They watched as he walked out the front door and as he started dodging traffic making his way across the busy street.  Jerry straightened up in his seat, leaned forward, put his hands on the table, and as it dawned on him what was happening, he started gathering his stuff.  He was calling for the waitress, fumbling with his wallet, trying to make change and finally running out the door.  The others followed behind and stood on the sidewalk laughing and watching Jerry dodge the traffic as Marshall walked out the front door of the woman's house grinning.
As Marshall walked down the steps he said, smiling, "it's okay Jerry, she's taken care of. You don't have to worry about her anymore, if anything happens to her, her family will be provided for."  That's not the worst of it though.  One time Marshall broke Jerry's finger.
Another day when they met for breakfast Marshall went up to Jerry saying "I bet I can break your finger."  Again, nobody payed too much attention because Marshall was always joking around, but given the nature of the two stories I'm writing I don't know why nobody payed attention.  
"Here, let me see your hand."  And Jerry handed him his right (policy writing) hand. Marshall wove his fingers between his, set it on the table and slammed his other hand down on top of it.  Jerry yelped and pulled his hand away, finger obviously broken.  "See, I told you I could break your finger."  And to this day Jerry's finger is all bent up from that. 
It occurs to me that the way I've told it, Marshall seems like a really bad guy.  That's not the case.  The Marshall stories are always the most crazy, but everyone loved him and he was always making people laugh, and all these guys were like him, to some degree.  They made their living on commission, that is on being likable, charming, and witty and it became an art.  I can't figure out if when they were not selling they were caught in the "on" mode and just trying to be funny and entertaining to each other, or if they were so "off" that they completely let loose and did what they wanted to do, or maybe it was both, maybe in that life it was the same thing.  One of my favorite things is to get Justin talking about those days.  A lot of the humor is lost when you're reading it and not listening and seeing it.  Someone out there ought to make a documentary about these old traveling salesmen.

Monday, December 28, 2009


I don't want to talk about it.  Give me a few days, guys.  I'm trying to think of something positive to say.  Bear with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Emergency Room

I've not been to the "emergency" room many times, so I don't know if a five hour wait is typical or if the hospital here is a little understaffed or maybe there are just a lot of hypochondriac alarmists around, or maybe there are a lot of people like me who just don't want to go to work that day and know if they think up some type of emergency they'll be tied up all day in the ER waiting room.
Justin and I have had to go to the emergency room a disproportionate number of times, in my opinion, to the years we've known each other for everything from things as exciting as venomous snake bites and car wrecks to boring old ear infections (Google, don't post a bunch of ear fungus ads all over my page).  They get you in much more quickly if you've been bitten by a water moccasin or put a car in a ditch.  Ear infections, as far as the emergency room is concerned, are not real emergencies. 
One night Justin's ear infection got so bad we had to go to the hospital.  When these ear infections come on I pester Justin constantly about going to the emergency room, early in the mornings, on weekdays, times I calculate not many other people will be having emergencies. Friday and Saturday nights, nights of the waxing moon, when Mercury is in retrograde, if there's a storm coming, or if the cows are laying down I try to avoid the emergency room.  It was a Wednesday night so I figured that it wouldn't be too busy.  I didn't check my lunar charts or pass any pastures on the way and that was my mistake because the waiting room was packed.  
As soon as you walk in you sign in with the receptionist who immediately takes you into a little room full of official-looking medical equipment which gives you hope that they're going to treat your emergency with the urgency you believe it deserves.  She takes your vitals and sends you out into the large waiting room full of people who look like they've just crawled in off a battlefield somewhere, dashing every hope of quick relief that you might have had.
The first thing to do is scan the room and take inventory of both the number of people and the severity of their ailments.  "She doesn't look that bad, she should be quick.  Oh, LORD, do you see that oozing out of his leg, why is he out here with the rest of us?"  Then you sit.  They have a TV on set to either the home shopping network or the weather channel so as not to offend or entertain anyone.  The best thing to do is be very quiet and listen to the conversations around you.  You can hear some tragic stories and also gauge how long of a night you're in for because eventually everyone will comment on how long they've been waiting.  Sometimes you flip through magazines and pray that nobody gets in a car wreck or comes in with something like a gunshot wound, although depending on where they were shot they may get seated next to you in the waiting room with a plastic sheet or something to protect the upholstery
About hour three your true colors start to shine when a three-year-old comes in who has just run a knife through her hand.  Normally I really like kids and I can't bear to see them hurt.  In the emergency room, she's just another road-block to relief (for Justin) and to getting out of there (for me).  "Arrrggggh, GREAT!" you moan, dramatically throwing your head back and exhaling noisily.  "That looks bad, watch them try to take her back there before us!"  And they do and despite your humanity you begrudge her for it.  It is an awful place.
Eventually they'll get you in and you'll wonder what took so long when you see a perfectly sterile, calm staff walking (not running) here and there, when for hours you've been imagining panicked nurses and terrified doctors rushing through hallways lined with bleeding, moaning, screaming patients on stretchers.  The doctor will come in and listen to you very well, taking notes and running tests and you realize that they're just being thorough back there and you don't think about all the other people in the waiting room, you only think, "I deserve it!"
We've not been to the emergency room in a long time, for us.  We almost had to the other morning when Justin accidentally kicked the dresser in the dark and slammed the rods sticking out of his toes up into his shin, but he soldiered through.  Our next trip though I'm going to find a venomous snake to bite Justin before so we can get right in there, he'll already be in pain, what's a little bit more in the name of efficiency?


Thursday, December 10, 2009


Here's something you don't see in the city: people who turn their yards into a business venture.  It's probably just because people in cities don't have yards and therefore, although they've probably thought of the idea, don't have the means to act on it.  There are a few houses I see every once in a while when I've failed in my attempt to plan my driving route so that I make as few left-hand turns as possible while also making sure that the ice cream is bought AFTER the trip to the video store so that it doesn't get too melty and I end up in some neighborhood with all these houses with all their stuff in the yard.  I've found myself in this place a number of times since it's where I always get confused about what makes the most logical sense, gas then grocery store, or groceries then gas?  (I would normally get gas then groceries so that the ice cream meltiness is as minimal as possible, but I get a discount on gas if I spend a certain amount on groceries so I have to figure out what I'm going to buy and there's a lot of math involved...)  
Anyway, the first time I saw this I thought maybe these people just ran out of room in the house and started moving some furniture out to the front yard to make room.  Maybe they were just getting it out closer to the dumpster so they would be ready on "big trash day."  The next time I drove by it was raining and there were tarps over the stuff, as if to protect it, so it obviously wasn't your everyday trash.  It finally clicked (yard sale!) the third time I drove by, a Saturday, and there were people out front looking through it, as if this were just another yard sale full of unwanted baby clothes and starburst clocks that would be packed back into the house later that afternoon.  Only these particular baby clothes and starburst clocks would still be there that night under their protective tarp, only to be unveiled again on Sunday, and Monday, and everyday until some young mother with a taste for kitch and an extra $2.25 (if she talks them down) takes them home.  
These people had taken the idea of the once-a-week yard sale and turned it into an every-day-of-the-week business.  I guess they thought "everybody likes a yard sale, right?  And nobody likes setting them up, or taking them down, or Saturday afternoon when all the good deals are gone the sellers are packing it in, why not eliminate all of that, de-clutter the house and make a few extra bucks in the process?"  And whomever they were saying this to said "why didn't I think of that?"  I guess when they get something new they just take the item being replaced, slap a price tag on it and set it outside. They probably have the most organized houses once you get through the front door.  
It sounds like I'm making fun of these people but I'm not.  I'm wondering why this doesn't happen more often.  It seems so logical. If you've got all this stuff you don't want or need, why not get it out of the house and try to make a little money off of it instead of throwing it away? Apparently a few people have caught on, but not as many as I would have thought.  I think people here place a lot of importance on their yards, so maybe the extra stuff to mow around is what is dissuading people.
I've never seen such an entrepreneurial spirit in a people group as I have since I've moved down here.  It seems like everyone, even people who don't mind filling their front yard with what is for all practical purposes, trash, is always thinking about finding their niche.  Maybe that explains JB Hunt, Sam Walton, and Don (is it Don?  I know it's not Mike, I'm not going to make that mistake) Tyson, all Arkansans.  I'm trying to find mine, but so far I think I'm stuck with writing about other peoples, and that doesn't pay as well as selling your old Christmas ornaments on your front yard.  I wish I had more stuff in this house I wanted to get rid of.  

Saturday, December 5, 2009

If You Ain't Got No Cocaine, You Don't Party With Jim Dandy

Arkansas has a number of celebrities to its credit.  Mary Steenburgen, Billy Bob Thornton, Johnny Cash, Bill Clinton, and most recently Kris Allen have all left this state to get famous, some even came back. One man left to get famous but only out of necessity and he didn't go far, just to Tennessee.  Never one to forsake his home state he named his band Black Oak Arkansas, in honor of the town where the band was formed, and he was Jim Dandy.
According to Wikipedia Jim "Dandy" Mangrum started the band in 1965.  Their first PA system was stolen from a local high school, a crime for which they were charged with grand larceny in absentia and sentenced to 26 years in prison, a sentence which was later suspended. Apparently nobody had the heart to condemn the artists of such works as "Hot and Nasty" and "I Want a Woman with Big Titties" to 26 years among common criminals; after all, their crime was committed in the name of their art.
Black Oak Arkansas returned to Arkansas often for parties and concerts and once in a while, living here, you'll hear of friend's of friends and friend's parents and friend's of parent's friends who have been to those parties.  In their prime Black Oak Arkansas would rent out entire hotels and cocaine was the most prominent guest.  The father of a friend was at one of those parties.  Jim Dandy was in true form and as the place got over-crowded he ambled to the balcony of the hotel and yelled out to the crowd "if you ain't got no cocaine, you don't party with Jim Dandy" in that rough, deep voice and he enforced it.  The way it's told that stipulation didn't thin out the crowd too much.
I never really listened to Black Oak Arkansas, and this story is really all I know about Jim Dandy, that and what I read from Wikipedia, but as short as it is I thought I'd share it.  Come to think of it, it's not really a story at all, just something interesting one person tells to another, in person.  Maybe it was the way it was told that made it so good.  Sorry guys.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Change of Heart

We put up our Christmas tree on Sunday.  Not only is this the earliest I've ever gotten the tree up, it's the ONLY time I've ever gotten the tree up.  I never saw the point to putting a lot of effort into something that is not functional or productive in any way.  In the past I thought we should just get like a Christmas ficus or something that we could conceivably enjoy the rest of the year if we didn't rip all the leaves off trying to take down the lights.  We didn't even do that. A ficus is more expensive than you might think, plus our house was to small even for a nice potted plant, and Christmas with the kids was always spent at the grandparent's house so there was really no need to decorate anyway.
This year we have a new house with central heat, a second bathroom, and an actual hallway. We have a one-year-old who has never had a Christmas tree and an 11- and 13-year-old who have their own rooms to sleep in on Christmas Eve.  So despite my distaste for pointless work, such as putting up and taking down a whole tree in one month, we got one, as in received one from my mother-in-law. It's one of those really nice six-foot tall pre-lit things with the wire branches.  The lights are red, yellow, blue, and green.  I got some of those cheap plastic ornaments in red and a nice sparkly red star for the top.  
The kids came out and helped put the tree up.  Helped like Hayden plugged in the lights, Holly fluffed up some of the crushed wire branches and then they played with Story in the box the tree came in. I think that was better than actual help because keeping him busy is the best help I could ask for.  I moved the tree from one side of the room to another trying to get it into a place that would allow someone driving by to see it from the window while also allowing the TV to still have cable that we could watch in front of the tree so that people could also admire our happy family as they drive by.  Once I maneuvered the tree into a practical and attractive place I had to get the tree, which looked like a wet cat with all the branches mashed down, fluffed up and decorated.
I thought, mistakenly, that ornaments came with hooks.  I didn't realize that ornament hooks were actually a product, I thought they were just like the straws that come with juice boxes.  I guess the juice box people thought "well, you can't drink the juice without the straw, heck, let's just throw the straws in for free!"  Not the Christmas ornament people.  They'll take you for everything you've got.  Christmas is so commercialized.
At about 7:30 pm I had to drive out to Dollar General, the only place open in Dover after 7:00 pm and get hooks.  I guess when they package them they just gather them up off the floor and cram them into a box because once I got a few separated the hooks were more like just thin wire strings that I had to bend back into hook shape.  I managed to get the ornaments hung and they look really nice.  I'm really proud of my tree.  Thank goodness for plastic ornaments too because Story just learned the word "ball."  He removes every ornament he can reach, says "ball!," throws it, picks it up and places it in his Tonka truck to push around all night.
Like I said I'm not much for form without function, but now that I've got the tree up I really like it.  I like that Story likes it, I like that the kids had fun with it, or the box anyway, and I like that when I wake up before the sun comes up I can sit in here in its rainbow light and do my Bible reading (Proverbs, finally!).  I might start doing all kinds of pointless things now, things that only have cosmetic value like taking my car to the car wash or painting my fingernails.  I might even leave the tree up all year round I enjoy it so much.