Geriatrics and the hank



Some days it would be more accurate to say that I am a detective, counselor, spiritual guide, actor, friend or laborer than a salesman. I share joys and defeats with people, the good, the bad and the ugly. At times it takes being a detective to even find where a person lives. Other times I serve as counselor, listening to a person talk about a loss, maybe the death of a spouse I’ve met before. In this case I’m just plain making friends with two beautiful sisters. You see, I’m in the business of making money by building relationships. That’s my work.


Oroville, California. It’s early fall and things are dying off, although I’m not sure things only die off here in the fall. It seems to be the norm year round. It’s still very warm. I’m driving to my next sales call, “Harriet and Margaret,” two sisters aged 79 and 81years old. It’s my first time meeting them. (Future meetings will prove to be as interesting.) The skies are blue and the streets dirty, a contrast that’s common in this area: beauty and ugliness all wrapped up into one. I round the corner looking for the address—let’s see…even on the right, odd on the left. I’m looking for odd. Shoot, I must have passed it. A quick U-turn and I’m back on track. There it is. Looks like a duplex—great! I love these modest homes. Friendly, welcoming people often live in them.


Knock-knock-knock!! A woman answers. “Hello Harriett?” “No, I’m Margaret. Do you need Harriett?” “Well, no. I’m actually here to see you both. I received this card in the mail and wanted to stop by and explain it to you, and also see if you qualify.” I can tell by the big smile and the look on her face that she recalls the card and is eager to hear what I have to say. “Come on in,” she says. I ask if there’s a table we can sit at, then follow Margaret to the kitchen table. I introduce myself to her and her sister, Harriett. Looking around I see a picture of ‘The Last Supper,’ a velvet picture of Elvis, a display of mini-spoons on the wall and a fridge covered in magnets. The place is untidy, dark and very dusty with cobwebs. Stale cigarette smoke lingers in the air, so much that the smell has permanently soaked into the walls and drapes. These are all positives because, in my business, I cater to people that have simple tastes, modest lives and limited means. They’re my people, working people for whom things don’t come easy to. I love these people–it’s where I’m from. I understand them and they understand me.


“Would you like something to drink?” one of them asks. “Sure…do you have some water?” I dread their asking if I want anything else. I have no idea how long a pot of coffee has been left sitting, or how long it’s been since the pot, or cups, have been washed. Water is usually the safest bet. Harriet has her face no more than an inch or two from mine and looks into my eyes, with a BIG smile. “Howa ‘bout a cookie?” she pipes in.  “Yes, please. That would be wonderful,” I say, remembering one of the cardinal rules in sales: DON’T EVER TURN DOWN ANYTHING OFFERED BY A POTENTIAL CUSTOMER. This can be one of the easiest rules to break, even accidentally. However, I try not to because I don’t want it to seam like a personal thing. If I turn down what people offer me, I’m somehow saying that I don’t like them, and I don’t want to give that message. So I happily eat the hard, tasteless cookie, drink some of Oroville’s finest drinking water and continue my pitch. Harriett hangs onto every syllable, looking at her sister occasionally to make comments. “He sure has a nice face.” I look at them and drop one of my favorite lines, ”You know, if I was just 20 years older and you were just 20 years younger, well…” and flash a big grin. She blushes and I know I’ve made a new friend and, quite possibly, a new customer. I finish the sales presentation and intuitively know I’ve made the sale. The sisters are completely enamored with me. I could be selling a bottle of dirt and they’d be buying it—that, I’m sure of!


As I finish the paperwork, I ask about the velvet artwork on the wall, as an Elvis fan and all. They chat about the display of tiny spoons hanging on the wall, all from different places they’ve visited over their lives. Each one is decorated with the logo of a town or city they’ve been. I see these a lot with people of that era. Each spoon comes with its own story. (I get a new one every time I visit these ladies). I don’t look forward to the day I bring one of the sisters a check of the other’s benefits for the plan they’ve just purchased.


I get up to leave and wait for one of them to show me out. Harriett, looking at her sister, gestures for me to lead the way, “You go right ahead.” With the two sisters in tow, I overhear Harriet say to Margaret, “Look at that butt. Isn’t it nice?” Just about that time, I feel one of them grab a handful. I whip my head around just in time to see Harriett flash the biggest grin I’ve seen thus far. I wonder how it would be if the roles were reversed–two older men grabbing the behind of a young sales woman? I somehow don’t think it would be okay, but it doesn’t bother me a bit. As I leave, they plant themselves just outside the front door, still following my every move with their eyes, and grins. They continue as I climb into my car and as I drive away, I can see them through my rear view mirror standing on the porch watching me as I round the corner out of sight. I’m glad we  all got something out of that visit. They’re happy and so am I!


This normally would be the end of the story, however, I’ve been back to see these wonderful ladies—now 84 and 86 years old–on a yearly basis. It is now part of our tradition that I lead them to the door. It’s fun that they seem to get so much joy out of this little ritual, but…I have yet to reciprocate.

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