Errata Literary Magazine
Bucks County Writers Workshop
Safe Saxe by David Jarret
I beg you to hear me out, for my worst fear is dying without getting this off my chest. I have been doing something horrible for years. My actions may have offended you, but if you get mad at me you will be wasting your time. I am about to pass away. The end is coming fast.
It all began with my first job. In 1959 I was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door in Yazoo City, Mississippi. OH, I would swing my arms, whistle up the sidewalk, ring the bell, and when Mrs. Homemaker answered the door, I would doff my hat, smile and say, "Good morning madam! I am Albert W. Saxe with the Slidell Vacuum Cleaner Sales Co. from Louisiana, U.S.A. I am here to make your day!" If the door did not slam, I would continue. "If you will allow me the opportunity, I shall vacuum clean one room of your entire house, if only to demonstrate our product, the AstroVac for your consideration." That was the speech we were taught, word-for-word with practiced cadence and confident timbre, never to deviate.
Many days I often heard my comrades selling in the same neighborhood, hailing "Good morning madam! Good morning madam!" Sometimes a buddy would be working one side of the street and I the other, each of us singing the company song, "Bah-bah, bah boo boo, boooo!" We synchronized our doorbell ringing and shouted the slogan in unison, "Good morning madam!" I loved the job.
Once, when I was working Division Street, I ran into Larry White, who was the top salesman in our region. He was selling on the other side of the street and I waved but he was staring at a telephone pole in front of a house. "Larry," I shouted. "Larry, How's it going? What are you doing here?"
"O.K. Hey, you're Saxe, right? Saxe, where's 209? Do you see 209 Division Street?" I walked over and he squinted, looking up and down the street.
"Yes Larry, it's about three doors down ON MY SIDE."
"Oh, I didn't mean nothing by it. Looky here, Saxe. See that little metal number on the pole?"
He was pointing at one of those metal tags with numbers nailed to the pole the power company used to mark its location. "Yeah, Larry, you mean the one that marks the pole's location?"
"That's what you think, Saxe. How long you been doing this? Selling the AstroVac I mean? Year and a half?"
"Something like that."
Larry set his AstroVac down on the sidewalk and swept his hands out like he was lord of the neighborhood. "Once you get a taste for the road and all Saxe, everything you need is right here."
"What do you mean, Larry? It's hot out here. You okay?"
"Saxe, I'm going to let you in on a little 'secret of sales'." He lit a cigarette. "A salesman like you and me put that number there. The men who had this territory before us, years ago now, would learn which houses they could satisfy their needs with, you know, Mrs. Horny Housewife, and then they'd mark it."
"What? With these tags you mean?"
"With these tags."
"Aw Larry, don't shit me. Come on what do you think, I was born yesterday?" "Saxe, you can see for yourself. You take 209, okay? When you get there the lady's gonna do you. Make your mind up about it."
"Why're you telling me this?"
"Updates. We pry off the tags when the broads've moved, or add more tags when their daughters come of age, you know, any kind of thing like that. The boss said about ten percent of us are caught with somebody's old lady each year. In that case we remove a nail and the tag hangs crooked so others will be real careful, 'cause the place is now a little dangerous." Larry lowered his voice. "Since I've told you, now you'll be expected to be involved too, Saxe."
"I think you're putting me on."
"You don't want in, Saxe? Just say so, but you better watch it. Some tags mean there's cops living there, or ball busters of customers. If you don't want in, you won't know who's who. Think of this as a travel guide. Like ratings for motels." He crushed his cigarette out on the sidewalk.
"Well... I'm not saying I'm not interested. Look, I'll let you know after 209."
Suffice it to say I became a full-fledged member of highly satisfied Slidell Vacuum Cleaner salesmen after I worked Division Street that day.
Now as I lie here on my deathbed, the clock ticking away my final moments, my greatest fear is holding on long enough to tell someone about this sordid practice. I am guilty of over forty years of fornication, and there are thousands like me still on the road. I want to bring this to the attention of every community across this great land. Do not think unkindly about me for taking advantage of your daughters, wives, mothers, or even your grandmothers. Fathers, husbands, and children, step outside and look at your house. Look at the telephone poles for our markings. Check the staples that once held posters. Do they form any kind of peculiar patterns? Are there reflectors attached in odd designs? Once it was popular to riddle the poles with holes, leaving telltale splinters in a unique geometric array meaning, "She's a good one", "She's free (the best ones)", "She's quick", or "This one's gotten a little flabby." Look at the pole and squint, walk across the street, too, with your head tilted and look back from that angle.
As with most things, this practice of marking our opportunities has gotten totally out of hand. Back in the seventies and eighties, we had a competitor, the 'Tur-bo-Sweepr', a piece of garbage made by J.A. & M.G. Potley Co. out of Pocatello, Idaho. Their salesmen never memorized their lines and they wore shirts with French cuffs and wide lapels. They used to leave gaudy yellow ribbons tied to poles and even to trees in their customers' front yards. Maybe yours? I was never so obvious.
Many neighborhoods have underground utilities now, but that has not stopped us vacuum cleaner salesmen, brush and makeup salespeople, pizza deliverymen, handymen, telephone line installers, and cable guys from 'marking our territories'. Today a simple orange 'X' spray-painted on the curb or even on the street will suffice. Each company has their own special codes, so I cannot reveal what they mean as I do not have that insight. If there are no poles in your neighborhood then check your yard, mailbox, or street. Notice anything? If your house is a worthy target, the mark is there. Trust me on this one.
I am a broken man now, and cannot last. Help me get the word out on this so I may die in peace. I beg you to forgive me, and ask you to do the right thing. I am safe at last.