“Born Under a Bad Sign”
©Born Under a Bad Sign
A novel by James Gilbreath
Leonard Dorskyn silently stared at Mr. Demonstratee, who rubbed his hand over his dingy undershirt, where it stretched to capacity and barely covered his gut, and returned Leonard’s silent stare. He took a swig of beer, spilled some down the front of his already stained undershirt and continued to rub his belly.
He had offered a beer, but Leonard refused. It would make him burp and he didn’t need any distractions to cause him to miss this sale. He was already distracted enough by the way Mr. Demonstratee looked, like one of those old wrestlers Leonard’s granddad used to watch on Saturday night, with boxer shorts, an undershirt, and a big patch of hairy belly showing between the two. Hair covered all the other exposed parts, except the top of his head, which was bald. It looked like all the hair on his head had fallen onto his shoulders, back and arms.
Silent screams echoed inside Leonard’s head. One of the many things they taught in the sales training class, when you say the price, shut up. The first one to speak loses. And Leonard didn’t want to lose this sale. But the sudden silence reminded him of a neighborhood dog that, when he was a kid, howled all night then one night it stopped and he couldn’t sleep until he got his mother to put a fan by his bed and leave it running all night just for the noise. He looked around to see if Mr. Demonstratee had a fan. Leonard had to get this sale. He also needed some sleep.
His wife, Wena, but everyone called her Fluffy, had been nagging him to get a real job. He hadn’t sold a vacuum cleaner in three weeks and that last pay check he had gotten was only $97.00. She wasn’t happy. In fact, her cat peed in his shoe last night. At least he figured it was the cat, although he wouldn’t put anything past his wife.
“Be a man, boy,” She would shout so all the neighbors could hear, even the ones at work. “Get out there and stand up for your rights. Don’t let people push you around, you worm. Get a little spine in that back of yours.”
She just had that way about her that just brightened Leonard’s day. He couldn’t wait to get home to her each evening without a sale or a paycheck. She claimed he only listened to her half the time, but she gave him way too much credit. He didn’t listen to her near that much. She kept him confused the way she phrased everything. Slow down real fast, raise that window down, right now in a minute, shut open that door. He would be driving and she would shout, “Turn left!” as she pointed to the right.
He kept thinking she would stop talking to him altogether, but that never happened. There was nothing he could do to make her shut up. Thoughts of killing her did cross his mind, but he didn’t want to do the time, so he didn’t do the crime. Perhaps he really didn’t have a spine.
But he did take appointments that no one else would take. The office had called and given this appointment to Fluffy. They almost never had Sunday appointments. He was surprised that Fluffy gave him the message, but she almost seemed happy about it. Maybe she was softening up to the idea of him doing this. He gladly took it. What else was there to do on a Sunday night? And he definitely needed the money…If it sold.
That was why Leonard Dorskyn was in Mr. Demonstratee’s house at 11:00 pm on a Sunday night with his Hardy vacuum cleaning equipment scattered all over the living room, while he squatted on the floor in silence and waited for Mr. Demonstratee to speak first and lose.
Another wide body jet rattled the cheap, discount department store pictures hanging on the walls. The rushing wind through the jet engines engulfed all other sounds, including the silence between Leonard and Mr. Demonstratee.
like the Demonstratees, who lived at the end of the
It was silent again as Leonard tried to will the old flatus to say something. But he just sat there in that over-stuffed chair with the oil stains on the arms and headrest and stared back at Leonard. It was like he knew that if he spoke, he would lose. Had he been to a sales training class? Leonard wanted to yell, say something you old bag of intestinal gas. Let me write this up and go home to my loving banshee wife.
What do you do if the customer never says anything? They never mentioned that in class. Can you remain silent forever? If you speak, you lose, but if no one says anything, is it a tie? Who wins in a tie?
He wanted to scream, what are you waiting for? The turgid, old flatulence was probably waiting for Leonard to scream, so he could say, aha! That’s what I was waiting for, you little freak. You lose.
They make it seem so easy to make a lot of money, when they interview you for the job. They say you’ll average one sale for every three demonstrations. Leonard had nineteen demos without a sale. Like a fisherman, he kept thinking he was going to hit the mother lode soon, four or five sales in a row. Otherwise he was going to have to admit to his wife that she was right and he was wrong. He would rather have his eyelids cut off with razor blades, which was easier to imagine than the sound of her voice.
“Get a real job.” She would shout.
To which he would reply, “What’s real?”
“Real is when you’re making money. You’re not making money selling vacuum cleaners.”
“That’s because I’m not selling vacuum cleaners. I’m only showing them, so far, but they’ll start selling soon. It’s the law of averages,” he quoted Raney Carlotinni, the man he was working for.
Leonard didn’t mind being wrong. He just hated for his wife to be right. It was like swallowing hot lead. It got under his skin like a splinter that you know is there, but you can’t see it to get a hold and pull it out. And, oh, how he wanted to get a hold of her and pull her out.
Mrs. Demonstratee appeared in an ethereal mist at the hallway door like Death in an Ingmar Bergman film. She had left halfway through the demonstration. Now, she returned with her make-up off, her hair in curlers and her quilted robe covering, heaven only knows what. Leonard didn’t want to think about it. He had seen enough cellulite before she left the room wearing shorts and a t-shirt. She was so obese that fat people liked the stand beside her so they would look skinny. Leonard just prayed that the sixty-year old tub of lard had her robe belt tied tight and all the buttons snugly through their holes.
The color of her robe was somewhere between hyper-red and oxide-green. It looked like she ate the devil then threw up on her robe. He wondered if eating the devil could actually make her throw up.
“Get him and his clam-jam-free out of here and come on to bed, Hedrick.” With that she whirled around and was gone, leaving dust settling where she had been. Leonard felt like a tornado victim. Yet, he didn’t speak. He just turned back to Hedrick Demonstratee and raised his eyes, as if to say, well, do we have a deal? And he waited for his quarry to step into the trap.
Hedrick Demonstratee had been staring at the empty doorway that had, momentarily, been filled by his wife. He now turned to Leonard and said, “What’s that stink? I been smellin’ piss ever since you walked in the door.”
Leonard wanted to be happy, but something didn’t seem right. His customer spoke first, so Leonard should have a sale, but something was wrong. “My wife’s cat peed in my shoe last night.”
“You been walking around with pee in your shoe all day? Why didn’t you clean it up before you stuck your foot in?”
This was the ultimate insult, being called, smelly and unsanitary, by this slob. “I was in a hurry to get out of the house before Fluffy got up.”
“It seems like Fluffy already got up, since she peed in your shoe.”
“Fluffy’s my wife.”
“Your wife’s name is Fluffy? What’s the cat’s name, Mary Elizabeth?” Mr. Demonstratee grinned.
“It’s Sister Mary Elizabeth, actually,” Leonard said with a straight face, while Mr. Demonstratee burped then proceeded to spill more beer on his undershirt than in his mouth.
“Is Fluffy her real name?”
“Naw. It’s just what people call her.”
Leonard was getting frustrated. This was all going wrong. Why were they talking about Fluffy? “Why what?” he asked.
“Why do people call her Fluffy?”
He really didn’t know. He had never asked. “I guess because she’s so…She’s so…” He shrugged. “Fluffy.”
“Fluffy, how? You mean, like her hair?”
Why were they talking about this? “We’re getting off the subject here.” Leonard tried to steer the conversation back to his, so called, livelihood.
“No we’re not. The subject is, why your wife’s called Fluffy and why you’re walking around all day with a shoe full of stinkin’ cat piss.”
“That’s not the subject. The subject is you buying this Hardy vacuum cleaner for your wife.”
“I ain’t buyin’ no vacuum cleaner, especially not for her.” He tilted his head toward the doorway that still contained the memory of her presence.
“But you spoke first!” Leonard almost shouted.
“What the heck you talkin’ about, boy?”
“No…nothing,” Leonard stammered as he searched his mind for something else to say. They had told him how to overcome every objection. What was the objection here, anyway? That was the problem. He didn’t know why Mr. Hedrick Demonstratee wasn’t buying.
Leonard smiled with an air of confidence. “You can see all the wonderful things the Hardy can do to make your wife’s life easier.” He waved his hand around the room full of dirt pads, each piled high with filth from the carpet and furniture along with hoses and attachments, of which there were many. “Why wouldn’t you want to buy it for her?”
Without hesitation, Hedrick Demonstratee laughed. “You saw my wife. Would you buy her anything that cost over $2000.00? Would you buy her anything, period?”
Leonard just stared at his opponent. Of course he wouldn’t buy her anything, but he wasn’t the fat slob who married the fat slob. No. He was the idiot who married Fluffy. He was really starting to feel sorry for this guy, but he stopped himself. One of the things he remembered from the training class was never sympathize with the customer.
“Wouldn’t your life be happier if your old lady’s life was happier?”
“No. And I don’t care if she’s happy or not. I just don’t want her to be mad at me. And if I pay $2000.00 for a vacuum cleaner she might kill me in my sleep and I worry about that enough, as it is. And I’ll give you some advice. Don’t let her hear you call her old lady. She might come out here and hurt you. She might even sit on you. And you do not want that.”
Leonard cringed at the thought. It was like trying to imagine what hell is like. No matter how bad you think it is, it will always be worse actually being there.
Leonard stood up and walked over to the upright version of the shiny, all metal, Hardy vacuum cleaner. He put his hand on the handle and said, “Don’t you want to see your wife pushing this beauty around your house?” He was just talking to kill time as he tried to think of something to say.
“She wouldn’t push that or any other vacuum cleaner around this house. Why do you think you pulled all that dirt out of our carpet?”
“Because your old vacuum cleaner wasn’t getting it out.”
“The old vacuum cleaner can’t get it out if the old vacuum cleaner ain’t ever turned on.”
A voice came from the netherworld, “Hedrick, get him the hell out of here and come to bed.”
Hedrick Demonstratee made a sour face and took a big drink of beer. This time he didn’t spill a drop, because it wasn’t a casual swig. “Well, boy, we’ve put off the inevitable as long as we can. You’re gonna have to leave without a sale and I’m gonna have to go get in bed with my wife.”
That definitely helped make missing the sale easier to take, but he wasn’t out of the house yet. Leonard’s head was jumping with ideas and none of them made any sense. He tried to think, as visions of fat butt cheeks and cat pee shoes kept clouding his mind. He wondered why Fluffy wasn’t in his visions, but the moment he wondered that, there she was.
Finally he walked over to the phone and picked up the receiver. “May I use the phone?” he asked and, without waiting for Mr. Demonstratee to reply, he started to punch the buttons and realized it had a dial. The fat man just grunted and spilled more beer as Leonard stuck his finger in one of the holes and turned the dial, then another and another until he had turned the old phone dial ten times while holding the receiver to his ear with his shoulder.
“Hello, boss, I know it’s late, but I’m still over here at Mr. Demonstratee’s house and I need to know what we can do for him, so we can leave him this beautiful new Hardy tonight…Uh huh…I see…Yes, sir.” Mr. Demonstratee opened another beer as he watched Leonard. “That’s unbelievable. You would really do that? I don’t see how we can sell one at that price, but if you say so, I’ll tell him. Yes, sir, I will.”
Leonard put his hand over the receiver as he shook his head slowly and rolled his eyes. Mr. Demonstratee just scratched his side and burped. “I can’t believe my boss would go this low, but it is late and I know he wants to do everything he can to help you get this beautiful piece of equipment tonight.” He paused and looked around the room as if to make sure no one else was listening. “He said if we can write this up tonight, he will give you $200.00 for your old vacuum cleaner. That’s more than you paid for it.”
Without hesitation Mr. Demonstratee said, “Nope.”
Leonard tried not to seem panicky. “Did you say, no?”
“No. I said, Nope.”
Leonard slowly put the phone receiver back to his ear. His mind was trying to delve back into the classes on closing the sale, because there wasn’t really anybody on the other end of the phone. After they were told to pretend. “Sir…He said ‘no’…Yes sir, I did turn the vacuum cleaner on…Honest…Yes sir, I pulled seventy-five dirt pads.” His arm automatically waved toward the little round, once white, pads scattered all over the room. “They’re each piled high with filth…Hold on. I’ll ask him.”
Leonard put his hand back over the receiver again. “If I told you that you could have this machine tonight for $75.00, would you buy it?”
Mr. Demonstratee sat his beer down on the table and leaned forward. “If you told me I could have that machine tonight for $5.00, all I could do is jump up and down and yell, oh boy, that sure is cheap. I sure wish I had $5.00.”
“We do have financing available. We could probably write it up with nothing down and the first payment wouldn’t be due for six weeks.”
“If I could make payments they wouldn’t have cut the phone off last week.”
Leonard just stood there with his hand over the receiver mouthpiece and stared at the man who had known all along he had been speaking to a dead phone. He suddenly felt like he had something, not only dead, but also decaying, in his hand.
Mr. Demonstratee picked up his beer as he said, “I haven’t worked in five months. Laid off.”
Leonard looked dejected. “Why am I here?” He asked as he hung up the phone.
“Because you told me you would shampoo a room of carpet and give me a free car vac. Besides, as long as you’re here, I don’t have to go in there.” He nodded toward the doorway, where his wife’s presence still clung like a skunk’s odor after the skunk is gone. “By the way, where’s my car vac?”
“You mean you’ve kept me here so you wouldn’t have to go to bed with your wife?”
Mr. Demonstratee just grinned and nodded. “Wouldn’t you?” His smile broadened and Leonard could see a front tooth was missing. It was funny. He hadn’t noticed that before.
He couldn’t argue with the man. He had a good point. Leonard’s psyche was totally deflated. He couldn’t think of anymore closing techniques as he reached down to pull a car vac out of his demo case. Something furry walked past him rubbing against his leg and, without looking down, he nonchalantly stroked it.
“Nice dog,” Leonard said, just trying to keep a conversation going while ideas danced and died in his head.
“We don’t have a dog.”
“A cat?” Leonard was suddenly distracted as he looked around for the, now, elusive animal he had just petted.
“I hate cats.” Hedrick Demonstratee said. “They pee in your shoes, you know?”
Leonard was no longer worried about the sale. “What kind of pet do you have?”
“We don’t have a pet. The wife hates all animals. Of course, they hate her, too.”
“What, in heaven’s name, did I just pet?” Leonard was standing up, now, looking all around the room rubbing his hand on the side of his pant’s leg.
“I have no idea. We haven’t had an exterminator out in years. Can’t afford it.”
Leonard shuddered and continued to look around as he handed the car vac to the fat slob that he was growing to hate instead of pity. The car vacs were cheap at $5.00 each if you sold the machine. But he had to pay for them even when he didn’t sell one. And he had given away 10 or 12 without getting a sale. Not only was he not getting a check, but he owed the company over $50.00. If he ever did get a sale, he wouldn’t make very much after they took out what he owed. He just hoped they wouldn’t make him pay before he got a sale.
There was no reason to keep thinking of a way to get a sale here, so Leonard began to get his equipment together and pack it back in the box. Unfortunately, he was getting real good at that.
Mrs. Demonstratee reappeared at the doorway. “Isn’t he gone yet?”
Leonard didn’t even look up. “I’ll be gone in a couple of minutes. I’ve just got to put it back in the box.”
“Well hurry up and get out of here. I can’t go to sleep until the house is locked up. And I need my beauty sleep.” Then she was gone.
Mr. Demonstratee watched the empty doorway a moment before saying, “There ain’t enough time left in eternity for her to sleep that long.”
Leonard started laughing and Mr. Demonstratee tried to hold it back then burst out laughing with him. Leonard was suddenly delirious despite the fact that he wasn’t getting a sale. Things could be worse. He could be Mr. Demonstratee living here on the set of an Ed Wood movie.
Leonard was still laughing at , when he finally left the house. Mr. Demonstratee, though, was somber again, staring at the hallway door. In fact, despite all the beer he had been drinking, he seemed to be sober, a terrible condition to be in with his monumental task at hand. Leonard just wished him good luck.
On the front porch Leonard sucked in a deep breath of night air. A huge jet took control of the neighborhood of small frame houses for a few long seconds then the roar slowly faded away across north west Dallas. Peeling chips of paint fell from the wall onto the porch as Leonard hefted the box containing the heavy metal Hardy vacuum cleaner and headed toward his car.
Mr. Demonstratee’s rusty car was permanently parked in the driveway. Two tires were completely flat and one tail light was broken out. The pieces of red plastic were scattered on the oil stained black concrete.
He was almost to the curb when he stopped. A man was leaning against Leonard’s ten year old, emerald green, Ford Entrapment, parked under the street light.
It was a warm night in early September and this joker was wearing a leather jacket. With his hair slicked back and sunglasses on at night, the man looked like a character out of one of those Elmore, what’s-his-name’s, books.
Leonard probably should have been afraid of this character, especially at in this part of town, but at this point, he didn’t care if the guy wanted to kill him. It would save him the trouble of having to make the decision himself. And if the man was here to rob him then he probably would kill him, when he found out how little money or anything else of value he had. Of course, the guy could take the vacuum cleaner, but then he would have to try to sell it. Good luck with that.