An Unexpected Knock

The other day, the rest of the gang went for a walk in the neighborhood. The youngest and most challenging boy showed little interest in going, so I stayed home with him.

A short time later, I heard a knock on the front door. Seeing that my son was engaged in an alphabet toy, I walked toward the sound.

Through a side glass panel, I could see an unfamiliar tall and thin young man standing in the entryway. He was dressed casually--a navy blue collared shirt, khaki pants, and brown dress shoes that do not require shining.

He appeared to be 19 or 20 years old.

I opened the door and quietly closed it behind me so as not to give our youngest son a chance to make a run for freedom. The young guy spoke immediately:

"Good afternoon sir. I do not want to disturb you, but I have an exciting opportunity for you. I am participating in a program to sell the best magazines at unbeatable prices. If I am able to generate the most sales, I will win a trip to Hawaii..."
From the young sales guy's body language, it seemed that he was not yet comfortable in speaking this way; yet he had been coached well and connected the words and sentences flawlessly.

He continued with the well rehearsed pitch; complete with uncomfortable dramatic pauses where the potential customer should be laughing or at least providing a complimentary chuckle.

After a few moments, I interrupted his sales attempt with a polite: "I am not interested."

The young man thanked me for my time, and walked toward the end of the block before disappearing.

The exchange reminded me of another rookie magazine salesman that I met while I was a patrol officer. It was after midnight, and I was dispatched to a pay phone near one of our city's housing projects to talk to a stranded individual.

I arrived at the location and encountered "Willy." Willy was a heavy-set 18 year old African-American kid with thick glasses.

"Sir, can you help me, I am stuck here?" The young man asked.

Willy was from a rural area in a neighboring state, and had responded to an appealing help wanted newspaper advertisement involving sales and being able to travel.

"These guys drove a bunch of us here and we have been training for a new job selling magazines. Man, if I'd have know that I be selling garbage door-to-door, I'd have never left home."
Willy's hands were trembling slightly as he spoke, and he was unable to find a comfortable position to stand while talking.

He continued:

"So, I told the team leader: I don't want to do this anymore. It is not me. He looked at me, cussed me, the other guy stopped the van over there, and they kicked me out to sidewalk. That was two hours ago. I have no friends or family here. I am scared."
Despite only have a few dollars with him, Willy was a certainly an appealing crime victim in this neck of the woods. I was able to make arrangements for him to stay the night at city shelter and they would help him return home.

It is odd how a knock on the door can elicit a long forgotten police memory.

My moment of quiet reflection was broken by the clicking sound of our deadbolt lock turning, and the laughing of my youngest son from the inside of the door. My mood immediately changed as I searched my empty pockets for house keys to unlock the door; realizing that they were inside on the table.

Thank goodness for summer and being able to find an open rear window.


angelcel said...

Gosh we rented a holiday home in Orlando a few years back and a young girl called at the door with exactly this sales pitch. My husband told her that we were on holiday so unfortunately we wouldn't be interested. He did get talking to her however. She was the same age as one of our daughters and like our girl said that she's quite shy. She had seen this door to door selling as a way to boost confidence, raise funds and with the possibility of a prize at the end of it all. At the time it all sounded like a great idea. Having read your piece I'm thinking that the people who run these schemes may not always be the ideal types to be associating. That sweet girl could just as easily have fallen foul of something like this.

Erin said...

I got suckered into buying a magazine from a girl who came do our door and was hopping from one foot to the other to stay warm when I looked out the peep hole. I canceled my order the next day though.

Also, note to self: keep a spare key hidden outside.

copswife said...

I sold books door to door one summer but it wasn't a scheme, it was through my church and the money I raised helped me live in the dorm at college. I'd never want to do it again but it did teach me how to deal with people - the mean ones and the nice ones!

You are one of the nice ones!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

When I first moved here, some guy came to the door saying the same thing. Okay, I was younger and believed him when he said he could only collect cash. Besides...he had receipts. Must be okay, right?

I never received the magazine and the company had no record of my ordering it or paying for it. They wouldn't accept the receipt because they didn't know who sold the subscription to me.

Now I am older and wiser and out some money. Lesson learned.

Expat From Hell said...

Great story, as always. I was riveted. The contrast between the "cans" and the "can'ts" is illuminating. You have given me the ability to have sympathy for both. Excellent work, my friend.


Stephanie Faris said...

Beware of this!!! Here's an article about it:

Slamdunk said...

Thanks all for the personal stories.

Erin: I suggested that before, but the Mrs. said she would be freaked out that someone would find a key hidden outside. So no backup key for me.

SF: Thanks for the link. Selling door-to-door w/o a permit is illegal in our little area, but my energy was spent trying to get back into the house thanks to my trouble-maker and his locking the dead bolt.

CW: I saw a story several years ago on a legit book door-to-door operation, but I would guess these types are in the minority.