Sometimes I feel as if we’re the bugs, a colony of cockroaches, and Suite C is our secret lair. Every morning, I exit the freeway at Miramar Road, coil my way through the traffic, then slip through the side streets until I roll to a stop in front of the innocuous- looking brick office building that houses us, San Diego’s summer army of pestilence.
I sit, staring at the building, sighing heavily several times before I exit my vehicle. At 8:25, my coworkers begin to arrive, and we flutter through the glass doors together and file into the back room. When it’s time to sit, we sit, hushed, our bodies buzzing with expectant energy. We’re hungry.
The doors open and Brandon stands before us, our head cockroach. He looks like an average guy. In fact, he’s remarkably average looking. He’s of average build, 5’10” or 5’11”. His hair is not blond or brown, but a conservatively cut sort of blond-brown. He’s average-aged, between 32 and 35, maybe. He drives a small white Toyota Tacoma truck, the same company vehicle his employees drive. His face, when he’s not giving a training or making a point, is devoid of expression, reflecting his surroundings with studied nonchalance. The only thing that gives him away are his eyes, which burn with iridescent fury.
In the mornings, he builds intensity, discusses strategy, and fans the flames of inspiration. I hate to admit it, but sometimes this stuff works on me. When Brandon finishes, we scuttle out of the training room. We study the maps, divide up area, split into pairs, and squeeze our shiny bodies into every crack and crevice of San Diego’s suburban landscape. An epidemic, a scourge, an infestation.
When we return to Suite C later that night, we’ll sniff each other, antennae twitching, and ask the question on everyone’s mind — “How many did you get?”
Most of us end up in the same range — one or two, three if we’re lucky. But then there are those who come back satisfied. These are the gods of our idolatry. They get five, six, even seven a day. How do they do it? Is it pure effort that brings them victory? Or is it something less tangible, more elusive? Is it a natural talent? Is it genetic? Whatever it is, I haven’t got it.
I am Cami, your friendly door-to-door pest control salesgirl, and this is my story. Like most stories, it is about the epic battle between self-actualization and mediocrity. Spoiler alert: mediocrity reigns supreme.
If epic battles and mediocrity don’t appeal to you, this story also includes a celebrity sighting and a run-in with the cops.
Suite C is a sterile room, fluorescently lit, with white walls and thin, hard carpet. At the front of the room is a whiteboard. The whiteboard lists the names of each pest-control sales professional, and next to their names, their sales numbers. The numbers are tallied by day, week, month, and in the last column, the total for the whole summer. I could stare at the whiteboard for hours. It never ceases to fascinate me.
In fact, that’s what I’m doing now. I subtract the number of sales that I have from the number of sales that Eric, our best salesman, has. I divide the difference by the number of days left in the summer. I imagine what it would take for me to catch up, to beat him. I’m right up there. Not at the top with Eric and the heavy-hitters, but near the top of the mid-range. I’m respectable, if not admirable.
Around me, my coworkers are settling into their seats. Without tearing my eyes from the whiteboard, I greet them.
They grunt replies and I imagine that they, too, are examining the whiteboard. Comparing their numbers with mine, with each other’s, adding, subtracting, averaging, and rounding up. Commission-only sales will do wonders for your basic arithmetic abilities.
The lights in Suite C snap off. We, the sales staff of Go Pest Control, sit in the dark. The TV screen flickers to life. Brandon is somewhere in the back of the room with his remote, controlling our collective destiny.
For a moment I study the faces of my coworkers, lit by the eerie glow of the screen. They are all gazing ahead, row upon row of them, a legion of good-looking young men. Their faces are trusting, hopeful, and eager.
I turn to face the TV screen. In a squalid, depressing hovel, there are four old people, confined to a sickbed. In the corner, a golden-haired woman. She looks exhausted but wistfully beautiful. I recognize this scene from one of my favorite childhood movies — Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Not the Johnny Depp version, but the ’70s version, with Gene Wilder.
Charlie’s Mom and Grandpa Joe are discussing Charlie. They agree that life is unfair for Charlie, a small lad who has to work hard to put food on the table for his four invalid grandparents and widowed mother. It occurs to me that subtlety was not considered an important part of movie making in the 1970s. Yeah, I get it, I get it. Charlie’s poor but decent and hard-working. What does this have to do with my faltering career as a pest-control salesperson?
Brandon fast-forwards to the scene where Charlie finds the golden ticket. He gets to tour Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory! He bursts into the shack to tell his mother and grandparents. Everyone is excited until a moment of sober reflection. “Grandpa,” says Charlie, “it says I can take somebody with me. I wish you could go.”
Grandpa’s face falls. He hasn’t walked in over 20 years. There is no way he can accompany Charlie to the factory. Then, suddenly, a thought occurs to him. With Charlie’s help, he stands up. He staggers a bit, but within two minutes, Grandfather is ricocheting around the room, singing, “I’ve got a golden ticket!”
Aww, I think, that’s nice, isn’t it? Ugly house. Poor family. Bedridden grandparents. Hopeless situation. Then, golden ticket. Happiness now! Hip hip hooray!