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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.

“’Sup, Kevin?

Morning, Tim.”

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!

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Comments

NachoDaddy March 5, 2009 @ 12:36 p.m.

I really enjoyed your article. You took something like door-to-door sales, and made it into an adventure.

On the other hand, you reinforced every negative thought I ever had about a salesman. The lying, manipulative sleaziness that I sometimes considered a stereotype. I had an AT&T cable salesman pull that same line on me, "Oh, your neighbor has it. You don't wanna be the only one without it, do you"? As if I was twelve years old, and cared about sword fighting with my neighbor. It works a little better for you, since bugs do migrate, but in your article, you admit that it's just a line to scare someone into a sale.

The worst part is where you expect special treatment because you are a woman. "Especially a woman." This is what is going to come to the forefront of my memory every time a woman thinks she deserves equal pay for what appears to be equal work.

At the end, you ask that next time we see a salesman, we give them a break. Naw. Just like a telemarketer, your need of a job does not give you the right to do it at my expense; personally or financially.

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Fred Williams Feb. 11, 2009 @ 3:11 p.m.

Cami, you tell a great story.

Brandon sounds like a first-class horse's ass who actually believes the crap he spouts. Just the kind of plastic excuse for a human who excels at door-to-door.

I sold door-to-door for a few months and hated every instant of it. The ones who made the big money were just slime, telling whatever lie and using whatever manipulation they could get away with. I was very happy to leave that job.

In fact, if I ever got desperate enough to do door-to-door again, I'd sell bright red "No Soliciting" signs, carry along a battery operated screwdriver and charge an extra five bucks for instant installation.

"Hi, I'm Fred. Don't you hate door-to-door solicitors? Wouldn't you like to have justification to slam the door in their face? Well, after I install this little sign, they'll think twice before they bother you. And if they knock on your door...watch out! Yessir, that'll be five dollars for just the sign -- ten dollars installed...whirrrrrrrrr.

"Oh, you don't want it now? That's okay. I'll be back tomorrow. What time are you having dinner?"

Cami, I really enjoyed your article. I look forward to more of them. Can we assume you no longer sell pest control? What are you doing now?

Best,

Fred

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Vincent Feb. 11, 2009 @ 7:18 p.m.

Cami, you're not really a door-to-door salesperson, are you? And you certainly shouldn't be. (And not a telemarketer, either.) You're really a writer, and that could be a much more rewarding career for you than a sucky sales job. Get smart and change to a more honorable--and admirable--profession!

Take it to heart, Cami. I'm sure the Reader wouuld hire you--and if they're not smart enough to, someone else will be.

Good luck,

Vincent

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CamiKay Feb. 11, 2009 @ 9:57 p.m.

Actually Brandon's a cool guy- if anything, he helped me to dispel my prejudices against business men and...well...rich people in general. He was never anything but completely honest, above the board, and fair to me. I never once saw him do anything that made me lose respect for him. I'm sorry if what I wrote doesn't reflect that. I emailed him this story before I submitted it to the reader and he even encouraged me to submit it. I'm sure he knew that some people would smirk at the motivational stuff, but he didn't let that stand between me and my first publication.

I had hoped to dig deeper and explore the thin, thin line between honest, good business and sales (giving people products that improve their lives at a fair price) and the crazy, self help motivational hype that plagues business and sales- but I think that oversteps my abilities as a writer. Guess I'll leave that to Ayn Rand for the time being...or whoever else writes about it.

I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU HAD THE 'NO SOLICITING' SIGN IDEA TOO!!!! I thought of that and peep holes. Like, 'oh, you don't want pest control? You sick of people like me bugging you? Why don't I install this sign and a peephole so you can avoid this in the future? $30 please.'

Sales definitely isn't my thing. I tried it mostly because my Mom raised her three children on commission only sales and I wanted to see what she went through. oh yeah, and I needed money =)

Now I'm a kindergarten teacher in Taiwan. Love it! And I want to keep writing. There's something to all that motivational self help crap after all---- if you apply it to something you're passionate about! Thanks for your comments, it was cool to jump online and see that people had already read my story and cared enough to comment!

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Fred Williams Feb. 12, 2009 @ 12:19 a.m.

Cami, I taught ESL in Korea back in my misspent youth. What's it like in Taiwan?

As Vincent says, you could make a living as a writer. Your breezy style is well-suited to online distribution. Plus you're really cute, so a bit of video would go over well too. I look forward to seeing and reading more of you. Send out more stories more places...you've got it.

Maybe I shouldn't bag on Brandon. Sincerity goes a long way. I'm sure he really believes what he's teaching, and it's a needed mindset for success in high pressure sales.

But research and common sense tells us that there is never a one true way to success in life. Look at Malcolm Gladwell's latest book Outliers to see why. Not only do we have different genetic inheritance, but different environments and peers to inculcate unique skills and values into our lives.

Just working hard and "wanting it" has never been enough. Those who preach this doctrine can do real harm in this world, while overlooking their own inherited and acquired advantages.

That makes most self-help books worthless. I've not met a salesman yet who wasn't a fountain of self-help psycho-babble, Someone with a gift for superficial conversation and manipulation of strangers rarely has much else going for them, and few real friends.

If Brandon is an exception, I'd be happy to meet him...but you didn't describe him that way. Just because a sales guy makes a lot of money and teaches the techniques to others doesn't make him admirable. Does he have anything else in his life...like teaching in Taiwan?

That, to me at least, is far more important and admirable. As is writing skill. Intelligent writing is incredibly attractive, and you're a real gem, Cami.

Keep up the writing and enjoy your time overseas. Pitch an article to the Reader about finding and keeping a job over there from the perspective of a former San Diegan...I bet they'll buy it.

Best,

Fred

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ideamaned Feb. 12, 2009 @ 12:22 p.m.

Wow... very impressive writing. I completely enjoyed the story. Nice job :)

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piknot3 Feb. 12, 2009 @ 3:41 p.m.

I love your story-telling ability. You're like the female and Italian(?) version of Bob Newhart. I'm a commission-only salesman and I thoroughly enjoyed your story especially the part with the homeowner association guy ( those people are worse than rent-a-cops). I'll look out for your next article! -Brian

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CamiKay Feb. 12, 2009 @ 5:53 p.m.

Oh siiiiiiiiiiiiigh, the girl in the pics isn't me =) I'm in Taiwan and had no pics of myself in my pest control outfit. She is really cute though, isn't she? I should have told them that I sometimes used to skateboard from house to house. That might have made for a funny shoot. Going down one houses driveway and up the other felt almost like surfing...and made my day go much better. thank you again for your comments! Here's my blog, not super well written but it's there =) camikayadair.blogspot.com

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Fred Williams Feb. 13, 2009 @ 6:16 a.m.

Had a look at your blog...great writing, but nothing new since August of last year.

Your description of the teacher training was hilarious. It brought to mind this classic:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8Pk1UYkB3I

But my favorite version comes from Danny Elfman:

Best,

Fred

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CamiKay Feb. 15, 2009 @ 4:42 a.m.

Ha ha Fred, just checked out those videos. Wish my classes were that well-behaved/entertaining... Wow, Korea. i wonder how that compares to Taiwan? Asia's a trip huh? Im enjoying myself here. Point taken on the blog. Posted some new pics and stuff. -Cami

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bluenwhitegokart Feb. 15, 2009 @ 5:25 a.m.

Cami: loved your writing. You have that Hemingwayesque way (especially his early work) of drawing the reader into your world as a participant/co-conspirator. Don't feel bad about the lack of sales abiltiy. I had a socio-psych professor in college remark that sales people tend to test high for sociopathy. I realize that the implication for that is negative (do I owe you a dollar?), and that seems to be how Dr Crabbe intended it, but not necessarily, as this guy points out: http://ezinearticles.com/?Do-Salesmen-Have-Sociopath-Tendencies?&id=218278

Did my share of phone sales, door-to-door, car sales, ect, and I pretty much sucked at it. Best of luck to you.

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