He was pissed! Really pissed! How could that purchasing agent asshole do this!? What a way to start his week. As it was he hated Mondays, always! The new week brought the same anxieties all the time. You work on straight commission and this is the way it is. He remembered the Hyman Roth character from Godfather 2 saying to Michael Corleone: “This is the life we chose.” Well, this was the life he chose. What in the hell else could he do? Here he was, 37 with barely being able to graduate high school. The only thing he was really good at was selling. He made lots of cash going door to door selling buttons for a few years, but that industry got oversaturated by the big stores. He just could not compete on price with them, and his uncle, who he worked for, was as tight as a crab’s ass. So, he lucked into this gig when he tried selling buttons, floor by floor, in this building. Mr. Gayle, the owner of this place, asked him to work for them. “You make more money here den selling that drek Lerry. I give you top commission rate, 20%.” He agreed.
He grabbed the pink copy of the order that just cancelled from Lydia, the bookkeeper. He dangled it like the cigarette he was dangling in his other hand. He slammed the door of his office and sat and dialed. He finally got the guy on the horn. “Listen Mr. Perkins, please, I implore you to not cancel on me. As I told you the other day, I just got hired by UNICEF to teach in Ghana. I have the airline tickets right here on my desk. My wife and I are leaving Saturday, and we have no place to store these office supplies. That’s why I am closing everything out at 60% off. Hold on one second, my wife just walked in.” (He pauses as he holds the phone a bit further from his mouth). “What dear? Yes, I told the man. I told him we’re leaving Saturday for Ghana. Ok… Mr. Perkins, my wife is standing here and, no kidding, she is trembling! I beg of you Mr. Perkins, be a humanitarian sir! Please don’t cancel!” A moment later and mission accomplished and Larry took the pink back to Lydia. “You can ship it. Just add a pen set with the order. After all, it’s a fifteen hunnet dollar order, the boss can afford a two dollar pen set.” And that was that, just like that.
Larry was the best guy up there, including Gloria, the only woman salesperson. (Gloria was adorable, well, not that way. She was maybe 45 and if William Bendix had a twin sister, it would be Gloria). The rest of the crew maybe booked, if all added together, about twice what he wrote. That is why he got the office up front right next to Martse Gayle while they all had little cubicles with no ceilings. No one, excepting the boss and Lydia, much liked him, but such is what this jungle was all about: EVERY MAN (AND WOMAN) FOR THEMSELVES! Thus, he ate his lunch alone, usually down at the Andrews Coffee shop around the corner. It took him perhaps 35 minutes and then back to the phones. He always took the 4:30 PM Pioneer Bus to go home to CO-OP City, so he needed to martial his time. Larry just sat there, hour after hour, cold calling from the Yellow Pages. He would choose phone books of smaller cities and slide through the different categories of businesses. His biggest coup had been calling all the Catholic Schools in every yellow page the boss had. He gave the same ‘Teaching for UNICEF’ pitch and the nuns went for it. Sometimes he would use his ‘My dad passed away last month and I’m helping my mom close up’. He would usually turn himself into a teacher who was taking time off to ‘help mom’.
Larry wasn’t too keen about going home. His wife, a Russian, gave him but one joy in his entire marriage: baby Rhonda, named after his mother. The two of them fought like cats and dogs, just like his parents had, and the sex was fleeting. His only substitute for the lost sex was gambling. Larry would run over to Yonkers Raceway after dinner and stay until after the last race. When he lost, which was usual for him, he would catch the bus to CO- OP ready to tussle with Elena… and not in the sheets. The new morning would greet him with the overwhelming desire to get the hell out of there. He played with little Rhonda over breakfast, argued with his wife and then caught the 7:55 bus to the city. Larry looked forward to Fridays, payday. He and a few of the guys would get their checks at around 11:30, run to the boss’s bank to cash them out of paranoia, and then split a cab to the track. If it was when Belmont Racetrack was open the guys would split a cab to Penn Station and catch the LIRR’s Belmont Special. It took only 35 minutes and they even gave you a token to get into the track for free. Larry would get the program and go to the soup bar for a nice bowl of the ‘Soup of the day’. For a quarter extra the counter person would give him a load of extra crackers. “Best soup in town” Larry would brag. He topped it off with a cup of coffee (Larry did not drink any type of alcoholic beverages) and off he went to the betting windows.
As the months passed into years, a few years, Larry’s wife finally had enough of this life. She took the girl and moved in with her mother in Queens. Larry had no car and didn’t even ever get a driver’s license, so his trips to Queens were few and far between. Sometimes his older brother Jerry would pick the kid up and bring her to their mother’s place in CO-OP. Finally, Larry moved out of CO-OP and got a one bedroom apartment near the office, in Chelsea. It was great, just rolling out of bed and stumbling to the office each morning. The best part was the hookers, or escorts as the agency called them. Larry became their best customer. After all, he was making good bucks, even after the child support and alimony, and this was fun. Whenever the escort rang the bell downstairs Larry would get such a thrill. Most of the girls got to know him, and he would make them laugh with all the great impressions he could do. Duke Wayne answering the door would crack them up.
Time always has a way of catching up to all of us. It sure did with Larry. How many years could a man just live this way, with no purpose but to make money, gamble and get laid? He was the ultimate survivor, or perhaps spectator is a better word. Larry didn’t care about issues or politics. He was actually oblivious to the events around him that did not touch him in any manner. He watched, or rather observed, his daughter getting older. The weekly phone calls and holiday visits did not prepare him for the young woman she became. HIs ex remarried years earlier and the bosses he worked for changed like managers on shitty baseball teams. He kept trucking… until they opened Staples Office Supplies all over the country. Then Office Depot and then… the purchasing agents didn’t go for his sales pitches anymore. The commissions got less and less until Larry was out of a job. His only recourse was to go and work for an office supply outfit as an outside salesman. The pay was steady because he could ‘sell ice to an Eskimo’, but not even close to what he made on the phones. It was back to being another button salesman again.
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