Sunday, November 27, 2016

THE GIFT OF THE MAGI OF CARPET

Long before I ever heard of the Ouberufer Shepherds Plays, I realized there were two general “streams” of people in the world, the Kings and the Shepherds. Each of these two streams view life in their own unique way.  
     Kings are the kind of people who have the lofty mental capacity to look into the starry sky, see the shapes of the constellations, see the movement of the planets and divine or predict when very lofty and highly spiritual events would take place, like the birth in Bethlehem of the King of Kings. No one tells Kings, they knew.
     The Shepherds, on the other hand, are the ones who are busy with day-to-day life, tending their flocks, living rough in the fields, marveling in awe at the starry heavens, sleeping around a campfire, singing, cavorting, having a nip or two, and sleeping only to be told or inspired by an Angel to know that they must to go to Bethlehem and take gifts to the Great Shepherd. Everybody tells the shepherds.
     I am a Shepherd.
     Right out of college in the Vietnam War era, the only job an English major like me could find was something like selling carpet at a company named Carpet Kings in Dallas, TX. It was a “bait and switch” operation run by two guys named Bob and Tony, “sharpies” from New Jersey, and a money guy, their Uncle Bernie, sellin’ to “hicks” (as they thought of us). 
     Like I said, this was the 1970s and Bob and Tony both wore way too much English Leather cologne, way too many gold neck chains, way too colorful polyester shirts, way too tight hip-riding crotch hugging bell-bottom, and had way too heavily greased DA hair styles. They drove big, impressively girl-magnet cars, I’m talking boat-sized cars, like Lincoln Continentals. Not new, but close enough for real comfort and back-seat foreplay.
     They definitely saw themselves as Capitalistic Kings come down south to help us out of our oil money. They hired me, a Shepherd, and stuck me in a showroom at Casa Linda Shopping Center and, after training on how to “bait and switch”, sent me out on sales calls. 
     I took one sample set of cheap, I’m talking really cheap carpet and really cheap vinyl flooring, so cheap nobody would ever buy the stuff (a/k/a “the bait”) and one luxury set. Carpet people will feel the goods. Next time you’re in a showroom, ask he salesperson to show you some samples, and they’ll flip the sample book onto a table and run their a hand over the sample to feel the goods. If you invite ‘em over to your house, they’ll sit in an easy chair, look at your carpet, then slide down to feel your goods. They’re mentally calculating how much per square foot you paid. (We can’t help ourselves.)
     Nobody in their right mind would buy the really cheap stuff I was selling: the carpet was so cheap you could see the jute backing through the “shag-like” yarn.  The vinyl was so thin it was just a little thicker than an opaque, slightly textured Saran Wrap (no offense to the Saran Wrap company, but this stuff was thin.)

CHRISTMAS TIME IS COMING
The State Fair of Texas is held in late October. Companies like Carpet Kings take booths to hawk their products by offering things like drawings for a whole house full of carpet free!  All you gotta do is leave name, address and phone number. That entry form goes to a telemarketing phone room which calls and offers another opportunity to win a free room full of carpet or vinyl if you allow a salesperson to call - no obligation to buy - a “special promotion”.
     It was just before Christmas and I got sent to a “sure sale” in a very poor part of town. When I went in, I met the family: mom and dad and a pregnant teenage daughter and the teenage father, a snarly looking guy who fidgeted, a lot. The daughter was very pregnant, I’m talking uncomfortable, any day now pregnant.
     Mom wanted carpet and vinyl. They had been saving their money and wanted it installed before Christmas so that when the baby was born that the kid could crawl around on something clean. That clearly would be a first.
     If this had been the Oberufer Shepherd’s Play, this would have been the stable. The house was so small that either Mary and Joseph were sleeping on the hide-a-bed or Mom and Dad let the young couple have the bedroom. 
     There were no “goods” on the floor, only “bads”. The kitchen, for example, was a dirt floor. The living room was just old, cheap, splintery plywood that had been painted  brown a long, long time before.
     I drew my little “map” of the rooms. Dad helped me measure with my tape measure. I showed them my “bait and switch” samples of really cheap stuff and Mom got excited. Excited by this? This? This was not “bait and switch”, this was “bait and catch.” The only question from Mom was, “Can it be installed by Christmas?” 
     They had seen the “come on” ads offering the cheap stuff which I was showing. They had calculated the square yards. They had the money in cash.
     I actually tried to talk them out of the cheap stuff. I told them the vinyl could not be laid over a dirt floor. Dad asked that if he and the boy could put down some plywood, would that work?
What did I know about installation? Nothing. I was doubtful. I hemmed, I hawed, in the end, I pointed out every flaw in the carpet and vinyl I could think of, every problem conceivable, and even some inconceivable ones in a very transparent to attempt to save them from their awful fate. 
     And, I didn’t know about the remote possibility of installation before Christmas. We were busy, real busy. But, they were used to companies treating them poorly. They were used to being sent to the end of the line. They were used to only being able to afford the really cheap stuff. So what? By God, it was that mother’s love for that unborn child which outweighed anything I could say or do. Nothing negative was possible. There would be a way.
     Then I started feeling bad because I was judging them, like the mean Innkeeper in the Shepherd’s Play who turned away Mary and Joseph: 


“I keep my house for those 
who have money in purse!  
I keep for tramps, 
a kick, and a curse!” 

     Here I was trying to force my middle-class judgments and values on these good folks. Yeah, the place was like a stall, but it was their stall and it was going to be a stall with wall-to-wall carpet and vinyl in the kitchen and by Christmas! Cheap carpet is better for a kid to crawl on than splintery plywood. Vinyl, even cheap vinyl, was a dream if you lived on a dirt floor. 
    I was the one who had any chance of making that happen.  All I needed to do was go talk with Tony, yeah right. 
The daughter smiled beatifically. The young father-to-be fidgeted. I left them in freedom with samples to look at for the evening. 

IT’S BEGINNING TO SMELL A LOT LIKE ENGLISH LEATHER
Tony’s Lincoln was parked out front with a giggly young woman squirming on the front seat. He was there to get the day’s contracts and deposits.
     “How’d ya do?” he grinned.
So, I told him. I described the house. The family. The mom and dad, the son and daughter. Gave him my little floor map which he closely scrutinized. I gave him the cash which he recalculated. (”Can’t trust an English major!” he winked.)
     “You didn’t make no promises?” he asked.
     “Only to go back and get the samples.” I said.
     “Good boy.” He said.
     All he said was, “Boy oh boy, you say you left the samples?”
     “She’s gonna pick out a color that goes with poverty.”
     “This the address?” he asked. I nodded. “Lemme see what I can do. I’ll pick up the samples.”
     And then he took our other sales forms and left. 
     I didn’t see Tony again for a few days. Things were winding down after Thanksgiving and we knew we were going to be out of work by Christmas. It was okay. 
     The Mother called: “Aren’t you going to come and see how it looks?”
     “Oh, you got it installed?”
     “Oh yes! I thought you knew. Your boss Tony came. He’s nice. Too much cologne, but he’s nice.”
     “The baby?”
     “Very soon.”
     “Oh, Good.” I said, “You happy with the installation?”
     “Yes, very.”
     “Okay, I’ll come take a look.” I said.
     Tony came by that afternoon. I told him the mother called me. He said he recalculated my sales order and I had made a mistake. But he fixed it.
     “What mistake?” I asked.
     “You didn’t order good.”
     “I ordered the goods. I filled out the sales order correctly.” I said.
     “Yeah, well, there’s ordering goods, and then there’s ordering good. You’ll see. Go take a look.” 
     I had no clue what he was talking about. Sometimes Carpet Kings talk in a funny lingo about mark-up, profit margins, goods, thread count, and other stuff.
     Then he laid me off, but not because of the mistake. He handed me an envelope. “Here’s a Christmas bonus. Maybe we’ll see ya sometime.” He took my keys, watched me gather my personal stuff, and then we left.
     I knew it was coming. Sales were slow. I wasn’t earning my draw. There was $50 in the envelope so I was happy.
     I drove over to the family’s house. 
     I knocked on the door and the Mother answered. She opened the door and I was shocked. The floor was covered with some of the finest carpet we sold. And, the kitchen had a real sub-flooring beneath the vinyl. My mouth was agog.
     “Wow.” I said.
     “I think Tony said you ordered the wrong goods.”
     “Yeah, that’s what he said. This looks good!” I said. 
     “Baby’s gonna like it.” Dad said.
     “Yeah. It’s good.” I said.
     Tony never mentioned the Golden Rule, but there it was -- "He who has the gold, makes the rules." Sometimes that's good.

(C)Copyright 2016, Jean W. Yeager / All Rights Reserved
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