Column: A pretty face can get you taken to the cleaners

By Scott Saalman

Let me tell you about a bait-and-switch tactic I once fell for.

I was lonely — and someone rang my doorbell, a pretty girl I didn’t know holding a jar candle.
I couldn’t believe my fortune. Tom Petty was right: Even the losers get lucky sometime.

The candle was not lit — that should’ve been my first warning.

She said, “Hi. My name is” — what was it? — who knows? It was years ago. It probably wasn’t her real name anyway. Let’s give her one now. Sigourney. Yeah, Sigourney’s a good one.

I invited her inside.

Sweet-looking Sigourney eyed my carpet, winced and asked, “What kind of vacuum do you own anyway?”

“The Walmart kind,” I said.

It was the cheapest model, one step above a lint roller.

Sigourney said, “I am with the so-and-so company, maker of the most durable, dynamic, dependable vacuum cleaner designed by man. If you sit through a demonstration, I’ll give you this scented candle.”

I was thinking sonnets; she was thinking sales. Still, I conceded to the offer. She handed me the candle, which freed her hands to call someone.

“It’s me,” she said into her cellphone. “Yeah, I got another one. Come on in.”

Sigourney stepped outside and a guy stepped inside, a young buck, a real suit-and-tied, slicked-back-haired, sales shark. All that was missing was the theme from “Jaws.”

His vacuum was a lightweight, technological marvel. It looked sophisticated enough to have been trialed by NASA on Mars’ surface.

He asked to see my sweeper. I showed him. He let out a condescending sigh. He moved his sweeper a few inches away from mine, as if to keep my mutt from mating with his pedigree.

He poured something vile on my carpet — a possible mixture of fish guts, sawdust, yak toenails and volcanic ash, a regular witches’ brew for the carpet.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “It’ll come up.”

He nodded at my Walmart Lint Roller 1000. “Give it a try,” he challenged and winked.

I positioned my cheapskate’s clunker over the pile and turned it on. It coughed, shuddered, wheezed and spat dust, proving no match for the industrial mess beneath.

“Now watch this,” the sales guy said.

His vacuum cleaner was Prius-quiet and sucked up the mess in two seconds, so clean now it was like a new patch of carpet had been installed on my floor. The sales guy was so proud of his device’s performance, I halfway expected him to reward it with a carrot.

When he announced the vacuum’s cost, I told him I had no desire to assume the monetary equivalent of a second car payment, though he might want to try the Rockefellers nextdoor.

This was my first and only door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, though I’ve had other irritable sales types pay a visit.

On the heels of Hurricane Katrina, a guy claiming to be a New Orleans refugee tried to sell me a $50 bottle of industrial cleaner. He did a demo on my garage floor, the liquid hissing and bubbling — I worried a China Syndrome had been activated — until an ancient oil spot vanished. I wrote him a check, not because I’m a clean freak, but because I simply felt sorry for New Orleans. Instead of giving me the demonstration bottle, he retrieved another from his car. “Bait and Switch” blinked on my mind’s marquee in big neon letters. Two days later, one of my kids knocked the bottle from its shelf, causing glass to shatter on the garage floor. There was no bubble or hiss this time, the contents likely nothing but surge water. I doubt the guy was even from New Orleans. Damn Katrina.

“Meat men” have come to my door, claiming their freezer truck had broken down and offering me soon-to-be-spoiled, discounted beef. What is it about my neighborhood that causes meat trucks to malfunction while the ice cream van with its music box racket can rocket by without so much as a flat tire? I’d buy discounted ice cream over prospective rancid meat any day.

Then there was a salesman whose opening line was: “Do you have trouble making friends?” I kid you not. That’s the first thing he said. Taken aback, I pondered responding, “I obviously don’t have trouble making friends, for I partied with your mama till dawn this morning.” Me? Have trouble making friends? Ha! I rudely shut the door before he could whip out a pamphlet and sell me his off-putting brand of charismatic religion.

Anyway, back to the vacuum cleaner salesman. I kindly led him and his expensive carpet-cleaning contraption out the door. When his van sped away, I lit Sigourney’s candle and breathed in the scent of a sucker. P.T. Barnum was right: There’s one of me born every minute.

Scott Saalman lives, works and writes in Jasper. In his spare time, he produces Will Read (and Sing) for Food which raises donations for Community Food Bank and other charities.

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