Sunday, July 17, 2011

No Experience Unnecessary: Door to Door Meat Sales

Perhaps you hadn't heard, but the economy sucks right now. Has sucked for a few years and possibly will suck for the rest of our lives. I'm not an economist. I'm a poet, if even that. Which means, when I go on Craigslist Portland Job, I can't apply to any economist jobs. Well, sure I can apply, but there's only so much bullshit I can stomach spewing. Which makes my 1st job during my 2nd stint in Portland that much more incongruous.

I arrived here in May assuming I'd be handed job offers once I crossed the city limits. For some reason, I'm always very cocky about getting a job even if my track record proves I get rejected far more often than I get an offer. Selective memory, I guess. My first time in Portland, it only took me a few weeks to get my first job, that was as a package handler for FedEx. It's also worth remembering the timing: I had gotten the job in November and FedEx needs a lot more help right before Christmas.

This time around, with a shiny new master degree in my pocket, I aimed higher than FedEx. Started by looking at community colleges for adjunct positions. Didn't think it was that high a hurdle past package handler, but I guess it was. One school told me enrollment was down and they probably wouldn't need me. Another just said I wasn't qualified.

With my first option out, I started shotgunning the resume to any job for which I felt remotely qualified (ie, bachelor degree, clean driving record, no drug convictions). No call backs. Hours spent in a Panera Cafe drinking bottomless coffee, tweaking resumes, stretching any experience I've ever had to make me sound qualified for a job (Horse whisperer? Shit, I've eaten horse. I've got this).

Yet, after sending dozens of resumes and cover letters, the only job that allowed me to talk to a human being was one which did not require anything but for its applicants to call. I quote:

Food Route / Route establishment CASH PAID DAILY!!!!

Sounded like something within my qualifications.

So continuing my series No Experience Unnecessary:

The phone interview for the Food Route posting wasn't particular strenuous. Two questions: 1) Do you have a driver's license? 2) Do you want full time work?

I guess I answered correctly for both because I was told to come in the next day at 8:45am. The guy on the phone did not offer a Q & A portion for this phone conversation and didn't seem to think it was necessary to mention what the job entailed or what the company did (or what it's name was, for that matter).

Next day, everything was revealed. I was delving into the world of door to door meat sales. No salary. No guaranteed hourly wage. No benefits or vacation or sick days. The skinny: I would drive around in a refrigerated meat truck with cases of steaks, chicken, pork, and seafood and try to sell as many of them as I could to anyone I could find. For the driver, the cases of meat cost $126 each. Any amount we sell it for over that cost is money in our pocket at the end of the day. Of course, the customer has no idea that it costs $126 for us. We carry brochures that say these cases cost $389 for steak, $270 for chicken, and $370 for seafood. A trick is to show the customer how much these cases cost retail, but say something like: "If you buy the steak case for $389, I'll throw in the chicken case for free. That's a $270 value." But again, each of these cases all cost the same: $126. So if a customer falls for that pitch, then the driver makes $389 for $252 worth of food. He takes home $137 for that sale alone. Allegedly, drivers averaged $100-300 a day doing this work.

The interviewer, Josh, also said there was no upfront cost (only after i asked, of course), but that's bullshit (imagine! a salesman lying? what has this world come to?). There wasn't any cost for me while I was training, but a regular driver had to pay a daily truck fee, something around $27 that covered insurance. Plus drivers had to pay for their own gas. So you definitely could owe money at the end of a day if you don't make a sale.

Since there was no risk while I was training, besides the waste of a day, I agreed to go on a ride with an experienced driver. They paired me with JJ, a 27 year old ex-con, recovering meth addict who'd been selling meat for 2 months. A big tattooed dude who wore a wife beater to work. Granted it was one of those nice wife beaters with the hemmed edges, but a wife beater none the less.

But he was a perfectly nice guy and bought me a soda and taught me the tricks of the trade. That is, after I helped him move out of a hotel room where he had been living and where he'd set up a makeshift tattoo parlor in the evenings. It was a pretty flexible job in that regard... meat selling that is, not tattooing without a license. Yes, you were expected to get there at 9AM and were expected to stay out and sell until 8PM with only Sundays off, but no one cared if you were knocking door to door or moving out of a hotel room without any home to move to next (I guess his brother was taking his belongings to a guy named Keith's house who really wanted JJ to live with him, but unfortunately, Keith would be kicked out of his own house in a month, so stability was not a strength of this new arrangement).

But once we did get on the road for meat sales, JJ broke down the job for me.

"Keep it simple," he said. "Knock on the door, introduce yourself and say, 'Hey, you like good steak, dontcha? Well, let me show you what I got.' Turn and burn. Don't let them ask questions, don't give them time to say no. Once they say they like steak, then turn and burn back to the truck and grab the steaks to show them."

JJ dropped many pearls of wisdom on me as we drove. Didn't see him sell much, but I was entertained and tried to remember everything he said. Much of the sales pitch was about how to lie best and make sure the customer thought this was a special one time deal just for him or her. Say something like you're doing deliveries and one of your deliveries canceled so you need to unload your truck and will sell the meat at cost. Tell them it's cheaper than shopping at CostCo (i don't think it actually is). If a customer says, "I don't have room in my freezer for all that meat," tell them you'll rearrange their freezer for them and if you can't fit the meat in, it's free.

According to JJ: "You gotta tell them anything that will get them to buy. One day, I told old ladies my wife was in labor but I couldn't see her until I emptied my truck. Ha! I'm not even married. I have a girlfriend, but she's in jail." Then he proceeded to show me her mugshot and since i was surprised to see her mugshot, I didn't know what I was supposed to say.

"Aww, she looks sad." No shit armin, she's in jail. Perhaps he wanted me to comment about how pretty she was (I'm a salesmen, I can lie), but then why would he show me her mugshot? Is that the only picture he has of her?

So from 11-6pm we spent the major bulk of the day looking for lower middle class neighborhoods to peddle our wares. We completely ignored "No Solicitation" signs and were run out of a mobile home park for that reason. But I could handle getting the door slammed in my face and the disgust and vitriol from the people I was harassing. What really bothered me was the 2nd to last house I visited. A ten year old girl answered the door.

"Hello, is a parent home?"
"Yeah, she's inside. Come in."

It freaked me out to be walking in someone's house, especially when it was the kid inviting me in, not the adult. I realize for a salesman, this is paydirt, being invited inside, because it's harder for a customer to say no to you once you're a guest (i was told I needed to position the customer between myself and the door, so it would be harder for them to push me out). I assumed the mom would be furious with this little girl, especially because the house looked ramshackle and disheveled. But the mom, Mary, was perfectly friendly as she was putting away laundry.

"Mary, you like good steaks, dontcha?" I asked.
"Sure, but ain't got no money."
"Well let me show you what I've got."

Turn and burn. JJ took over from that point, showing off the cuts. I was actually sort of giddy, thinking I'd actually hooked a sale. Mary, the ten year old girl and her four year old brother all gathered around the kitchen table as JJ pulled out Delmonico and sirloin and chopped beef. The little boy was extremely excited and kept asking us to bring out more cases.

But as much as Mary wanted to buy from us, she just didn't have any money. JJ realized it was a lost cause and I started packing away the food. But the little boy was so disappointed.

"Why are you putting the food away?"
"Well it's all frozen, so i need to put it back in the freezer so it doesn't melt."
"We have a freezer. You can put it in there."
"The truth is kid, your family is poor and can't afford our exorbitant prices. You're too poor for us to even gouge." I didn't actually say that, but that house made me feel so sleazy for trying to rip them off. It's all a frame of reference. This was easily the most dishonest and awful job I ever tried to do, but for a recovering meth addict and former drug dealer, this is an honest day's pay. If you get paid that is.

We eventually did sell one small box of steaks for $40, which meant we earned $9 on that sale. Since I had initiated that sale, I got to take home $4.50 for 9 hours of work. We had to call it an early day, ending at 6pm instead of 8pm because JJ had to visit his girlfriend in the slammer.

Though I didn't think I could last much longer in the job, I went back Monday morning because there was a sales meeting with all the drivers and, according to the white board on the office, Monday morning meetings involved something called the "Meat Wheel." I saw this Meat Wheel, which looked like any carnival spinning wheel, but with pie slices that said "Free Case of Meat," "$5," and "Whammy!" How could I not stick around for a meat wheel? But for some reason, they didn't spin the meat wheel, just spent the whole morning talking about sales pitches and how we had to beat the Eugene and Tacoma teams. Then I was introduced as a new driver in training and the manager Keith said, "Armin's done even harder work than sales. He went door to door for the Census." Like that gave me some sort of street cred with these recovering meth addicts.

Couldn't stay for a route that day, but told them I'd be back on Wednesday. However, I ended up getting another job before then, so never got to fulfill my full potential as a door to door meat salesmen.

Can I even include this as a job if I only did it for a day and a half? Well, I did earn $4.50 that first day of work, so it was a paying job. And I also got a free Monster Energy Drink from JJ, plus a bar of soap from the hotel where he was staying, so the job even had benefits. And I got to eat at a Jack in the Box, which I'd never done before, so it was certainly a job that offered new opportunities and personal growth.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

taint pain

My health care coverage ended at the start of June, meaning, of course, that I was due to contract something both fatal and financially devastating. So imagine my absolute joy when, instead of a debilitating virus, I was blessed with a tender lump behind my scrotum.

Finally, my third testicle is dropping! Today I am a man.

Before sending a Facebook invite for my bar mitzvah, a quick WebMD search revealed that the medical community is completely in agreement: two testicles is the norm.

Upon closer inspection, with the use of a hand mirror and some yoga contortions, I was shocked to see a zit on my taint. Actually, I was just shocked seeing that region of my body at all (which is more correctly called the perineum... it turns out "taint" is not the term listed in Grey's Anatomy). It's not an area I've explored before, and I'd be okay never having to look at it again. I don't want to run through that wicked garden.

What could I do? Does Proactiv make a taint specific formula? Even if I did have health care, how could I bring myself to visit a doctor about taint pain? I'm sure women love it, but I'm certainly too bashful to lean back in stirrups.

For about four days, I hid this misery from friends and loved ones. Getting in and out of vehicles was torture. I considered buying one of those blow up donut shaped pillows marketed to hemorrhoid suffers. But as comfortable as they look, they certainly aren't built for discretion. The toughest part about taint pain is that it's both excruciating and hilarious. It's hard for people to feel sympathy for you if your ailment is also ridiculously funny. I hid in the dark shadows of my taint.

I can now proudly say that my taint has been zit free for a month, I can ride a bicycle with impunity, and I'm just waiting for the next agonizing, embarrassing ailment to strike. Weepy nipples perhaps or receding pubic hair. It seems my body knows no limits to humiliating me.

No, i did not take pictures of it so don't ask.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


As I've mentioned in the past, I'm pretty adept at small talk. I'm confident I know what questions will be on the social gathering mid term, if you know what i mean.

All adults should be prepared with concise, perhaps cute, or at least interesting, answers to the following, because the answer to these questions guide the rest of the conversation, or stop it dead, depending on what you say:

1. At a gathering for a mutual friend: "How do you know so and so?" (oddly, i've heard second hand from only one person that white people, but not black people, ask this question. Can anybody dispel or support this claim?)

2. "Where are you from?"

3. "What do you do?"

Case in point, for all my fellow MFA poets out there, while in school, when asked question 3, we'd obviously say something along the lines of, "I'm in grad school." Not necessarily poetic, but clear and to the point.

And, since most of us know how to engage in polite small talk, the obvious next question would be: "Oh, what are you studying?"

To which we'd reply, "Creative writing. Poetry specifically."

And then the conversation could proceed in three likely ways (at least for me... I can no longer speak for every single grad student studying poetry):

1) The conversation dies because this person has no interest in talking with a person who goes to grad school for poetry,
2) the person asks if I'm a fan of poets I either do not care for, or more likely, have never read, making me looking quite stupid considering I'm going to grad school for this,
or, the most likely, 3) the person asks, "So what do you want to do with that degree?"

Because education is invariably tied to occupation. You study something, not because you are just interested in it, but because you could possibly make a living wage based on the knowledge/skill you gain in the subject. Sure, we'd all agree accounts payable might be interesting enough for the average person to read about on Wikipedia, but it's unlikely you'd pursue a degree in it just for the orgasmic high of a balanced ledger.

(honesty alert: i had a hard time writing that last sentence because i didn't know who I'd offend with which career I'd choose to highlight. I know nothing about accounts payable and apologize to anyone who feels a real passion for it and would do it for free).

Anyway, while I was still in school, it was easy to shrug off this question with an insouciant blow off:

No, an MFA won't help me get a job necessarily. But, I'm an artist and I'm more concerned with feeding my art than myself.

But when the student loans stop coming in, you realize, shit, that wasn't quite truthful was it? I'm actually very concerned with feeding and drinking myself. I'd shoot my art in the throat for an Italian hero, post degree.

So yes, I still get that "What do you want to do with that degree?" question nowadays, especially as I'm still job hunting. But here's a question that took me more off guard, asked by an acquaintance with whom I've hung out many times:

"So... what are you qualified to do?"

Ummmm.... well, I guess all the things I was qualified to do before I got the MFA, except now I'd like a bit more money for it because I have to pay back student loans. Or actually, I might be a little less qualified nowadays because time has passed and I've forgotten things I used to know... but, yes, I'd still like to be paid at a Master level, please.

Among the many things for which a grad degree in poetry does NOT qualify me to do (along with neurosurgery, semi-pro lacrosse, and cosmetology) you can add "passing the Oregon State driver's knowledge test."


Whenever I move to a new place, there's about an eight day window of productivity for me. It's the time when I'm still fresh, still new, and willing to unpack and organize my room, meet neighbors, help the homeless, set up a new daily routine, and generally get settled and become part of my new community.

So enthusiastic and eager was I when I moved back to Portland last month, that on my second day in the city, I braved the DMV to get my license, title, and registration all switched over. I had two proofs of ID, three proofs of address, and my DNA sequence and blood type all handy and ready to go.

Everything seemed to be going way too easy. The lines were short, the forms were simple, and all my documents were sufficient, miraculously. I was being helped by an Asian dude who was all laid back and seemed to love being at the DMV. You could definitely see him being the smart ass, but lovable, partner in a buddy/cop movie, or the smart-ass, but lovable, roommate in a buddy/cop sitcom.

Then, as he was finishing up my title and registration, said, "Okay, my man. All you need to do now is take the Driver's Knowledge test and you can get your license."

I was not expecting that. "Ummm... so what happens if I fail?"

"Man! You gotta think positively!"

Well if this DMV fella I just met believes in me, I guess it can't be that hard, right? I mean, he doesn't seem too nervous about it. And, c'mon now, I had just driven across the entire country, and at least a third of the way, I was pretty much asleep. So I felt confident I knew the rules of the road.

Apparently not. After paying a $5 testing fee, I sat at a computer where I'm sure dozens of 16 year olds sat all day before me and had taken the same test and passed. So many questions, and so much uncertainty. Can a Class C license allow me to drive a fire truck? How far behind an intersection can i park? If I have a green light, but see a man with a cane at the corner, should I still go?

No practical real world questions for me to answer, like "How do you eat corn on the cob while changing lanes on the freeway," or "How do you give a douchebag the finger with your toes?"

I got a little more nervous with each wrong answer, but still that Asian DMV guy seemed completely unconcerned, so I assumed I'd done enough to pass. Right? Again, apparently not.

"Aww, you failed? What happened?" he asked when I came back to the counter with my failing score.

What happened?! You fucking gave me false confidence in myself. Thanks Asshole for the worst test prep coaching in history and taking my $5 testing fee without first perhaps suggesting, "hey you know people do fail this test, so maybe you should grab one of those free DMV manuals, read it over, and come back when you're ready."

It took me quite a while to finally pick up the DMV manual and read it through (it was past my 8 day window of productivity... same thing with finding a real bed, so it's likely I'll be sleeping on a mattress on the floor for the rest of my life in Portland), but I eventually read the whole thing. I returned to the DMV, and while still not perfect, received a good enough score to be granted driving privileges in the great state of Oregon. The same Asian dude was there again, but he had clearly forgotten me because he just sees $5 bills instead of people's faces.

So, even with the very pragmatic Master of Poetry degree in my pocket, there are still things to learn, including how to drive safely. Coincidentally, as I left the DMV, i actually saw a blind man crossing the street, but worry not friends. Thanks to my diligent study, I remembered to let up on the gas, apply the brake gently, and NOT hit the man. Now that's knowledge you can use in real life.