May 27, 2024

Column: “That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Door-To-Door


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” Chapter 14 “Door-To-Door” Seattle Times
By Bruce Williams

I came to Seattle from Olympia (to attend UW) in 1985 after graduating from high school.  Within a week I had a job selling subscriptions for the iconic local newspaper.  I went to work for Bob, the chain-smoking (Belair menthols) Sales Team driver who oddly bragged about living on his sailboat and whose orange van was routinely littered with Olympia beer cans.  These are some of the remarkable things I witnessed during the years I sold door-to-door and worked for The Seattle Times—a virtual inventory of our colorful city.

My first night door-to-door I was being trained by 35-year old Darryl, who talked a mile-a-minute and ran a pawn shop down by Pike Place during the day.  He also liked to stick his foot into the doorway when the customer opened it.  An older lady intently listened to his pitch, cleared her throat when he was done and calmly stated, “I don’t care for your line of chatter,” and then closed the door, leaving him walking away muttering expletives.

A man in a turban (seen from a staircase across the street) with three naked women giggling in a hot tub, their breasts joyfully bobbing up and down on top of the briny foam as he poured champagne into their eagerly awaiting flutes.

A Satanic ritual with mesmerizing chanting that stopped abruptly only when the homeowner answered the door, unblinkingly and unresponsively staring at us.  His eyes were entirely black pupil as he gazed at us quizzically until we floated away.  The trainee beside me that night aptly remarked, “That guy was the Devil!”

An old man that was immediately confrontational, getting a few inches from my face to confer his dislike of solicitors, who then later called into headquarters and lodged a complaint about me, describing me not entirely wrongly as, “Cocky, surly…a real turkey!”

A kid who got accidentally run down and killed by a speeding car in front of me on Delridge Way in West Seattle, and the crowd angrily confronting the distraught woman that had been driving.  She was rescued from what was quickly turning into an ugly retributional scene by the timely arrival of the SPD.

A 350-pound black man that answered the door butt naked.  “Uh…have a nice evening…” was all I could muster as I quickly left and went to knock on the next apartment door, only to have him quietly step into the hallway and unnervingly stare at me until I peeled down the fire escape.

A small boy answered the door at night in the Holly Park projects, and when his mom shouted from deep inside, “Who is it!” he responded incredulously, “It’s a whiiite maaan!” as if I were some kind of exotic apparition.

A coworker who would routinely defecate in the field, whenever and wherever the spirit took him, using company printed materials for his paper and shrugging nonchalantly as he would exit the bushes.

I heard the tinkle of dog chains while selling in the rain one night, and before I knew what hit me, I saw a Doberman rushing at me from between two cars.  I fell backward into a puddle moistening my left butt cheek and scattering my paperwork into the mud right as his chain snapped his collar backward.

As a few years passed, I began supervising the Metro crew and drove a big, juicy Dodge Ram van.  I lived on Pill (First) Hill, and the van was constantly being broken into, so I quit repairing the busted wing window altogether.  Heading to work one day, I got in and smelled something beyond foul.  In the back seat I spied a pair of white, scuffed dress shoes attached to an extremely disheveled elderly homeless man who awakened from his slumber, sat up and claimed, “I’m a sssix-year college professssorrr.”

“Who cares?!  Get out!”

An extremely well-mannered high schooler (Kevin S.) worked for me for a couple of years, eventually meeting his future wife on our crew.  They married, and then he went off to serve in the armed forces.  A few years later I read in the paper that he had been convicted of abducting, raping and murdering a woman on Capitol Hill (stabbing her with a screwdriver and leaving her for dead), and given 100 years in prison, leaving me always sadly wondering how he had gotten from point A to point Z.

My supervisor’s real name was Peter Package.  He wore short-sleeved dress shirts with wide brown ties (before Dwight Schrute), had a porno ‘stache that he would nervously twist between cigarettes, and was routinely passed over for promotions.  A solid human being, nonetheless.

Two of my crew members got into a fist fight in the van on I-5 one night, so I had to pull over south of Boeing Field and yank one guy off of the other, and then had to threaten to leave them both on the side of the road if they didn’t cool off.

In those wild, unfettered days of youth and budding nihilism, I would sometimes buy a 6-pack of Budweiser tall boys after dropping off the crew and polish them off before pickup, tossing the empties against the back window so that they’d drop neatly behind the back seat.

One of my co-workers would periodically give himself “bumps” of powder from a little vial at his desk.  His raccoon eyes and surly demeanor earned him the nickname “El Diablo”, which he didn’t particularly care for.  He was short, sweaty and wore a man-girdle—easily visible through his shirt.

There was a dive bar across the street from the offices at Fairview & John called “The Nine”.  The red-headed, often-inebriated bartender was a sweet older lady named Rosie, and she would float me a tab from paycheck to paycheck.  The Times’ pressmen would come over on their nightly lunch breaks and get roaring drunk before heading back to work the heavy machinery.

I had a young guy (Paul S.) that worked for me who was a talented artist as well as a bohemian “dumpster diver” and happened to be missing most of his right hand due to a birth defect.  One night on Alki, I spotted a flat-topped police woman roughly handling him by the collar against a wall.  Apparently he had sung N.W.A.’s “F—- tha Police” in the direction of her squad car, and she had understandably taken exception to it.  She did not release her grip until I told her he worked for me and that was still a minor.

I employed a teen Filipina (Jenny A.) who wore mini skirts every night and stuffed her bra to an extreme degree (you could see the crumpled tissue through her stressed sweater).  Well, she wrote a lot of subscriptions, but I eventually had to let her go for “greasing” (falsifying orders).  Sadly, I think a lot of guys she signed up just canceled when they were called during the verification process.

When holding interviews, I would often come into the lobby and see young men with their feet up on the desk and their hats on backwards.  I would abruptly inform them that the interview was not going to take place that day, but they were welcome to come back the next day dressed properly and with a better demeanor.  Some would cuss and walk out, never to be seen again, but the ones that came back the next day, contritely prepared (probably after having their parents chew them out), would usually make pretty good employees.

This has been a cathartic experience, scanning my memory for all those old bits and pieces and putting them down before I forget them completely.  When I left the newspaper for my next endeavor (high-end retail—a rich treasure trove of human observation), the folks there gifted me a nice jacket emblazoned with the company logo, and had yet another of their weekly potlucks with the trademarked sheet cake.  Door-to-door sales are truly a dying breed—nobody wants to open their door any more and provide information to wandering strangers—and the newspaper industry itself needs saving—though personally, I still love to crack open the Times every morning in my chair with a steaming cup of black coffee and take the time to catch up with the world.