Quality. Reliability. Performance.
an excerpt from Book 2
I quit my dream job at Canadian Tire auto parts counter for something more exciting, challenging, futuristic: the world of global marketing.
Judging from the huge number of people sitting in this room, this is a big company. All of us earning or will soon be earning thousands of dollars every week in the world of high finance — money to buy new cars and houses, living the fast life of the late 1970s.
I’m not quite sure what I’m going to be selling but I don’t care: the newspaper ad said guaranteed big bucks and that’s good enough for me.
I slowly look around to notice no one is as professionally dressed up as I am. Me, in my wide black velour pants, topped with a black shirt, black leather vest, and a black leather jacket. I start to notice the frayed carpet, the water stains on the walls, the musty smell, the many around me in t-shirts, jeans, runners.
A chunky man bulging in a three-piece baby-blue suit jumps on the raised platform, yelling, “Are you ready to make money, money, MONEY! We answer, “Yes! Yes! YES!” He tells everyone who did not answer yes to get the fuck out.
I like this guy.
We have all lucked out to be right here, right now, in Regina at the start of a home cleaning revolution that will change how the world views vacuum cleaners. And the Kirby Classic III is nothing ordinary: using the brightest minds at NASA, it’s a technological sensation that will change how people vacuum their homes, shampoo their shag carpets, eliminate all air-born allergens. To sell a product that actually makes people’s lives better is certainly what everyone wants.
At the end of the demonstration, everyone signs up to become rich within months. I laugh to myself, thinking how my mom spent a decade studying to become a teacher and how I’m about to instantly catapult over her in income. My paid-in-cash blue new Camaro in her driveway will soon look amazing behind her shitbox teacher car.
I’m so happy I dumped Canadian Tire: its idiotic red-shirt/blue-tie noose around my neck, its pathetic paper paycheque every second Thursday. It’s now September 1978 and I’ve found the freedom ticket to unlimited riches: jetting to New York City, partying with Blondie, dancing my velour pants off at Studio 54.
We spend the next few days learning every part of this ultimate home-cleaning machine, fascinating as none of us have ever actually touched a vacuum cleaner. When asked what kind of vacuum cleaner my mom has, I have no answer; I don’t think we have one: our house is always clean.
Watching a veteran salesman do a demonstration of this incredible home-cleaning system, we are in awe of the technological superiority of this bold red Kirby Classic III, the epitome of vacuum cleaner excellence — a million times better than the piddling door-to-door sales competitors of ElectroSUX or FilterQUIT.
It doesn’t matter we’re not getting paid for this week-long training — it’s a small investment of our time for a big financial payoff. I’m stunned there are fewer and fewer of us high-tech trainees left in the room after every coffee and lunch break as the week goes on.
The six of us — the best of the best, the ones with vision — who remain late on Friday afternoon are told to arrive back Monday morning when we’ll be divided into five-man crews with a sales manager and sent out in vans to every small town and village throughout southern Saskatchewan to sell sell sell this life-saving product.
And that’s when the weird part starts.
Monday morning is the time every salesperson, new and old, meets up in the epicentre of Kirbydom, the large, musty, low-ceiling room in downtown Regina — well, east of downtown, where the rent is cheaper.
When I enter the packed meeting room, there must be fifty men — young and old — already sitting in rows of mismatched chairs, most with a cigarette in one hand, all clutching a booklet in the other. Not sure why, but I look to see if there are any women here. Nope.
I spot an empty chair and chuckle to myself as the men on either side remind me of Burt Reynolds and the Duelling Banjos boy from ‘Deliverance.’ I am handed a dog-eared, yellowed booklet and start to flip through it. I don’t know what this is — it looks like a bunch of poems. I close it to see the cover says, ‘Kirby Songbook.’
“Are you ready to make money, money, MONEY!” I look up to see the chunky man from last week, still wearing his tight baby-blue suit. “Yes, yes, YES!” yells the crowd. He again tells everyone who did not answer yes to get the fuck out. It’s funny every time — laughter throughout, mixed with a “Fuck ya!” here and there.
Everyone suddenly bolts up in unison — with us new guys following a moment later — and the singing begins in full throttle:
Hey, look me over,
lend me a ear.
Now we’re in clover,
the Kirby Classic’s here.
The new model Kirby,
the best of them all.
You’ve never seen anything like it,
Spring, summer, winter, or fall.
Not knowing what’s going on, I play along, mouthing the words from the song book. I look around and can’t believe I am in a packed room of tattooed ex-cons, drug addicts, crazies, and idiot teens like me belting out a deep rumble of old show tunes with Kirby lyrics.
So surreal, I’m loving it.
After a few raucous songs, baby-blue suit man holds up his hands to silence everyone, then introduces the Boss of all Bosses, the man who made this possible.
There is a long, dead silence as we all look off-stage to where blue suit man is pointing. Slowly, very slowly, an elderly thin man makes his way up the two steps, and to the centre of the platform, facing us.
“This week,” he starts in a wheezy voice, “will be the per-per-per, per-perf, perf, best week of our lives. The Kir-kir-kir, Kir Cla-cla-cla Classic is best of them all.”
I cover my mouth to stifle a smirk and when I look around, I see everyone staring intently at The Boss, slowly leaning forward to listen, nodding.
“Go out and sell sell sell the Kir-kir-kir … three!”
I automatically join in the thunderous applause to our brilliant leader.
Sales in my first two months are fantastic, with October 1978 netting me fifteen sales — at $300 commission per — and a chance to win a brand new Chevrolet Chevette (not the car I’d like, but getting a $4000 car for free would be pretty sweet: stripping it down for parts and making an easy fifteen hun.)
In towns and villages throughout southern Saskatchewan, I help people achieve their ultimate home cleaning goals. I get a big hug from one elderly woman who said I remind her of her late grandson. She is such a sweet woman. I leave her house with a big container of homemade cabbage rolls and a signed contract for a $1800 Kirby Classic III.
I certainly had to put on a brilliant demonstration for that sale as her tiny house has no carpets, has plastic drapes, and only one power outlet — good thing the Kirby Classic III has an extra-long cord. And because I really like her, I gave her a $20 credit — double what I normally offer — for her year-old Electrolux as a trade-in.
But all good things have to come to an end. The more money we make by helping people achieve their ultimate home cleaning goals, the more we spend at the local bar — slowly missing day after day of work sleeping it off in the motel.
It’s really annoying how every town and village in Saskatchewan has a different fine for doing unlicensed door-to-door sales. Some of the nosy small towns quickly send some dorky town official to confront us entrepreneurs, some send the RCMP. The Yorkton pricks are the worst: yes, they told us to leave town immediately but were more rude and obnoxious when they arrest us at 3am in our underwear running around outside with the red Kirby vacuum cleaner wands inserted together to look like rifles.
After getting dropped off at my mom’s house in Regina late on a Friday evening in November 1978, I go down to my room to lay on my waterbed to calculate my month’s income and am confused why it starts with a negative.