In my early teenage years I sold candy door to door for a company called Junior Careers.
Every day after school, the Bossman pulled up to the house in a beige Econoline and blew the horn. You knew it was time to go when you heard that unmistakable pattern, two shorts and a long. Morse code for, “Get the fuck out here! Right now!” The Bossman did not like to wait. You learned fast, if you were gonna make it on his crew you had to show some serious hustle. He had ten rules and “Don’t waste my time” was number one. As soon as that horn blew you hightailed it into the back of the van and joined the other kids crammed against a wall of boxes like chickens in an overcrowded pen. If you were lucky you’d be able to sit down on the floor too, otherwise you’d be standing, hunched over the boxes of candy, hoping nobody pulled a lame-brained stunt like that one time Felipe yelled, “Oh, my god! Stop!” and the Bossman slammed on the brakes. We all tumbled forward into a massive dogpile with the boxes on top, everybody totally freaking out. The Bossman was frantic, shouting, “What is it? What is it?” thinking somebody’s fingers were caught in the door again. But then Felipe goes, “A roach was crossing the street… you almost ran over him.”
We cracked up bigtime. Except the Bossman. He was pissed beyond belief. But that was no surprise. He was always pissed off. If it wasn’t one thing it was another. His patience was razor thin. And no wonder. It’s not like we ever made things easy for him. We dragged ass and talked shit nonstop, as if we got paid more for our snotty attitudes than the candy in our boxes. I mean, none of us really wanted to pound the pavement for hours on end when we could be home watching the tube. We did it for the ten percent of each sale, our cut of the profits. Slave wages, sure, but there weren’t many employment opportunities available to the under-sixteen set. So you dealt with it. Until you couldn’t deal with it anymore. And then you bailed. That was the beauty of the job. You could always say fuck it.
Everybody quit eventually.
It happened all the time. The van pulled up to a house and a kid would come out with a string of excuses. “I got too much homework.” Or, “I gotta do such and such for so and so.” The only thing the Bossman hated more than excuses was being a man short. “If you’re on the schedule and I show up at your house you better be ready to work.” That was rule number two. But it didn’t stop some kids from trying their luck. Except the Bossman had a keen eye for bullshit. No matter what you said you knew it wasn’t gonna be easy.
Once this guy Mike tried to take an unscheduled night off. But instead of facing the Bossman himself, he sent his little brother out to say he couldn’t work. It was cowardly, true, but you could hardly blame him, seeing as how mad the Bossman got when you flaked on the job. You’d be a fool to think you could get out of work that easy. You had to be on your deathbed before he’d even consider letting you off the hook.
Sure enough, the Bossman went off, shouting at the top of his lungs in case Mike was hiding behind the curtains, “You tell that lazy little blankety-blank blank blank if he doesn’t get in this van right now I’m gonna drag his useless ass out here myself.”
And he’d do it too. We’d seen it happen. More than once. He’d march right into some kid’s house and drag the culprit out by the collar like he was a bounty hunter going after America’s most wanted.
The Bossman always got his man.
Mike wasn’t the first kid to try the little brother tactic either. No, the Bossman had seen every play in the book. But this time was different. Mike was playing hardball. He wasn’t coming out. No matter how much the Bossman threatened him. So after a few minutes of hollering he threw his hands in the air and said, “Good riddance. That boy was useless.” Then he gave the little brother the once over. “What about you, kid? You wanna job? Or you gonna be useless like your brother?”
The Bossman had a thing against the Useless. When I first signed up for Junior Careers he met with my mom to give her the rundown and let her know I’d be safe on the job. Not that she was worried or anything. Before I started working for Junior Careers I wandered the streets aimlessly, getting into trouble. Then one day I noticed a flyer stapled to a telephone pole by the Alpha Beta.
According to the bold print, Junior Careers was an opportunity for kids twelve to sixteen to earn extra money, win special trips and have fun.
The prospect of a real job was hard to pass up. So I called the number and the next day the Bossman showed up at the house. He was a big guy, his brown hair kinda long and wavy, like he used to be cool, before he got old, and just forgot to get a crewcut. In this loud, booming voice he went off about the philosophy behind Junior Careers. “This job is about Life Lessons. I’m preparing your son for the real world. And in the real world there are Earners and there are the Useless. Those who go out and make things happen, these are the Earners. Those who let things happen to them, the Useless. The Earners come home with cash in their pockets. The Useless, they just waste my time.” As my mom nodded her head—I could tell she liked the sound of this—the Bossman looked me square in the eye and asked, “So which one are you gonna be?”
“An Earner?” I asked it more than I said it because I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about. But then, I woulda gone along with anything if it meant making a few bucks. It had been ages since I’d had an allowance. Room and board, that’s all we got from the folks. For everything else–candy, magazines, cassettes and video games–I was on my own. The prospect of being an Earner and coming home with cash in my pocket was almost too good to be true. However, after a few weeks it became obvious that it was too good to be true.
I wasn’t much of a salesman.
I was one of the useless.
But I didn’t really care. I was only in it for the junk food. As long as I had a little cash at the end of the day for a trip to the liquor store, I was satisfied. Besides, most of my earnings went to the candy I scarfed on the job anyway. The same overpriced candy I was supposed to be selling. Many a night I came home empty-handed after blowing my meager profits on company goods. It was just so hard to resist opening a box as I went along my route. Dealing with all that candy, I got the munchies something fierce. I’d try to resist the urge, but, consoling myself with the fact that I made my ten percent off what I’d eaten, I justified my splurges with the fact that it was kinda like I got paid to eat candy.
From the zine JUNIOR CAREERS: ADVENTURES IN THE CANDY TRADE
Available from PILTDOWNLAD or, if you got a dollar burning a hole in your pocket, you can buy a copy on etsy.