all black adidas Life of a salesman
The alarm rings and he stirs. It’s 5:45. He could linger under the covers, listening to the radio and a weatherman who predicts rain. People would understand. He knows that.
A surgeon’s scar cuts a swath across his lower back. The medicines and painkillers littering his night stand offer help but no cure. The fingers on his right hand are so twisted that he can’t tie his shoes.
Somedays, he feels like surrendering. But his dead mother’s challenge reverberates in his soul. So, too, do the voices of those who believed him stupid or retarded, incapable of being more than a ward of the state. All his life he’s struggled to prove them wrong. He will not quit.
He the first unsteady steps on a journey to Portland’s streets, the battlefield where he fights alone for his independence and dignity. He’s a door to door salesman. Sixty three years old. And his enemies a crippled body that betrays him and a changing world that no longer needs him are gaining on him.
With trembling hands he assembles his weapons: black wingtips, dark slacks, blue shirt and matching blazer, brown tie, tan raincoat and pinched front, brown fedora. Image, he believes, is everything.
He stops in the entryway, picks up his briefcase and steps out onto the stoop of his Northeast Portland home. A fall wind has kicked up. The weatherman was right. He pulls his raincoat tighter.
On the 7:45 bus that stops across the street, he leaves his briefcase next to the driver and finds a seat in the middle of a pack of bored teen agers. He leans foward, stares toward the driver, sits back, then repeats the process. His nervousness makes him laugh uncontrollably. The teen agers smirk.
They don’t realize Porter’s afraid someone will steal his briefcase, with the glasses, brochures, order forms and clip on tie that he needs to survive. Porter senses the stares. He covers his mouth, stifles a laugh and regains his composure. He looks at a boy next to him. He smiles. The kid turns away and makes a face at a buddy.
His face reveals nothing. In his heart, though, he knows he should have been like these kids, like everyone on this bus. He’s not angry. But he knows. His mother explained how the delivery had been difficult, how the doctor had used an instrument that crushed a section of his brain and caused cerebral palsy, a disorder of the nervous system that his speech,
hands and walk.
Porter came to Portland when he was 13 after his father, a salesman for a neon sign company, was transferred here. He attended a school for the disabled and then Lincoln High School, where he was placed in a class for slow kids.
His mind was trapped in a body that didn’t work. Speaking was laborious, as if words had to be pulled from a tar pit. People were impatient and didn’t listen. He felt different was different from the kids who roughhoused in the halls and planned dances he would never attend.
People like him were considered retarded then. What could his future be?
Porter wanted to do something and asked the State Vocational Rehabilitation Division for help. They sent him to several social service agencies, but it did no good. He couldn’t use a cash register, unload trucks or solicit funds on the telephone. ”Unemployable” is what they called him. He should collect government disability checks for the rest of his life.
His mother was certain, though, that he could rise above his limitations. She helped start a workshop for people with cerebral palsy, and Porter sold redwood planters to raise money for it.
With his mother’s encouragement, he applied for a job with the Fuller Brush Co. only to be turned down. He couldn’t carry a product briefcase or walk a route, they said.
Porter knew he wanted to be a salesman. He began reading help wanted ads in the newspaper. When he saw one for Watkins, a company that sold household products door to door, his mother set up a meeting with a representative. The man said no, but Porter wouldn’t listen. He just wanted a chance. The man relented and offered Porter a section of the city that no salesman wanted.
It took Porter four false starts before he found the courage to ring the first doorbell. The man who answered told him to go away, a pattern repeated throughout the day.
That night Porter read through company literature and discovered the products were guaranteed. He would sell that pledge. He just needed people to listen.
If a customer turned him down, Porter kept coming back until they heard him. When apartment managers refused to admit him, Porter waited until someone else was buzzed inside and then walked in behind them.
He was rewarded with the Laurelhurst sales route in Northeast Portland. His parents made deliveries because he couldn’t drive. He prospected the area for 13 years before concentrating solely on Portland’s westside, a bigger market. For several years he was Watkins’ top retail salesman in all of Oregon, Idaho, Washington and California. Now he is the only one of the company’s 44,000 salespeople who sells door to door.
He’s headed back to his route today. The bus stops in the Transit Mall, and Porter shuffles off.
His body is not made for walking. Each step strains his joints. Migraines and other aches are constant visitors. His right arm is nearly useless. He can’t fully control the limb, and it’s pressed close to his body and thrust backward as if he’s pushing off with a ski pole. His torso tilts at the waist; he seems to be heading into a strong, steady wind that keeps him off balance. At times, he looks like a toddler taking his first steps.
His first stop today, like every day,
is a shoeshine stand where employees tie his laces. Twice a week he pays for a shine. At a nearby hotel one of the doormen buttons Porter’s top shirt button and slips on his clip on tie. He then walks to another bus that drops him off a mile from his territory a neighborhood near Wilson High School.
He’s been up for nearly five hours.
He left home nearly three hours ago.
The wind is cold and raindrops fall. Porter ignores the elements and the sluggishness in his thighs. He trudges up one hill and down another until he reaches the edge of the neigbhorhood.
At least he’s off his feet and home. He and his parents moved here more than 30 years ago. They’re both gone now. Not a day goes by that he doesn’t silently thank them.