The Pursuit of Annoyance


I have a vague memory - way before the time of Amazon and eBay - of those notorious vacuum cleaner door-to-door salesmen in baggy turd-coloured suits mainly harassing the elderly and terminally ill. On the rare occasion when they succeeded to make a sale, the prices were sky-high and profits extortionate without question. 

During the highest boom of capitalism in the 1950s and 1960s, a few slick businessmen may have made a fortune selling items like hair brushes and cleaning products directly to desperate housewives dying to get their hands on anything new and exciting to brighten up the miserable post-war years.

Half a century after the golden era, however, a friend of mine - also someone struggling between-jobs - got me involved in a similar kind of pursuit. Our job was simply to stroll around allocated areas of London and sell door-to-door monthly subscriptions for a nationwide newspaper.

Bearing in mind, this was the late 2000s and I already had my doubts whether people read newspapers anymore. The internet had spread more-or-less to every household. Almost everyone had a mobile phone then with those stiff buttons - though not smart phones yet, which may have been one of the remaining reasons why public was still slightly more open to human contact, even with a stranger.

Luckily, my employer promised to pay a fixed hourly wage, which took the pressure off right from the start. If anyone answered the doorbell or my knock, was a bonus. If they stayed, listened and spoke to me, that made my day. If they’d sign up for a subscription, would have been a miracle I never got to witness.

Nevertheless, I could roam the streets stress-free without any urgency to perform, as long as no one I knew recognised me. I wasn’t particularly proud of my job, since somehow I thought I was better than what I was doing. The very first managerial positions I have held at very young age, as well as having grown up surrounded by white privilege, had filled me with self-importance that was hard to tame or lose. The threat to be spotted was minimal though, as I had just recently migrated. No one in the whole country was supposed to know who I am, yet I was still self-centrically worrying someone might!

Those very few suburban dwellers who dared to open the door for me and promised to order, or who considered ordering - I discovered later - either gave me fake phone numbers just to get rid of me or I had accidentally mis-scribbled their details.

One middle-aged man in his bathrobe and slippers handed me his rubbish to put in the bin outside on the street. I did as I was told, thinking that my act of kindness could secure some good business. As I stepped onto the pavement with his bin bag, I only heard the front door slam shut behind me.

Occasionally, I received some awkward attention because of my accent and unusual appearance. For the past three years, I had been living in the warmer climates that gave me a temporary complexion and hair colour of Donald Trump. Although, he wasn’t quite as famous back then, so people didn’t necessary make that association, but something else. I may have resembled more of some canine breed, like a Golden Retriever - a peculiar description about my looks that once gave me an access to a job interview with the owners of a pet grooming salon.

I also went knocking these strangers’ doors before any Brexit shenanigans, so somewhat higher level of curiosity and tolerance still existed towards a foreigner. Sometimes people tried to guess if I am German, Swiss, Swedish or from any other Scandinavian country. They never said “Finland” though - the country so often ignored - where I am originally from.

Once I revealed my origin to a younger man at his thirties who kindly opened the door, I remember he said “vodka” and a random name of a race driver, which I think was Swedish. I smiled to him, uncomfortably, even though he probably just wanted to be nice and show his knowledge of other cultures.

Bless him though. I cannot say that I am much more worldly. I still don’t really know the difference between most of the Commonwealth countries like Wales, Canada and Ireland.

Soon though, the company hiring me realised the remuneration package wasn’t bringing them the required results. Hence, they altered the system and introduced a hundred percent commission based salary. I would only get paid if people signed up.

Not letting these new circumstances damage my confidence, I hit the streets again the next day, yet soon realising that I had become a charity worker. The nature of the work had changed overnight - it was not a walk in the park anymore. I lasted for another day.

If I had given the job a chance and myself more time to hone my sales skills, better results may have waited in the near future. But I just simply couldn’t afford to work for free.

Not sure if anyone is reading newspapers anymore and especially is willing to pay for them. I don’t even know if anyone is selling anything door-to-door anymore, since I never open the door spontaneously without someone consulting me first and giving me advance warning over the phone.

I may have been one of the last boy scouts witnessing a decline of this salesman’s role commonly known for disturbing the public and invading their privacy. Are we better off without them? Some lonely and elderly would say “no” as long as they don’t get ripped off and tricked into buying something they don’t need.

The world may have changed, but the need for the sales specialists to keep creating those new demands is still there, and they will find us one way or the other, whether it’s our front door, the street corner, via telemarketing, Facebook wall or Instagram feed.

I have to admit though, if the price is right, I would still rather have a slick salesman than a drone to deliver my new vacuum cleaner. Both may equally interrupt our daily lives, or even delay us from catching our flights, but, at least, if the salesman malfunctions, he doesn’t necessary crash-land on top of you.