How I Became Bitter
In the mid-sixties, at age 12, my neighborhood friend Tuffy took up the business of selling greeting cards. He would go door to door carrying one of his attaché cases, asking people to buy different types, ranging from boxes of birthday cards to all-occasion cards. I went with him a couple of times, not for any money but just to help out. Before long, Tuffy (a variation on his last name), had knocked on every door within walking distance at least once. His parents owned a house in Berkeley in addition to the one they lived in, and one day they had to go spend some time at the rental house. Seeing an opportunity to peddle his wares in virgin territory, Tuffy invited me to come along for a day of card-selling. A year older than me, Tuffy wasn't offering to share any of his profits, but he did allow me to carry the attache case with the more comfortable handle. To maximize our coverage of the area, he had me work one side of a street while he worked the other. For a while we did this and to my surprise, one or two people bought boxes of cards from me.
Then it happened. I knocked on the door of an innocuous looking bungalow and told the guy who opened the door I was selling greeting cards. He must have been about 30 years old. At first he looked irritated, then amused, and invited me in. A man of about the same age was in the dining room, finishing his breakfast and talking with his girlfriend on the phone. The one who had opened the door started asking me questions.
"Do you have any 'get lost' cards? Where are you from? How long have you been doing this?"
It wasn't just obvious that these guys weren't about to buy any cards, but I didn't like the feeling I was getting. The one on the phone handed me the receiver and instructed me to speak to his girlfriend. I managed to get a few words out, then he took the phone back and asked "didn't that sound like a girl?'
The other one kept asking me questions while the phone conversation wrapped up. When the one on the phone was done, he turned to me and flicked open a switchblade. I don't know how long its gleaming steel blade actually was, but to me it looked like about twelve inches. "Isn't that pretty?" he asked. I nodded stupidly, too afraid to speak while his friend chuckled. When they tried asking me more ridiculous questions, they didn't get anywhere; I was still too afraid to talk. The knife disappeared. "You can go," the guy at the table said. "Sorry if we scared ya." I'm sure he wasn't sorry at all, he only realized he'd gone too far and was hoping it wasn't going to come back and bite him somehow.
I hurried back out to the street, found Tuffy, and told him what had happened. I also told him I wasn't going up to any more doors by myself. Tuffy was enraged. He argued with me, and told me we'd only sell half as many cards if we went together. When I still insisted that I wasn't going alone, Tuffy grabbed the attaché case with the comfortable handle and gave me the one with the uncomfortable handle to carry for the rest of he day. That was the last time I went to help Tuffy cards.
Once in a while, I think about the guys who scared me so badly that day, and it's a good thing I don't have any way of tracking them down. I take some comfort in the knowledge that by now, they're old. Maybe they're even dead. Tuffy, I learned through a old mutual friend, eventually got married, but never had any kids. I wouldn't help him sell any more cards, even if he offered to share the profits.