When I walked into Gun Heaven the mealy faced clerk behind the pistol case said I looked like a guy who wanted to do himself in. I think he meant it as a joke. He was looking at me a little funny. “Heaven,” I said, not letting him interrupt me, “what type of guy names a store Gun Heaven?”
“You’d have to ask the owner,” the man behind the counter said, the balloon of his stomach sticking out the bottom of his shirt. “But he lives in Montana now. Said he sold so many guns after the riots he was afraid to live here.”
“Forget it,” I said and walked out. I bought a donut topped with multicolored jimmies from the Dunkin’ Donuts store to the right of Gun Heaven and a carton of milk from the grocery on Gun Heaven’s left before getting into my car. As I pulled out of the strip mall parking lot, I looked up at the Gun Heaven sign. I could crash my car into the upright. The bright yellow sign would crash down on me. Out would run the Bun Heaven clerk.
“I knew something wasn’t right with that guy,” he’d say. Standing behind him would be the pimply faced clerk from the Dunkin’ Donuts store, hungry for excitement, and the Korean grocer, arms flailing:
“Riots. Now this.”
Under the Gun Heaven sign they would find a mangled blue, eighty-two Datsun B-210, twelve Canon A-12 fax machines and me — a thirty five year old, soon-to-be-divorced salesman who lives with his eighty-two year old mother with a weak heart and high blood pressure. The mealy faced, pot bellied Gun Heaven clerk would be right. Something was very much not right. But as bad as that sounds, I don’t really want to kill myself. Maybe I should, but I don’t. I drove to Gun Heaven to force myself to stop thinking about it. To make me decide not to do it — and because Gun Heaven had been a running joke between me and Gail.
I met Gail three years ago at graduate school. On our first date Gail and I went to dinner and made out. On our second date we made out some more. On our third date, making out didn’t seem like enough, so while I walked her to her car I asked about sleeping together. She said “maybe.” I started singing: Be-bop ba Lula, be my baby; Be-bop ba Lula, don’t say maybe. When she opened the door to her car I dove in. She was laughing when she got in the car and drove me to her place.
A week later we were living together at her apartment around the corner from Gun Heaven. Three months after that we married. For the first couple of years we were together we would fall asleep at night and tell each other that this must be what heaven was like. But when things got bad and we lay in bed after a night of arguing, one of us, usually the one who was more worn out, would say, “this must be what gun heaven is like.”
I moved into my old room at my mother’s house when Gail and I split. I’d stopped working on my dissertation by then. I didn’t want to think for awhile. My dissertation topic was about the psychology of selling. I’d never actually done any selling, so I got a job marketing textbooks. I thought it might be a good transition back to my research. When I told my mom about the job, she said: “Knowledge is a good thing.” It was the same thing she said when I told her I was working on a Ph.D.
Most nights I sit on my bed in my childhood room and when not thinking about Gail, reading sales manuals. The manuals say the key to selling is believing in your product. You do that by knowing everything there is to know about it. You should know it as well as the engineer who designed the thing. In which case you’d be an engineer, of course, and not some hapless salesman. I didn’t write the manuals. I only read them.
The key to selling cannot be knowledge or conviction. The key to selling is desperation. I knew that from the get go. I’ve been a salesman of one kind or another most of my life. Selling myself as someone else mainly. Growing up I used to look out of my bedroom window and imagine the entire world before me. Now my world is shrinking as if I’ve backed far away from that window and my perspective just keeps getting smaller.
Sometimes I imagine a hand placing its palm against my back, stopping me, letting me rest for a moment, and then gently pushing me forward so my face is right against the window again, my breath condensing against it and my view wide. This is what I’m thinking while cruising the Stupor Highway. That’s what I call what I do when I get sick of talking another office manager into buying a new piece of office equipment. In a stupor I drive, listening to the radio and repeating “failure is liberating.”
Usually, driving around makes me feel better. I tell myself that I’m in hot pursuit of downward mobility and that’s accomplishing something.