By Hannah Christensen
My boss doesn’t care about detail, just results, results, results. Details are our job to work with. So when he assigned each associate to a street and said he expected a sale from each address, I did not waste my time pointing out that he had assigned me to the business district. Some businesses were more reluctant to buy a toaster from a traveling salesman than others, but most had to agree that their break room was lacking in that appliance. I knew Mr. Sanders would be disappointed few deluxe models were sold, but the toy store did buy one for display. They even went in for the colored loop-the-loop toast drop chutes as fittingly Dr. Seuss. Also, there was the large number of double wide toaster sales.
Still, there was one address I had not yet visited. 409 W Washington Street. I stood at the bottom of the stairs, studying the columned door. I had saved this for the last day. Part of that was because no one was there for most of the week. I also had the hunch it would be the hardest place to make a sale, and I might need the whole day.
Someone dashed around me and up the stairs. She did not stop to unlock the door, but went right in. Good. I had picked the right time to begin my campaign. I strode up the steps and let myself into the theater.
It is usually best practice to speak to the manager first. It keeps them from storming in and raining on your sales by screaming about wasting employee time or throwing down some unreasonable rule about toaster regulations in the break room. Looking around showed three women stringing up a banner.
“Caleb Brough from Toasters Celebrated, International,” I introduced myself. “Where might I find the director?”
“On stage.” One woman inclined her head toward the door they were festooning. “But—”
I thanked her and went in.
The director was not in the best of moods. To be frank, he was in the middle of a screaming fit. He looked to be in severe need of cinnamon raisin toast. Unfortunately, I had not brought any cinnamon raisin bread with me. I hoped rye would be sufficient for the task.
I whisked my demonstration toaster out of the box, deciding to forgo the loading chutes this time. Theater called for dramatic, but in an emergency like this, time was crucial. Plugging into the battery pack strapped to my waist, I timed my walk down the aisle. Optimally, the toast would pop just as I reached the raving director. If rye bread did the trick, I might not only win a sales from the director, but also some gratitude sales from a few of the browbeaten actors.
He turned around before I quite made it to the front. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Caleb Brough.” I bowed deeply, deciding against trying for a flourish. As it was, my back creaked. “I come as a representative of Toasters Celebrated, International.”
“I don’t know of any Brough in my theater, or any toasters, either. Get out and don’t come back until 5:30 when—”
The toaster finished just then.
The deluxe models have a super compact spring, and the piece of toast leaped through the air. I must not have straightened completely from my bow, because instead of flying straight up and coming down to be neatly caught, it flung itself at the director and bopped him in the head. He startled back, but caught the toast on its was down. He scowled at the toast.
“5:30!” he barked.
Usually it’s best not to take ‘no’ for a demonstration—you can’t sell anything if the customer hasn’t even heard about it—but after the customer has been smacked in the head by a piece of toast from the merchandise seems a good time to make an exception, especially with a standing time to come back and try again.
“5:30, then, if you’re quite sure.”
“Quite.” He spoke with clenched teeth, ripping pieces of rye toast off and mashing them. “And even more certain about you leaving right now.”
I retreated, but paused at the doorway to give one more glance back.
The director threw the remnants of the toast on the floor and ground it underfoot. “Now then,” he said, “I believe we were discussing the merits of proper elocution.”
He didn’t sound quite as fierce as he had when I had first entered. The cast seemed slightly more relaxed. No one one laughed outright, naturally, but more than one appeared to be suppressing smiles. Perhaps the rye bread had not been in vain, after all.
I waited fifteen minutes, then tried the back doors. It wouldn’t do for the director to find me in his theater before 5:30, but a clandestine meeting with some relieved actors might be the ticket to a quick toaster sale. The director had admitted, after all, to not having a toaster in his theater, and such an appliance would quickly become an essential to keeping up strength on long performance nights.
The back doors were locked. The actors seemed to let themselves in. I would have to pull a late night. I went home to rest and prepare properly.
At 5:24, I arrived back in front of my last building. There was no coming back later. I would stay until someone agreed to buy a toaster.
The front door was still locked, but someone hurried over to open it for me.
“Food or thaw?” he asked.
I blinked. All I could think of was a mental image of someone with a toaster on a string of extension cords trying to clear a snowy driveway with heat blasts from the toaster.
“Erm…food. That is—”
“Oh, good, Everett is always late. Let me show you where to set up.” He escorted me over to a counter stocked with racks of candy and soda dispensers. There were popcorn machines and even a milkshake mixer, but no toasters. I cut short his explanation on popcorn proportions to ask about nearby outlets. This would be a fine place to set up a demonstration.
The director did not come by, but before long I had another long string of visitors. Many of them looked over the deluxe model with curiosity, but no one was interested in toast. Popcorn, root beer, long strings of gooey candy, yes, but no toast. I had set up the most elaborate model of toaster we had, but without a demonstration, how could anyone know exactly how impressive it was? Worst of all, my sales talks kept getting interrupted by demands of being sold other food products.
I batted down my growing irritation. Anger is never a good way to make a sale. What I needed was a fresh perspective.
I eyed the popcorn thoughtfully. It was rather popular. Making experiments while on the sales floor is discouraged, and for good cause, but sometimes risk is the best way to profit. Besides, the self-buttering feature would be well highlighted. The next time someone asked for popcorn, I poured a scoop down the scarlet loading slide and pressed the button.
On the positive side, the show was quite impressive and the buttering feature worked rather well.
On the negative side, quite a few kernels slipped into the heating element and produced a stench, and the individual nature of of popcorn did not fit the ejection feature as well as a well-connected piece of bread. Instead of going straight up and down, it more greatly resembled a geyser.
As the last pieces pattered down, I came beware of one pair of eyes in particular staring at me in horror. They belonged to a young man in a red and white striped apron and a name badge stating, “Everett.”
“Good evening. You must be the gentleman I hear is always late.”
“Is this a joke? It’s going to take me at least as long to clean up as it usually does to set up.”
“No joke, just a demonstration.”
He groaned. “Okay, I get the point, I promise never to be late again. Now leave, please just leave.”
“I have noticed your concession stand lacks a toaster. I would be glad to help—”
“No, I don’t need in any more help.”
“You wouldn’t need a model quite this deluxe, though it comes with a—”
“You’re calling this thing a toaster, huh?” He wrinkled his nose at my model. “I have no need for it. Just take it and go.”
“I have special invitation to be here.”
He jerked the plug out and pushed the whole thing into my arms. “Okay, okay, if you want to help you can take tickets over at the balcony.” He shoved me over to set of stairs in the corner and went back to his snack stand. Before I could settle on a better direction, people started crowding over and thrusting tickets at me. I was tempted to use them for another demonstration, but the fire risk persuaded me to refrain.
Finally the stream slowed to a trickle, and then disappeared long enough for me to duck away. Around the corner I found a dusty little nook beside a door that read, “Staff Only.” I took a few minutes to clean out my deluxe model. A toaster smelling like burnt anything was not going to sell. Taking a minute further to straighten my suit, I opened the door. Surely actors had a break room somewhere, and where there was a break room, there was a niche for a toaster.
The dim, narrow corridor eventually began branching into side rooms and opened up into a large, jumbled area. People rushed back and forth with muted voices, shuffling through racks of clothing and rummaging through props. A very intense whisper argument was proceeding, but I couldn’t spot where people would settle to rest between scenes. Looking around, I saw the man who had let me in. He stood still, holding a mirror instead of rushing around.
He looked like he might have enough time to hear a question, so I walked up.
“Excuse me, but between scenes, I was was wondering, where—”
“Oh, good, I didn’t think we had found anyone for between the acts. Where’s your instrument?”
I looked down at my toaster uncertainly.
“Oh, I see, a comedy routine.” He nodded.
“I’m afraid there may be a misunderstanding.”
“Ah, about earlier. I’m sorry to say I did not know we had an intermission show, but I am very thankful for you lending a hand before Everett showed his face. Go get your makeup on and I’ll show you the line up.”
“I’m afraid I’m not sure—”
“Marvelous, Franny,” he murmured, then shooed away the actor he had been holding the mirror for. “If you’re new to this, I’d be glad to help with the makeup. The key is to emphasize color.”
I’ve had many things demonstrated to me before during my toaster sales: a favorite rosebush, why the house wiring is not up to another appliance, the remains of a customer’s lunch. How to put on stage makeup was not one I’d come across yet. Though I expected things would get sorted out before intermission, I decided to keep quiet for the moment. Hopefully before then I would be shown where the waiting area was, and would know the perfect place to pitch a toaster demonstration.
“You wouldn’t want to look washed out on stage; appearance is everything out there, you know.” He got to work on my face with a whole array of brushes.
“Very important,” I agreed. Appearances are a crucial selling point. A product will flop if it is ill made, but might make a boom first if well presented. Even well made products will never make it out the door if they cannot catch the eye.
A lady in a very sparkly dress stumbled over and plopped down on a stool. She looked like she could use some more stage makeup herself.
“Aren’t you on right now?” The man helping me looked concerned.
“I have a minute before the box,” she said. “I thought I’d rest while waiting.”
“Are you feeling all right, Ivy?”
“Just give me a minute.”
Sitting slightly hunched with her head in her hand did not look all right.
“I have just the thing,” I told her, plugging my toaster into the battery pack.
Toast is a marvelous thing. Besides giving quick substance, comfort, and a good excuse to use apple butter, it can calm nerves, settle an upset stomach, and help ease a stress headache.
She just closed her eyes. I inserted the bread.
The man gave her an anxious look, then pattered over to the side curtains.
Warm toast scent began to waft through the air.
Ivy opened her eyes and tipped her head enough to see me. “What—”
The toast sprang up, reaching for the rafter.
It didn’t actually get close, of course, but she used the opportunity to scream. It almost made me miss catching the toast, and then I almost missed catching her.
I knelt there uncertainly for a moment, toast in one hand, sparkly-dressed woman on the other hand. No matter your training, there are some situations that take you unprepared.
“Richard!” The man was back from whatever inspection he had made over by the curtain. “Get Ivy to a bed!”
A bearded man responded to the hissing call and scooped the collapsed woman up.
“No time for questions. Ivamore is preparing for the reveal.” He grabbed my arm. “We need a fill in assistant. Good thing I finished your make-up.”
I hastily left the toast resting on the unconscious Ivy for when she woke up before being dragged away.
“Here, you could use some more sparkle for this act.” My captor swirled a sequined cape around me. “It will also distinguish your stage presence from your act later on. Not perfect, but it should work. Now remember, your cue is ‘in every magnificence’, then crouch and take three steps forward. Don’t get up until the floor shifts, then slowly rotate as you stand. Clockwise. Don’t let your feet get caught in the planks, and everything should be fine. It won’t be what Ivamore is expecting, but it should save this trick, and he’ll figure out how to adjust his show without Ivy from there.” He nudged me forward and slipped away on some other business. I just had time collect my thoughts when the cue words pulled at my ears: “…in every magnificence…”
Right. Time for action.
Step, step step.
Watch the floor. It strained, and for a moment I wasn’t sure if that was the shift I was looking for or not, and then the boards started to part and move.
Turn, turn, turn. I kept my eyes on my feet, rising less from thinking about it than from only thinking about not letting my feet get trapped by the floorboards.
Despite being in the midst of it, I still do not know how that magic trick worked. For that matter, I’m not entirely clear on what exactly the trick was supposed to be.
Suddenly I was under the bright lights. Hands and voices thundered in the dark beyond. The only face I could clearly see was that of the Mighty Ivamore. He looked a bit stunned to see me. I bowed a greeting.
“And behold!” he thundered, picking up a hat and flourishing it. The flourish grew to slight of hand and trick throws. A stalling technique, I’ll wager, but plenty flashy enough to do the trick. I decided to get into the spirit of things. My toaster was capable of almost as flashy of flourishes, and besides, I hated to waste an audience. With a flick of my wrist I tossed two pieces of bread into the loading chutes while turning down the setting of one side. Crunchy was not as essential here as timing. I swirled the sequined cape while waiting.
Ivamore chose the perfect time to give his hat an especially high toss. I aimed for the top of its twirling arc.
My intentions had merely been to meet the hat in the air, rather like a climatic high five. I had not anticipated the force of the deluxe-mantra toaster effectively shooting the hat out of the air. Both objects flew off stage. Ivamore was not the only one feeling stunned this time.
Slowly he turned to me, brandishing his wand with a bit more menace than flourish. I decided it was time to clarify things a bit.
“Caleb Brough with Toasters Celebrated, International,” I announced. “You’ll never see another toaster with so much flare.”
Ivamore aimed his wand at me as though about to try and cast an actual spell, but what his intentions truly were I’ll never know because right then the second slot of the toaster finished and flung out its toast. I had not been keeping track, and instead of sitting back upright, the toaster was tilted far enough to shoot the second piece of toast right at him.
Ivamore yelped as the toast impaled itself on his wand, then stumbled off stage. A bit dramatic, but magic shows always are. The best I could do was keep the show going for him. Not knowing any magic myself, I turned to what I did know: toasters. Quickly I fixed two more pieces of toast, talking through the special features. Once they shot out, I put the toaster down to do the next two pieces while I caught the first set and began juggling. The next two I added to my juggling cycle, and when the third set sprang out, I started rotating toast slices back into the toaster for a second round.
This gave an excellent background to discuss the differences in toaster models. The audience was amazingly receptive. By the time I caught the urgent wave of the fellow who had helped out here in the first place signaling me to make an exit, I had sold more toasters that evening than the rest of the week. What’s more, that was the most deluxe models I’ve ever sold before.
My boss was very pleased with the night’s results. He never concerned himself with the details of how the sales were made; the details are up to us. Toasters Celebrated, International has asked me to share the secret of my success with you newcomers. I’ll do my best to pass on any useful tips and techniques. After training, if anyone feels up to the challenge, I believe that theater is still lacking a toaster of its own.