These are words that will forever haunt me.
I learned them during the summer of 1991, when Bryan Adams’ “Everything I Do (I Do It for You)” was all over the airwaves, when City Slickers was tops at the box office, and my brother and best friend and I were all hungry college kids looking for work.
We’d tried everything, interviewed like crazy, and then saw an ad with these enticing words: “Summer Work! $15/hour! Perfect for students!” Wow. We were desperate, needed to make money during the summer to take back to Biola University, and this looked amazing. I was designated the spokesman for the three of us, which was weird, because at this point in my life I was still suffering from a strange talking-on-the-phone phobia. I called a place called “Vector Marketing,” and talked to an enchanting young lady who asked me about myself, my friends, and was so excited to hear that students of our caliber were interested in pursuing their opportunity. She set up an interview for us for the following day and gave us directions to their office.
We dressed for success. Slacks, ties, sports coats. We wanted to present the right appearance for this interview–we really wanted that $15/hr job. All of our money woes for the entire school year would be taken care of with just a couple months of work. We left early to beat the traffic and drove to the grey offices of Vector Marketing. It took awhile to find, but finally, there it was: beneath the I-5 bridge over Lake Union, amid a bevy of marinas, docks, and just down the street from the world-famous Ivar’s Salmon House. It was not the most exciting or thrilling location, but we parked in the vacant lot across the street and went in for the interview.
The young lady who interviewed us was charming, and not much older than the three of us. She was impressed by our quality, by our professionalism, and said we would be perfect for a role with Vector Marketing. We would be hired as independent contractors by them and our job would be sales. Out of the three of us, I was the only one with any sales experience, my first job in high school having been at the local Christian bookstore chain. And it didn’t pay nearly so well–this was going to be amazing. We signed the contract and promised to return the next day for our first session. “We’ve interviewed a lot of other people for these jobs and they didn’t make the cut,” she said. The implication was clear: we were awesome and were going to be the future of Vector Marketing.
With visions of huge checks in our heads, we went home and called all of our families and said we had good jobs and were going to make a ton of money. “Where are you working?” was the big question, and when we said, “Vector Marketing,” most people said they had never heard of it, but were glad for us. We went to bed that night excited about our first day of training–we couldn’t wait to see what we would be selling and what the job itself would entail.
We pulled into the vacant lot again–I remember hearing Amy Grant’s “Baby Baby” on the radio–and got out of the car, psyched about the day. As we crossed the street we saw what must have been our fellow Vector Marketing employees walking to the office as well. It was quite an interesting assortment of people–old women, college students, professional looking people and people who looked they had just purchased their ties from Goodwill. There was even a one-armed man wearing brown polyester pants, a yellow-tan shirt, and a black and brown tie. This looked great with his huge afro. He smiled and said hello, and we all said a friendly howdy as well. I recalled the comment from the interview about how we had beat out a bunch of applicants because we were so professional. I didn’t feel quite so good about that comment any more. If the man in the polyester pants was as professional as me, I had sorely overestimated my understanding of what “professional” meant.
“Jeez–I wonder if they turned anyone down,” said my friend. From the look of the people walking into the office with us, it was clear that “didn’t make the cut” actually meant “they were dead, so we couldn’t hire them.”
The office was set up differently than it had been for our interview. Now there were rows of folding metal chairs, all facing a big whiteboard. We dutifully took our seats–my brother sat across the aisle from the one-armed man–and waited for training to begin. An older man–probably my age now, but I remember him as being much older–came in and mumbled something about how great we all looked–he must have been older than me, because it was clear he was losing his sight–and then said that a real “go-getter” named Tim was going to be our primary trainer and we were all really gonna love him. “How ’bout a big hand for Tim!”
Tim got a big hand, especially from the one-armed man who clapped hard on his leg. Tim ran from the back of the room to the song “Everybody Dance Now!” and he was clearly jazzed about his awesomeness. “Hey, how are you guys all doing today?” he asked and then proceeded to tell us just exactly how awesome we all were and that we were on the verge of making the most money we had ever made in our lives. And the product that was going to change our lives forever?
Knives. Knives. The next hour and a half was a whirlwind of knife lore, education, and demonstration. We learned that Cutco knives were the greatsest knives in the world. We learned that the kitchen shears could cut through a penny. We learned that the knives were special because they had the “full-tang, three rivet construction” that made them durable and easier to use than cheaper knives. We watched as he used the famed “patented Double-D edge” to cut through a piece of rope. It was amazing. Amazing! It was like a Ronco commercial come to life. (Remember those ads, the ones that showed knives doing the same thing the amazing Tim was doing? Ronco, however, sold the famous “Ginzu” knives, famous the world over as the knives of ninja cooks. Or something like that.)
After Tim finally wrapped up, we took a quick break and mingled with the our coworkers. We discovered that the the one-armed man had the worst body odor we had ever smelled. Out of the place that did not have an arm, he had the worst possible armpit odor. It was horrifically bad. But at least he seemed friendly. Much better than the guy who was demonstrating his kickboxing ability and telling us this was going to be the sport of the future. He swiftly performed a poorly-executed roundhouse and knocked a sales trophy off of the panelled walls. The three of us looked at each other–warily. But that money was still looking good.
Tim and the gang came back up to the strains of “I’ve Got the Power” and he kind of sang along with the section that went “It’s gettin’, it’s gettin’, it’s gettin’ kinda hectic.” Then he threw a black marble at us. And another and another and yelled out, “You earn these marbles and you’ll get rewards! You sell enough, you’ll get these marbles! Come on! Don’t you want to earn these marbles? Come on!” He kept throwing marbles and suddenly the chairs went flying as adults went diving for black marbles. The one-armed man and the kickboxer went to town on each other, grabbing at marbles. Strangely enough, the kickboxer was losing.
We were right in the middle of the marble mayhem. We grabbed marbles, went crazy, and when were down on all fours we suddenly looked at each other in the face and went, “What just happened?” But before we could question our sanity, Tim called us all back to our seats and promised even more rewards at the next training session. We just had to spend some time getting our demo kits ready and went to do the paperwork. We sat down with the girl who interviewed us, who showed us the kits. The kits contained a full set of Cutco knives, each with the world-famous patented Double-D edge, full-tang, three rivet construction.
“It will cost you $145 for each set,” she said. “So make sure you get that money to us by Monday.”
We looked at each other and wondered when they were going to let us know about that. “Uhm…how much?”
“$145. But the set is worth $1000, so it’s really a good deal for you. You’ll need it to be able to do the demonstration. And always use your script.” She haded us the scripts, which we were to use when we made our appointments. The appointments we were supposed to set up with the list we had filled out earlier in the day, a list of family members and friends, since, in their words, these would be ideal for us to practice on.
We took the sets. We took the scripts. Our pockets were full of marbles. And success loomed. We said goodbye to the one-armed man, the kickboxing champ, and the various other friends we had made. We were on our way home to make appointments and get ready for the next training session on Monday. The whole way home, my brother sat in the backseat. He was acting strange. He was kind of muttering to himself. It sounded like he was saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”
It got worse. While I was on the phone with a close friend, asking if I could show her the knives–being careful to use the script, which included the immortal line, “You don’t have to buy anything! I get paid just for showing it to you!”–my brother lay on the floor in the family room. He was moaning now. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” And then suddenly, I realized he was crying. “I can’t do this…”
My friend and I looked at each other. He was right. There was no way we could do this. Marbles. One-armed men with horrific body odor. Knives. The patented Double-D edge with the full-tang, three rivet construction. Kickboxing. Stained carpet. Grey offices. Bad panelling. We just couldn’t do it. My brother insists he didn’t really cry, but we know. We both know. It was better to not work the rest of that summer than it would have been to go back to Vector. We called them on Monday morning and said we’d be bringing the knives back.
We dropped them off, said goodbye, and hoped we would never see them again. We didn’t. I drove by their old office last week. It’s gone. Probably moved to some other office of ill-repute, full of hopeful college students and other insane people. In my imagination, I can see them. Diving for black marbles. Arms–or lack of arms–flailing. And the full-tang, three rivet construction of the patented Double-D edge slices through each marble like a grape.
And I smile. I was young and foolish then. Thank God I wasn’t too foolish.
Author’s note: This has become a favorite family story over the years. I have never written it down before, but was prompted to after one of my former students interviewed with them recently. I hope her experience was better than mine.