"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground." Genesis 3:19
Paula Weinburg seems to know that everyone who goes around with one idea is boring or dangerous. So she tries hard to make that one idea seem so much more. Listen. "What I want you to notice is this: When you use a regular mop on tile, you get water into the grout line. Plus, dust mites and things dogs leave behind. But with the Deluxe Steam Mop, you're getting down in the grout, and steam kills bacteria. And you pet owners probably already know what a great deodorizer steam is. So with the Deluxe Steam Mop, it's like you're on your hands and knees with a 220-degree heating pad."
It is still all about the selling. Only the buying, or most of it, costs so much now. Ten-thousand-buck flat screens. A steel-on-steel refrigerator for $1,100. A Birkin handbag for $7,500. So to keep some social equilibrium, to make some souls feel alive, the barter of commerce, the give-and-take between yours and mine, must happen. Watch.
Paula crouches over a slice of hardwood and marks it with a blue crayon. Then she straightens up and begins passing a mop carrying a water jar over the crayon stain, oozing steam all the while. As the crayon mark begins to disappear, she reminds everyone that there are no streaks, no water marks, and the whole rig weighs less than 5 pounds.
Without exaggeration, there is nothing. But it's the salesman or saleswoman who exaggerates exaggeration, who adds to the brimming pitcher. Listen.
'You get a one-year warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee. Now you don't have to buy from us today, though I'm offering you the cheapest price at $129.95. So if you don't buy here, you're paying too much and there's medication for that."
Here's the scene: the floor of the Superdome, PA announcements echoing like they do in a minor-league ballpark. Row after row after row of exhibits, from hurricane shutters to Tempur-Pedic beds to hot tubs to mailboxes robust enough for the confinement of a Welsh pony.
Prowling these exhibit rows, a gathering of nest builders are fetching twigs or pebbles or whatever they favor for their own nests. Not the booty-and-buck crowd, just dreamers and guys who wear their baseball caps the old-fashioned way. They move around the Superdome floor like a punt returner, seldom pausing. Feel their hurry. So many twigs, so little time.
Paula Weinburg tries to get her share of the pauses on behalf of International Housewares Inc., which is selling packets of linens and hose nozzles as well as steam mops. She's slender as a buggy whip, green eyes flashing behind black-rimmed glasses and under unruly blond ringlets. She's all in black, from stringless tennis shoes to a sweater sporting a fleur de lis.
'I went out and bought this seven months ago," she beams, referring to the shirt. "As soon as I heard we were going to New Orleans." It's the kind of prior planning that has served her well in her 22 years on "the circuit," monthslong swings throughout the country, first at fairs and then at home and garden shows.
'At Christmas, I sell things on the streets of New York," she says proudly. "It's my best season."
When the times and the products were simpler, folks like Paula drove old Dobbin and the wagon from town to town in search of the credulous and the untended. Now she flies to a town on her own nickel and when her business there is done, she flies back to her Brooklyn home and her daughters, ages 8 and 10.
It helps that her husband's an actor with a day job teaching CPR and can be home for the girls. "He's come out on the circuit a few times," Paula says wryly. "As a salesman, he's a great actor. He'll draw a crowd and he'll have them all laughing, but he won't do enough to close. I'll throw in a chuckle or two, but you don't get paid till you close."
Here's how. A half-dozen passersby pause by Paula's display. She begins her pitch, which she wrote and delivers without a script. It lasts about seven minutes, delivered in a crisp yet friendly Canadian-New York accent.
Yet halfway through, a couple of listeners drift away, then a couple more. A new one rolls up on one of those scooters. The newcomer asks a question on some point already covered. With the patience of an ice fisherman, Paula doubles back seamlessly on the material, throws in a joke and then a personal recollection on how to deal with a certain spill on a certain carpet.
'This isn't a pressurized system. This much water will give you 20 or 25 minutes."
When it is over, the only one still there is the lady on the scooter. She decides she wants a Deluxe Steam Mop. Dave Jumper, Paula's "platt," a kind of closer/heavy lifter, takes the credit card numbers. He has a goatee and a Hawaiian shirt.
'No, most times I can't tell which bystander will buy and which won't," Paula says. "But I do believe I'm at the right age to do this now, a much better age than I was 10 years ago. See, because of all the travel, this is a male-dominated business. A fresh, young girl will get folks to stop, but not always buy. But after you look like you've had some real-life experience, people trust you more."
The bromide whines time or money, it's your choice. Paula chooses money. "I sold more than 160 mops in one day in our last city. At seven minutes per pitch, that's quite a number in an eight-hour span.
The Superdome crowd ebbs and flows. Paula Weinburg, seller of things here, there and everywhere, flexes her shoulders, rolls her neck and waits for the next buyer. She talks that sales talk all right. I know who I would want to be assigned to talk me down if ever I was perched on a ledge spewing suicidal babble.
A young couple with a baby in a stroller pauses in front of the Deluxe Steam Mop exhibit. They seem mildly interested and try to look for someone to make them more interested.
Paula Weinburg smiles a small smile at them. Then she bends over a swatch of carpet, a crayon in her hand. Time to sell. Somebody's got to do it.