What don’t you see?

by Dave Weich on March 1, 2012

A door-to-door salesman in his early twenties, on my front porch. Courteous, practiced, happy to be out of the rain. One of my neighbors had purchased six bottles of all-purpose cleaner from him. He showed me the check in his binder.

The formula’s power, he said, came from aloe vera and the chemical that hospitals use to clean out premature babies’ lungs. He introduced himself as William.

“Have you ever used a window cleaner to wash you carpet?” William asked me.

“No.”

“Laundry detergent to clean your countertop?”

“I haven’t.”

“With this you will.”

He’d honed his presentation. It felt more like door-to-door busking than sales. William was having a pretty good time, and then I was too. So it caught me completely off-guard when, apropos of nothing, he asked, “If you were to describe success to kids in the inner city, or give them advice, what would you tell them?”

The week I launch a project about the meaning of success, this guy knocks on my door? I figured a friend must be playing a practical joke. Or else William was a decoy and right then his accomplice was robbing my house.

Later, when I told him I definitely wasn’t going to buy any cleaner, he suggested that instead I contribute a few dollars to the Georgia-based nonprofit that had given him three sets of clothes and paid his way. Which helped explain his question, its motivation. But in the moment of his asking my knees faintly buckled with the coincidence.

Out of my mouth came the words, “I would tell them to find something that they like to do. And then figure out how to live their life doing it.”

William nodded. “Give me a high five,” he said. Then he spritzed my storm door window and wiped the spot clean. Where he’d sprayed, he rubbed his bare hand back and forth on the glass. “What don’t you see?” he wanted to know, but not a thing came to mind. “Fingerprints.”

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