Alfie Schwimmer looked at the phone in his hand, unsure what to do with it now that his boss had stopped talking. He was distinctly aware that his deodorant had failed; Mr. Dove had summoned him.
With sweat glistening on his high-domed brow, Alfie timidly tapped on Mr. Dove’s door. A voice boomed out “Come in!” Alfie opened the door and took a startled hop—Mr. Dove was standing there, his navy-suited hulk filling Alfie’s vision. “Alfie!” he said. “Have a seat, son. Let’s talk about your numbers.”
Perching nervously on a large, leather-covered chair, Alfie began to stammer. “I-I know I haven’t sold many widgets, Mr. Dove. I just c-can’t seem to make people…I mean, p-persuade people to buy…it’s hopeless. Who’d want to b-buy widgets from a l-loser like me?”
Mr. Dove pondered Alfie for a moment. “Alfie,” he said, “I need to see you in action. I’m going with you tomorrow. Nine o’clock sharp.” He stood—or rather, loomed—and Alfie scuttled from the office, a black cloud hovering between his head and the ceiling.
The next day, the two men set out for a nearby subdivision with a heavy suitcase full of widgets. They stood together on the porch of the first house. Alfie adjusted his necktie and tentatively rang the doorbell while Mr. Dove smacked him on the back. “Go get ‘em, boy!”
A woman opened the door about six inches and peered at the men. “Yes?” she said, with an irritated air.
“I wondered—that is to say—would you like to—“ Alfie hefted the suitcase. “W-widgets.” He gave the woman a hopeful and apologetic look.
“Oh, I don’t use widgets. I use doohickeys.” The door closed.
Alfie turned to Mr. Dove and shrugged. “She’s happy with the competitors—who am I to interfere?”
Mr. Dove was silent as they approached the next house. With a heavy feeling of foreboding, Alfie rang the bell. A man opened it wide, his eyes squinting with distrust.
Determined to show more confidence, Alfie hoisted the suitcase with its bright logo. “Widgets?”
“Don’t believe in ‘em!” Alfie’s ears literally rang with the reverberation of the slammed door.
He turned in despair to Mr. Dove, who was standing behind his right shoulder. “I shouldn’t try to compromise his beliefs—right?”
Mr. Dove draped an arm around Alfie’s hunched and dejected shoulders. “Try one more, m’boy.”
Alfie rang the third doorbell. No answer. He rang again, and silently counted to twenty. “Guess no one’s home, Mr. D—“. The door swung open, and a pleasant-looking young man stood there, his eyes alert and questioning.
Alfie had been determined to approach this sale assertively, but the young man’s eagerness intimidated him. “I don’t suppose…you’d like a widget,” he mumbled, his eyes downcast.
“A widget? Maybe. Lemme see one.” He held out his hand, and Alfie fumbled in the suitcase, dropping several widgets before finally handing over a sample.
The young man examined it with interest, then peppered Alfie with questions. “What this alloy? How many decibels is that sound? Will it function underwater? How many cubic centimeters is this component? Can it be linked to my PC?”
Flustered, Alfie looked around for help. Mr. Dove was at the end of the driveway, talking on his cell phone. “Um,” he said, clearing his throat. “I don’t exactly know…we’ll send you a brochure.” He made a hasty retreat, with the young man still standing in the open doorway, holding the sample widget.
He dragged the suitcase to Mr. Dove. “I’m a terrible salesman, sir. I couldn’t even answer his questions. You should just fire me.”
“Well, Alfie, I’m not going to do that. All my employees are valuable. Try this at the next house…” And as they walked, Mr. Dove gave Alfie his secrets.
Alfie approached the next house with a new boldness. “Ma’am,” he said to the lady at the door, “I’d like to show you something that’ll change your life.”
An hour later, she was holding her new widget and gushing thankfully. “You know, I wish I had this widget years ago. I’ve seen people with widgets—they always looked so happy—but I didn’t know how to get one. If I’d known how easy it was—and how great it is—I wouldn’t have made all those non-widget mistakes when I was younger. I can’t thank you enough, Mr. Schwimmer…”
As Alfie left the house, he noticed that his suitcase full of widgets felt as light as breath.
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