Always read the fine print. That’s just good advice.
When I came back to the States after five years overseas, I began my search to find a job. It had been some time since I had to audition for employment and some of the forms I had been accustomed to had definitely changed. What had also definitely been modified was how much of the job quest was now done on-line. The last time I seriously had to find employment was during the summer of 2002. I used the classified ads in actual black-and-white newspapers to find a job back then. Then I would go to the interview on my wooly mammoth.
One item that was different now were the contingent offer letters potential employers and recruiters would send to me. I made sure to read all the words on the proffered document because I did not want to accidentally pledge my fealty to a company that could not find me a job. Luckily, there were no shenanigans, and I was able to find a job before 2016 moved into the current year.
However, I almost learned the hard way the consequences of not reading the fine print.
This is my story.
At the start of 1993, I was actually training to be a vacuum cleaner salesman.
I’ll wait a few moments while you recover from your fit of snickering.
Yes, the proud brand of…which will not be named here because they’re big, wealthy, and have lawyers on speed dial so let’s call this company…Zashl was still (as of 1993) selling their appliances via the classic and cliché door-to-door salesman. It was a week-long course where our pair of ever-bubbly instructors (who I dubbed Pixie and Sprite) showed us the finer points of how to sell a prospective customer on all the features of the vacuum. I did not think it was possible to fill up five days explaining all the gadgets and widgets on such an electrical device, but Sprite and Pixie made it so.
There were about fifteen people in our training course. Now, the fact that I had answered a newspaper advertisement looking for drivers and here I was being trained as a salesman should have been a giant flapping red flag that something was amiss with this operation. However, I was unemployed and willing to try anything.
On the last day of our training, we were presented with the contract for us to sign to make us full-fledged men and women of Zashl. This is where listening to my mother actually came through for me. She told me, ages ago (in between teaching me how to change a tire and showing me how to do laundry), to read every word on anything that I signed. So, as other folk obediently penned their names in the required slots, my eyes stopped when I arrived at Clause Four.
Translated from the language of lawyers, this portion of the contract said that I would have to purchase, with my own money, each appliance I would be given to sell. Therefore, I would only make a profit if I managed to sell the vacuum for more than what I bought it for. This was not what I had signed up for. I called Sprite over to ask him to clarify Clause Four. He told me that I indeed would not have to buy the appliance and that the wording on the contract was incorrect. When I suggested that I wanted to cross out Clause Four, Sprite said I couldn’t alter the document. Now I knew something was definitely not right. I began to raise my voice demanding to know why I had to purchase the vacuum cleaner I would be selling.
Have I mentioned yet that the price of a Zashl was $1500? Sorry, I forgot to provide that parcel of a possibly pertinent price point.
Raising my voice was a decent strategy because now I was starting to attract the attention of the other potential sales staff. If I was right in my growing suspicion that I was being scammed, Sprite would not want me to alert anyone else in the room. My hunch proved correct as Sprite hustled me out of the room and into an office where both he and Pixie were joined by their supervisor.
The supervisor, who I shall dub BossMan, sat at his desk as Sprite and Pixie took up positions on either side of him. The arms in his perfectly pressed dress shirt rested on the desk as the questioning began.
“So I hear that you aren’t willing to sign the contract. Can you tell me why not?” BossMan’s tone was a mixture of control and sincerity that comes from years of experience as a salesman.
“I don’t want to buy the vacuum I’ll be selling,” I answered.
“But you won’t have to. We won’t enforce that part of the contract for you.”
“Will you put that in writing?” I asked.
“No,” BossMan said as his face wrinkled up into a mock pout, “I’m afraid that goes against our company’s policy.”
There comes a point in every negotiation session, whether it be a job interview, car purchase, or asking someone out on a date, where one party realizes the discussion is fruitless. This could be because the surrendering party sees the other side will not budge or, as in my case facing BossMan, the item being negotiated over is not desirable anymore. For me, despite having spent five days memorizing all the attachments of the three Zashl models, I no longer wanted the gig. My fun now came in seeing how long I could keep them talking.
That amusement lasted for about two extra minutes as our discussion quickly spiraled into a deadlock. I was outclassed by BossMan as I was never able to shake him out of his cool demeanor. It was noon and my thoughts were turning to lunch so I thought I would end this farce with the line I had been saving for just this moment.
“You do realize,” I began in a tone that suggested that I was being helpful while being the furthest thing from that word, “that while the three of you are in here with me, the other fourteen people are unsupervised and probably reading through the entire contract since they have nothing else to do.”
BossMan quickly, but politely, thanked me for my time and asked me to depart the premises. I would have been out the door first but I held it open for Sprite who swiftly exited to see if I was bluffing about the rest of the people left behind.
That’s my story.
A few weeks later, I would find employment as a coin collector.
P.S. The woman who is the focus of Date Disaster #3 was also a member of this particular Zashl orientation. How we met is a story for another day.