At the unadvertised semitemporary headquarters of the quasitransient sales force of an unspeakable vacuum cleaner company in an East Coast city in the early '60s, a place from which we mountebank vacuum cleaner salesmen were shot each day like pebbles from a slingshot, there was a wonderful routine.

First, the 9 a.m. sales pep talk, in which trade-in vacuums from forays the night before were hoisted like trophies and each $90 commission awarded like a croix de guerre.

Second, the ritual playing of a 45 rpm rock 'n' roll record to inspire the "set-up" phone calls ("Congratulations Mrs. Brown of 121 Linden Street! You have just won a free silver gift valued at $25! To receive this gift do nothing! A demonstrator will arrive tonight at 7:30 with your free silver gift. He cannot sell this vacuum to you! Do not ask him to! Just accept the free silver gift you have won, and let him briefly demonstrate his equipment. Remember, he is not allowed to sell this equipment to you, as when it does go on the market it will be priced considerably above the current models!").

Third, the weekly resignation of the office secretary.

None of the lads could understand it, because they all seemed to enjoy their brief employment, calling out encouragement to the boys at the phones, whooping along with the rest of us when a sucker took the bait. The secretaries would get right into the spirit of the job, helping the fellows practice their close.( That's a pretty baby you got there, ma'am. Crawling on the floor. Dust and lint in that rug, gets in the baby's lungs, they go just like that. It's like Infant Dust Syndrome, I think they call it. I was you I'd get a new vacuum from somebody else, quick. Wisht I could sell you this, but I can't. And you're right, you can't afford it. Personally, I'm just sorry for the baby.")

It was pretty funny, the way we worked the rubes over. I sold one of these vacuums to a lady with no rugs. All she had on the floor was cruddy linoleum. I made the first payment of $18 for her myself, cash out of my pocket. She knew the vacuum would be repossessed, and I knew it would be repossessed. But what I knew that she didn't know was that we sold the contract to a collection agency for 50 cents on the dollar the very next day. I got half a commission. My boss got half a commission. And the collection agency--well, they would work her over for five years to get that full $289, if necessary.

It took the secretaries about a week to find out what was going on. As soon as they figured it out, they quit.

It took me all summer to figure it out, but by that time I had sort of been fired, anyhow.