It was the mid 70s. “Free Bird” was our Middle School anthem. We gouged the lyrics into the backs of wooden auditorium chairs, on desks, into lockers. We learned how to French kiss. Everyone carried pen knives and a comb in their back pocket. The “convenient comb” my father called it. I wore tight polyester shirts with swirly seagull designs, feathered my dirty blond hair. Went out with a cute boy named Tommy Jones whose stunty red-headed sidekick delivered all his messages to me. TJ was the hottest guy in my class and dumb as a dung beetle. We didn’t last long. The stunty redhead told me when it was over. Come to think of it, he might’ve said TJ and I were going out in the first place.
Anyway. This didn’t bother me much. I was ambitious. Weighing my career options. I’d just come in second place in the Annual Cupcake Eat-a-Thon and I was full of myself. I didn’t think I was cut out for business, but I figured I should find out for sure. So I joined Junior Achievement with my friend Wanda Chin.
There were only a few of us from 7th grade. We formed a company. A trivet company. It wasn’t my idea. We made wooden trivets with ceramic tile centers. Maybe the tiles were made at a prison, or an asylum. They looked that way, painted with sloppy yet somehow menacing puke-colored daisies. The wooden frame was often glued improperly, the trivets misshapen. They were butt ugly. Heinous, really. I was not proud to sell them. But I tried, because Wanda Chin sold 72 in the first week.
I went door to door in my neighborhood there in Small Town, New Jersey. People answered the door with hesitation. Warily.
“Hi! Want to buy a trivet today?!”
They’d raise an eyebrow. Look quizzical. Even pained. Never mind. I’d show them a trivet. Then they’d look seriously doubtful. Some scowled. They’d cross their arms and say,
“That trivet doesn’t look so sturdy.”
That’s when it would happen.
“I agree!” I’d shout, giddy with relief. “They are shoddy! You’re right. They’re ugly too. I wouldn’t buy one either!”
Then we’d laugh, and the people would invite me in for a soda. We’d talk and talk. I made lots of new friends, but I didn’t sell much. So I crossed business off my list of possible careers and went back to driving my English teachers crazy with imaginative if silly essays about bickering cocktail ingredients and talking trees.
Now, many years later, as I launch a new business venture, Above The Hum, alongside Writers On Fire, I realize something. The trouble with trivets is that I couldn’t stand behind the product. How could I sell something I didn’t believe in? I thought I sucked at business. The truth was, I could only succeed in business — if I believed in the product or service. Same goes for story.
Do you believe in what you’re selling or telling?