For most of my life I have been a sales representative for floor covering companies and as such I have travelled the Australian countryside far and wide, calling mainly on retail shops, architects and government departments.
When faxes came into use, they were welcomed by me and my hard-working colleagues as a real boon as they obviate rushing to post offices with urgent communications.
Whilst I still got my fair share of phone calls from architects, builders, and government offices, I could now back-up my verbal information by offering them a fax, confirming our conversations, for legal reason.
This kind of instant service started to endear me to my business contacts and assisted me establishing an instant trust and therefore a good working relationship.
Today, I have been in the company office most of the morning, trying to get out and onto the road, where I was – theoretically – free to call on important clients. However, the phone calls came in thick and fast and I just couldn’t get away.
‘Are you not going out today, calling on customers?’ my boss Mervin called impatiently from his office.
I snatched my fat satchel and extra folders and was just about to leave the office when the telephone on my desk emitted again its annoying sound.
‘Shall I get that call?’ I called to Mervin
‘Of course!’ he yelled back and with great relieve I rushed to the phone.
It was an architect’s firm, located in the city, near the top of a high-rise office building, and their boss, Mr. John Albert, has this unforgettable, craggy, face, so very lived-in, that never showed any emotion and one could never tell whether he was in a good mood or not. Plus, he spoke with matching voice: terse, halting and in a -what musicians would describe as ‘staccato’.
Now, he wanted something from me, which was impossible!
‘I am sorry, John, but there will never be such thing as a maintenance-free flooring, no matter how much your client is insisting on one.’
‘Hmm, that’s disappointing,’ came his rasping reply. Not quite sure whether he meant me or the flooring, I felt having to come up with something positive!
‘There is a new type of flooring coming onto the market next month, that requires only sweeping or mopping. And scuff marks on the floor are being walked-off during the day. Your client’s maintenance costs will be an absolute minimum….
A slightly drawn-out ‘yes’ revealed his interest and I kept on with my sales conversation: ‘The new product is Easifloor and, so far, I only have a glossy leaflet which I received from overseas, showing basically two pictures of a large room, the first one shows a standard PVC flooring, with a small light reflection and below is this new flooring, Easifloor, looking much cleaner and with a larger light reflection. On the reverse side, are the technical details and minimum maintenance instructions……’
‘I need that for my client…’ In his eagerness, he started to breath heavier.
‘I’ve only got one for myself…..but I shall try to fax it to you. The photos will not come out very well but the technical data on the reverse side will tell your client what a great low-maintenance flooring this is.’
In those early days of faxing, fine grey shades were almost non-existent and I expected no enthusiasm from looking at them, however, technical details on the other side may be enough to convey its low maintenance features.
Having faxed John Albert this leaflet, I managed to run out of the office before the next phone call and drove to the first of my many business contacts.
Leaving a building with great satisfaction, after having called on a happy client who fortified me with a strong cup of coffee, my mobile phone started to vibrate.
‘Peter, do you know what you sent me?’ It was the voice of John Albert the architect from the office.
‘Yes, John, I’ve sent you a fax with the illustrations and other details about our new flooring…’ But he interrupted me:
‘Do you really know what you’ve sent me?’
‘What’s the problem, John? My boss was standing next to me and saw me doing it….I’ve sent you the leaflet of our ‘Easiflor’
‘I want you to come here and have a look at your fax. You can’t send me things like that!’ He sounded disgusted but was there a trace of mockery somewhere? This is hard to say when coming from such a stony-faced person.
‘I am in the city right now and shall drop everything and see you right away, if you wish!’ It would be nice if he had said ‘no hurry, come whenever you can fit it into your busy schedule’ but no such consideration can be expected from this architect.
‘I see you in my office!’ That kind of terseness could be a joke….but was it?
Arriving at his airy offices – thank God for the invention of lifts - the staff seems to be expecting me too. Jenny, the receptionist was a stunning blonde who could easily be taken for a film star.
‘Hello, Mr. Frederick, she welcomed me. Was her face flushed or did she apply too much make-up in the morning? Hard to say, but her eyes were shiny and brimming with joie de vivre. Or was she laughing on the inside?
And now, Mrs. Leadbetter, came out of the inner sanctum. She was an elderly woman, tall and willowy. Her rimless glasses glistened at me in a kind of reprimand but she seemed to have more colour in her expressionless face and there were less wrinkles than usual and the ones I could see, were less deep.
My professional antennae were telling me something is not right here and that I need to be on guard. Mrs. Leadbetter walked ahead of me, past rows of rooms with architects who seem to glance at me only to bury their heads down deep into their files and blue prints in front of them.
‘You can’t send me faxes like that!’ We had arrived at John Albert’s office and he stood up from his desk handing me the two copies of my fax.
His face was in a state of mourning like always, only his eyes were glistening.
‘Hello John, I greeted him routinely, ‘nice to see you! Taking from his outstretched hand the two copies. He and Mrs. Leadbetter stood there studying my face intensely.
‘Sorry, John, the photos did not come out very well, why, they are only two black rectangular prints with a white streak in each one, which should be the reflection of the light in the flooring. But I have my original leaflet here and can lend it to you for a few days.
Snatching the glossy leaflet from my attaché case and holding it up in triumph, I felt assured of victory. ‘Here, I’ll put it in a plastic pocket for you!’
Placing it demonstratively on his desk, I stepped back with great satisfaction.
‘Another happy client,’ were my thoughts.
But John and his scrawny assistant were not interested. Unmoved, they stared at me with piercing eyes out of wrinkly faces.
‘Have another look at what you sent me!’ He commanded.
Pretending to be un-effected, I had a look at the first page of the fax.
‘Why, it shows two pictures, both black and with a white streak each.’
‘Look at it, have a good look!’ He bored into my soul.
Thinking this to be a new type of nonsense to annoy a hard-working representatives, I perused the page again, this time with inquiring intensity.
The headline spelled in large letters the word EASI, the name of that particular flooring. Then I concentrated on the two black rectangles showing each a white streak, indicating a light reflection.
There must be something unusual about the light reflection – but what?
‘Look at it!’ John bellowed.
Suddenly, the white area seemed to be in the shape of a specific part of the male body but I had training in suppressing such thought and kept surging.
‘Look at it!’ The architect repeated his command.
Staring at the white area, my indecent thoughts returned. It really looked like a male – you know what! But, my brain signalled that it cannot be so, that it is only my filthy mind.
‘Keep your mind on the job!’ I keep telling myself, glancing at the overall impression of this leaflet.
There is nowhere indicated that we are dealing with a PVC floor cover, only the word Easy is being spelled out at the top.
Beneath the top picture is the bold-lettered punch line: ‘Why put up with this?’
Whereas the below the lower picture proudly spells it out: ‘When you can have that?’
Holding that leaflet was suddenly difficult for me and to save myself from unsteadiness, I placed it on the desk.
John must have sensed that the message got through this strictly business-like salesman.
‘You can’t send me a fax like that!’ His voice commanded, but was there a mocking undertone? An intelligent person like he surely understands that I’ve been the victim of imperfect technology and was only trying to give instant service!
This was hard to say because his face and that of his assistant betrayed nothing. Stony-faced, with red, watery eyes and their lips firmly pressed together, John and Mrs. Leadbetter stared at me unnervingly.
‘Anyway, I’ve brought you the original leaflet and leave it with you. Plus, as soon as I receive some sample swatches or larger pieces of the real thing, I bring them to you – for your client. The price will be the same……..’ I prattled on to hide my embarrassment and bid my farewell, in elegant politeness.
Trying to walk past the reception and out the door unnoticed, proved to be impossible. As a final slap of shame, Jenny the film star, called out with a carefully controlled voice: ‘See you next time, Peter!’ Hoping that she had no idea of anything, I slunk out the door and heard her parting words: ‘And don’t send us any faxes!’