30th, 1974. 3:00 PM
I had been hearing about beads for several hours.
Then the subject turned to beading
followed by beaders and then came full circle back to just plain
After a brief segue into
clasps it was beads all over again.
I shouldn’t have found this so boring
considering talking about beads is what I do for a living. However, the
presentation was being given by Hubie Three – the rat of a man who ran the
day-to-day business of the company in my stead – who not only had a knack
for making things boring and tedious but, I truly believe, reveled in the
opportunity so gleefully that he went so far as to hone it as a skill in his
Every year at this time all the company
salesmen travel from their particular regions and meet at the home office in
Seattle to see what the buyers have added to our inventory. When my
great-aunt started the company, she chose this time of year for the annual
gathering because it gave the sellers plenty of time to get back on the road
and show their customers exclusive merchandise that could be purchased
before Christmas. At first, even with Hubie Three’s horrible presentation,
I was interested in what he was showing us. He must have sensed the
interest I and the six other salespeople were showing because after a short
time his tone became more and more monotone. He knew we had to
listen to him so he did his best to make us not want to.
Who knows how many times I’d heard the word
“beads” that afternoon when I felt my eyelids growing heavy. On a couple of
occasions my head nodded, and it was my chin hitting my neck that woke me.
I didn’t know if my drowsiness was discovered by anyone else in the room,
but I knew if it wasn’t it surely would be if it happened too many more
times. So I let my mind take a break from paying attention to Hubie Three
and looked around the room.
Our headquarters are on the second floor of
a three-story office building. The walls hadn’t been plastered over or
painted, so from between filing cabinets, desks, and stacked boxes of
inventory, old red brick peered out. Large windows made up the upper half
of the wall behind Hubie Three, and outside the weather was gray with
sporadic periods of light rain. This was my favorite type of weather, but
unfortunately I enjoyed it so much because it helped me relax, and a calming
influence was not what I needed right then. It was as if everything going
on in that room had been choreographed to make me doze off, thereby
embarrassing myself in front of my employees. We were even out of coffee.
All but one of the
salespeople had been with the company longer than me, and I was sure they
held at least some animosity for the new guy who strolled in and was
suddenly in charge. I was therefore adamant that I do two things: first,
not let anyone catch me slumbering during Hubie Three’s rundown of the new
merchandise, and second, pretend not to notice if any of the others were.
Each time Hubie held up a new
bead, he told where it came from, how much of it was in stock, what key
words we might use to make it sound more exotic to a buyer, and which
competitors had or didn’t have that particular bead. Then he would hand the
bead to Grace Evermore who sat to his left at the conference table.
Grace was a hawk-faced woman
in her late thirties who dressed in outdated business suits in which the
skirt, jacket, shirt, scarf around her neck, and the frames of her cat-eye
glasses were always exactly the same shade. She tried extremely hard to
maintain rigid posture and a no-nonsense expression; it was her dream,
apparently, to remind people of their most humorless schoolteacher.
Grace’s parents either had an
acute sense of irony, or were oblivious to her most obvious shortcoming when
they named her. Grace was not graceful. In fact, she was a klutz.
Each time Hubie Three handed
her a bead, she took it between her thumb and middle finger, moved her arm
back and forth until it reached the perfect focal length, tilted her head
back and looked over her glasses, and then dropped the bead. (For anyone
who’s ever dropped a bead, I don’t need to tell you just how far those
things can bounce and roll, especially when they’ve found their freedom
across a concrete floor.) When finally the bead was retrieved, Grace’s head
would bang on the tabletop as she attempted to get back to her chair. An
instant after the thud she would utter a little squeal of surprise and
settle back into her chair as if nothing happened, smooth her blazer with
her hands, pass the bead to her left if she was the one who retrieved it,
and look to Hubie Three as if to say, “okay, let’s get to the next bead.”
Grace would then pass the
bead to Oliver Hampton, the salesman who had been with the company the
longest. Oliver was a thickly built man of short stature. His
military-style haircut was as square as his shoulders, and he always wore a
dress shirt with short sleeves from which the bottom half of his fading
United States Marine Corps tattoo would peek whenever he lifted his arms.
Oliver’s career in sales
began in the Bible biz. He went door to door talking families who couldn’t
afford it in to buying not just a Bible, but also an heirloom. The covers
were made from the best imitation leather, and the family name would be
emblazoned on it in painted gold, old English style letters. As luck would
have it, Oliver’s strong-held religious beliefs drove him out of that game.
The company he worked for demanded that if the customers showed any sign of
disinterest, the salesman was to bring up the possibility of the whole
family endangering their souls to an eternity of torment if a few hundred
dollars meant more to them than God’s Word.
To Oliver’s left sat Toby
Bartman, a salesman’s salesman if ever there was one; a man whose physical
appearance was the only thing phonier than his personality. His hair was
dyed a shade of blond that was too light to be genuine on a person with skin
as dark as his. His dentures were too white and rectangular, as if he
wanted to display the concept of perfect teeth in his ever-present,
overly jolly smile. His handshake was designed to squeeze bones to the
point of almost snapping, with an arrhythmic pumping motion that made the
recipient feel not only pain, but confusion. He also prided himself on the
old salesman trick of finding out the name of a prospective buyer and using
it as often as he could in a conversation. The problem with this tactic,
however was Toby was horrible at remembering names. His conversations with
Toby often went something like this:
Toby: “Hey, there buddy,
Toby’s the name.” (The painful handshake would begin here.)
Stranger: “Nice to meet
you. My name’s Mark.”
Toby: “Great to make your
acquaintance Mike. Say, you got a wife or girlfriend…or maybe both?” He
would wink and laugh heartily, as if it were the first time he’d ever told
Stranger: “Wife, yeah.”
Toby: “Well, Matt, I’d be willing to bet
she likes pretty things, jewelry, beads whatnot, right?” He would continue
getting the man’s name wrong accidentally, while purposefully adding
pressure to his hand, until he had annoyed the customer into submission.
During Hubie Three’s droning that
afternoon, Toby would often make sounds like “hmm,” or “uh huh,” to give the
impression he was paying more attention than the rest of us, though his
glazy stare betrayed his boredom.
Toby would then pass the samples to me.
I’d study them briefly and hand them over to Eliza Jones.
Eliza was the youngest at the table, and
the most recently hired employee. Her background was not in sales, but
political science. She had graduated from Washington State three years
prior, found a low-paying job working on the campaign for a Senate hopeful
who was discovered to be a crook before he was elected (which, as we
all know, is the only time that kind of revelation can hurt a politician,)
and found herself unable to keep up financially with her insatiable appetite
for buying beads. She was so knowledgeable on the subject she often
corrected Hubie Three, mentioning he had the country of origin wrong on this
bead or that, or reminding him we had tried selling that cut of crystal the
year before, only to discontinue it for lack of sales.
I had recommended to Hubie we make Eliza a
buyer, and for once he agreed with me, but Eliza didn’t want to stray far
from home. She was a Seattle native, and the Northwest territory was hers.
She was the only salesperson who didn’t have to travel far to be at today’s
After studying a message bead made so badly
it was impossible to tell what message it was meant to convey, she handed it
over to Donald Neitz who chuckled when he looked at it. This was no
surprise -- Donald Neitz chuckled all the time.
Donald may have been the thinnest man I’d
ever seen. His large head defied gravity, as it seemed impossible that it
was held up by his goose-like neck. From that neck protruded a fist of an
Adam’s apple that bobbled up and down with those snorts of humor. When he
spoke I was reminded of the weight of a carnival game; a counter-lever
struck by a heavy mallet that sent it gliding up his neck, almost to his jaw
where – if it ever reached the top – I was sure I’d hear a bell ring and a
carnie would hand him a Cupie doll. With each of his bursts of
mini-laughter, Donald would run one hand through his wild, blond hair, and
with the other dig a finger underneath his collar, over his red bowtie, and
then bring them both to rest on his paisley suspenders.
“That’s a nice one, yesssiree!” he had said
dozens of times that afternoon as he placed whatever bead he had just
studied into the hand of Randy Tutler.
Randy was one of those people you don’t
want to think of much less write about. He fancied himself irresistible to
the ladies, though I had never seen him with a member of the fairer sex.
However, I’m sure his bravado, pork chop sideburns, and liberal use of cheap
aftershave aided him in his self-delusion. But as if that weren’t enough,
he was always dressed in the flashiest double-knit leisure suits and cheap
silk shirts unbuttoned down to his navel, and he used his thick, black chest
hair as a display mat for his collection of gold chains and medallions. If
you were a man, Randy would want to talk sports with you, and it didn’t take
long to realize his knowledge was limited. If you were a female unfortunate
enough to find yourself in a conversation with him, he would tell you about
his poetry or how he loved animals as he figured out a casual way to put his
hands on you.
It wasn’t an accident that
none of the women in the room chose to sit next to him.
30th, 1974. 4:15 PM
It was the day before Halloween, but for the people who
worked for me it was Christmas. Since this is the only time when all of the
salespeople and buyers were in Seattle, I had decided two years prior to
enhance Great Aunt Helen’s annual meeting with a yuletide festival.
It not only gave us all a chance to talk
about something besides beads, but helped guarantee that everyone would
converge in Seattle and not come up with some excuse not to hear Hubie Three
rattle on and on. So when he finally asked if anyone had any questions or
comments, I was sure we’d all look at each other blankly for a few moments,
and then I’d stand and tell everyone it was time to head to O’Donahue’s
Bar & Grille to get the party started. But I didn’t get the chance,
“Say, I got a suggestion if y’all don’t
mind.” Toby Bartman stood, hitching up his pants, and started pacing up and
down the length of the conference table. “I need to get myself some more of
them blue beads. You know, the weird lookin’ ones.”
After no one shared their views on the blue
beads, he realized he had to be more specific. “The ones that are kinda
shaped like a football where the air was squeezed to one side? Kind of like
crystals, but the facets are more rounded, and it was sort of milky.”
No one knew what he was talking about. He
looked to Eliza. Surely she would know the name of the bead. She didn’t.
“It had a little thing inside, you could
sort of see it in there, looked like a little….oh, I don’t know.” He held
his thumb and forefinger really close together to indicate something small.
“You don’t know what I’m talking about?”
“Sounds kind of ugly,” was Eliza’s only
“Yeah, it was, now that you mention it,”
Toby continued. “I didn’t even realize I had it. To be honest, no one
seemed to pay too much attention to it. But I was in this bar in Spearfish
talkin’ to a fine little miss and she brings up beads. Well, I hadn’t even
mentioned I sold ‘em. Our conversation had been more, well, personal
up to that point.” He laughed too loudly.
“So, long story short, I get out my display
case, and she hones in on this bead. She asks me how much, and I had no
idea. I mean, no idea at all. So I was just about to say something like
two bucks, when she offers me 50! Fifty damn dollars for this weird lookin’
bead! Don’t that beat all?” He was standing directly behind Donald and to
accentuate his point he slapped the poor guy on the back so hard his head
wobbled around on that spaghetti-noodle neck.
Leaning back, in an effort to open his
shirt and expose more of his chest hair, Randy spoke up. “Maybe it was a
diamond or something, got in there accidentally. I’d say you’d been had,
“Nope, nope, nope, not a diamond, no
chance. It was all scratched up.”
Grace took off her glasses, trying to look
like she was in deep thought, but then dropped them and just looked clumsy.
“It doesn’t sound like anything I carry,” she said as she groped around on
“Well, I’m just sayin’, at 50 bucks a pop,
without even a sales pitch, I’d say we should get ourselves some more of
them, that’s all. If’ I’m ever back in Spearfish, I’ll try to track her
down, find out what it’s called, and why it’s so valuable.”
“You met her at a bar, and you expect to
find her again? Good luck.” Randy spoke from years of personal experience
of chatting up women in taverns and having them disappear on him.
“I’ll just look ‘er up,” Toby said
confidently. “Her name’s Celia, Celia Andrews. Pretty blond girl.”
Donald’s head swung around, his eyes got
wide. Randy stammered, as if trying to say something but having no idea
where to start.
“Holy Christ,” was heard softly coming from
the ex-Bible salesman.
And me, well, I felt a little dizzy, a
little confused. The name Celia Andrews brought me back to a roadside hotel
during a thunderstorm. Adding to my shock was, for the first time since I’d
known him, Toby remembered a name correctly.
Grace fell off her chair. Not because
Toby’s story sounded familiar to her, she was just prone to doing that.
..................to be continued
© 2006 Brightlings
Beads and M. Robert Todd