A clearinghouse for information on traveling sales crews
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This area will interest anyone who wishes to learn more about the door-to-door sales world, labor abuse and “living wage” issues in general. Send in your book suggestions, news items and video suggestions. Contact us.
Dunn, Katherine, Attic, First edition, hardback, Harper & Row, 1970. Paperback, Bantam, New York, 1972.
This novel is a semiautobiographical story that relates, in a hall of mirrors phantasm, the experience of a teenage girl who travels around the country selling magazines. This novel is not for the faint-hearted. It has been said about Ms. Dunn that she is fearless, and that is absolutely true.
Although Attic is long out of print, it can be located through Amazon.com (used books) and Barnes and Noble.com, and other online bookstores. Amazon.com has the most reasonable prices for this novel, but some of the hard back collector's editions sell for hundreds of dollars. Ebay is always worth a try. Obtaining it is a long shot, but it is worth pursuing.
Spears, Timothy B., 100 Years on the Road: The Traveling Salesman in American Culture. Yale University Press, February 1995.
The title speaks for itself. This book traces the historical progression of itinerant selling from 1830 to the present, documenting this mythic American profession with old photographs, dairy entries, trade publications and advertisements. There are also excerpts from the works of Arthur Miller, Eudora Welty, and Theodore Dreiser (see description by David Rouse, 1995, American Library Association.)
Again, Amazon.com seems to have the best prices, but it is a relatively expensive book. You should probably go to the library for this one.
Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. paperback, Henry Holt & Co., May 2002.
An affluent midlife writer, Barbara Ehrenreich is challenged by her editor to leave her comfortable existence behind and research the menial job market--by living it.
Over a period of several months, Ms. Ehrenreich lives and works in four different states, with nothing but her wits to sustain her. She works as a waitress, a nursing home aide, a floor clerk at Wal-Mart, a motel maid, and as part of a house-cleaning crew. If you have ever held one of these jobs, you don't need to read this book--you might even be afraid to read this book. The question for the rest of us is: how do we use what we learn from it?
Still on the bookshelves, this one is easy to find and inexpensive at all of the above book purveyors. It is definitely worth owning.
Schlosser, Eric, Fast Food Nation, Ch. 3, "Behind the Counter," and Ch. 8, "The Most Dangerous Job," Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.
Billed as "the dark side of the all-American meal," here we have the muckraker that makes Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed look like a great way to live.
Chapter 3 details labor abuse of teens who work for fast food enterprises. As with the teen door-to-door sales industry, kids who sell fast food are injured or die on the job in alarming numbers.
Before the hamburger meat gets to the kids slaving in the fast food outlets, however, it must be taken off the hoof and processed by another class of workers. In Chapter 8 the reader accompanies the immigrant workers onto the killing floor and through processing. Aside from the shock of discovering how the meat is handled, there is the question of whose meat it might be.
This book is recent, and easy to obtain either at the library, or on one of the online bookstores, and the price is reasonable.
To our knowledge, this is the only documentary film on the subject:
Salesman, a film by David Maysles, Albert Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin. The Criterion Collection, a Maysles Films Inc. Production, 1968.
Available in DVD format from Amazon.com and the others, the jacket reads: "A landmark American documentary, Salesman captures in vivid detail the bygone era of the door-to-door salesman. While laboring to sell a gold-embossed version of the Good Book, Paul Brennan and his colleagues target the beleaguered masses--then face the demands of quotas and the frustrations of life on the road. Following Brennan on his daily rounds, the Maysles discover a real life Willie Loman, walking the line from hype to despair."
Obtain this one from Amazon.com. Try the others as well. The price is under $40.00 and worth every penny.
By the time you have perused all of the above, you will be asking yourself: "Which country is it we live in?"
And as some people question at times in their lives whether there is a God, here we must ask ourselves every day: "Is there a U. S. Department of Labor?"
The writers and the filmmakers have done us a wonderful service; troubled by what they have seen with their own eyes, they have offered us the opportunity to be aware.
Use your knowledge as best you can. If you are a homemaker, be kind to those who labor for you, and pay them fairly. If you are a worker, find out your rights. If you are a corporate executive with knowledge of abuses, report it. If you are a union official, you already know what to do. If you are a politician, Listen To Us.
If you, our visitor, are aware of other popular books or films on the subject of door-to-door sales, or abusive labor practices in general, we would like to review them. Please email the citations to us by clicking here.