Robb’s Back: The Summer of Our Discontent

January 30th, 2012

The last time we read a chapter of Robb Royer’s unfolding autobiography was on November 4 of last year.  

It described the period after he was yanked out of Bass Lake and into the blast-furnace hell of Los Angeles in the summer, via a halcyon interlude in 1960s Fresno, a nonfiction version of  “American Graffiti.”  If you want to refresh your memory, that post is here, and it’s worth re-reading.  And here we are with the next act.


That horrible summer in hell was finally dragging to an end. The distant rumblings of the fall semester beginning to awaken at San Fernando Valley State College could finally be heard (I always went to schools with huge, improbable names). The first news of a non-required freshman fall semester meet-and-greet was a luxury liner steaming toward my desert island.

I had basically trudged door to door for three months with no reward whatsoever. What pittance I earned selling vacuum cleaner parts was more than overwhelmed by the price of gasoline (and don’t forget, gas, at that point, was twenty nine cents a gallon, fifteen if there was a gas war) plus wear and tear on the car.

Robb’s pre-music role model

All Vac Vacuum wasn’t even my first door to door gig. After being dragged down from the lake I answered a mysterious want ad that turned out to be a training course for Colliers’ Encyclopedia. Having absolutely no alternative, and getting a lot of pressure from my dad, who was adding insult to injury by insisting I get off my butt and work, (and deaf to my angry retorts that I could be making a fortune teaching water skiing at the lake), I enrolled in the Colliers’ training course which meant sitting in a tiny, stuffy office for days listening to them drone on about the psychology of door to door selling and teaching you a long, word-for-word speech.

Once you hit the ‘field’ they put you in a car with four other salesmen, drove you to some dilapidated, stressed out neighborhood in the middle of nowhere (presumably so you couldn’t run away) and the team boss would divide up blocks and send you out. You ended up at a cluttered kitchen table giving your speech to some drunken Vato, telling him he was selected for this wonderful deal by Colliers because he was such a pillar of the community.

Never sold one. If I had, I would have made, like, $200, a magnificent sum that dangled just out of reach like King Tantalus’ fruit, but no… nothing.

All made worse by Roswell Bottom, one of my car mates. Roswell was much older than I, in his mid twenties, looked and sounded like Bob Newhart and was almost as funny. He never came back to the car with less than a sale or two. I quit after two weeks.

So the rest of the summer was vacuum parts, frustration, heat and rejection. With one glimmer of hope! One guy said he might buy a whole rebuilt Kirby from me in a month or two. That would have meant a commission of $25! This one prospect kept me going but when the big day came, I took it out to deliver it and the customer confessed he couldn’t afford it. The final disaster. Of course, twenty five dollars doesn’t mean squat but coming when it did, the manifold frustrations of the whole summer lifted and swirled, descended on me and finally exploded.

In one of the worst funks of my life I made a final stop to drop off some bags (profit 26 cents). The guy said his vacuum was broken. I said ‘well, I have this Kirby I couldn’t deliver’. He looked at me suspiciously ‘you didn’t set this up did you?’ I was too depressed to tap dance and simply said ‘no ‘.

He took it. I went back to All Vac, gave them their money, kept my 25 bucks, quit the job and went directly to the first Valley State meet and greet. At last, a new life!

Valley State, hardly idealized at all. 

At the party, I was so proud of my coup, I couldn’t help but relate it to a pretty girl I was chatting with. You could by her face that she decided on the spot that here was the lowest aiming sonuvabitch on the campus.

She backed away gingerly and disappeared into the crowd.

I guess the only excuse I can make for my dad was that he thought I was riding too high and needed to be taken down a peg.


11 Responses to “Robb’s Back: The Summer of Our Discontent”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Thanks, Robb. Never would have guessed that you would have had to endure the likes of All Vac door-to-door sales, but it does make an amusing coming-of-age story.

    Laughed out loud when I read that you thought they would drop you off in the middle of nowhere so that you couldn’t run away. I think I would have caved after the first day. What a trooper you were.

    So on to San Fernando Valley State College? Looking forward to the next one.

  2. EverettK Says:

    Heh. Ah, the old door-to-door man. What a life! 🙂

    I can remember the day a Kirby salesman came to our house (probably 1965-ish). I can remember he laying one vacuum pipe on the floor, laying another crosswise on top of it, then standing on the two ends to demonstrate the toughness of it.

    And my folks bought the vacuum. It was the family vacuum for decades.

    But you’re made of sterner stuff than I, Robb, sterner stuff. I wouldn’t have made it through the indoctrination.

  3. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Oh Robb, the roads we travel before we find the right fit! I have to remember you did that in spades, or I would feel very sad for you, “But that what makes you strong,” or so they say. BTW, every time I hear Bread on one of those 150 songs from the sixties and seventies, I think of you and smile.

  4. munyin Says:

    Robb: I was laughing out loud at your blog. I just love how well you hold my attention when you write. You were always able to do that when you were at our home (Orange Drive) or we were at yours (Carmel) and now that we are so far apart, it is great that your ability to tell stories has also translated into the written word. Thanks so much for contributing such entertaining stories. I am feeling what a great privilege it has been to have heard you live, in person. Please continue to offer glimpses into the various stages of your life on this site.

  5. robb royer Says:

    Suz, Everett, Lil, Munyin. Thanks guys. I’m not sure why I prefer wallowing through the mundane periods of my life to this extent. I guess I feel innately that failure is funnier than success.

    I should have mentioned that Noot was in the carful of Collier’s salesmen with me. Wouldv’e added a little political controversy.

  6. EverettK Says:

    Naw, we’d have known you were stretching the truth, as we all know that the reverent and moral Mr. Noot wouldn’t be caught dead in the State of Sodom and Gomorrah…er…California.

  7. Sharai Smith Says:

    Thanks for another great yarn. I like your stories even more because I know the turf. The photo was a great pick. Reminds me of why I left home, but that grunge was always followed by a great sunset!

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Robb — Roswell Bottom? Are you serious? In Dickens, maybe, or in early Kingsley Amis — but in the San Fernando Valley?

    I think not.

    I love this piece. First rotten jobs — and we’ve all had one — are a special kind of hell, particularly to those of us who are waiting for the world to recognize our genius. Mine was as a bus boy in a Denny’s, with a cook who sang all night long, “Me and my baby went huckleberry hunting. She leaned over and I saw something.” (The rhyme was actually pronounced “huntin'” and “sumpn.” I know, I know — I wrote about this before.

    Unlike you, I quit four hours in, by the simple expedient of dropping my apron into the water in the dishwashing sink and walking out the back door. What is the moral of the story, you may well ask. It’s that people who are waiting for the world to recognize their genius should not apply for jobs in which they will wear an apron. Also that I was an insufferable snob. And, probably, remain one.

  9. EverettK Says:

    Tim wrote: Also that I was an insufferable snob. And, probably, remain one.

    No, Tim, we suffer you gladly. 🙂

  10. robb royer Says:

    Well, Tim, you should be half glad. Everett dispensed with the insufferable part but left ‘snob’ standing.

    Fortunately, guys like us can go pretend to be creative. I don’t think we’d be a useful part of the work force.

  11. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    No one could convincingly deny that I’m a snob. I think I’m a worse snob than you are. Everett, on the other hand is clearly not a snob, since he hangs around with both of us.

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