Russell Baker

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from Growing Up

--Russell Baker

Like my mother, Uncle Allen believed that with hard work, good character, and an honest nature a man could make something of himself in spite of the bad times, and he worked at the salesman’s trade with total dedication. He had sold wholesale groceries in Brooklyn and cheap tobacco in Yonkers and Staten Island. An oleomargarine distributor gave him the chance to prove himself with a $25-a-week route in north Jersey and he moved to Newark, but after giving haven to m mother, Doris, and me, he went looking for something that would pay him even more.
The daily firings produced by the withering economy offered loopholes of opportunity for a young man who kept his eyes open. One night just before we arrived from Viriginia, Uncle Allen called at the Newark plant of the Kruger Beverage company to ask if they needed a salesman.
“I don’t need anybody right now, but there may be an opening in the morning,” the sales-crew chief told him. This was Depression code talk. Uncle Allen had heard it before. Translated, it meant: “We’re going to fire a couple of men later tonight and will need a new salesman tomorrow who will do the work of both for less salary than we’re paying either one.” The man suggested he come back in the morning to speak to the manager, and added a piece of advice: “And be dressed like you’re going to your own wedding.” That evening Uncle Allen bought a pair of spats and put 45 down on a black overcoat with a velvet collar. Next morning he had a $30-a-week job selling carbonated beverages.
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