“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, nothing ain’t worth nothing but it’s free…”
I was homeless for the better part of the year. This was another advantage. I’d bounce from relative’s basements to buddy’s couches. Pit stops at the family farm and back on the run. I changed my vocation title from Door-to-door Salesman to Hustler. Same job description, just a redefined attitude. I knocked on virtually every door in every residential area of Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, Alberta. One in ten doors answered resulted in a sale. Crescents with homes built in the early seventies had thirty year owners, mortgages paid and good jobs – extra money to support a hustlin’ artist. New development had quadplexes, doors closer together, tenants with debts but a higher quantity to hit with less foot-work, one in twenty answered doors resulted in a sale but twice as many doors knocked per hour.
I’d swing deals. I’d leave albums with tenants for the day, sometimes overnight. I printed flyers with my phone number to allow residents to do their homework. My Friday, Saturday, Sunday focus turned to every day of the week. Beginning at 2 pm and going until 9 pm. five or six days a week – once, twenty two consecutive days. At least 45 weeks a year. Three years. A quarter million doors. The experiment became an education.
A Saskatchewan blizzard was my best friend. Nobody would go to work, every home occupied. A mixture of admiration and pity. I wore two pairs of gloves, a scarf covering my face, toque and hood up under a full body, one-piece denim Skidoo suit. The faces of the jewel cases would fog upon being invited into a home. People asked if I was crazy. And they’d buy an album. I’d stay moving, warming up inside a house would only make for a more discomforting cold when leaving. It would get dark at 5 pm and I’d continue to knock on doors until 9 pm. Didn’t care.
Thousands upon thousands of rejections. They all affected me – some were empowering and some were crippling. I told people off in their own homes. Some days I was entitled to the sales, a denial would infuriate me. Usually I reflected their sentiments. A polite refusal would be accepted. A rude refusal flicked a switch – I never once keyed a car. Spit on a door, yes. I moved through this period and kept grace at hand.
I was cornered by a man that went out his back door and backed me up against his front door. He said he wanted my shirt – I was confused, he repeated his request. I laughed. He didn’t think it was funny and grabbed me, I pushed him back and dropped an album. He went for the CD, pushed me out of the way and disappeared into his basement suite. I was shaken and left. I walked back to his house that night and repeated my actions from earlier in the day, knocking on his door. He answered. I told him he had no right in stealing my wares and demanded it back. His basement resembled a rainforest. Misting and plants covering the walls. He counted out ten dollars in nickels and tossed them at me. I grabbed my disc and left. He let me know I was lucky he didn’t kill me.
I made lifelong friends and supporters. Bob Edwards called CTV News, we reenacted our first door-to-door meeting for the cameras. He hosted an impromptu house concert, family and friends, tv cameras – the story aired that night at 11 pm. Everyone in attendance as part of the magic. I remained close with him and his wife, Nora.
I was invited in by a wealthy Japanese businessman. All I understood were the words “Michael Bublé” and “Celine Dion” – I said yes. We feasted on whale, raw fish, and fried SPAM. I drank warm sake with him into the night. No english. We watched Celine Dion concerts on Blue Ray.
I was bitten by dogs.
I declined a threesome.
I returned to a woman drinking wine, house-sitting for a friend.
I went one for one with an oil worker. For every beer I drank with him he purchased an album. He gave me ten dollars each time he went to the fridge. I handed an album over in return.
I called an ambulance for a man having an attack. Alone in his house he answered the door and looked through me blankly, began stumbling backwards towards the basement stairs. I jumped in the door and grabbed him as he went head first into the closet. 911. I got him up and said there was help coming, he fell down three steps into his living room – I stayed by his side and got him water. Ambulance on their way. Matched his last name on a wall plaque to a last name in his address book by the phone, ended up calling his son. The randomness was overwhelming for him and he rushed over to meet the ambulance coming up the driveway. His father, a severe diabetic, credited me for saving his life.
I finished every residential area in Regina, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Swift Current. Took on Calgary.
‘No Solicitors’ signs were irrelevant. I was hustlin’.
I had two rules: Never walk on anybody’s grass and if the Jehovah’s Witnesses were out, give them the area.
As far as their belief structure, I was tainted by what the religion did to Rennebohm. He was exiled by the faith. He stood up to the elders in a meeting and called out the hypocrisy of members. I couldn’t get behind the technicalities of the practice but they were pounding the pavement for something they believed in, and being in their proverbial shoes, I respected the mission. By spreading their truths it would better their lives. They were well dressed. At least I wasn’t dealing with societies preconceived opinions on my mission. If a J.W. was in an area, I marked it off on my map as such and would drive to a completely fresh spot. I treated them with respect – we were both getting doors slammed in our faces, unwelcome. Each of us telling a perfect stranger what they needed in their lives to make it better. Each relentless in the pursuit.
For these reasons, the J.W. are my hustlin’ brothers.