Reading Petunia

Petunia lived a simple life where she tried to bother nobody. And up until fairly recently, nothing much bothered her. She lived in a house that needed repairs. The roof needed fixing, the gutters replacing and two trees were in dire need of some tender loving care. She woke up this morning; fixed herself some steel cut oats, and slowly mixed in soy sauce and candied jalapenos.  She would eat half for breakfast and take the other half for her lunch hour. She knew the boys at work would call it WOKE Food and they would have some Hispanic reference for the Jalapenos.

She detested her job with a passion and she had many reasons for this. The only reason she did not quit is that she’d accrued plenty of time where she could get paid to not go to work.  She sold cars. To be more specific she mostly sold Dodge trucks. Yes she sold hemi powered dodge rams, the cowboy Cadillac as most of her clientele were compensating for something. She worked with five other testosterone-laden men who sold the truck with zeal. She just could not get it up like that.   She was always in the bottom sixteen percent of sales. For those of you versed in back of the envelope calculations that would be dead last.  Selling this truck was not a complicated task.

The Ram Pickup is a high-selling truck who’s sales are not slowing down any time soon. If there’s anything Americans love, it’s their pickup trucks. According to sales statistics, out of the 14.5 million vehicles sold in the US in 2020, three of the best-selling pickups made up for 13% of it. Covid-19 dealt a major blow to the world’s auto industry as sales figures nose-dived, but while some automakers recorded dismal sales figures, Ram Pickup trucks were on the other end of the spectrum as if the pandemic was a made-up internet sensation.

Selling cars is all she knew she reflected as she watched the sun refract through the cooling towers to the west.  Her Dad sold cars out of a dirty trailer in the Pennsylvania coal regions. He had a motto, she believed, went something like this. “We do business despite the customer.”  He further iterated, “The automobile will sell itself don’t get emotionally involved.

She took the road by the river. They rarely had customers before noon and she never could figure that one out.  She went to a bar last night in Shillington. She recognized a few people from the dealership. She almost opted not to go in the bar when she saw the Manderbach label on a back bumper. She was bound to know them in a weird interconnected way. Then she saw the trucks were equipped with large flags bragging about some grandiose idea of patriotism.  She decided to go to a bar down the street. It was a banal night. The jukebox played plenty of Elvis. It seemed to only play Elvis Pressley or Costello. She found that clever and stayed longer than she should.

Per usual, she was the first sales person to hit the sales floor. The office staff was already typing away. She stopped by the IT person’s desk that sat in a cubicle by the coffee machine. Chuck was very good at his job and she always wondered what kept him in the lackluster position. He had written a query against a database the dealership had lawfully purchased. The firm had a database of all the registered voters in Montgomery, Berks and Bucks County. Manderbach knew the demographic and was not ashamed to exploit it. Customers pulled into the parking lot with bombastic flags attached to beds of the trucks. They bought the big old trucks sometimes paying cash. It is not that she lacked for customers, as an appropriate proportion would go right to her to go through the car buying process. She didn’t even have a company car. She drove her old Prius, and like most other days she parked it behind the Ye Olde Bakery next door.

She didn’t mind working with customers all that much as it lessened the time she spent with colleagues. She remembers a recent performance review and she mentioned the behavior of her coworkers, and she used the term colleague.  Her boss crisply replied,  “Petunia you need not have a college degree to work here at Manderbach.”   She was well aware of that. 

Tim, her boss, was filled with racist and sexist innuendo. When a person of color came in to buy a truck, which was not often, Tim usually directed them her way. There was little in negotiation, these days, as most people had access to the internet. Where Tim could be a lawsuit waiting to happen, was during the financing process. He figured if he had the customer this far they would buy anyways. At times he would let them linger in the waiting room where network news yammered away far too loudly for a sales floor. He reasoned, if they were unhappy at least they had a fireplace. Personally, he would not sell a car to somebody speaking Spanish. A Ram truck on a mushroom farm was bad advertising, he reasoned.

Another colleague, Darrel, openly carried guns into his place of work. Darrel was the top salesmen on the “force”.  The room for a gun rack was a selling point  “The Force” used this tactic often.  That’s how Mr. Manderbach referred to his sales team. 

Petunia was often referred to as a broad or a chick. It wasn’t subtle and they did it in front of prospective customers. Nobody batted an eye. Other salesmen patted her in the butt when she made a sale. She had nowhere to lodge a complaint. Yes somehow she endured for reasons all her own. They rarely fired anybody who was basically on commission. She possessed other skills, the rest of the staff lacked. she made her self valuable when she needed to be. She was quite proficient in Spanish, which proved to be an asset and a liability.

If a customer came in smoking a cigarette, the salesmen did the same. Chipper, the alarming ex golf pro, was usually inebriated shortly after lunch. You can tell his level of inebriation by his constant making fun of a president or two. He did an excellent Ross Perot imitation, which for an instant she found humorous. Today he was a tired in a formal Hawaiian shirt and a blue cashmere spot coat.

She always bugged Chuck for customer readouts and was little interested in the results. Nobody got suspicious when she asked for this data and they, management, were adept enough to know it was a useless search. What they had been after, for months, was the financing data. They knew something was going on, but didn’t have the quantity of data to prove their suspicion.

It had been a slow morning, so she had her lunch alone in the company provided break room. Chipper was relentless in barbs directed toward her. He always referred to her as “That Lesbian”.

Today he smelled of him, gin and hell fire. It convienently, masked the smell of her food in the microwave. She gingerly put her lunch in the microwave, hoping to keep interaction at a minimum. She faced the microwave with her back to the room, and was mildly surprised to escape the wrath of Chipper. She heard a gentle thud, as her food percolated. It was not a sound out of the ordinary, yet she must admit she never actively listened. It was a sound she would reflect on for months.

Darrel barged in, in his usual lumbering manner, soon after and gave a quick chuckle followed by a loud question. “Hey Fatty what are you doing sleeping on the floor, we have trucks to sell?” There sat Chipper sprawled out on the lunch room floor. Darrel stepped right over him, and put a large chilli dog in the other available microwave. It was not an easy task as Chipper was a very large man. And chilli dogs are rarely put in a microwave.

Victor, the head mechanic who was highly trained in automotive computer systems, came in soon after and nudged the large man on the floor. Chipper barely moved and let out a grunt and a word or two that weren’t decipherable. 

“Este hombre necesita ayuda ahora.”

Darrel muttered something under his breath about speaking English once in a while.

Petunia understood immediately, even though she despised Chipper she recognized the urgency in Victor’s voice. She was the only person on the staff that took the CPR class offered by the county. That certification helped keep Manderbach in compliance. Petunia and Victor, were not much liked by most yet they served an effective cog in the machine known as capitalism .

She leaned down on the floor and was immediately overcome by the smell of somebody passing gas or worse. She thought to herself, he must be in serious trouble as that is what happens when one’s body gives out. Still, there he sat still breathing  although his eyes remained closed. 

Tell me where it hurts, she whispered in his ear with more compassion than the situation warranted. He responded in kind, reluctantly recognizing he had an ally where he least expected. He pointed to his chest and indicated he was having a hard time breathing.  She talked to him gently and tried to assure him everything was going to be okay. She had no idea if this was true, still she spoke as if it were true. 

Darrel meandered back into room having forgotten a bag of Sturgis pretzels left on the counter. While he was at it, he grabbed an ice cream sandwich from the freeezer. She was pretty sure it was her ice cream sandwich.

“What the hell are you doing?  Petunia shouted at Darrel. He shriveled a bit and started to respond.

“That cell phone you are carrying, call 911 and get an ambulance here quickly.”

“Why, what’s going on?”

“Shut up and dial the god damn phone.”

And Chipper was sure glad she was there on this paricuñar day. In this “Me Me Me” business with the “Me Me Me” world we live in, somebody had to step up. We can not be quite sure if it were not for the kind and decisive actions taken by Petunia, Chipper may not be alive today. Months later, Chipper has not changed all that much. He doesn’t drink as much and doesn’t ride Petunia as in days past.

She still does not like him all that much but she certainly is glad he is still alive. She hopes there are people close to him who are glad that he is alive.