chapter 43: I REMEMBER — glazed and confused

what are the defining times of your life?

for me, looking back, i think of doughnuts.

when i was 12 years old, my youth group at Raimund Heights Baptist Church faced a summertime sojourn that ignited my imagination.  it would be an amazing engagement, i was sure.  i would grow.  i would learn.  i would expand my horizons.  my friends and i, guys and girls, would soon be on our way to that Place of Places, that Destiny of Destinations, that all-powerful, all-wonderful, summery epicenter of all that is magical and mezmerizing, fantastic and phenomenal:  we were taking a group vacation to Disney World.  the happiest place on earth.  we’d have more fun than should be allowed in a sweaty, 15-passenger van; we’d make memories of late nights and crazy sights that would last a hundred lifetimes; and we’d do it all in unprecedented 6th-grade, 1985 style.  i had my Halley’s Comet Swatch and first-ever off-white Reeboks.  my 50’s-style red and white sunglasses with the red cord would complete a warm-weather fashion arsenal that was stocked by Generra and Ocean Pacific, and guaranteed do some damage in the name of Cool, out in the blazing Florida sunshine.

but tickets were as HIGH as that sun, and hotel stay was no small expense, so the minds in charge of our braced and pimpled lot chose a sweet course of attack against the formidable foe of harsh economic reality.  sweet, in more ways than one.  it was a beautiful plan, a simple scheme of import and export.  we fell in line, and the money rolled in.

in an effort to raise capital for our costly trip, we’d taken orders for doughnuts.  the idea had been to enlist a horde of solicited supporters, then make the bulk purchase from Krispy Kreme, at the fundraiser price.  we’d buy low and sell high, and the profit from our efforts immediately impressed me as none other had–  i’d done the candy bar sales for Greenwood Dixie-Youth Baseball; we’d had church group carwashes; i’d gotten pledges for the Royal Ambassador hike-a-thons and bike-a-thons at Oak Mountain State Park.  but i’d never made the mountain of money for the time spent…it became clear to me, that the dough, was in the dough.  nuts.

so doughnut day came and went, and the price of lodging and park admission was greatly offset.  it was such an obvious landslide that my mother–and my best friend Jason’s mom–decided we should stay in the Krispy Kreme business for a little longer.  dressed in our coolest homemade Jams (the real thing was too expensive), we went door-to-door and sat at a table outside of Wal-Mart in our hometown of Bessemer, AL.  many doughnuts later, Jason and i had pockets full of spending money, and our cavalier immersion into the world of sales made an indelible mark on me.

a few years later, our church group returned to that mighty Kissimmee mecca of themepark perfection, and doughnuts bought my souvenirs purchased under the Orlando sky.

and in the wake of my fundraising success, a teenage path of self-employment was embarked upon:

i had a summer job in high school, but during the school year i worked only part-time, so i decided to supplement my income with the old standby.  i bought 50 dozen doughnuts and hit the streets, slowly learning the pastry sales staples:  car dealerships, beauty salons, construction sites, business strips.  each time i sold, i’d add a few more mental notes to my do’s and don’ts.  i found it best to start with the large groups in shared spaces.  banks, for example.  banks also took care of the of the second tier target once the large places had been hit:  women.  women hate the doughnut salesman but love the doughnut.  many times, my entrance into their domain was met with the Dracula cross, but the room still ate it up.  literally.  in the midst, on my settled route i would hit the lesser successful venues out of sheer convenience:  Buddy’s Marineland, smaller car lots…locales of events–ballparks, for example–were hits due to hordes of kids begging their moms for a tasty treat.  downtown Bessemer presented the opportunity to hit several places in one shot, and the cleaners and nail salons were rife with 40-ish females who would soon be resentful of the young entrepreneur who’d made them fatter.  on the sidewalk strip around the Bessemer library, i was a doughnut ninja, appearing out of nowhere, then dematerializing with my dollars.  attorney offices, shoe stores, a paint store, a furniture store…they were all quick in-and-outs to drop a dozen or three.  on the occasions when i was able to sell on a weekday, downtown was also home to the busy Bessemer Courthouse where my aunt worked, and she’d always buy from me and coerce other sales all over the building.  door-to-door was a last resort, and apartments were potentially good, so long as i could keep from getting bounced from the property.  in the beginning, my mother would go with me, hunkering down in the A/C’d getaway car, while i came and went, and my pockets grew fuller as the trunk grew emptier.  the best doughmobile was the AM-only radio’d Ford Fairmont, proud vanity car of the Haynes household.  NOTHING said “cool teenager” like a light brown stationwagon, and i was the Fonz on many a Saturday.  eventually, i gave it a shot alone, and with time came mastery.  i went through the motions with ease, confidence, and familiarity.  i’d show up at the Krispy Kreme at 5:30 in the morning, stock up, and be home by noon with a wad of cash.

growth is the nature of business, and my vending vocation was no exception.  i shook off the training wheels of mom’s assistance, and my first time out alone, i sold 50 dozen.  the second time, i sold 75 dozen.  “this is GREAT.  if i can do 75, then i can do…TWO HUNDRED!!!!”

pride cometh before the fall.

but i was determined.  i’d been making a dollar profit on every dozen.  $200 in one day?  to my adolescent mind, it was the easiest money i was ever gonna make, unless i was a movie star or a crack dealer.  i would be UNSTOPPABLE.

i arose dark and early on a Saturday, and crammed my 1984 maroon Monte Carlo FULL of all 200 dozen.  2400 circular rings of glazed dough.  the aroma filled my 8-cylindered gas guzzler, but all i could smell was cash.  “today, i’ll make a fortune.”  i hit all the regulars.  all the guarantees.  Long-Lewis Ford was always a particular goldmine of revenue, and this Day of Victory was just as fruitful as ever.  Saturday was a great day at the car lots; but it also had its deficits.  the courthouse was out, since weekdays were the key to that treasure chest of triumph, but this wasn’t my first rodeo, and i knew i had what it took to be home by 2 at the latest.  although:  200 dozen was a lot more than 75, and even more of more, than 50.  not to worry:  i’d enlisted my girlfriend for doughnut support.  we staked out apartment buildings when the businesses seemed tapped out.  when she had to return home, i was still ears-deep in fried, yeast-raised dough.

as the afternoon gave way to evening, sales were declining and i was still overstocked.  time was ticking, and my senses were alarmed.  i frenzied into a tailspin of desperation, trying anything and everything i could find.  a few hair salons were still open, a hardware store, a Cash-and-Carry here and there, but my options were dwindling.  the earth was growing dark.  and then darker.  my mom lent a driving hand, but the day was moving faster than the doughnuts.  i called my friend Chuck, and he met us out in the field to gang up on door-to-door victims.  i mean customers.

my mother crept along in the Monte Carlo, while Chuck and i took to sides of the street, moving like paranoid insurance salesmen on speed.  the doughnuts were no longer fresh, and neither was my salesmanship.  in a quiet, dark neighborhood, i knew it was a bad omen when Chuck rang the doorbell and was greeted by someone with squinty, crusty eyes and a robe.  he came back to the car and the words stung.  “i just woke somebody up to sell them doughnuts.”  i kept at it, but eventually i had to accept the obvious:  doughnut day was over.  i drove home by myself.  as i coasted into the garage, i looked at the clock.  it was 11:00 p.m.  18 hours after i’d begun.  i counted my money.  and then i counted my doughnuts…

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,

…23, 24, 25, 26…

…38, 39, 40…

……

when all was said and done, i had 78 dozen left.  78 dozen.

78 dozen.

78 dozen.

i love doughnuts.  but like Pamela Anderson, i now had too much of a good thing.

i was exhausted.  my arms were sticky from hours of leakage, covered in what looked like hardened white syrup; my face and hands were tacky from eating my own inventory to keep energized for a few more hours, a few more businesses, a few more houses, ’til my large load would undoubtably be lessened to nothing.  but that time had never come.  i pulled off my crunchy, milky and smeared clothes–they looked like pasty pajamas.  and sleep was a logical connection–i reeked of glaze, to the point that my mere presence in a room could throw a diabetic into a coma.  after a long contemplation of my defeat, i entered into one myself.  sugar plums danced in my head.  or something like that.

the next morning, i went to church with a car full of Dutch goodness, and i sold my flimsy boxes after the service at a discounted price.  the glaze was crusty.  the cardboard was a wilted, soppy mess.  once a doughnut champion, offering convenient cases of fresh, premium ecstasy, i’d been reduced to hawking sub-par product at an unheard-of price.  forget “Hot ‘N Now.”  these were Cold and Before.  some of the boxes looked like someone had sat on them for 12 hours.  they’d been at the bottom of a stack of 200, while the heat of the trunk melted the contents into a gooey soup.  and that soup had now hardened, like stalactites in a cave of over-confident ambition.  “but ya still wanna buy ’em?”  i was the lowest of the low.  a carnival barker.  a street vender.  a dirty vagabond shilling $20 Rolexes or $5 concert t-shirts.  and you’d better wear ’em while you can; tomorrow they’ll be garbage.  that afternoon, as i prayed that no one ignored my warning of timeliness and chipped a tooth, i stocked our downstairs freezer full of Krispy Kreme.  the good news, as it would turn out, was that doughnuts freeze well.  for the next few decades, any houseguest with a sweet tooth was pleasantly surprised.

despite the virtue and hospitality of having enough chilled dessert to feed a surprise visit of 936 people, i learned my lesson, and i accordingly continued my course of entrepreneurial efforts.  time and time again, i loaded my car and returned home a few hours later with a nice little bounty.  there were still mistakes, and i greeted each one with the happiness of never having to worry about that particular misstep again.  lesson #57:  it’s hard to sell doughnuts in a violent thunderstorm.  you don’t have to tell me twice.  locked and loaded.  and soggy.  “i know the siren’s going off, ma’am, but wouldn’t you like a tasty treat while you’re huddled on your knees in your basement?”

at some point, i had an epiphany:  if people will pay two dollars a dozen, maybe they would pay three.  they sold just the same, like hotcakes (which, actually, is what they were), and my profits doubled.

…………

eventually, my time gave itself to other things, and i paused for a bit, then

fast forward to college–

i was broke.  i met a poor girl with long legs.  she was a great singer–and she did an amazing impression of Leann Rimes singing the chorus of “Blue.”

idea:

“hey long legged girl, you got a short skirt?”

and we were in business.  75 dozen was a good first-time out.  then 100.  then more…

car dealerships.  ballparks.  beauty parlors.  mechanic shops.  especially in the beginning, many times she’d come back to the car with 5 dozen, up to her nose, having failed at unloading the merchandise.  but i was the goalie.  i’d catch the puck, and kick her back into play.

“did you sing for them?”

“no.”

“go back in and sing.”

Ms Rimes never sounded so good.

my petite partner would return a minute later, with nothing but cash.

i mostly stayed in the car, with hypothermia and hyperglycemia.  the sugar was seeping into the capillaries in my lungs, while i shivered from the A/C that was keeping our prized product cool and fresh.

“did you sing to that guy?  go back.”

success.

“did you sing to those ladies?  go back.”

success.

“did you sing to the cop telling you we can’t sell here?”

cha-ching.

she’d disappear into a building; i’d hear the echo of “bbbllluuuuuuuuuuuue” and the yodel in the middle; she’d return empty-armed.

my sultry, serenading sidekick would walk up to a car on the rack, and a swarm of 8 greasy guys with names on their shirts would surround her size-zero, miniskirted spriteness like monkeys around a banana.  “bbbllluuuuuuuuuuuue…”  one minute later:  “here’s the money; i need 4 more dozen.”

she wore high heels and tapped her foot while her scantily-clad 5-foot frame belted it out, again and again.  and every time my 21-year-old cohort flipped into falsetto, angels sang, and cash registers rang.

we’d pull up to the target, she’d shoot out of the door and stick out her arms, and i’d load her up with boxes. then POW!  Bullseye.  i was the administrator.  i’d count the money and keep it organized.  i’d plan the route.  i’d direct her where to go, which people were primed for business.  i placed the orders, i loaded the car.  she was the talent.  and i was the…well…

“go back in and sing.”

“sing for that dude.”

“sing for that chick.”

“sing for those people.”

“go in and just start singing for the whole room.”

“here are 5 more dozen.”

“here are 6 more dozen.”

“good job.”

“good job.”

“good job.”

in my mind, i began to change my wardrobe.  i took to wearing feathered, fur hats and alligator shoes.  a snakeskin watch and bright orange boutineer complimented my double-breasted leopard-trimmed duds.  i’d crack a gold-toothed smile at my skimpy lady on the street, pocketing more cash and tossing up a doughnut just to catch it on my viper-knobbed cane.

victorious again, i’d sit at a large table on Saturday afternoons, tallying the score of green minus gas and plus tips.  we were killing it.

fortunately, there was never a turf war; i never caught another singing cakeseller infringing on our territory.  with no competition out there, we denominated Nashville with our Doughnut Dynasty.  at some point, we decided it was time to expand.  We opened a part-time franchise, in Alabama.  all over Hoover, Bessemer, Hueytown:

“bbbllluuuuuuuuuuuue…”

$$$$$$$$!!!!

aside from the belting, business-as-usual operation, Birmingham opened an additional door:  after loading the car in Five Points, we’d first head to the main gate of U.S. Steel, setting up shop on the hood of my pathetically un-pimplike Nissan Maxima.  at the morning’s shift change, we could move a mean 30 dozen.  and the rest of the day, no pun intended, was cake.

for a span of years, i continued our Doughnuts-For-Dollars Diva-and-Dolemite endeavors, all the way up until i got my publishing deal–earning me the title of Full-Time Songwriter–and she got a record deal.

a few years later, during a definite lull in my career, i met an enterprising 19-year-old.

“you got a short skirt?”

bingo.  i have to admit, i still looked good in a fur coat and banana-yellow zoot suit.

but as for my original Vocalizing Vixen carrying those red, white and green boxes:  during the madness of music, money and mayhem that transpired, my original partner in Krispy crime got signed to Dreamworks Records.  in press building up to her debut album release, her doughnut escapades out on the mean streets of hard knocks were exploited.  unfortunately, her album was shelved.  today, she tours–and has for many years–as the sole backup singer.  for Leann Rimes.

today, as a songwriter, i’m composer and publisher on over 635,700 records sold.  i hope to make that millions more.  i don’t know how much that is in doughnut years, but no matter what, the units i’ll always remember selling most of all are round and have a hole in the middle, just like the gold disc that hangs on my wall; but they’re unframed, savory, and i still enjoy a dozen, late at night and with a cup of milk.

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