The Car Salesman

The Car Salesman

Walter Philpot drummed his nicotine-stained fingers across his desk as he flipped through his latest copy of the Yellow Pages. His new ad would be there, and advertising is what it takes to sell cars. The gas shortage had played the devil on old-timers like him, and most of his inventory was the bigger vehicles. Who wants a used Grand Prix or a Belvedere when they can get one of them little Ford Pintos or a Datsun or whatever else they’re shipping over here from Japan.

There it was, a quarter page, exactly the same as last time. No need to change something that’s been working. Maybe not working all that great, but not bad either. Tough times to be in the used car business, but hustle is what it always takes. That and a fair deal.

Walter shoved the telephone book to the side of his cluttered desk and unfolded his morning newspaper for the fifth or sixth time that day. It was all bad news, don’t expect anything but bad news. The worst news was in the back pages and he gave in to impulse and looked there again. All day long he had looked there. Her picture was one from high school, maybe college, and that’s the way he always saw her. Even approaching 70 with grandkids, he saw a high school cheerleader. He reckoned that someone had paid extra to get her name at the top, because it would not have been in that spot had it been alphabetical.

Sullivant stepped through the front door, and as the little bell signalled his grand entrance he hollered out, “Well, it’s another hot one out there today, Mr. Philpot.”

Walter took a look at Sullivant with his ironed white shirt and blue tie with little yellow flowers, and would have taken him for a dandy, had he not known better. But this boy knew cars and could fix just about anything that folks dragged in there for a trade. If I had a boy I bet he would have been just like him.

“It takes advertising, Sullivant, then when you get ‘em in here it takes hustle and a fair deal. Someday you might run this place, and you need to know such business principles.”

“Yes sir, appreciate that. Think I’m gonna step around back and eat a sandwich. Momma packed ham and biscuits for dinner today, and it looks like you’ve got it covered here.”

“I’ve always got it covered here,” he replied, as he reached for a book of company matches.

“Take your time, I’m always here.”


Walter lit another Marlboro and took the luxury of kicking his feet upon his desk. He looked past the coat rack holding his red and black plaid sportcoat, then let his eyes linger toward the calendar that Raymond at Jackson Tires brought him every year. The girls in their bikinis were practically scandalous, and a married man would have had a hard time keeping a calendar like that on the wall. He smiled for the first time that day, as an old man might.

He puffed his cigarette and felt the pull into his lungs as a new sensation, of a fullness that he had missed, even though his last had been just twenty minutes earlier. Then, for the sixth or seventh time that day he reached over and picked up the newspaper and read her obituary. Janet Tolley, nee Roberts, it told him. But he knew that. Every damn fool in Putnam County knew that.

Walter took a dime from his pocket and got his afternoon Coke from the machine. The sun reflected through his plate glass window and he admired the brilliant colors of the curved paint and the dancing reflections of the chrome, and he saw his life setting on that car lot - the only thing he had ever really done. He wondered what would happen if he just hopped in that red Plymouth and started driving. Maybe hit Route 66 and go all the way to Albuquerque, or wherever it is that it takes you. Or is that a young man’s game?

Sullivant came in through the back door, and Walter handed him a couple nickels for a cold drink.

“Let me tell you something, boy. The things you think are important at your age, they probably are, but they might not be neither. Don’t think that there’s wisdom in old age. There’s only common sense, that’s all there is. It’s all you need, that and a fair shake, an honest deal.”

Sullivant nodded.

“Look pulling in there, Mr. Philpot. That’s the fellow that was here yesterday looking at the old Rambler. He offered $600 but you was holding out for $650.”

“Well today he’s gonna get a fair deal, yes sir,” said Walter.

He slid on his sportcoat, adjusted his crimson tie, and opened the door to the accompaniment of the little brass bell. With a quick turn he stepped back into the office, then gently removed the newspaper and dropped it into the bottom drawer of his desk. As he returned to the door he stepped over and took down the Jackson Tires calendar and pitched it into the trash basket. Walter Philpot took a look at all he had and all he was and didn’t allow himself the time to ponder any of it.

The bell rang again as he stepped into the glaring sunlight.

“Good day, sir! I’m Walter Philpot and have I got a deal for you.”



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