The loquacious businessman is full of stories. Some of them are just that–stories. I mean the kind of stories we would call fibs or, if you prefer, lies. He has a lifetime supply of these stories and doesn’t need an invitation to begin one at any time. I know. I’ve endured the tedium of any number of them over the years. That said, some of his stories are worth remembering. One in particular comes to mind tonight. At least, a phrase from the story comes to my mind. The details themselves are lost in the mist of the years that have passed since he first told me the story.
The man sold appliances for a national chain of stores at one time. He tells of learning the ropes in selling from a master, and it is obvious from his success as a businessman later in life that he learned his lessons well. Now, regarding the phrase I recall, it seems that frequently, the chain of stores for which he worked would run advertised specials on their appliances. When they did, the word would come down from management that a certain model of washing machine, or stove, or refrigerator was their “nail-down model”. At first, I assumed that it meant that they would nail down the sale with this model which was priced very attractively, but that was not the case. “Nail-down model” meant, very simply, that this model was never to move from the showroom floor. It was not, under any circumstances, to be sold to a customer. Any customer who came in waving the ad and desiring to buy this bargain was to be upsold to a better model. He claimed that the sales people were threatened with losing their job if they actually allowed a customer to buy the “nail-down model” during the sale. We know this tactic today, as “bait & switch”. It is understood to be illegal, and theoretically, a thing of the past. I wonder.
I realized the other day, that I have a nail-down item in my store. A few weeks ago, a gentleman came in with a very small, vintage-looking case under his arm. He wanted to know if I could tell him anything about the instrument contained therein. I could and did, but not before I became very interested myself in the instrument. It was an old ukulele which had been made in the 1960s. As it happens, the instrument was identical to the one on which I learned to play the uke. Mrs. Jones, our grade school music teacher, had offered to teach any student who would come a couple of days a week, before the school day began, how to play the instrument. It was a popular instrument back in the sixties and my brother and I convinced our parents that this was an essential purchase. I don’t remember learning anything except three chords, but the memory of acquiring that instrument and carrying it to school for special lessons with Mrs. Jones is one of those that I treasure, all these years later. As I examined the man’s vintage instrument, I had to have it! He reluctantly gave me a number that was well above the going price for these old instruments, but I wasn’t in the mood to let it walk out the door. I paid his price. The instrument is in a display case in my music store now.
It’s not for sale. There may be those who will accuse me of a bait and switch scheme of my own, since customers are more likely to see this instrument first upon entering the store, before seeing the ukes that are for sale hanging on the wall further back. I have directed several of them to the ones hanging on the wall, after they have inquired about this one. Since there is no advertising campaign which has brought them in to see the old uke, there will be no claim of a scam, but a number of them have complained that it is not fair for me to display an instrument which they cannot buy. It’s still not for sale.
It would seem that there are different reasons for having items of which we cannot turn loose. Perhaps, like the low-priced appliance, we would not make enough profit if we did. Maybe, like my ukulele, there are memories tied up in it. It could even be that we have acquired things which are so much a part of us that we wouldn’t even think of letting them go, but we really don’t know why. There is nothing wrong with placing value in things, but I wonder sometimes, if we’re actually too attached to them.
I’m curious to know if you have any nail-down things in your personal life. You know…that jacket that you’ve had since you were a teenager, perhaps that heirloom that Aunt Susie left to you; maybe your nail-down is even something in your mind which you can’t let go of. Someone was unkind and you’ll never forget (or forgive) them. You were bullied as a child and you hold onto the memory of that as an excuse for all the bad things that have happened since then. The possibilities are endless. There may be some things we would even describe as good, but which we hold onto tightly, lest they slip out of our grip.
I remember a few years ago, after my Grandma died…my father gave me something to keep as a memory of her. The old sugar jar has no monetary value; it could never be sold to pay the mortgage. It has however, been in my family for four generations now. My great-grandmother used it to keep her sugar in, my grandmother did the same, and my father also did for a short time. Now it sits in our kitchen, easily holding the bags of sugar, greatly reduced in size since the huge ones of the early and mid-twentieth century. My father left me with one instruction, which I will never forget, regarding this family “heirloom”. “If you ever get to thinking that this is something important and start to place too much value on it because of your family history, I want you to promise me something.” Of course, I wondered what he was getting at, and told him so. He continued, “I want you to take a hammer and hit it as hard as you can, right on the side, about here…” These last words were said as he indicated a spot in the center of the huge glass jar. I got the message. This is not a nail-down model. There is no reason to get my heart set on this piece of glass, with its metal lid and ancient homemade handle.
So, what do you say? Are you ready to get rid of some of those nail-down items that have taken over your life? Find the hammer and do it! It won’t be easy. It might even seem like saying goodbye to some old friends. But, when our lives are ruled by things, and memories, and habits, we are indeed prisoners. It’s time to break down some bars!
The ukulele will probably move some day, too. Now, if only I can figure out a way to sell it for as much as the greatly inflated price I actually paid for it!
“Set your affection on things above, not on things on this earth.”
“One who cannot cast aside a treasure at need is in fetters.”
(From “Lord Of The Rings” by J.R.R.Tolkien~English Author~1892-1973)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.