I took to the streets of Scituate this weekend with my books, a card table, and the goal to sell my 8-year survival story at our Annual Heritage Days celebration.
Visitors to the harbor, which was bursting at the seams with canopied vendors’ booths showcasing jewelry, clothes, woodcarvings and artwork, barely glanced at the small table on the sidewalk in front of the nail salon. But the revelers who were brave enough to make eye contact with me, were obliged to hear about my entire brain cancer journey, from the first symptom of a burning hot left foot to the $13.99 price tag on the book. I had brought 25 paperbacks with me in a cardboard box, thinking I would sell out within hours, but at the end of the first day, 14 of them accompanied me back home.
In retrospect, I don’t think hyping a story about a catastrophic illness at a fun, family event with kiddie rides and live bands makes much sense. Who needs a Debbie Downer reaching out to them as they lick their ice cream cones with “Could I tell you about my brain tumor?”
“Sure, lady, and while you’re at it, why don’t you pop my kid’s balloon?”
There was one thing in my favor as I hawked my book on the sidewalk at Heritage Days. I had set up shop directly in front of a low stone wall housing a big brown water bowl and a dish of Milk Bone dog biscuits for passing pets, so at least I got the lion’s share of the 4-legged traffic.
As I folded my card table and packed up my wares at the close of day one, I hobbled off to my white Nissan Rogue in high heels that no seasoned “street seller” would have worn to a 7-hour, stand-up gig.
By the end of the weekend, I had sold 23 books, but when I factored in the money I had spent for the tablecloth at Home Goods, the poster frames, and the portion I was contributing to charity, let’s just say it was no J.K. Rowlings payday.
But when I look back on my Heritage Days experience, I did get to meet and greet some fascinating characters. There were the two self-published authors who were far more concerned with pedaling their books than purchasing mine. There were the poor, shell-shocked people who had lost loved ones to cancer and understandably wanted no part of my survival story, and those who were in the battle themselves and glad that someone had won it.
And then there was Peter, a young man with sky-blue eyes and sandy blond hair who plopped a can of Red Bull on my table and frantically recited a 10-minute poem about life and death and something about lions. At the end of his reading, he handed me a $20 bill, gave me a bone-crushing hug and said, “I wish I could give you all my money.”
And through it all, was the thrill of the sale—watching people dig cash out of their wallets to buy my product. It brought me right back to the summer of 1963 when my childhood BFF Donna and I were selling Kool-Aid outside St. Paul’s Cemetery in Arlington on a scorching hot Memorial Day weekend. I still remember the adrenalin rush I felt when a graveyard visitor, toting a red geranium under one arm, approached our stand wiping stinging beads of sweat from his eyes and squinting at our hand-made sign.
“What’s the price, ladies?”
“Five cents a cup,” said Donna, who was always the extrovert.
“Sounds reasonable. Here’s a dollar. Keep the change.”
“Thanks a lot Mister,” I said, pouring him a small cup of the lukewarm cherry drink from a big yellow Tupperware pitcher. When he walked away, Donna and I exchanged a grin of victory as we added the bill to the coins in our pink metal Barbie lunchbox. Could this get any better?
Yes, there is something to be said for the triumph of the sale—even from the sidewalk next to the Milk Bones.