Why Does Everyone Want To Sell Me Speakers?

From the back of their vans, no less. At a stoplight, or while driving through a parking lot, someone (usually white, usually male) will pull up next to me and ask if I want some speakers. “Because we’ve got three sets,” he’ll say, and his associate riding shotgun will nod, to assuage my skepticism, because who in their right mind would believe a single individual, driving around in an unmarked van, actually has extra speakers. No: there must be two people in the van, one to make the pitch and one to support the pitch, to say with his very presence “My friend, you heard correctly. We have extra speakers, and we are willing to let you have some of them.”

I always say “No thanks,” because I don’t usually need any speakers and because I don’t trust people who sell electronic equipment out of vans. The men in the van are never disappointed or angry. They just drive on, to the next potential customer. And I am left with many questions. Is driving around in a van and addressing strangers an effective business model? Are the speakers stolen, or broken, or both, or (least believably) neither? Why three sets? Why not one or a dozen? Was the speaker pitch just a ploy, a ruse so the salesmen could mug me or steal my car when I stopped to exchange my cash for their speakers? Or do I radiate some kind of speaker-deficit vibe? How many people (with or without extra speakers) walk past me each day and think “That guy could really use some speakers”? And how many of those people have three sets of speakers in the back of a van, and long for a buyer?

The face-to-face speaker sale is uncommon. Once or twice a month, a man in a baseball cap will pantomime “roll down your window” from a parallel lane of traffic or adjacent parking spot with his friend looking on, the friend’s face all earnestness and solemnity.  Three times a month at most. The direct mail campaigns are more frequent and noticeable, and the online ads too, pop-up windows and embedded graphics in websites, websites that have nothing to do with speakers or music or vans or men in baseball caps. I’ll look at my screen or open the mysterious envelope and there it is, another plea for purchasing speakers. Some of the ads are very professional-looking, but most of them suffer poor typesetting and clashing fonts, and a crudely edited picture of a single speaker plopped in the center of a featureless white void. Sometimes the photo of the speaker is so pixelated it’s lost all detail and is just a geometric shape. “Do you want some speakers?” the ads say at the top, then the picture of the speaker, and then at the bottom “Because we’ve got three sets.” Sometimes “speakers” is in all caps. Sometimes “three.” Combinations of boldface, italicization and underlining occur in unpredictable patterns and arrangements. There’s never any contact information or a link to a speaker website. Just the offer.

The phone calls were more disturbing, but they’ve pretty much stopped now. At first, I thought I had a stalker, because the caller ID read “Private Call,” and I didn’t bother to answer them. After a while, the mystery got the better of me, and I picked up the next Private Call, steeled for attack.

“Hello?” I said, the anger barely concealed in my voice.

“Hey. Do you want some speakers?” said the voice, which was male, and probably white.

Obviously I didn’t expect this. My anger melted into confusion. I said “No.”

“Because we’ve got three sets.”

“No. No thanks.”

The voice hung up after that.

Then there were the three or four times where my doorbell would ring, and when I’d open the door, a van idling in front of my house would suddenly peel out and race away down the street. Once a speaker fell out of the back and shattered on the road. At least I think it was a speaker. By the time I got out to the street it was a pile of particle board and cheap veneer and bits of metal and that black netlike fabric peculiar to speakers. Was this what they wanted to sell me or was it a dummy speaker? I wouldn’t have bought that piece of junk even before it came apart on the road.

Last week at the grocery store, I bought some pancake mix and orange juice. The cashier asked if I needed any stamps or garbage stickers and I said no. I handed her my money. She looked at me for a moment and then asked “Do you want some speakers?”

I stared at her.

“Because we have three sets.”

I thought I heard improper capitalization in her voice.

“Can I just have my receipt please?” I said. She sighed and tore the receipt from the printer. I snatched the slip from her outstretched hand and left. I should have asked if she had a van, and a friend in the van. I should have asked similar questions of the pizza delivery guy, the girl on skates from the roller derby, that Jehovah’s Witness, and the trio of canvassers from the Green party. By their own unique paths, they each came to the same conclusion: I might want speakers, specifically one or more of their three available sets.

When my mother called and asked if I wanted any speakers, I knew terrible forces were at work.

“Did you just hang up on your mom?” my girlfriend asked as she put our dinner plates in the sink. I explained the situation, the increasingly inappropriate, even surreal sales pitches; the lack of any discernible connection between the salespeople; the pervasive nature of perceived speaker-need.

“You wouldn’t try to sell me speakers, would you?” I asked her.

She smiled. “Baby, I don’t have any speakers to sell.”

I said “Oh, sure, you say that now. But how can I be sure?” She thought I was joking. Her mistake is understandable. I joke that way sometimes, feigning indignation, or paranoia, or fear.

We went to bed. From time to time, my girlfriend talks in her sleep. Now, as I stare at the ceiling, unable to push thoughts of speakers out of my head, I hear half-formed words seeping from her mouth. I’d have to really listen to understand what she says. I’d have to listen for any mention of speakers, because if there are speakers in her dreams, there could be speakers anywhere. But I feel guilty and restless spying on her like that, so I walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night and stare at myself in the mirror.

“Do you want any speakers?” I ask my reflection. “We have three sets.” I’m still waiting for an answer.

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