Before the Internet – Encyclopedias; Keepers of all Knowledge

Sigh, what now?

Sigh, what now?

The day that I began writing this story was March 8th.  It’s an important date in history.  No, not because it’s the day Malaysia flight 370 disappeared, it’s the anniversary of my new lease on life.  You see, I was struck by a school bus on this day some 50 years ago.  (Link)

It’s a very busy time of life here in the Wyatt California household.  I just sold a guitar on Craigslist, sold my son’s car for him on eBay, I have my motorcycle listed on eBay,  a large drafting table on Craigslist and I just listed our home on Forsalebyowner website.  Yes, I’m trying to sell our house.  Hey, I’m retired, I’ve got the time.  In fact, I have so much time that I can answer phone calls and texts from over 50 realtors and would-be scammers.  I figure someday if I’m ever alone and lonely, I’ll just post a fake ad on Craigslist; the callers come crawling out of the woodwork.

I have lots of experience selling on eBay.  You see, I’ve always been an options guy.  In 2001, while working for P&G, I was working in IT at a time when it was being rumored that our division might be sold off.  Wanting to have an emergency option for making money, I learned how to buy media items, (books, CDs and DVDs), so I could resell them for profit on eBay.  Both my dad and my step father used to do similar things only there was no internet at that time.  Joe would resell at his own garage sale and my dad did the flea markets.  I am out of that market now, but it was a decent run.

The Internet, what an amazing time we live in.  Everything we need to know can be found on the Internet.  I certainly wouldn’t feel confident about selling our home without it, that’s for sure.  The Internet – the keeper of all knowledge.  It wasn’t always this way though.  Once upon a time there were these massive books called encyclopedias.  Encyclopedia – modern Latin meaning ‘very heavy book used occasionally for plagiarism ‘.

When I was a young child, my parents had a full set of Encyclopedia Britannica’s.  My dad used to tout, “these are the best encyclopedias on the planet”.  Usually this was just after touting that Viceroy was the best cigarette and the Marines were the best branch of the Service.

Every new parent wants to provide advantages for his children and what better way than to provide them with the accumulation of all human knowledge – this was the role of the encyclopedia set…30 or so three pound massive paperweights.  If for nothing else, they came in very handy for plagiarizing that school book report on the African Pygmy hedgehog.

What’s it take to be a scammer and do they make money?  They must, why else would there be so many of them?  Do you think they have good sales skills?  I’m pretty good today at recognizing a scam attempt or a sales pitch.  I wasn’t always though.


For you, only $50

For you, only $50

The best sales pitch I ever fell for, coincidentally, was not a Paper Moon Bible salesman, but he sure could have been because if he had scruples, I’m sure they came from someone else.  He was an encyclopedia salesman, slippery as an eel and probably saw me coming from a mile away.

The knock came at the door of our first apartment, the one behind the Frisch’s Big Boy, one night when my wife was several months pregnant with our first child.  I peeked out the peephole to see a young black man, (black was the pc word back then), holding some sort of leather case at his side.  I knew he was peddling something and so I got set to practice my new ‘I’m not interested line’.  I don’t know what it was, but something he said, some line snagged me in the cheek, just like a large mouth bass on a hook.

I let him into the apartment, that was the mistake.  Getting into a home is the primary hurdle.  After they get in, it’s tough getting them out unless you buy something.  This guy was well-trained and smooth talking his way through his well prepared sales pitch.  There was no escaping the strong tractor beam as it was pulling me in, checkbook in hand.

My wife and I both listened and watched in awe as the pages of the sample encyclopedia were slowly turned, illustrating their brilliance.  Anyone buying this beautiful set must also be brilliant, right?  As I set there listening, my mind wandered into the future where I saw our young Einstein absorbing this information like SpongeBob SquarePants absorbing the water in the birdbath at Sandy’s place.  (Ok, you caught me – SpongeBob wasn’t yet around, I know).

And so, at the end of maybe 90 minutes, my wife and I looked at each other with the same expression – anyone would be an idiot to pass up this amazing value!  Out came the checkbook and the pen; signature on the contract!

Hooked, landed, gutted and filleted.

Yup, Hooked!

Yup, Hooked!

For about 7 years I think, I bought the annual updates.  I rationalized this purchase for maybe two decades.  On occasion I’d see one of our boys break down and start picking through them.  When this occurred, the accountant in me would mentally calculate an amortization entry to be posted against the ‘sucker purchase’ journal.  Nothing teaches like mistakes made.

Want to buy a set of encyclopedias today?  Go visit any Goodwill Thrift store where I bet you can pick up all 25 volumes for less than a dollar a book.  Bring a wheelbarrow so you don’t strain your back.

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