Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Story Behind the Story: The Better Salesman

by Richard Prosch

A few years ago, a guy drove up to our house in a pickup with out of state plates. Middle-aged, paunchy, stubbly chin, I’d never seen him before in my life. Sitting in the cab next to him was a teenaged boy wearing a stretched out T-shirt with no sleeves.
I walked outside to greet them. Before I could say word, Paunch flipped a card at me through the driver side window.
Under his name it said, Lightning Rod Salesman.
Lightning rods? I read the card three times. Nobody uses lightning rods anymore.
An anachronism, like something out of the early 20th Century.
“Sold a complete package to your neighbors,” said the guy. “Installation in three hours or there’s no charge.”
“I don’t think we need any lightning rods today,” I said, handing back the card.
“Keep it,” he said with a patronizing hand gesture. “You don’t realize the danger you’re in.”
The trumped up look of concern in his voice along with the scene-chewing delivery made me smile. “Really?”
Solemn nod. “Really.” He turned to his son. “Ain’t he in danger, son?”
The kid ducked down to look at the roof of our house through the truck’s windshield.
“Peaked metal roof like that draws a lot of energy. Fire’s a bitch.”
“A man ought to protect his home,” said Paunch.
Anachronisms again. This time like something out of a Jimmy Cagney movie. “Be a shame if something were to…happen.”
He didn’t actually say that.
But the conversation was getting too weird, so I made up an excuse, told him I’d keep the card and keep him in mind, and eventually he drove away.
Later that day, I drove past our neighbor’s place. Sure enough, a trio of tall, straight spires with decorative blue bulbs rose from his barn roof, gleaming in the sun.
The incident reminded me of the old barn painters that used to frequent Nebraska when I was growing up.
Which got me to thinking. What if they were to cross paths? The lightning rod salesman and the painter.
Three and a half hours later, weighing in at around 2,800 words, The Better Salesman is the result.

Have you ever encountered a traveling salesman of the old fashioned variety? Ever wanted to write about them?
Please drop a line in the comment box below.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com


  1. Richard, marvelous story, really enjoyed it. The last paragraph made it perfect.

  2. Thanks, Janet! Wrapping it up at the end is sometimes tough. Glad it works this time.

  3. A great outcome for The Better Salesman, and pretty slick, too. Another excellent story, Mister Prosch!

  4. Congrats again on the Spur, Rich! I need to go read your story here in a bit. The backstory is a story in itself. You've got a right-fine way with words. :-)

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! It might've been the '70s, but most of my life growing up on the farm *felt* like 1890!

  5. Well, I put the word out and then didn't comment on this post myself! LOL I love these "stories behind the stories" you do, Rich. You know I always love your work!

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! These have really been eye-opening for me too!

  6. Fun story, Richard, thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks, Tom! These ol' boys are the kinds of characters that might show up in one of your Facebook history posts!

  7. Thanks for a great story - loved the ending!

  8. It just amazes me that simply from a small happening you can come up with a such a cute story in a flash. Loved it and great ending. Anderson should be known as SLICK. Thanks Richard--my smile of the day.

  9. Darnit, I messed up that reply! Bev, I actually did have an uncle nick-named "Slick." The brothers were Rick and "Slick" and they had a donkey named Nick --short for "Ol' Nick."

    1. With an ancestry like that, it's no wonder you are quick witted writer. Wishing you the best.