My besfrinn Cameron recently sent me Bossypants and aside from leaving me in sheer wonderment of the modern-day goddess that is Tina Fey, it made me think a lot about my own dad. Tina Fey devotes an entire chapter – “That’s Don Fey” – to her dad and an adventure she had with him whilst renting a wet vac from the grocery store. It is an adventure! She makes it so. The occupational hazard for reading Bossypants is trying not to plagiarize the entire book, so I’m just going to say that it serves more as a writing prompt than anything else for this little essay about my dad – Ed Pate. Also, props go to Brother Jon for inviting us all to write about our dads today. I will take every opportunity I can to think about my wonderful father.
Ed Pate was a salesman. He was a salesman with vigor. Arguably, in order to be any kind of good salesman, you have to do it with vigor, but Ed Pate set the bar high. He sold heavy machinery for Caterpillar and he loved those ridiculous machines. The majority of our family vacations were road trips and while we were on the road, we’d pass sites laying pipeline with other kinds of equipment – John Deere, Komatsu – and Ed Pate would orate to my mom, my brother, and me exactly WHY the Caterpillar DC845673B backhoe could do it better. We’d glaze over but he was in the zone. If he was really feeling it, he’d pull off the road to investigate the site and the machines. Not to sell anything, mind you, just to see how crappily the Komatsu was doing its job. This was a necessary chore, you see. If you can’t believe in your machine, what can you believe in?
The answer is, apparently, very little, except for stale Maxwell House coffee sweetened with Sweet & Low. It’s the Ed Pate way.
Ed Pate worked at the Caterpillar office off Nonconnah close to the airport. There were picnic tables out front so my mom would schlep us down there during the summers to have a picnic lunch with him. This was fun but gross. Ed Pate’s entire office was covered in a thin layer of dust and smelled like an oil change and cigarettes. He didn’t smoke – he sang the chorus of “Smoke Smoke Smoke (That Cigarette)” whenever he saw someone light up – but smelling like nicotine was part of the job. The secretaries (this was back when people still had secretaries and called them that) at his office were all named Shirley and were likely the source of the smoke, not to mention the financial solvency of Tab.
When you are a salesman, you have to have fun things in your office to make you seem more approachable. If you play with your clients, you trick them into buying more machines than they likely need. Ed Pate heard this somewhere but obviously did not take it into consideration that since he was already the most likable and honest guy ever, he didn’t need gimmicks. Since he was a heavy equipment dealer in the South, he kept a can of tinned possum in his desk. I credit the can of tinned possum for putting braces on my teeth. Oh sure, he had the wherewithal to purchase the novelty item at the Cracker Barrel store so some of the credit goes to him. Some.
When I was eleven, he started working from home. The storage room off of our garage was converted into his home office. This was also the year he got a car phone. Not a cell phone, a car phone. It was basically the same as a home phone except it was in your car. It came with a spiral cord, a jack, and an instruction book that could be used as a booster seat for small children. And when it broke, you had to take your entire car into the shop and wait all afternoon to get it fixed. Ed Pate would often drive us to school and make sales calls on the car phone. He was a good Christian man who I never, ever heard say a swear word, so when he put the car phone on speaker and his client dropped every word in the book all in good humor, it was tons o’ fun to see him get squeamish and remind the guy that his kids were in the car and to keep it PG. The client would rarely do so, so it was extra fun to see Ed Pate try to make a sale while at the same time deciding what was more dangerous – exposing the kids to the eff word or not driving hands-free. He usually opted for both, which added the task of not taking out pedestrians to the roster.
Ed Pate had a coffee mug with a Far Side cartoon of a guy selling refrigerators to Eskimos on it. It said something like, “Ralph Smith, King of Salesmen.” My dad was the real-life king of salesmen. I miss him a lot, but I’m pretty sure he’s selling halos to the angels now and earning a hefty commission.