Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Swept Away

We met once again. His eyes locked on mine for what seemed like a moment frozen in time and then with a wave of the hand he broke the spell and turned, shaking his head while whispering a well worn mantra under his breath. I’ve heard it many times before. We’ve been meeting like this for years. He knocks at the door. I answer. He slowly turns and shuffles away, out the gate and down the slope that leads to the street below. It took two or three of these biannual chance encounters before I realized he was a door-to-door broom salesman. The four-and-a-half foot whisker continually at his side is what finally clued me in.

Unlocking the mystery of who he was only made me more curious about what he did. Being a door-to-door broom salesman had to be infinitely more tougher than what I previously thought was the hardest sales job in the world (a door-to-door vacuum salesman). Not only that, his sales approach was the softest soft sell I’d ever seen. It was beyond soft sell, it was more like a “I give up, you don’t want what I got to sell anyway” sell. Then I thought maybe after getting a look at me, he just didn’t want to go through the trouble of delivering his broom pitch only to find out I didn’t understand a word of Japanese. Then that theory got swept away one day when Em, my wife, who speaks the language pretty well and has all the classic Japanese facial features to match her speech answered the door when the broom man came a knocking. She too got the wave of the hand, followed by the shaking of the head and simultaneous muttering under the breath as the old guy turned to make his exit down the slope. He is the most uncommunicative sales person I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing he is selling a super hot product, otherwise I don’t know how he would make a living at his current profession.

Sweeping is practically a national past-time here. The rhythmic stroking of rice straws and bamboo branches against the pavement is the sound of morning in Temple Valley. In my neighborhood it's mostly old women in aprons who clear the pathways in what is part cleansing ritual, part local news network. That’s right, sweeping is not just about picking up litter. It’s also about picking up the word on the street and the broom is the medium used to do both. It’s a pretty handy tool. It’s almost magical and I’m not the only one who thinks so.

Throughout history brooms have been associated with magic. Placed in just the right position,  they have been known to ward off evil, get rid of unwanted house guests and in some cases have even given people the ability to fly. Here in Temple Valley they are used everyday to purify the streets and bring people closer together to share a good story, a smile and more. It's a magical sight to behold. What’s the mystery behind these magic sticks? I know one guy who may know but he’s not talking.

Related post: Foot in Mouth


  1. It sounds like he is not a professional salesman, probably forced into his job by downsizing, the 90's economic implosion....When I lived in Japan in the 90's, I would buy from and help salesman I could tell were in this situation sell their wares by insisting friends buy from them. This was my first political activism ever, in retrospect: a transformation born from watching what happened to people in the aftermath of the Japanese Bubble.

    I had no idea the history of brooms. I love them; can't stand leaf blowers, and love the Japanese garden misshapen brooms (perfect for sweeping out rocky garden areas).

    Your neighborhood is charming....

    1. He seems to be in his seventies now, so you may be right about how he got his start. I guess I never really gave it that much thought. I honestly think he is just looking for the old lady who used to live here before us and is heartbroken every time it's someone else who answers the door.

      Yeah it's definitely charming - thanks in part to those magic broomsticks. Now I'm going to have to buy one the next time he comes around.

  2. Yes, it sounds like he is looking for the lost...

    This story reminds me of one of my favorite American authors, Sherwood Anderson, and his epic Winesburg, Ohio. Poignant, everything beneath the surface...

    With this man, selling a broom is more than selling a broom, & buying a broom is more than buying a broom...

    This is a powerful, moving vignette on many levels...

    1. Yeah - and thanks for adding the layers of insight. We've woven together an intriguing tale from just a few threads of information but there is probably a lot more (or less) to this yarn in the end.