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Lured by the sirens' song in a gigantic store

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow
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A retired English professor, Dolly Withrow is the author of four books, including "The Confident Writer," a grammar-based college textbook.

When one shops as a kind of entertainment — and most of us do — we are destined to meet one of those glib sales reps who pitches his wares in huge stores. 

In need of a few items, my husband and I looked forward to a day out as we left home to engage in one of America's favorite pastimes.

An hour later, Bill and I entered the store where we walked up and down miles of aisles. Merchandise from cameras to computers and food to furniture were on display for our shopping pleasure, but it was the PA system's lilting male voice that enticed me. 

The announcer was promoting a product in back of the store. Sauntering several city blocks to the described location, I looked at an old-fashioned dirty mop leaning against boxes of microfiber dust rags. There were mop handles for attaching the rags. Since I was first to arrive, I was first in line to receive the "free gift" that had been offered by the man's smooth voice. All we had to do was patiently stand by the display and wait for the rep to appear. Now, if there's anything that will lure shoppers, it's the promise of getting something for nothing, and so like sheep, we flocked to the display and waited. Being an extrovert, I engaged everyone in conversation, and we began to feel like family by the time I saw a young, dark-haired man I knew had to be the salesman.

He stood out from the crowd. Walking with bouncing, quick steps and enough confidence to sell dirty snow, he stepped beside the grimy mop. Wearing a broad smile, he began his spiel. 

"Do you like to clean house? I don't either, but I do," he said. "I'm the housecleaner for my wife, and I can tell you how easy these two products make the job, not to mention how they save us precious money. 

"If you buy paper towels — how many of you buy paper towels? Raise your hands." 

Sheepishly, we admitted the awful truth. Every person there raised a hand. It was like being in church when the preacher asks if you're a sinner. 

"How many of you buy those little expensive wet things you attach to mop handles? Those things that have to be replaced again and again? Right?" 

Once more, with guilt, we admitted our folly. 

"Well, I have the solution," said the sales magician. "You will never buy another paper towel. Let me prove it."

He then rubbed the heel of his shoe over the white synthetic floor tile, drawing an ugly foot-and-a-half black mark. Next, he put one of those enchanting rags on the end of the mop and rubbing it hard over the mark, he removed ugliness in an instant. Good grief, but I was sold. 

He demonstrated other easy cleaning techniques and somewhere during his rapid-speed spiel, he told us how many millions of dollars worth of those breathtaking cleaning aids he had sold on TV. I bet. Goodness knows I was ready to part with my money. I purchased mine first after I had made some sort of comment about being a plant in the crowd. The conjurer, quick on the uptake, told everyone I was his sister-in-law. The crowd laughed. I laughed, but each one of us left the display with the gift of a tiny dust rag of no practical use and the wondrous cleaning aids. En route home, I'm sure we all began to come out from his captivating spell.

My cleaning aids remain stored in a closet. Do I still buy paper towels? Yes. Do I still buy those little wet thingies I place at the end of the mop handle? Yep. But for a few shining moments, I thought I could work without effort. 

Watch those sirens' songs; they'll sing to you every time.