Q: You were a carpet salesperson. How did that start?
A: My dad’s business had gone bankrupt and he’s always been an entrepreneur. He started this company when I was around eleven or so. He basically spent a big chunk of my mom’s inheritance on a couple of trailers, warehouse space, and about $20,000 of rugs, and then hired the whole family to work for him.
Q: What did selling carpets entail? You parked the trailers by the side of the road and sold rugs?
A: I’d get up and be out by 7:30. Buy 8 we’d have set up all of the rugs on these big racks. The racks had metal rods with these things that sort of stick together… And then you would get out a ladder.
We had rugs that were 8 1/2 × 11, 11 × ... I can’t remember! They used to roll off my tongue!
There is a way for a small person to carry all these big rugs. I was fifteen and I could carry a rolled-up dining room rug.
Q: Did your company have a name?
A: My last name is Alba, so our brand was “Alba’s Magic Carpets.” We didn’t have signs or anything, but this was what our credit card machines said—this is what our “brand” was.
Q: What were the carpets like?
A: They were often pictures of things. Like big tiger heads or a popular one was the sun and moon.
There were scary dogs… what are they called? The ones that they raise to attack… oh, Rottweiler ones. There were ones with dolphins, we had a unicorn rug that was awesome… Some people hang them up, some people put them on the floor.
We also had high-quality wool rugs. We were prepared with nice inventory too.
We sold rugs all winter long.
Q: In the Northeast?
I sold all summer on weekends with my boyfriend at the time. He was 6’4" and he could set it all up without me in half the time, which was great. I remember if we were at a remote site, we would sleep in the trailer on a giant pile of rugs. It was kind of hot in there…
One summer we kept track of how many people stopped in based on what I was wearing. If I wore my bikini top and shorts, no shoes, a lot more people stopped—I mean whole families would come. One time, on a bikini day, this guy came and was interested in the tiger rugs. He seemed nice. He was a photographer and he wanted pictures of the tiger rugs to see if he wanted to buy them later. He had me pose in front of a big rug and asked me to make tiger faces. For real. I obliged.
Q: That is creepy. Did he ever actually buy the rugs?
A: No he didn’t! But yes, it was sketchy looking back on it. He was very convincing though.
Q: How did you find the sites to set up the trailers?
A: My mom would do the legal stuff. She’d go site hunting. Like she’d find an abandoned lot or a gas station with a really big parking lot… any space that looked empty. Then she’d get a permit from the town, which was usually pretty cheap—like ten bucks. But the people who owned the land would want us to pay rent for the weekend, which might be around $200.
Q: Can you make any money selling rugs by the side of the road?
A: We could gross $2000 in a weekend.
I’d actually have to make the effort to sell. Like, “You have no idea how much you need this rug.” I wasn’t so great but I might make like six to seven hundred dollars profit in a weekend and I’d get to keep a part of it.
The spiel went something like: “They are 100% olefin, totally washable. You can take them outside and hose them off.” Basically you’re saying that they’re plastic. You tell them how easily stains come out…
We knew what sizes went with which furniture. People would come and they wouldn’t have measurements. We’d tell them, a sofa is typically as long as an 8 × 5... Or we’d ask, “How big is your dining room set?” We might lay it out on the ground and get my brothers around it to demonstrate.
Q: Do you have any of these rugs where you live?
A: I have a couple that are really worn out. I’ve had them for about eight years… Our home during that time had lots. My mom really liked the animal prints so we had in our living room a composite of like zebra and tiger stripes.
Q: Do you think people still do this?
A: I’m sure it’s still going on in New Hampshire. If you drive down any road you will see them.
Q: What were the customers like?
A: You could tell who they were and we’d make a game of it actually…
Really rich women in fur coats would ask for the most expensive rug we had. You’d dig it out from the bottom of the pile and she’d say “I’ll take it.” People would come with all of their kids in the car—they’d buy one for each of the kids.
Q: How much did the rugs sell for?
A: It depended on the rug. Typically the 8 × 5 ones went for between $100 and $185. Wool ones were much more. I think our most expensive was a dining-room size one and that went for maybe $900.
Q: Did the job teach you any “life lessons”?
A: I got really good at haggling. Usually people don’t NEED a rug so I felt like it was stretching the truth to say this is the best thing you could do with your money that day.
I also learned that I didn’t want to go into sales. I’m good at haggling though and getting deals, like when I buy a car or something. And I learned how to get up early.
Q: And how to dress slutty?
A: Hah. Yes, when appropriate. I love burlesque.