Living the Soulful Life
By Scott Kalechstein
From Bags To Riches
"NYLON JUMBO LAUNDRY BAGS! MACHINE WASHABLE! WATER RESISTANT!"" Uttered at the top of my vocal volume range, these words were my money mantra for seven years as I worked the sidewalks of New York City. I was an unlicensed, self-employed street peddler. You could say I was into MLM (Maximum Lung Marketing!). I bought the laundry bags below wholesale, straight from a factory in North Carolina, and made a great profit selling them just below retail. I loved the quick cash and the gutsy, streetwise calluses that formed on my psyche. I was part of the color and pulse of New York, a place where adrenaline, art and survival all blended together like a tapestry of shadows and lights.
My style for hawking the bags became something of a creative, comic performance. ""How did you get into this?"" people asked me as I handed them their purchase. ""How do I get out of this?"" became the question I asked daily as the call of a career in music grew louder and my patience for eluding the police grew dim.
Did I say police? Yes, I confess! This crazy job of mine was not exactly legal. ‘‘Slightly illegal’’ was my juicy rationalization! About once a week I unwittingly donated a sack of laundry bags to the city of New York, via the police. Did breaking the law nag on my conscience? Not at all! I was a rebel without a pause, enjoying the game of cops and robbers, and moving too fast to question my ethics or my sanity. Besides, I was also using the job to practice my meditation skills.
My technique was called Zen And The Art Of Spotting The Police Before They See You. This Westernized spiritual method for finding inner strength in the inner city taught me to be in the Yoga posture of being on my toes, tuned right into the here and now, moment to moment.
The police sometimes dressed in civilian clothes, sandwiching themselves amongst the human sardines that crowded the city sidewalks on any given day. I developed a sixth sense, an organically-grown synthesis of intuition and paranoia. I could spot the police, pack up my bags, and slip into the crowd at a speed that Houdini would have admired. But even with my escape skills honed to a science, I did get caught on occasion.
One day an absurd idea crossed my mind. I have learned to spring into action when a creative prompting knocks on my door. Before hesitation festered into analysis and paralysis, I took out my pen and wrote:
To Whom It May Publicly Concern:
This note is written permission for my son, Scott, to sell laundry bags on the streets of the city without a license. I know it is against the law, but my son is such a good boy in almost every other aspect of his life, I think he is entitled to some leeway here. This note officially absolves him from the law. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, but a mother’s written permission sure is!
Hugs and kisses,
I put the note in my pocket and waited, almost eagerly, for the next time I was caught in the act, bags in hand. Sure enough, my sales were interrupted the next day by two of New York’’s Finest. ""Hold it!"" I confidently barked. ""I’’ve got a pardon!"" I handed one of the officers my note. He read it out loud in official police business monotone. Neither of them had any change of expression, and for a moment I feared the worst. Trying to humor a New York City police officer, committed to the confines of seriousness, can have disastrous results. Finally, the pregnant moment gave birth to a response: ""Take a walk! This one is on Mom!"" I skipped away a free man, thankful for the juices of creativity that turned a potentially negative situation into a close encounter of the hilarious kind.
The next day I was selling bags in my usual location when a police car came out of nowhere, flashing lights and blasting sirens, and parked halfway on the sidewalk, a breath away from my frozen body. The two officers from yesterday were right in my face before I even realized that they were after me. But instead of my bags, it seemed I was in possession of a rare and precious piece of literature that they wanted for their files. ""We want the note!"" one of them said, as if expecting me to challenge their authority. I handed him the scribbled piece of evidence. ""We told everybody in the precinct about it, but they don’’t believe us. We’’re going to laminate it and post it on the bulletin board!"" I relaxed, realizing that the sirens and flashing lights were part of a joke they were playing to get back at me. So there we were, three human beings, sharing a most unusual moment, temporarily suspending the crime and punishment game and connecting at a level that the popular script did not call for. Perhaps most moments of human connection unfold when we are willing to abandon the popular script and improvise our own.
Sometimes my improvised sales tactics included saying things like ""The Strongest Laundry Bag You Can Buy Without A Prescription!"" Other times I got even sillier: ""You’’ve Read The Book. You’’ve Seen The Movie! NOW BUY THE BAG!!"" Some people enjoyed a good laugh as they passed. Others would quicken their pace and be careful not to make eye contact and possibly catch whatever I seemed to have!
When my laundry bags or my humor were not well received, I got to work through some of my rejection issues. I used my sidewalk adventures as therapeutic stepping stones, time and space to experiment with my self-expression and to develop some confidence, as well as cockiness! I look back on those days with affection, amused and grateful that I actually did it, and even more grateful that I don’’t do it anymore!
Recently I was in Brooklyn again, giving a concert. A woman in the audience was looking at me quite strangely all throughout the performance. She appeared dazed, confused and disoriented. At the concert’’s close she approached me cautiously. ""I know you from somewhere,"" she said dreamily as she attempted to make a withdrawal from her memory bank.
I looked into her eyes and instantly knew. ""NYLON JUMBO LAUNDRY BAGS!"" I said with a huge smile spread across my face. Her eyes registered both the shock and the relief of recognition. ""Oh, my God!"" she exclaimed. ""You are the laundry bag man!"" She had cracked the case, but there were more pieces of the puzzle to put together. ""I passed you on Court Street for years, feeling so sorry for you. What happened to you?"" She had many more questions, wanting to know the details of how I had gotten off the streets and created such a rewarding artistic career. It was obvious that her belief system did not have much room for the possibility of people transforming their lives for the better, yet there I was, guitar in hand, proof before her eyes. She was stunned! I walked her to her car, telling her more of my story —— selling my last laundry bag, moving to California, taking the leap, trusting the universe. Her reactions gave me a richer appreciation for my bags to riches journey. What a story to tell around the campfire!
Sometimes remembering those days feels like a past-life regression. Did I really spend seven years in this life as a street peddler, running from the police like a criminal? Yes, I did, and with no apologies. I made friends with the homeless. I sang songs to the passing high school students (who thought I was weird, but cool!) I made human contact with each of my customers, and sent them off with some positives vibes along with their purchase. So what started as a laundry bag sales job evolved into a laundry bag ministry, which transitioned into my musical ministry. It strikes me sometimes that although I have changed products I have not really changed jobs. My true job has always been sharing joy and making heart connections, and that is always the business at hand, whether it is gift wrapped in singing, policing, or NYLON JUMBO LAUNDRY BAGS!
Scott Kalechstein is a singer/songwriter/recording artist/speaker/minister/workshop leader and counselor. He travels nationally and in Europe, speaking, singing and work-shopping at conferences, churches, schools, weddings, parties and living rooms. His music recordings are full of positive, life-affirming songs for adults and children. To request a catalog (please do not request a laundry bag!) or for booking information, please contact Scott toll-free at (877) 591-8863 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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