If you read last week’s column, “The near death of a teenage saleswoman,” you’ll recall that many years ago, my father convinced me to take a summer job as a traveling saleswoman for his industrial chemical company, despite that fact that I had no interest in business, knew nothing about sales and was only 19.

While the rest of my friends were tanning, playing Asteroids and going to the mall for Orange Juliuses, I was trying to grasp boring things like solvents, accounts receivable, surfactants, agitators, pallets and invoices. Two weeks into the job, I was still clueless, but my father sent me out on the road.

“No expense account, only commissions. The more you sell, the more you’ll make,” he told me in his characteristic School-of-Hard-Knocks way. I was assigned the region that included my home state, Pennsylvania, along with Delaware, Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia.

My father instructed me to drive to the town of Ocean City, Md., and then make my way back to Pennsylvania, staying in hotels and selling products over the course of a week. Clearly, he was grooming me to take over his company one day, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I’d prefer a hot poker in the eye. I felt like a disappointment, and hoped that I’d develop business sense by the time I graduated from college. In the meantime, I was more interested in who was going to see “The Goonies” that summer.

The five-hour drive to Ocean City was actually enjoyable from the seat of the air conditioned Mazda 626 company car. But once I arrived, the pressure was on to sell something. Reluctantly, I visited several potential clients as instructed by my Dad, but failed to make a single sale that day.

Exhausted and defeated, I searched for a hotel, but without an expense account, I couldn’t afford the touristy accommodations in Ocean City. So, I drove 10 miles off island, where I spotted a sign blinking “$69 a night” over a parking lot containing tractor trailers.

The manager hesitated when handing me the keys. “It’s upstairs at the end of the hall,” the weathered woman said. “You know the bathroom’s shared, right?”

Too tired to get back in my car, I lied, “No problem.” I found my room and the shared bathroom, both of which seemed clean enough. Once locked in my room, I fell face first onto the green bedspread and fast asleep.

At sunrise, I was awakened by the sound of diesel engines. I found the hallway empty and tiptoed to the bathroom. What had appeared clean the night before was now — after a fleet of truck drivers had blown through — a dank, dripping mess, marred by strange hairs and unmentionable bodily substances.

An hour later, I was back in my company car, headed to Washington. Facing another stressful day as an unskilled teenage traveling saleswoman I wondered, “How will I ever survive this summer job without being disowned by my father?”

Stopping for gas at a 7-Eleven in Crofton, Md., I spied an advertisement for menthol cigarettes behind the counter. “Buy two packs and get shades for free!” it promised. I wasn’t a smoker, but I’d seen other drivers looking so relaxed in their cars, one hand dangling casually out the window, a cigarette clamped between two fingers. “Maybe there’s something to it,” I thought, and put my cash on the counter.

Wearing my new sunglasses, I decided to light up my first cigarette while I was in traffic on the Beltway. Taking a long drag of minty smoke, I felt a surge of calm. “Maybe I CAN make it through this summer job!”

With my smoking hand dangling outside the window, I flicked ashes like a pro. Finishing the first cigarette, I lit up another, embracing my new identity as a smoker. But three puffs in, a wave of nausea turned me as green as my pack of menthols.

Turns out, I wasn’t good at smoking, either.

That summer, my father realized I wasn’t going to follow in his footsteps, and I realized that smoking, just like business, wasn’t the business for me.

Read more at and in Lisa’s book, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com.” Email:

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