His only dream was to sell belly buttons. Admittedly, it was a difficult sell when there was no demand for the product. It was a long time ago, when people still came into the world with no belly buttons. Indeed, so long ago was it that people had not even learned to laugh. The only laughter in the land was from the hyena and the mocking call of the jubal bird.
People still cried, however, and there was plenty to cry about. But you don’t need a belly button for crying.
The world was filled with stony faces, streaked with tears. People went about their lives each day, performing their duties, and that was that. Things were either sad or not sad, with no in between.
The salesman first heard about the invention from a sailor in the Weeping Dragon Tavern. With many drinks under his belt, the sailor slumped over the bar. Suddenly his shoulders began to convulse. He raised his head and looked at the salesman. The sailor’s mouth started to upturn in a most peculiar fashion. Then he broke out into a strange cry. It started with a series of high-pitched twitters that slowly rose in volume to something that sounded more like the grunts, howls, and choking sounds of some great beast. No one in the tavern had ever heard such a sound before. The sailor began shaking so hard he looked as if he might die. But he just shook his head and pulled up his shirt, pointing to a little spot in the middle of his belly that looked like a button. Then he passed out.
For a long while, the salesman sat and pondered what he had seen. There was something about that sound. It all had to do with the button—a strange-looking thing, though not unattractive. Maybe other people would want one, too. From that moment on, the salesman knew exactly what he must do.
Relentlessly he traveled the world, knocking on one door after another. To the sobbing or stony-faced person who opened the door he would say, “Good day, my sad fellow. May I interest you in a bright new belly button?” And then he would open his large black carrying case to show off the hundreds of different kinds of belly buttons he offered.
But, even though the salesman promised free installation and a ninety-day guarantee, and even though his brand of belly buttons were the finest made, not one of the sad people ever bought one. For the reason belly buttons had been invented was to hold a person’s belly in place while laughing; otherwise, during a belly laugh, or even a hard chuckle, people’s bellies would start to come undone, with regrettable consequences. But because people had not yet learned how to laugh, there was still no need for such buttons.
The salesman tried everything. He offered free home trials. He offered big discounts. He gave out coupons. But not a one could he sell.
He tried repackaging the belly buttons to make them seem more attractive. He offered them, both innies and outies, by the dozen, in assorted sizes and colors, and gave away a free belly button brush with each box. On his very best models he promised a lifetime guarantee. Still no sales.
Then he thought, maybe he needed to change the way he looked. So he dressed up in a clown suit, put on an orange wig and funny hat, and painted his face with purple polka dots. When someone opened the door, he threw confetti in the air and, while squeezing a bicycle horn, shouted, “Hooray, the belly button man is here!” Still nothing.
The salesman, now desperate, changed his whole sales pitch in ways that would have raised a few eyebrows back at corporate headquarters. Instead of just opening his case and showing off his belly buttons, he tried juggling them—sometimes thirty or forty at a time—while riding a pink unicycle. Still nothing.
Finally, the salesman got so depressed over not making any sales that at the next house he rang the bell and just stood there, not knowing what to do. When another stony-faced person answered the door, the salesman broke into a sob, relating every miserable detail of his story while displaying his useless merchandise.
The stony-faced person listened without saying a word. Something about the salesman’s story touched him in a new way. It was more than sad. It was pathetic. Trying to sell something for which there was no need, well, it was absurd. For a moment he thought he was going to cry. But he felt different somehow. Suddenly his mouth began to do strange things. Slowly it turned upward like a crescent moon and began to open. His eyes gleamed with an inner light. Then the man felt a strange twinge. It gurgled up his throat like a trickling spring and came out as a chuckle. He started to laugh and guffaw, until from deep inside him there erupted a laugh like a geyser that quite nearly blew his belly apart.
“Quick!” he yelled to the salesman. “Give me a dozen of your best belly buttons. I’ll give you anything you want!”
From that day forward, people started laughing at all kinds of things, sometimes so hard that they felt their bellies might burst. So, of course, they all suddenly needed belly buttons to hold themselves in place, for matters of both safety and public decorum. The salesman, who later became a great motivational speaker, had no more trouble selling them. He sold so many to people all over the world, in fact, that today belly buttons are far more common in households than encyclopedias or vacuum cleaners, and need no longer be sold door to door.
Author’s Note: Read this and other absurd essays and tales in my new book The Absurd Naturalist, available from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/The-Absurd-Naturalist-Irreverent-Musings/dp/1502977281
Published in 5enses April 2015 http://www.5ensesmag.com/the-bellybutton-man-a-business-fable/