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My Canada Part 2

Writer: Belaluddin Category: আত্মজীবনী (Memoir) Edition: Dhaboman - Eid 2018

In July 1982 my friend Bashir came to visit me in Calgary with his wife and 18 year old nephew. I took them to see Edmonton and then to Banff to see the rocky mountains. When we were driving through the Rockies we came across a gravel hill about 150 feet high and we decided to climb that. It easier said than done! We went up ten feet only to roll down five. After struggling for about 20 minutes the others gave up but I kept going and found myself about ten feet from the cliff. It was almost impossible to climb that ten feet because the gravel was so loose. It was difficult to come down too and I was stuck because I kept sliding down every time I tried going up. I tried for about an hour with no success, I couldn’t go down because it was very steep and I would probably fall. Someone had noticed me and reported it. A helicopter came to rescue me. About 20 cars stopped on the roadside and people came out of their cars to see the drama – and at that point I remembered my “steeple Chase” days in school where there was a part of a hill which had a gentle slope and a steep side. To make better time, I used to “fall” along the steep side, one step at a time. Each step down might have been 6 to 8 feet. While going down I used to imagine that I was a bird because It felt like I was flying. So when the helicopter hovered above me in Banff, I remembered “Steeple Chase” and just let myself go like I used to - and “flew” all the way down and landed harmlessly beside my “friends” who were laughing their heads off all along.  

I kept up my job hunt but there was nothing to be found. It seemed as if all jobs had disappeared - for me anyway. I must have sent out more than 500 resumes within a few months with absolutely no response, not even an acknowledgement. It was horribly disheartening. That is when I realized the true meaning of what Marvin of Robert Half had said to me. By October 1982 I was desperate, I had lost the house, the investment property, all the money I had brought from UK had vanished and I was ready to accept ANYTHING. By then I had already stopped mentioning my designation on resumes and just said “bookkeeper” – even then, there was no reply. I went into a mini depression. It was during one of those days that an ad came out in the Calgary Herald that said, “administrator wanted” – and it even had a phone number! This was unheard of in those days when employers were bombarded by people looking for jobs. So, I picked up the phone and called them immediately. A very pleasant female voice answered the phone and invited me for an interview the next day! I couldn’t believe my ear! So, I showed up bright and early the next day for my interview not knowing what to expect. I was interviewed by a Mr. Broth who said that he was looking for “managers who could manage 20 to 25 people”. He asked me if I could do that and I very eagerly told him that I was sure I could. He asked me to report to work at 8am the following day. He said that he would hook me up with one of his senior managers who I would spend the entire day with to learn the job. Needless to say, I was overjoyed. I didn’t dare ask about salary because I knew that about 7 out of 10 people in town didn’t have a job at that time.

I showed up for “training” just before eight am the next day. I heard a lot of singing and shouting in the big warehouse like place that that the company occupied. I saw about 20 young carrying briefcases briskly walking around. Everyone looked so busy – and cheerful! Mr. Broth introduced me to my trainer Mr. Rees, an older gentleman who also carried a briefcase. He told me to leave my car and hop into his because we were going downtown Calgary to conduct business. It was three weeks to Christmas of 1982. Mr. Rees parked his car in front of a very posh looking “oil” building in the downtown area, walked straight in and took the elevator to the top floor. He said we would work top down. As we exited the elevator, we saw a huge open office area with dozens of desks where a lot of people, mostly females, worked away at a feverish pace. He walked right up to the middle and in a loud voice said, “look what I brought for you ladies today” and opened his briefcase. It was filled with glittering merchandise. Chains, lockets, rings, assorted items – and he was selling them! He was a street hawker! That was the job! I was just awed and was afraid that we’d be thrown out of the building and sure enough, in about 10 minutes, security showed up and escorted us out of the building! I was very embarrassed and just wanted to run as far as I could from Mr. Rees. But I had no car and I knew by now what “cold” was. So, I decided to hang around just for the ride back to my car. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with him. But Mr. Rees was undaunted and walked into the next building doing the same thing, but this time making a couple of sales before we both got thrown out again.

This continued until lunch time and I started getting kind of accustomed to it. After lunch, I decided to listen in on his sales pitch and by 3 pm I decided to help him. By 4pm I was convinced that I would be better at this job than he was, but there was no way I would do it because after all I was an “accountant”. Around 4:30, Mr. Rees sold a few items to a young lady, received payment and closed his briefcase. There was a hunting knife in Mr. Rees’s briefcase and he had overlooked the fact that the woman had glanced at it fondly. So, I asked him to reopen his briefcase and sold the hunting knife to the lady. 

This convinced me even more that I was better at this job than Mr. Rees. But I wasn’t going to do it. Around 5pm Mr. Rees decided to call it a day and we went back to the warehouse. I was ready to jump into my car and leave, but Mr. Rees requested me to come inside the warehouse with him.

So, I went “inside” the warehouse and what I saw was very interesting. The whole warehouse was plastered with Mr. Rees’s pictures which said that he was the best out of 2000 sales reps in Canada,! I immediately thought if Mr. Rees is the best in Canada and I think I am better than him, I must give it a try. I wasn’t doing anything anyway. So, I changed my mind and joined the warehouse sales team the next day – and from the 1st day on, I was the new best salesman in Canada.

The deal with the company was that first you learn to sell, then you start hiring your own staff and teach them to sell. The warehouse would supply all products on daily consignments and at the end of the day, you’d pay the company for what you sold, minus your commission and give back the remaining products. Next day the same thing would be repeated. Once you hire a crew of 15-20 people, you would be generating sufficient sales to branch out as a separate warehouse in a different area. That was the goal because that is when you would be making an average of $1500 in clear DAILY profit. That was the dream. That was what we were selling to new recruits.

Very quickly I made a lot of friends. Most of them respected me because I was good at my job. Good to the point that on my 3rd week into my job, Mr. Broth called me into his office and said that the president of the company was on the phone from Toronto and wanted to speak with me! As I picked up the phone, a husky voice said “Bee?”, I replied “yes”, he said “I am Harry Tannenbaum, you’ve been doing a great job Bee, we’re all flying out to Calgary next week for the big rally and we are going to give you the “best salesman in Canada trophy - and then I want you to come to Toronto and work with me as my right-hand man. I’m opening the biggest merchandising warehouse in Canada and I want you to run it for me, you’ll make $1 on every item sold”. In three weeks, I had learnt a lot – like how to sell - and how to be the best at it. The biggest secret to success in that business was not just to sell, but to be able to sell the business to new recruits. How to make being thrown out of places trivial and even funny, how to make new recruits excited enough to really want the job by the time we returned to the warehouse. Within 3 months, I excelled in that part of the job to the point that Harry had me lecturing managers all over Canada on how to hire new people.

Several incidents occurred during my time as a street hawker in Canada.

One day, I was training a big white guy named “Max” who claimed that he was a “fighter” and had seriously hurt another man in a recent street fight. During the course of the day while we were minding our business hawking stuff from my van, three white men approached me and started shouting racial slurs at me. It was around 1pm, broad daylight, close to downtown Calgary with many local people walking nearby who noticed everything. No one reacted, no one interfered, there was a girl selling flowers close by and she kept on selling her flowers and people bought them and it was as if nothing was happening while this was unfolding in front of so many people. Very quickly and without provocation, the three white men became very nasty and aggressive. One of them had a heavy pointed metal object called “impact driver” in his hand. Suddenly they lunged at me, grabbed my collar on the back of my neck and pulled me forward while one of them drove the impact driver directly at my Adams apple. Luckily, I managed to move enough for the impact driver to miss my throat and it hit my ribs instead, cracking two of them. The force was so hard that the impact driver flew out of his hand and landed about 8 feet away on the ground. no one said anything, no one interfered and no one came to my assistance.

Although in a lot of pain, I stood my ground, walked over to the impact driver, picked it up, handed it to one of the assailants and asked him “are you happy now?” – and walked away as if nothing had happened. I called out for BIG Max, he came out from behind the van where he was hiding. I asked him why he didn’t come to my assistance, he said that he was on parole and didn’t want any trouble. We continued selling or at least pretending to sell as if nothing had happened, but the mood was gone and I was in pain. Had that impact driver hit where aimed, a racial murder would have been committed that day in the spring of 1982 and I would not be writing about it. When we came back to the warehouse, Max went inside while I parked my van. By the time I came inside; all hell had broken loose. Max had told someone about the attack and the news spread like wildfire. There were a dozen young men including my friend Jeff Barker and old Marty, a Vietnam veteran - all extremely angry. Baseball bats came out of nowhere and they almost dragged me to my van begging me to take them to the location. They wanted to destroy the three white assailants. Beat them into a pulp they said. Marty & Jeff were so angry upset & hurt that they had tears in their eyes! I just told them that I didn’t want any more trouble and eventually they had to accept that – for the time being anyway. The story didn’t end there but before I get to the conclusion, let me tell you about Jeff Barker.

Jeff was a very tough and stocky street smart white guy about my age originally from Ontario. He said he never knew a brown guy until he met me. We got along very well. He was good in sales, we used to make up our own contests. For example, we could be in a parking lot in a mall. We would take ten sunglasses each and walk up to the mall entrance and back to the car. The contest would be to see who sold more sunglasses during that 10-15-minute walk. One such day during the 1982 Calgary Stampede when the town was crowded with people, we decided to do the same along 6th Avenue, he went down one side and I went down the other. Soon after we split up, I saw Mr Rentchler, a prominent businessman I knew, walking towards me with 4 of his colleagues, all wearing cowboy hats in true Stampede spirit. There were hundreds of people walking up and down the street all in festive spirit. I said hello to Mr Rentchler as the four white men 

approached me. At first, he smiled at me but then very suddenly and strangely, uttering racial slurs he came over to me and all four of them closed in on me. They were not “white trash”! They were respectable and affluent businessmen! Two of them grabbed me by my collar and lifted me up while the other two were just about ready to start hitting me when out of nowhere, a deep loud voice said “BEE, ARE YOU OKAY?” It was Jeff! He had turned right on 3rd street and noticed that I was missing. Scarred by the racial incident in the spring, he had turned around to check on me and had seen the four white men closing in on me. Almost everyone on the street stopped what they were doing and stared at tough Jeff Barker with his fists clenched and mouth in a snarl ready to pounce on anyone! My assailants immediately released me started walking in the opposite as if nothing had happened. This was Jeff. My buddy.

In August 1982, I came to Toronto and started working with Harry Tannenbaum as his “right-hand man”. True to his word, he opened the largest warehouse in Canada and he started giving me $1 on every item sold and I had the use of his expensive car every day during working hours.

It was during that time that Harry got married. I was one of the few people invited to this special Jewish occasion. A few days after the wedding Harry asked me if I would have dinner with him and his wife at a KOSHER restaurant. I accepted and during dinner, Harry said “you know Bee, if there was a nuclear holocaust today and only two people survived, one would be me and the other would be you”. He became one of the richest men in Canada. I watched Leonard DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street a while ago and I still remember the sales pitch he made at the no name junk stock selling place that left the other salesmen awestruck. When I heard that sales pitch, I had the same feeling I had in Calgary with Mr. Rees, who was the best salesman in Canada, until I showed up. I was better - can’t imagine what would have happened if Harry had me selling junk stocks instead!

In September 1982, we had a rally in Toronto and some of my friends from Calgary came over. My old friend Jeff came over with his whole crew. It was nice to see him again. Later that day one of his trainees Robert, came over and introduced himself to me. He said that he was very pleased to meet me because he had heard a lot about me, that I was like a legend in Calgary. He also said that he was working with Jeff in the Crescent Heights area one day and a man came up to Jeff and asked if the “paki” was still working in the company. When Jeff asked him why, he replied “I had beat the crap out of him with an impact driver” – less than a second after he completed the sentence the man hit the ground, his nose was broken and blood poured out from his mouth. Robert said that that the man didn’t even try to get up – he just looked up at Jeff and through broken teeth just muttered “you’re crazy, you’re crazy”. I thanked Robert for telling me. Jeff was Jeff, he never mentioned anything to me about the incident, neither did I.

In about a year, the job stopped being exciting and Harry smart he was, decided to ship me back to Calgary. He said, “Bee, Calgary business died after you left, I’m giving you four of my best men, take them and take over Calgary, I am giving it to you” – but behind my back, he had given “other” instructions to Mr. Broth who was one of his “four best men”. So, I came back to Calgary and within two months hired a crew of over forty motivated sales people, opened two warehouses and started doing tremendously well. Once everything was set up and running Mr. Broth called me into his office one day and told me not to show up again, because I was becoming a “negative influence” on his staff. He was talking about the staff “I” hired, the staff “I” trained and “I” motivated every day, not him. Here was a “loser” who was not of my caliber in ANY way, firing me from a workplace that I had built. There was however, a point to the “negativity” he was referring to. The “deal” with everyone we hired was that once they learn the business and retain a crew of 10-15 salesmen consistently for a month or so, they would branch out with a new warehouse where they would make a lot more money. I had built MANY such crews. Not only for myself, but for several failing warehouses in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto. I was used big time by the company and was never given my own warehouse. The company even sent me to my own recruits who were “given” their own warehouses that they ran with the crews “I” built for them and started failing soon after I left. Since company never gave me a warehouse, the sales people had started asking “Bee is the best and he has built many crews, why doesn’t he have his own warehouse?” That is where Mr. Broth had no answer and people had started leaving because “if Bee can’t have his own warehouse, how could I have mine?” That was the “negative influence” he was talking about. By then I had fully comprehended what “Marvin” of Robert Half meant when he said what he said to me on my first week in Canada. Since then, I have had occasions to remember him several times throughout my life in this great nation of ours, which I grew to hate, and then love. Where I have made my home and where I will die and be buried, God willing. How I grew to love Canada is another story for another day.

(To read the 1st part of this story please visit and go to the last issue. )