Carver, Raymond

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Aug-03-2005


Vitamin sales are so low that Patti is presently her own best customer. She peddles multivitamins door-to-door along with co-workers Sheila and Donna. All three women are despondent. The man who lives with Patti is the narrator of the story. He has a menial job at the hospital. Patti accuses him of not caring about anything. The narrator frequents the Off-Broadway, a club where he can drink and listen to music. He is physically attracted to Donna and takes her there on a date.

Two drunken men, Benny and Nelson, invite themselves to join the couple in their booth at the club. Nelson is an intimidating figure who has just returned from Vietnam. He is vulgar and propositions Donna. Nelson carries a "keepsake"--a human ear attached to a keychain. He removed the ear from a Vietnamese man.

After leaving the club, Donna admits she could've used the few hundred dollars that Nelson offered her in return for sexual favors. She plans on quitting her job and moving. When the narrator returns home, Patti is having a nightmare. While he searches for some aspirin, objects keep falling out of the medicine cabinet but the narrator realizes that he doesn't really care.


The consequences of drinking too much alcohol are fully on display here. Camaraderie and flawed communication are prominent in this tale. Like other stories by Raymond Carver, this one establishes that listening is a skill that some people never truly master. The severed human ear that Nelson totes is not merely a repulsive memento of his tour of duty in Vietnam but also a staggering symbol in the story.

Selling vitamins door-to-door may be an antiquated notion but consider how the connotations (and misperceptions) of "vitamins" contribute to the flavor of a story focused on failure and disappointment. For example, some people view vitamins as a remedy for any and all deficiencies. Others think of vitamins as agents capable of restoring energy and strength.

The concept of dreams--the kind we experience when we sleep and the type we desperately pursue while we are awake--is integral to this story. The American Dream appears maddeningly out of reach even for characters like Patti who work hard enough to achieve it. Yet Patti recognizes the importance of dreaming: "If you didn't dream, you'd go crazy" (251). She also understands the challenge of an ordinary life: "This life is not easy, any way you cut it" (250).

Primary Source

Where I'm Calling From: New and Selected Stories


Vintage Contemporaries

Place Published

New York



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