A Bright Future in Sales

April 28, 2010

I’ve been busy, not doing much in the way of fun but at least getting my feet back under me. This past week I did a metric fuckload of interviews, broke my personal oath to never work anything that required me to wear a suit in the process, but as luck would have it I managed to bail out of that noise quickly enough.

Actually here’s a fun story – last Thursday I had a reply to one of my endless resume submissions from a company downtown. Despite not knowing anything about them or their business I did an interview, didn’t honestly give a fuck about them because of the suit thing, so of course they loved my “confidence” and invited me to start Monday. Desperate for money and deeply foreboding I said sure.

Cue ominous music.

I almost didn’t go – it pretty much came down to my mom, Natalie, and my bank account telling me to get the fuck over myself. Money is important for survival they keep telling me. Don’t be an idiot. Besides, the salary offered promised to get me out of debt in a matter of months, and on the road faster than unemployment and I really do like not some bank’s bitch.

Monday bright and unhappy early I put on the whole jacket, tie, stupid shoes kit and went in to the office. I don’t even know to describe the loathing I was feeling for myself; I was pretty much ready to keep driving into Mexico, but I eventually hit the office and went inside to see the super-perky future coworkers.

“no fucking way” said the inside voice. “this is goddamn ridiculous.”

I was right, but I wish I could say I’d gone with instinct and walked back out. Instead I went inside, played fake Monday cheerful with the rest of the place, and got assigned to job-shadow a guy named Mike. We did that smarmy “hey nice to meet you person im going to be require to spend a lot of time around” greeting, got into his car, drove back north.

Mike was the first person in this whole scheme who actually told me what they did. Here’s the short version: we were going to drive to an area, park the car, and start walking into businesses one by one asking them to order office supplies from us. I’d just signed up to be one of those direct-marketing fuckers that the entire world wants to kill on sight. Pay comes on a straight commission, the salary and benefits in their ad having vanished, and work days would be 7:15am to 5pm, business professional dress required. All salespeople use their own cars and aren’t recompensated for jack fucking shit. I would have jumped out of the car window right then except for 2 things – first I really wanted to not die jumping out of the window on the highway and second there was this little thought that said “there will probably be a funny story at least.”

We drove into a business park in Mike’s “T” or territory, parked, and started walking. We pretty much just chose a direction and then followed the “tight to the right” method of walking into every single business in the righthand side of the world asking whether they would like to buy some office supplies from 2 guys in suits. I’m sure I didn’t help sales, because I was looking at faces exactly like my own would be if some asshole guys came into my work at 9am and tried to sell me something – on top of that, I agreed with them! Still, people are naturally polite to suits (which is why we’re wearing them) and we’d always manage to get just past that it’s-awkward-to-just-throw-them-out threshold before making our pitch.

Here’s how it goes:
Smarmy salesfucker – “Hey happy Monday” (big ole shiteating grin)
Victim – (confusion, polite smile) “Hi, can I help you?”
SSF – “We’re here to talk with whoever in charge of ordering your office supplies.”
V – (slow creeping horror) “Umm… That would be me. Some variation of no.”
SSF – “Well, we’ve got this great deal…”
V – “No.”
SSF – “Can I ask you some questions? (No pause) When you do buy office supplies, where do you usually get them?”
V – “Wherever is cheap and close.”
SSF – “and what if I could get you them cheaper? Would you be interested then?”
V – “No.” (please go away now very evident in body language.)
SSF – (Ignoring his victim) “I’m going to prattle on about some more shit and keep you from your work…”
V – “please god save me! (or) GET OUT (or) Sorry, very busy, leave now.”

It was soul-crushing. I hated us after 10 minutes, and we did 6 1/2 hours. The only thing I can say tempted me about this job was the inevitable supply of stories ending in “and then the secretary snapped and tried to stab me with a letter opener” sure to result from being the least-welcome man on Earth.

Mike was a cool guy though – he was pretty much my exact foil, a conservative, risk-averse, capitalist who desired little more than to get a steady job, a little wifey, and settle down to live the dream of corporate wage-slave suckery. Can’t say I understand him, but to each his own. Oh, and get this – 2 hours in, when I’m questioning whether I ought to just run screaming, he told me he had turned down a teaching gig in Korea to work this job. Not kidding – foreign teaching gig, door to door office supply sales. How often can you say you’ve met your exact opposite?

We did the power lunch, where I was forced by business park geography to break my fast food fasting, ate shitty tacos and talked pyramid schemes, I mean company advancement, I mean pyramid schemes. Essentially you work 50-60 hour weeks for $400-600 per week, grind yourself to death and hope for a promotion. After a year if you haven’t killed yourself, you can hang the tattered shreds of your soul on a $100,000 per year paycheck – or at least that is what the advertising says, and I trust advertising as far as I can spit a mouthful of office supplies.

What I do know is this – we talked to people in 93 different offices, from corporate banking headquarters to small-time startups to family-owned businesses. We saw a hundred vacant places, a catholic university, a WWII veteran’s museum, and about 25 psychiatrist’s offices. We talked to CEOs, secretaries, accoutants, a televangelist, and one poor guy who took the wrong smoke break.

And in all that time we sold not a goddam pencil.

Straight commission work – we made nothing. We lost money, since we both drove there, and I left my sandwich in my car, so I bought lunch too. We got a lifetime supply of unhappy glares, and I wore a fucking suit too.

On the way back to the office Mike was pretty glum, so we got red bulls and listened to country rock as I tried desperately to convince him to get out of the job, out of the country, out of his own life really. No dice – some people aren’t ever going to climb outside of the box. After talking with the boss and thanking both he and Mike for their time I quit as politely as possible and drove home.

I couldn’t believe people actually live like that -still don’t – and I had to blow off some nervous “what-the-fucking-fuck-is-wrong-with-this-world?!” energy so I ran to the rock climbing gym and threw myself up some walls. It’s kinda like 3-D chess, but hurts more when you put pieces in the wrong place. Whatever – it’s my current therapy. Did well, got up a couple walls I hadn’t managed before, met pretty girls and their rock-climber boyfriends, and eventually I was telling this same story to the manager and marveling over how people can let their awful job consume them so deeply.

That’s when he offered me a job.

I’m no idiot – I took him up on it immediately, and supposedly I’m starting soon. Combined with a waiter gig at a restaurant that’ll be opening in the next few weeks, it looks like I’ll manage to fit into the employed-broke-writer-working-below-his-skills stereotype, which is close enough to be a stereotype, but still not true. I’m happy with it, it lets me climb for free, and will surround me with happy, healthy people who don’t work 60 hour weeks for $600. The best part? Once I factor in gas costs I’d be doing 12-hour days for roughly McDonalds wages. Fuck. That. Noise!

Nothing left to do but celebrate with frozen yogurt and new rock climbing friends. Small victory for staying free, money I don’t have, but rarely does anything taste sweeter!

Ps – I’ll add a photo of me in a suit whenever I get over my present revulsion toward them enough to play dress up. I owe Marc that at the least!

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One Response to “A Bright Future in Sales”

  1. Marc Says:

    AND, I cant wait to see you in a suit! It still doesnt work in my head!! jajaja


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