Why I Could Never Become a Salesman
Watch TV and you will see them by the hundreds: Actors with that professional corporate smile. Everything is fine. There are no negatives. Well, that’s not me. Let me greet you with a suspicious scowl. I don’t know you and I have no reason to send a ray of sunshine up your ass. I was always good at what I did, but I was hopeless as a salesman. (That never bothered me as that was not my intention.) The following is a long footnote from David Foster Wallace’s long essay on taking a Caribbean cruise for the first time, entitled “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”
This is related to the phenomenon of the Professional Smile, a national pandemic in the service industry; and no place in my experience have I been on the receiving end of as many Professional Smiles as I am on the [cruise ship]: maitre d’s, Chief Stewards, Hotel Managers minions’ , Cruise Director—their P.S.’s all come on like switches at my approach. But also back on land at banks, restaurants, airline ticket counters, on and on. You know this smile—the strenuous contraction of of circumoral fascia w/ incomplete zygomatic involvement—the smile that doesn’t quite reach the smiler’s eyes and that signified nothing more than a calculated attempt to advance the smiler’s own interests by pretending to like the smilee. Why do employers and supervisors force professional service people to broadcast the Professional Smile? Am I the only consumer in whom high doses of such a smile produce despair? Am I the only person who’s sure that the growing number of cases in which totally average-looking people suddenly open up with automatic weapons in shopping malls and insurance offices and medical complexes and McDonaldses is somehow causally related to the fact that these venues are well-known dissemination-loci of the Professional Smile?
That’s Right: Shop Till You Drop!
It’s your duty as an American to shop until the moths in your wallet starve. Show up at your local mall on Black Friday, exercise those debit and credit cards, and help contribute to the financial well-being of Belorussian and Transdniestrian teenage hackers. And if you were remiss about that—you bad peoples you!—there’s always today: Cyber Monday! Go to Amazon, eBay, the websites of department and electronics stores, and spend yourself into a dither, or oblivion, whichever comes faster.
Since it is HallowThanksMas season, it is incumbent upon you to indulge in the Great Holiday Potlatch activity of buying stuff people don’t need or want, and then either discarding or returning it, preferably in the same container in which it was originally wrapped. (Children, of course, always know what they want—until about fifteen minutes after they get it.) Remember to buy extra batteries of all sizes, even if you don’t need them for anything other than to recharge your sagging spirits.
You are drawn in by the thought of a 10% or 20% discount off some mythical retail price, which is as you know is whatever the retailer wants to set it at. Note that if you don’t buy that widget, you are saving a good deal more than 10% or 20%, but you are officially in violation of the Patriot Act; and I will be forced to turn you in. And then you’re off to a fun-filled beach holiday at Guantanamo.
If your credit card overheats, let it rest for a few hours in the freezer before returning to the fray. You might want to join it!
Don’t Be a Sucker for Sales!
I used to follow all the sales, and I would be mobilized into action by hearing that the low price would “expire soon” As a result, I bought a lot of junk I didn’t need. And instead of saving money, I ran up my credit cards thinking I was getting a terrific bargain. Now I get this cynical smirk on my face when being offered a low price. Remember: You will be paying an even lower price if your spending is zero.
Unfortunately, with the economy being the way it is today, it would help if more people were spendthrifts—but not if, by so doing, they got into serious debt.
For me, the biggest temptation was—and still is—books. On Sunday, Martine and I took a walk on the campus of Loyola-Marymount University in Westchester. Because I’ve seen as much of the campus as I want to, I usually accompany Martine for only the first half of the walk and spend the rest of the time in the nice new Hammond Library.
While there, I took a look at a relatively new book by Karl Schlögel entitled Moscow, 1937. It was a fascinating picture of the Soviet capital during Stalin’s purges. I was so enthralled that I read the first chapter in its entirety (about Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita) and scanned the rest of the book page by page. The illustrations and maps were amazing.
Needless to say, I was sold. That evening, I found a cheap new copy on eBay and purchased it. As you can see, I can present myself as a bit of a cheapskate; but I still have, hidden not so deep within myself, a raging spendthrift.