Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Lester" Changed My Life

I'm a fan of good literature. Nothing fluxes my capacitor like a well-written essay, clever poem, or insightful novel. I've read a few things in my short tenure on earth that have changed my life. The first was "Of Mice and Men" which I read when I was 13. I cried and cried and cried some more. The next was "Jonathan Livingston Seagull" which I read when I was 18. There have been a few things I've picked up over the years that have impacted me for better or worse, unless you subscribe to the "there's no such thing as a bad experience" ideology, which I typically do. Unless the experience is ultra-painful. I recently read "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy which will haunt me for the rest of my life. I'd still recommend it to anyone and everyone.

But tonight I had the absolute life-altering pleasure of reading Shel Silverstein to my boys before bed. I love this author. He gave us "The Giving Tree" and "Uncle Shelby's ABZs", which is likely the sharpest, most disturbed satire ever written. But tonight, while reading from "Where the Sidewalk Ends" I stumbled across "Lester."

Lester, by Shel Silverstein

Lester was given a magic wish
By the goblin who lives in the banyan tree,
And with his wish he wished for two more wishes-
So now instead of just one wish, he cleverly had three.
And with each one of these
He simply wished for three more wishes,
Which gave him three old wishes, plus nine new.
And with each of these twelve
He slyly wished for three more wishes,
Which added up to forty-six -- or is it fifty-two?
Well anyway, he used each wish
To wish for wishes 'til he had
Five billion, seven million, eighteen thousand thirty-four.
And then he spread them on the ground
And clapped his hands and danced around
And skipped and sang, and then sat down
And wished for more.
And more...and more...they multiplied
While other people smiled and cried
And loved and reached and touched and felt.
Lester sat amid his wealth
Stacked mountain-high like stacks of gold,
Sat and counted -- and grew old.
And then one Thursday night they found him
Dead -- with his wishes piled around him.
And they counted the lot and found that not
A single one was missing.
All shiny and new -- here, take a few
And think of Lester as you do.
In a world of apples and kisses and shoes
He wasted his wishes on wishing.

Ladies and gents, don't be a Lester. I know too many of them. There are Lesters that I love very much. I find it fascinating that Silverstein uses apples, kisses, and shoes to represent important things that were missed in Lester's world. On the surface they seem so simple, but how profound they are! I'll take a good, sweet, crisp apple over a Texas T-Bone any day. And there is nothing lovelier than daddy kisses from my children.

Wishes, to me, are symbolic as well. How many of us focus so much energy on our work, school, or other projects that we fail to bask in the glow of life? I believe the story here is also partly that we should avoid things that dominate our time, control our thoughts, and overpoweringly influence our decisions. There is more than one dimension...don't be one-dimensional. As the great Harry Chapin sang, "There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in the flower, and I see every one."

Shel Silverstein, you were the ultimate dreamer. An icon for wayward-thinking fools and bards like me. Thank you for sharing your mind.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Latoya", the Craigslist Pest

My wife worked for a short period of time as a server at Joe Morley’s BBQ in Salt Lake City. She enjoyed it for the most part and came away from it with a new-found respect and sympathy for servers everywhere. She now insists on tipping well for fine service. She also, however, has zero tolerance for BAD service and has no problem speaking to a manager or tipping accordingly.

Similarly, I have a soft spot for door-to-door salespeople and even telemarketers. Are they annoying? Lord yes. Would the world be better off without them? I think so. Would I like to tell them to go die in a fire when they call at 9:00 at night when Maidie is screaming with an ear infection and the boys are fighting bed time, or the doorbell rings at 11:00 on a Saturday morning when I actually get some time to be with the fam? You bet your sweet ass I would. But I won’t. At the end of it all, these people are just doing their jobs. I wish they’d have chosen different career paths, but I know what it’s like to talk to a stranger and face the prospect of harsh, cold rejection. So I patiently listen, kindly smile, and politely decline. Until a few weeks ago.

It was a Tuesday…the day after we all arrived to Austin to make our new home. The place was a disaster with boxes and furniture strewn every which way. The doorbell rang at about 4:00 and we were greeted by a darling little African American gal with a huge pearly smile and energy visibly crackling all around her. My wife answered the door first, and based on the enthusiastic conversation at the door I assumed it would be a new neighbor welcoming us to the neighborhood. Nope. It was Latoya.

I had no idea what she wanted. She wasn’t holding anything in her hand that would suggest she was selling something. In fact, when I came to the door she actually said that Sherri had ordered her for me on Craig’s List. No lie. She must use that one as an ice breaker, but the rim shot was pretty distant and faint with us.

She did let us know early on though that she was indeed a sales person. She was quite effective in her speech. She was warm, happy, and eloquent. She looked us both in the eye and held herself with poise and dignity. She let us know that she was part of an inner city organization and she was going door to door trying to better her situation, not through donation but through hard work and dedication. She wanted to avoid the welfare route and preferred to provide for her two babies through more dignified means. I instantly knew that I would probably buy whatever she was selling….if she’d ever get to the point.

Before she got there, however, she stopped to ask us how we would rate her so far on a scale from 1 to 10. I instantly recognized it as an interesting method for inserting a hook. This Latoya chick was good. She was in the middle of a lengthy, detailed, well-crafted pitch that would set us up for the kill. I mean, how can I NOT buy this lady’s wares after I’ve given her a full 10 on her presentation?

I was growing impatient though. We’d been at the door nearly 5 minutes and I still had no idea what Latoya was pushing. In my 14 years of sales experience (two of which were door to door) I learned that if I didn’t come correct early on in the process I was cooked. So I interrupted her. “Latoya, is it? This is all great information, but I really don’t understand what it is you are doing here.” At this point in time she reached behind her and pulled out a rolled up folder from somewhere. At first I thought it was a magic trick, producing something from thin air, but then I realized it must have been rolled up and stuck in the waist of her jeans.

They were magazine subscriptions. I was bombarded with imagery of Orlando Jones in Office Space and the Dateline specials warning us about these people. I felt a little betrayed, but I wasn’t ready to pull the plug just yet on Latoya. But before she would show us the magazines she was offering, she insisted on us seeing a multi-page list of people in the neighborhood that had bought from her and had left comments as to how wonderful she was. I was growing tired. I didn’t really want Latoya’s junk anymore.

Finally she got around to the magazines. She didn’t carry anything I wanted but did have some kids magazines available…for $40. It was just too much. “Latoya, you’ve done a fine job, but I don’t think there’s anything in there that we would want.”

All of a sudden, sweet/kind/poised Latoya got less sweet, kind, and poised. “Obviously I haven’t done my job sir. This isn’t about magazines. I’m selling myself here, as a person that wants to better her situation for her children.” She suggested I buy the magazines and give them as gifts. Or just throw them away. Suddenly I’m not tired. Now I’m annoyed. “Latoya, you can’t expect people to buy products they don’t want or can’t use simply because they like you.” She was astounded. “It’s not about the magazines sir; it’s about you investing in my future.”

Look, I’ve sold some shyte products. I was a sales consultant at QWEST…the most unholy and evil organization in the history of commerce. But I’ve never once asked someone to buy my crap because I’m a likeable guy. I can’t imagine walking into an insurance office and saying, “Folks, it isn’t about the glass. It doesn’t matter that you don’t want it, can’t use it, or you get a better deal elsewhere. It’s about investing in my financial well-being.” They’d laugh in my face and send me out the door…Texas style, at gunpoint.

It is the responsibility of a salesperson to SELL HER PRODUCTS. If I am handed an ignited lunch sack full of cow dung to sell, then it is my job to sell the features and benefits of flaming bull shit. “Sir, it can keep you warm if you are stranded on the side of the road in a blizzard.” “Ma’am, this burning sack of crap will keep coyotes away from your children at night.” It was Latoya’s responsibility to address my concerns and resolve them. She could have gone into detail about the product. She could have commented on how Texas cuisine is uber fattening and it’s only a matter of time before I lose my chiseled abs, hence my need for Muscle Madness Magazine or Healthy Living. Or compliment me on my nonexistent fashion sense and suggest I roll with GQ. She could have used humor or flattery. But instead she went to the forget-the-product-and-buy-ME card. I was livid.

Latoya, the only differences between you and the guy on the corner of Burnet is that he has the decency to not bother me at home and he’s never stuck a folder in my face that he pulled from the crack of his ass. At least that guy is honest. He’s not holding a sign that says, “Screw the magazines. Invest in my future.” His “Visions of a Cheeseburger” sign is infinitely more inventive and dignified than your lameassedness. Either start selling legitimate products to the public, redesign your magazine scam to be more product-driven, or continue to sell yourself…without the magazines. I suggest 6th street for that.