Recap: In the previous post, “My Shemp Howard Obsession”, I spoke of the slow demise of my retail music store and of facing a stark realization: The Vacation Was Over. Money was short and bills were coming due. It was time to find a new career. I had resisted my wife’s (now ex-) suggestion that I consider going to truck-driving school, opting to explore my future as a car salesman instead. I had never sold cars before but I was willing to give it a try. The following is a fanciful account of an actual event:
Looking through the help wanted section of my local newspaper, I spotted an advertisement from a new car dealership: “Want to Sell Cars? No Experience Necessary!” I called the number on the ad and spoke with an employee who instructed me to come in the next morning for an interview.
Shoes polished…all dressed up…fresh haircut and shave. I arrived ten minutes early and spoke to the receptionist who ushered me towards a small room just off the sales floor. I could see my interviewer through the glass partition: nondescript, late fortyish, balding…sitting behind a metal desk. After introductions and pleasantries, he proceeded to administer a brief psychological test. I recall only one question from this rather generic quiz: “If you could be any kind of bird which one would you be?” Not hesitating for a millisecond, I declared: “A Buzzard!…I would like to be a BUZZARD!”
He laid down his pencil and stared at me…eyebrows raised in puzzlement. “Why a buzzard?” he asked. “That seems like an odd choice.” I was ready for this moment because, coincidently, I had pondered the human/bird switch choice question on many occasions over the years. Granted, I did not consult with an ornithologist, but I researched the issue and had spent countless hours debating it back and forth in my head. I quizzed friends, relatives, and even some guys I met at a bar in North Charleston that had a sign in the window which read: “Biker Gangs Welcome! Best Cheeseburgers in Town!” (No lie…those were some seriously good cheeseburgers.)
I narrowed down my selection to two: buzzard or vulture. (I went back and forth on this: one day Buzzard…next day vulture…I was in a quandary). I could defend either choice with conviction and eloquence but, on this particular day, I chose Buzzard!
I stood, excitedly pacing* the room, and spoke lines which I hath delivered many a time in similar happenstance…committed to memory, they were: “If you’re a buzzard you don’t have to hunt and kill anything. When other birds get too old to catch mice, or rabbits, or whatever, they are finished. They Die!…Zey are Kaput!”, I yelped in a high-pitched Gestapo accent, slicing an imaginary knife across my throat for emphasis.
I screamed…volunteering a slap-happy snappy seig-heil salute (all the while wishing I had remembered to bring some black leather gloves and a Wehrmacht helmet).
I was in rare form that day. I was not applying for a job as a lowly car salesman.
I imagined myself as Marc Antony standing over the body of Caesar…
Flashback to 1965: 10th grade English class…I was on a small stage with a “dead” Caesar at my feet…wearing my makeshift toga while a bunch of stupid jocks guffawed and mocked me. They had to R-E-A-D their lines. This pathetic pack of teeny-brained, knuckle-dragging nitwits couldn’t even do that very well. I got a perfect 100 for memorization and presentation in addition to another 6 points extra credit for being the only kid in class who wore a toga. Technically, it was just an old white sheet (which saw double-duty as a Halloween ghost). I stuck out like a drunken sumo wrestler stumbling down the aisle at a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir mouthing squeaky high-pitched notes while pretending to play a teeny ceramic violin.
My friend/ex-employee, Trey Evitt, used to call them the Morbid Block and Tackle Choir.
“Oh, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers! Thou art the ruins of the noblest man that ever livèd in the tide of times.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!”
Was I screaming?
I could see that I had him now and paused for a moment as he hastily wiped hot coffee from his crotch. “Bleeding piece of what?”, he slobbered, as I continued my discourse: “A buzzard just floats on air currents. Eventually, it hones in on a dead snake, or a ‘possum that isn’t playing ‘possum, or somebody’s pet all mooshed up in the road…then glides down for a meal and a family reunion. It seems gross, but who really knows? The stench of decaying flesh is repugnant to us but, to a buzzard, it might smell like fresh cooked, homemade biscuits!”
I hastily withdrew the finger I was wagging a few inches from his protruding eyeballs…Was I gesturing wildly?
Did I grab him by the collar?… I honestly can’t remember. As I sat back down he winced, then nodded thoughtfully. He said that I could come back the next day for a “training seminar” adding that roughly 60% of respondents to the question answered eagle with another 30% saying either a hawk or a falcon. He also told me that, in his years of testing, no one had ever chosen a buzzard.
I neglected to ask him for a run-down on the other 10%. I imagine that there would be a sprinkling of bluejays, crows, and egrets, as well as birds with the letters t-i-t in them such as the Great Tits and the Blue Tits (sub-arctic European and Asian passerine birds in the tit family Paridae. They also call them chickadees.) I found a bunch of tit birds on the web: Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Black-Billed Tit, Père David’s Tit and more. I didn’t even think to look for birds with booby in the name. Maybe next time…
It’s hard to imagine anyone choosing pigeon because, even if you do get hired, the word is going to get around that you are the only pigeon trying to make a living off a car lot teeming with eagles, hawks, and falcons…patiently perching…panting to pounce on pigeons!
Note: A word of caution to all you test-taking job seekers out there: Do Not Choose Albatross!
I arrived bright and early the next morning and, along with eight other applicants, was ushered into a small upstairs conference room where we took seats around a rectangular table. At the front of the room a neatly dressed, professional-looking young man stood next to a folding easel with a large writing pad propped up against it. He was holding a mega-sized black magic-marker.
As he called the “training seminar” to order, he opened the pad to the first page and wrote: “So, You Want to Sell Cars?” He then spoke generically about the car business for almost two hours, all the while inviting the participants to answer simple questions. Somebody says the right thing and, wham, he’s madly writing on the pad. The pages were turning fast…teaming with arrows, circles, stars, and exclamation points! Man, we were tearing it up with correct answers and, when it came to enthusiasm, I was at the head of the class!
I realized that the session was coming to an end when he turns to the last blank page on the pad, lifts his black magic-marker and announces: “Okay, I’m going to show you right now what you need to do to become a car salesman…”
As he was writing I felt like little Ralphie in Christmas Story…sitting in the bathroom while his little brother bangs on the door, desperately trying to decipher the earth-shattering encrypted message from the Little Orphan Annie Radio Show (with the help of his secret decoder ring). I was hoping that the car dude would not write “Drink More Ovaltine” on the pad because I would instantly know that I was somewhere other than where I was supposed to be. What he did write was far more sinister and foreboding than Ovaltine.
I was flummoxed and just sat there scratching my head when he piped in: “Anyone who wants to come back for the next training session needs to bring me a certified check for $400.” I uttered a quiet “huh” or “what” then jumped up and hollered: “You Son-Of-A-Bitch! You Wasted Two Days of My Life on a Cheap, Two-Bit Scam?” I started stumbling angrily towards him. I was Frankenstein. He was the little girl by the well. Evidently, he was used to occasional outbursts like this and wisely circled his desk, keeping as far away from me as possible. He then bolted out the door and started running down a long hallway to the safety of an office.
I gave up the chase and returned to the conference room to gather my stuff. The other disappointed job seekers were emboldened by my action and were leaving in a hurry, except for one disheveled-looking young man who told me that he needed to find a phone so he could talk to his mom before making a decision.
I left the dealership in a teed-off fury, dreading the prospect of informing my wife that I had been duped…there were no job openings for inexperienced sales folk at the dealership.
Over the next few weeks, I saw the same help wanted ad in the paper from several other “reputable” dealers in the area. In all fairness, however, business could have been slow and they may have needed to branch out in an attempt to find new ways to fleece the public.
Thank you, Palmetto Ford, for giving me a reason to curse and shoot the bird everytime I pass your dealership on Savannah Highway.
*(If you are ever in a position where you need to “pace” while speaking, it is best to save it for a larger room. In this case, the room was so small that more than three steps in either direction meant colliding with the cubicle partition walls. He may have confused my “assertive pacing” with the Hully-Gully or the Mashed-Potato.)