Watch for Ice

Selling Words

I used to be a car salesman. I wasn't a particularly good salesman, but I wasn't particularly bad, either. My only serious problem was that my heart wasn't in it. Eventually I quit after coming home one day and stumbling across my conscience, weeping in a corner, but right now I'll share a tidbit or two though this is really about about writing in some convoluted sort of way.

Selling cars is primarily a numbers game. For the average salesman like myself, roughly one out of every four serious customers will agree to buy. One out of three of those will actually drive off the lot in a car. Maybe we can't agree on price. Maybe they can't afford it. Maybe their credit is so bad they can't buy the steam off a hot dog. Regardless of what the individual reasons are, roughly one out of every twelve customers will buy. Thus, if you want to sell 12 cars in a month, you need to talk to 144 people. If you work six days a week, you need to talk to about six people a day.

Unfortunately, many folks aren't serious customers and you waste a bit of time before you find out that they don't have a job, a bank account or any other source of income. Heck, sometimes they're salesmen from other lots there to mess with your head. Plus, if you're stuck on a weekday shift, you're lucky to talk to three serious customers meaning you have to work extra hard on the weekend. It's grueling. What's worse, even when you find out they're not a serious customer you still can't walk away because they might be lying to drive you off.

The numbers game affects everyone, but the numbers vary from person to person. The best salesmen have different techniques depending upon where they work. For myself, I started out by selling Toyotas. They're tough to sell unless you really know your cars. Toyota customers come on to the lot armed with price guides, consumer reports and frequently would wind up explaining to me technical details about the cars which I didn't know. I didn't really give a damn about cars and as a result, I couldn't sell to Toyota customers. I was moved to a Chevrolet lot and that was much easier.

Chevrolet customers would come on to the lot armed with attitude: "I ain't gonna buy none of that Jap shit."

I loved those guys. They didn't give a damned about relative quality. They wanted pretty cars. They wanted nice stereos. If you were friendly and chatty you could fix their brakes, replace their windshield, fill it with gas and then sell their car back to them (which, to my astonishment, one of our salesmen did before management killed the deal since it was illegal -- I am not making this up).

So while we were working the day shift, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and generally getting bored waiting for rent to walk on the lot, we'd shoot the breeze. I'd often shoot the breeze with salesman who had much better numbers than I. Their technique was generally to either be so intimidating the customers were afraid to say no (honestly, it works) or so charming the customers were afraid to hurt the guy's feelings. When we were alone, though, intimidation was the name of the game. We fought like mad.

Unfortunately, I was a frequent target of their abuse. This is due, perhaps, to my being a bit more refined than most. Many car salesman there were ex-high school jocks or ex-cons who simply couldn't get work anywhere else. I was well-spoken, intelligent, and a nerd. I was like chum to the sharks with the peculiar difference that I bit back and, to their astonishment, continued to sell cars.

One day, of the high school jocks, a guy named Steve, turned to me and said "You know what? I know all the big words you do I just choose not to use them."

I replied: "Thank god! I just read an article about the objectivist epistemologist rebuttal to the analytic/synthetic dichotomy and I've been dying to talk to someone about it."

In layman's terms: shut the fuck up, bitch.

Which brings me to the most delightful essay. I've been reading the book "The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2004)". In the introduction, the author reproduces an essay by a ten-year old girl. He uses this essay to illustrate clarity of writing. Though she's off a bit on a fact or two, this is a marvel of how to write about a topic without going over your reader's head.

The bird that I am going to write about is the Owl. The Owl cannot see at all by day and at night is blind as a bat.

I do not know much about the Owl, so I will go on to the beast I am going to choose. It is the Cow. The Cow is a mammal. It has six sides -- right, left, an upper and below. At the back it has a tail on which hangs a brush. With this it sends the flies away so that they do not fall into the milk. The head is for the purpose of growing horns and so that the mouth can be somewhere. The horns are to butt with, and the mouth is to moo with. Under the cow hangs the milk. It is arranged for milking. When people milk, the milk comes through and there is never any end to the supply. How the cow does it I have not yet realized, but it makes more and more. The cow has a fine sense of smell; one can smell it fall away. This is the reason for the fresh air in the country.

The man cow is called an ox. It is not a mammal. The cow does not eat much, but what it eats it eats twice, so that it gets enough. When it is hungry it moos, and when it says nothing it is because its inside is all full up with grass.

In all my years of trying to write clearly, I am humbled by a ten-year old girl.

(To be honest, I'm suspicious that a ten-year old wrote that. It's a marvel of comedic writing and uses a semi-colon correctly.)

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Car salesmen go to other lots just to screw with each other?
The use of the word "realized" also makes it sound a little past a ten year old, at least to me.

I'm surprised you sold cars, but I'm sure that you hear that often. :D
I know this isn't on topic, but are you coming to the party on saturday?
Crap. I forgot to call you about that. I have a previous party lined up. October is getting full. It's also getting stressful. Everyone wants to throw a costume party and trying to come up with a costume for every one is killing me so there is at least one party I'm going to bail on rather than try to come up with Yet Another Costume.

Maybe I should throw a "show up in costume and we'll beat you to death" party.
You could always go as a black eyed pea.... a black eye and a t-shirt with the letter P.... ;)