The following is a work of fiction, unlike some of the other things I write which are no more than 70-75% made up.
Another day another crappy hotel. I didn’t even know if it was Illinois or Iowa. Maybe I’d make a note of it when I got back to the airport. Never did before. Same thin olive carpet underfoot, same conference room at the end of the hall past the lobby. The location of the lounge, pool, and restaurant were the only things that changed. Not even that much, except when we stayed in that medieval themed hotel in Kentucky. I remember we met in the Grendel room. Who was Grendel? Somebody I forgot since school. I’d done this two dozen times, and what did I have to show? Seven thousand two hundred dollars and a shitload of frequent flier miles I’d never use. Oh, I mean crap load. Sorry Lucy.
I didn’t take it because it was an easy job, but it was. I filed in with the other potential customers. Max gave his selling pitch, and I’d try to stay awake. Sometimes I’d carry a notebook and make a note every time he said “Silverskin”. Or if I was really knocked every time he said “and”. Or every time he walked back and forth on the stage.
“I’m not here to sell Silverskin skincare products!” was part of the start. “I’m here to get you started Silverskin skincare products! And if you do what I say every one of you could earn a thousand dollars a month. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?” And off he’d go. I could tell by looking at the faces around me that he didn’t need to do much to sell them the stuff. That’s what he was doing even if he thought he was really in the business of making middlemen. Maybe he even believed that “I make people rich!” button he wore on his jacket. And the stuff wasn’t too bad. Same as the expensive stuff, I guess, but not made by a company big enough to make it famous. Max always told me that wasn’t why he was selling it to regular people. “These people aren’t chumps,” he told me in one of our private meetings. Maybe he really believed that. And like I say the stuff wasn’t too bad. At my age I don’t give a rat’s…I don’t care what I look like but I dipped into the free samples he gave me. The exfoliant was weird, like oily sandpaper. I don’t know what that was supposed to do. The wrinkle cream seemed like it helped the bags under my eyes. None of it smelled bad either. That’s what made me put it up. It reminded me of Lucy. I wish she’d been around to try it. She was sensitive to smells and things like that. Allergies even though she worked in the yard every day she could. Maybe it was just the synthetic stuff that made her break out. I watched her pull poison ivy with her bare hands. I didn’t think I could do that but I thought I’d help her out when I retired. Plant whatever flowers she liked. She only bought annuals because she liked the planting. Then just after I retired the cancer came. Her friends and even our kids told me she was lucky it was quick. I wanted to tell them they didn’t know jack shit, but Lucy wouldn’t have liked that. “Keep it clean, Mike,” she would tell me. So I didn’t say it. I have more respect for her than they do. And I cut them some slack. They don’t know what it was like to sit in an empty house. It’s why I started working for Max.
He liked to be very cloak and dagger about the whole thing. We traveled in separate cars, mapped out different routes to the hotels. We never arrived at the same time and always stayed on separate floors. If I wanted to eat I had to go out. The farther from the hotel the better. Or get room service. The day of the meeting I had to leave early, take a cab to the bus station, then bum around and take a bus back to the hotel. Camouflage. Max wanted me to look local. I didn’t see the point but I played along. He was paying the piper, and it tickled me a little.
Once he sold them the idea of Silverskin skin care products he really started in on what they wanted to hear. He sold how to sell. How to greet, how to get invited in, never put your foot in the door. Standard tips that would be in the manual too, but he wouldn’t tell them that. Then once he got the basics he started in on the psychology angle. “It’s called the mirror trick. If the person you’re talking to crosses their legs you cross your legs. If they scratch their nose you scratch yours. Not right away, but within thirty seconds. And keep it subtle. You want to avoid them thinking you’re copying them if you can. And if they say ‘Are you doing what I’m doing?’ or ‘Are you mimicking me?” don’t panic. Do not panic. Laugh. Laugh and say ‘I was about to ask you the same thing!’”
Sometimes this would get a laugh. Sometimes it didn’t. It was what he said that was my signal. I raised my hand. He’d be looking the other way then he’d look at me. And he’d look confused. Did it really well. Between you and me I still don’t think he’s too bright. He would say, “Yes sir?” and I’d stand up.
“I have a degree in psychology and I’ve worked in the field for more than forty years, and what you’re saying is one of the best kept secrets there is. Psychologists know about these techniques and they don’t want regular folks to know them. Thank you for sharing them.” Max would look impressed and he’d thank me as I sat down.
“Thank you sir,” he’d say. “I learned these tricks from a psychologist. They’re a proven way to build up trust with a new customer, and I’m sharing them because I want every person in this room to succeed.”
I had a degree in psychology from a state school. The “field” I’d worked in was sales, just like Max. Takes one to know one. I just sold lumber instead of skin cream, and worked one on one instead of big rooms. I never did know where Max got the mirror trick. He told me he read it in a psychology book. Maybe he made it up. All that mattered is he got the whole room to line up and spend two hundred bucks on a case of Silverskin skin care products and a manual of the whole sales talk he’d just given. Minus the mirror trick. He kept that for himself. Most he would never hear from again. Selling is harder than they wanted it to be.
Around eleven that night I’d go to Max’s room, give a special knock, and he’d let me in. We’d total up my expenses and tack on my fee. That’s how it went. That’s how it always went.
Part 2 will be published April 10th, 2015.