Thursday, April 16, 2009

Willy Loman

I couldn't go through with it.

Walked up to it, had a hand on the door, and I couldn't force myself to push through.

Here's the thing: I was prepared for one thing, but when I saw what the reality was, I couldn't bring myself to perform the task at hand.

Let me explain.

I hopped into my car for the drive to Hagerstown, already carefully preparing the white-hot denunciation that was taking shape in my mind. I was imagining a one-on-one scene, the Regional Sales Coordinator of Annoying White-Duck Insurance Company quaking in his boots as I ripped him up one side and down another for his spectacularly cynical waste of my time. I had imagined a corporate office: cool fluorescent lighting complimenting tastefully placed house-plants, a stunning receptionist who, when I announced my name, pressed a button on a sleek phone, announced my presence; an assistant glimmering into the room would escort me to my interview with Mr. Reg. Sales Coord. That's how it's always happened before.

Me and Mr. Reg. would converse lightly for a brief moment, noting the gloriousness of the weather, and then he would begin his spiel, at which point I would interrupt him and eviscerate his fatuity, ending with the zinger: "There are creatures lying on their backs at the bottom of ponds that I would rather associate with!" (Protip: Sybil Fawlty is a great source of putdowns.)

But, as I say, the reality was so different that I was unprepared for it.

Hagerstown is a very down-at-the-heels blue-collar burg. As I drove in to the district I'd been directed to, white boys in full ghetto drag hung on street corners -- on an early Thursday afternoon, you'd think these guys'd be at work; you'd of course also have to remember that there is no work for them. I suppose I was still expecting to find a major insurance company's regional offices in this neighborhood -- maybe a repurposed warehouse, lotsa cool exposed nineteenth-century brick, saggy wooden floors, leftover milling machinery tastefully incorporated into the design scheme....

No. The structure I was directed to was a blue-painted Victorian triplex. The side-panel of a cardboard box had been ripped out and suspended over one door: inscribed in black Sharpie pen, [Annoying Duck Company] and a couple of arrows pointed to the rightmost of the three doorways. Setting the digital audio device that I carry on "Record," I crept up to the indicated door. A bay window next to the door lay in the early afternoon sunlight.

And there in the window was Willie Loman. Man pushing, if not already having pushed beyond, sixty. White hair. Business suit. Carefully filling out a form in the window's light. Behind him, several other candidates sat, all equally carefully attired, each equally absorbed in clipboard duties, filling out details of their lives, past jobs, education, salary ranges. I was suddenly struck with the realization that the bait-and-switch employment crap to which I had only now been exposed, was a daily reality for these poor saps. They had no power of discernment; they had no ability to say "no!" in a resounding voice of indignation. For them, "employment" literally meant an opportunity to take it up the ass from Mr. Reg. Sales Coord. Followed by a life of daily torment at the hands of younger frat-boy sales creeps, continual frustration with recalcitrant buyers (and who can afford insurance in these times, eh?), and permanent tsuris with the Company Store over what constitutes salary and what commission.

This system, this humiliating meat-grinder process, is what I thought I was going to go in and sweep away, with one heroic denunciation of the BossMan. I would scatter these poor rubes to the four winds... For what, exactly? So they could apply for equally shitty jobs in Frederick, Martinsburg, Winchester?

Jesus, this world.

My imagined denunciation of bait-and-switch sales-recruitment fell in ashes at my feet. What was I going to tell Willie Loman? "Willie, let's you and I join forces and start a... a..." what, exactly? An insurance company? A revolutionary new-economy insurance company that tends to the needs of widows and orphans while stalwartly eschewing the blandishments of evil corporate money? How'm I gonna set that up?

Willie Loman got no investment in that shit. Me and Willie, we understand. We're on our own.


QR-D said...

No tsuris on account of no salary. And no free ducks, either, chum.

You might have stumbled across the Annoying Duck branch of old Egg Path.

Neddie said...

From QR-D's link:

It is commision only. NO benefits at all. About 90% turn over rate. Yes 90%.

Which explains pretty well why they called a UI designer with absolutely no discernible experience in sales and tried to sucker him out to Hagerstown for a dog-and-pony show.

There's no hell too hot for them.

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Kevin Wolf said...

Jesus Christ. (Sorry, JC.) I thought I'd worked some bad jobs...

Neddie, I admire you for this post and for your reaction to poor ol' Mr Loman. I know people (some in my own family) who would not see what the big deal was. Who'd gladly sit in some Duck Quack boardroom and skim their percentage off Willy's work, and charge him for Quacky office supplies, and refuse coverage for the widow's cancer treatment as the orphans sob. Who seem to desire the villain's role in Dickens' next novel, when he ever gets around to writing it.

Cleveland Bob said...

My brother and I used to call each other Biff and Happy on account of the fact that our dad was Willie Loman incarnate.

Too bad your daring fantasy didn't play itself out, but regardless, I enjoyed your foray into the dark side of this particular scheme.

Neddie said...

Who seem to desire the villain's role in Dickens' next novelI know intellectually that this sort of cruelty has been around forever, but actually seeing it up close and personal has depressed the living shit out of me.

J. Andrew Boyle said...

I recall going to the new, upstart QVC in Clearwater ages ago and things that I could get in on this thing and start a new career. As I sat there after filling out the application and had to sit there in that office room for an hour with 3 TV monitors showing the QVC show only I got up and walked.

No way could I do it.

I find it interesting that I have started getting all of these sales phishing stuff lately.

I am still happy to find freelance publishing jobs for now. Can't do that cattle-call for bodies.

Maybe I am off topic. Just nothing out there that seems worthy of work these days.

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