Tom Simard

Poetry, Music, and Prose

The Death of a Salesman

With apologies to Arthur Miller, whose play The Crucible should be required reading everywhere.

I’ve done any number of things to support myself through the years, and feel lucky to have spent only a minority of my working life hoeing beans, washing dishes, and standing on an assembly line. But there was nothing dishonorable in any of the jobs I had.

What was I thinking? To apply for a job as a salesman? I couldn’t sell myself out of a paper bag.

My profile, which surely did not match the one advertised, might have read: He doesn’t feel the need to convince someone of buying something they may not want, need, or be able to afford; he doesn’t think anyone should be harassed until they give in out of desperation.

With regards to the latter point, I do wish someone would break the news to the mobile phone companies as I’m about ready to rid myself of my cell phone, and retreat to a cabin in Massachusetts.

The place was packed. Standing room only. A hum of voices. Young people gathered hoping to find employment. One might have thought that it was offering a hefty salary or great benefits. (They were once actually available, believe it or not. Even the less than lucrative jobs I had, nearly all of them, provided one with some semblance of health care. Alas, a thing of the past.  Swim or sink. Dog eat dog.  What a society has become ours.)

A handsome, well-dressed man appears. Using all the charisma at his disposal, which by the look of the audience was considerable indeed, he began giving a job description in rather hazy terms. Periodically, however, he would be interrupted by the phone that rang in his office. He excused himself to answer it:

“Is that so? And remind me how many weeks you’ve been in the field? Unbelievable. You’re doing great work. Yes, it helps if you’ve got a great product. But don’t undercut yourself. Fantastic. Better than you could ever have imagined? I was straight with you, wasn’t I? No, thank you!”

When he reappeared, his face wore such transcendence that I could probably be forgiven for thinking he must be uniquely familiar with the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

He told us of a Mr K. who had been in the field only a short while and had already been making incredible sales.

As he sketched out more and more of the job, it was still not clear exactly what we would be selling and how.

Then I heard, “They won’t notice. That’s the beauty.”

It dawned on me. We would be delivering products to companies that had not ordered them.

I myself saw a beast, and looked around to see the reaction on other people’s faces, and seeing none, rose, and made my way to the door, which was being blocked by a heavy-set man who could have easily been David Crosby’s twin brother.

“I’m leaving.”

“The gentleman has not finished his talk.”

I gave him a look that must have given the idea that the gentleman might be very well displeased if I happened to cause a scene.

As he unlocked the door, and I slipped out into the hall, one could hear the death knell of my life as a salesman.

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6 thoughts on “The Death of a Salesman

  1. I tried out for a job as a call centre sales person once when feeling particularly broke. I blew the interview. Like you I find it impossible to imagine selling people things they didn’t seek out.

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  2. That’s horrible. Good on you for escaping while you could.

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  3. I have read ‘The Crucible,’ but not (I’m chagrined to say), ‘Death of a Salesman.’ I’m culturally literate enough that I can fake it. I believe there’s a ‘Biff’ involved. I’ve likewise never read ‘Godot,’ but I know the man doesn’t show.

    This was a funny story…and chilling, because I’ve had a similar (albeit not quite so sinister) situation. I was freshly-graduated and looking for a “good” post-college job. I answered an ad for sales, and went to an office somewhere in downtown LA. While I was waiting, I could hear a meeting going on. The guy who was to interview me was leading some kind of sales chant (I can’t remember the words), a call-and-response kind of thing. It gave me a real culty vibe.

    I had a quick interview with the guy who explained that we would go business-to-business trying to flog these coupon books (which I never did understand). I was assigned to go out with three other guys, one of whom was the top salesman. Just before we left, the top-salesman said he had to use the bathroom, and suggested I go as well.

    “I’m good,” I told him. “It’s probably a good idea that you go now,” he said with some insistence, and so I went with him. I’m glad I did. He explained the sales routine a little better to me, and told me that one he went out, he wouldn’t be coming back until the end of the day, so that if this wasn’t for me, I should just bail right now. This was said in a very kind way.

    I took his advice and buggered off. The job I eventually got was teaching, but a few years later I did find myself back in sales, but this time, legitimate sales.

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  4. I really probably should have written seen instead of read considering the difficult time I’ve always had reading plays. The only playwright I have a fairly easy time readng is Shakespeare, and it’s only because I read his plays like poetry.

    I’ve not read Waiting for Godot either though I did at one time try. Beckett never made much sense to me but perhaps that’s the point…

    Well-done for the guy giving you the warning.

    What did you teach?

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    • I taught reading and college-level writing. I taught in an after-school clinic, not unlike a Sylvan Learning Center. It was the best job I’ve ever had, but it didn’t pay well. I did it for five years, though, with fantastic success. I felt like I did a lot of good.

      Re: the salesman who gave me the warning. Yeah, all these years later (17! I just did the math) I still feel warmly for him. He was the top salesman for this place, and I have to think his honesty and basic decency probably helped his sales career (contrary to popular opinion, the best salesmen aren’t always slimeballs). He struck me as a guy who wasn’t right for college, but would, when he found his calling, make a hell of a mark. I figure somewhere, he’s made that mark.

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      • It sounds great. Sometimes the best jobs pay the least.

        It’s great coming across decent people along the way as God know’s there’s enough of the other kind around.

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