Some of, if not all, of my favorite characters in fiction are scoundrels. In the conflict of a story, I have a soft spot for renegades or independent operators that stand apart from the protagonists and antagonists with their own individual goals. They’re usually plucky, funny, clever, and come packin’ a pretty sharp wit.
I would never in a thousand years say that I truly have a gift of gab, but have moments of inspiration where, if you squint, it kind of looks like I do. When my social battery’s nice and full, I love small talk, vigorous discussions, and volleying a string of jokes back and forth with someone. And I usually credit my love of fictional scoundrels as what I’m subconsciously trying to emulate in those moments.
Take for example a random Wednesday night about eight years ago. My fiancee got an invitation in the mail from a local car dealership in the form of a kind of lottery ticket. The gist of it was that it was a scratcher ticket, and if you felt so inclined, you revealed the numbers and went down to the dealership to see if they matched and collect your prize.
Of course it’s just a way to fish for new customers, get them down to the dealership, and once they’re there in person, start trying to sell them on the shiny showroom floor models. But Amanda asks if we can go, see if maybe we won a prize, and since we had nothing more significant going on in the evening, I relent. We make our way down there and naturally the salesman starts working us on whether or not we’re happy with our current vehicles, all but ignoring our “lottery” ticket.
“Fine,” I think to myself, “if this guy is going to waste my Wednesday night, I’m going to waste his.”
I start to play a game with the guy. I figure just as he’s trying to spin the conversation however he can to the subject of buying a new car, I’m going to, at every opportunity, guide it away from that topic. I take note of the time and decide to see how long I can keep us purely dancing around with light conversation and small talk.
“What’re you driving now?” he asks. “What color’s your current vehicle?”
“It’s a black Sebring,” I say. “It works for me, y’know?”
“Sure, black’s good. Any new car you might get going to be black too?”
“Don’t see why not. I know it shows dirt a bit more, but that’s fine. Only really gets dirty when I take it camping. Oo! You ever go camping? Make your way out to Salt Point or Doran?”
“Heh, I don’t think I have,” he chuckles, then prepares another car question.
“Ah, you should,” I follow quickly. “You have any siblings? Big family?”
“Sort of big,” he answers, but masks his irritation. “Only a brother though.”
“Older or younger?”
“He’s the older one.”
“Ah, cool. I’m an only child. Any nieces or nephews? It’s a good spot for kids with the beach so close.”
“I bet.” He pauses a moment, calculating. “You take your sedan to a camping place near the beach? Wouldn’t an SUV be more fitting?”
“Nah, why not? The trunk’s surprisingly spacious, and I only make it out there maybe once or twice a year. And I mainly go to fly my stunt kite. You ever fly a kite as a kid?”
“Not really, no.”
“Dang. Ever hear of stunt kites?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“Shoot, dude. Alright, next time you’re heading out to the coast, there’s this little shop called Candy and Kites. I swear, check them out and….”
Rinse and repeat for about the next hour or so. I say “or so” but I’m not perfectly certain we made it a full trip around the clock, but I’d like to think I did. My poor fiancee stayed mostly quiet during these exchanges, so I do ultimately have to reconcile the fact that there was some conversational collateral damage in boxing her out like that.
But, that said, it was because of her that we got the golden nugget that, almost a decade later, we remember that night for. Eventually, probably sensing that she’d been mostly quiet up to about the half-hour mark (and likely truly tired of my meandering small talk), our salesman turns to involve her in the conversation.
This is also a good point to mention that we were about twenty-one years old when this took place, and our salesman was GREEN at the job, maybe our age or a hair younger than us. So he’s somewhat fresh out of high school and now in a charisma-driven job trying to handle a bored jackass with no business there (me). That became relevant and especially noticeable with what came next, since I will forever remain positive that what he said was straight out of his salesman’s handbook.
“And how about you, miss?” he asks, turning to Amanda. “What do you do for work?”
“I work at an artisan meat and cheese distributor,” she said delightfully.
“Ah, you look like someone who works with artisan meats,” he replied.
I will not be convinced out of my certainty that that guy was going off of a template, “Ask Question A: ‘What do you do for work?’, and plug their answer [X] into Response B: ‘Ah, you look like someone who does [X].'”
This guy was expecting- nay, praying for something like Teacher, Nurse, Secretary, Banker, Waitress, f*cking Dispatch Operator. Literally anything other than “artisan meat and cheese.” There was a palpable beat the moment after he said it, and his eyes were glued to his computer screen after he did, so I’m guessing that he gave the B-side of that response by reflex and the inside of his head sounded like this: “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck,” etc.
I don’t remember how we reacted, but I’d like to think that it was with polite silence. I know that if we were being open and honest, our response would have been, “Yeah? You just have that profile in your head? Firefighter. Accountant. Mechanic. Nurse, or Teacher. Like, those are stereotypes I can understand having a picture of in your head already. But I go diving for the mental file on Artisan Meat and Cheese Lady, and I’m sad to say I don’t have that one on record already.
Some time after that, our sales guy goes “to get our prize” (it was a [probably counterfeit] $2 bill), and comes back with an older gentleman that looked like a senior salesman–probably our guy calling in the cavalry. And this guy’s veteran savvy showed through immediately:
“Hey, evenin’ guys,” he says.
“Hello hello,” I beam back.
“You two interested in buying a car tonight?”
“Ah, no sir, I don’t think I am.”
“Anything I can say to change your mind?”
“At this point it time, I don’t think there is.”
“Mm, well you two have a good night.” Then he nodded politely enough and walked away.
What a pro.
It wasn’t long after that that we left, but the legend of that guys endures to this day, and Amanda and I together have long joked that we should get t-shirts made. Not totally sure what the design would be, and we’re halfway joking anyway, but I imagine a black tee with a Dork Tower art style salesman on the front saying, “You look like you work with artisan meats!” Or maybe just plain text in a goofy font. Nonetheless, the joke would be for us.
If we were to bump into that guy out there, in this wild, wild world, and he recognized us…
Because, as a point to close this story out today, I recognize that all of us, every single one, puts our foot in our mouths occasionally. But I do sincerely hope that that guys, wherever he might be, thinks back to that interaction every so often and shakes his head in shame. Just a victim of circumstance, that. And maybe he’s gone onto become a super salesman, or became a famous drummer, but regardless, it’d be a reunion for the ages.
Ciao for now.