Professional Profiling

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.

Um, what?

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.

Chicken and Waffles Almost Changed my Life

There’s another universe out there, parallel to this one, where I became a millionaire as a teenager.

As I think I’ve mentioned on here at some point or another, my first job out of high school was as a lot assistant for a car dealership. It was an absolute circus of colorful characters and some outrageous personalities. And as is tradition for a first job, it paid like crap but acted as a wellspring for interesting stories I still get my jollies by telling today.

One that I remember I didn’t find interesting at all when it happened, but that I caught myself recounting a couple of days ago and made my jaw drop when I realized what I was saying, is as follows:

I was nineteen at the time, and Amanda and I had just started dating. I’d been at the job for about a year, but I was the lowest possible part of the totem pole, obviously. But of course – again, being nineteen – my year’s tenure meant that I felt firmly established there. We were going to take a trip down to Los Angeles for about a week to get out of town for a little while, and being that my job paid like crap, I was short on cash to actually help make that happen. To be clear, the trip was Amanda’s brainchild, planned by her, using her car, and all else. I was just happy to come along. But I still wanted to be able to contribute something other than a weakly charming smile.

So I went to the owner of the company and asked for a loan.

Oh, to be naively optimistic as a teenager. I should mention that this dealership was huge, not just somebody’s corner lot. It sprawled over multiple acres of paved parking lot, with several buildings, some thousands of vehicles, and remains a somewhat prominent part of the city. I still remember walking to the administrative building where the owner and president of the company had his office, asking his receptionist if he was in, and the confused look on her face when she let me in. Looking back, I’m sure she thought either I knew something nefarious that she didn’t or that she was looking at the beginning of some kind of lawsuit she would get to gossip about later. After all, I was a peasant boy requesting audience with the king.

But goddammit, it worked.

I walked in, shook his hand, and explained my situation, that I was going on a trip with my new girlfriend but was short on cash, wondering if I could get an advance. And remembering it now some ten years later, I feel I can better interpret the “Sure, let me understand you clearly” look on his face I saw at the time now more appropriately as, “Who the fuck is this kid, and is he being goddamn serious?” But by what I’m guessing is some combination of sympathy for a young buck just trying to do right by his lady, and a shade of respect for the sheer freakin’ brazenness of who was naively asking who for what here, he took out his wallet and handed me a hundred dollars of his own money, saying, “This isn’t an advance. This is a loan, and I expect to be paid back.”

It was a bonding moment.

And I did just that. I paid him back in full soon as I was able when we got back, and I mentioned it in passing to my manager maybe a week later. He went white as a sheet and asked me to clarify. When I simply repeated that I went to the owner of the company for a cash loan, his voice changed to the nervous tone of one who just missed a bullet whizzing past his head. “Just…uh, you know, uh, in the future, just- um, just come to me with that sorta thing.”

Now, again, to stress, I think it only worked because I was an adorable, dumbly innocent kid. I tried that kinda crap now, no way it’s working and nobody’s feeling bad for me.

Another brief adventure was getting lost in San Francisco. This was before GPS in phones really took off in any sort of a reliable way, and my phone was a cheap toy anyway. I was delivering a courtesy vehicle to a customer about an hour south of the city (the dealership is located an hour north of the city, so it was a day with a lot of driving), and when I asked them directions for the best way to get home, they started listing off a whole bunch of complicated turns and routes. “Yeah, you’re going to want to take this highway to this junction, then merge to this other junction, then turn here to merge back to this, to that, to this” so on and so forth. And so the whole time in my head I’m going, “Right. Take Highway 101 the whole way back.”

What I didn’t know is that Highway 101 in California goes through San Francisco where I was. And that the turn to remain on 101 was reeeeaaally easy to miss if you didn’t know it was coming, because the sign telling you so is reeeaaally small. So I suddenly find that I’m utterly lost in the city in a big expensive truck that’s low on gas and no sense of where I am. That being the case, I channeled my inner D&D nerd and put together a survival plan.

“What do I know about San Fran?” I asked myself. Well, it has a lot of hills and there’s water by the Golden Gate Bridge (which was what I was trying to find as my way home). So, I figure, I’ll just use a hill to go up high, find the water, then drive towards the water where I’ll find the bridge.

Which friggin’ worked perfectly. I felt like an old school explorer, like Francis Drake or Ferdinand Magellan.

But what crowned them all, probably, was the situation that inspired this post’s title.

Maybe a few months into the job, a friend from high school, Austin, also got hired on for the same position. Now there were two of us (a number that would later grow, but that’s irrelevant here). He and I are getting lunch one day from a nearby deli, and he picks up a bag of Lays potato chips to go with his sandwich. We get back to the lot and are eating in the break room when he takes a look at the back of the bag.

“Huh, check this out,” he says, and points to a spot on the back of the bag promoting a contest that Lays was having wherein people could call in with ideas for new flavors of potato chips. So we start bouncing ideas back and forth before ultimately falling on Chicken and Waffles. We agree that one’s a winner, and Austin calls the number on the bag, putting the call on speaker. A little bit of menu-hopping later, we’re connected to a representative for Lays. She asks us for our chip flavor, we give our genius suggestion of Chicken and Waffles, to which she tells us that that’s not an applicable flavor and ends the call. We shake our heads about how she’s kind of a donk (we used different words, though) and go about our day. That is until a couple of months later, when Lays unveils their new chip flavors and contest winners (and million dollar recipients).

Among the chosen flavors: Chicken and Waffles.

Austin and I are close to rioting, when the winners’ details are also revealed, and apparently a lady from Illinois had submitted our own genius flavor hardly a week before we had. I remain convinced to this day, however, that that lady doesn’t actually exist and that the game was rigged from the start. I’d bet a bag of chips that the woman on the phone with us that day experienced that phone call like this: “Hello, Lays’ chip flavor contest hotline, what is your suggestion? Ahuh. Ahuh. I’m sorry, that flavor isn’t applicable.” <hangs up phone, begins scribbling on a notepad> “Chicken and waffles, hot damn. That’s a good idea. Gonna go to the boss with this one.”

But my hare-brained Big Chip conspiracy theories aside, yeah, bottom line is that Austin and I were apparently just a few days separated from being potato chip millionaires.

Ah, what could have been.

Ciao for now, y’all.

What Would you do with the Lottery? (You’re Wrong)

Hey everyone, and sorry – the title’s a mite too aggressive, but you can never be too careful.

Let me explain.

You know when you’re going through your daily life, and all of a sudden you’re struck all over again by something that got your irritated years ago? Something that really chive’d your spuds, ground your gears, got your goat, years ago? Well I had one of those moments the other day.

I was working in an optics factory at the time, and I had a coworker who regularly followed the lottery. Not one of those “If you just follow the numbers, man” types, just kept a healthy eye on it. Well, as I remember it, the Super Lotto Jackpot (if that’s what it’s called) was at some truly ridiculous sum. If you hit all the numbers, the winner would be given something like 500 million dollars, either in the form of a 350 million dollar one-time payout, or basically $300,000 every month for the rest of your life.

Three hundred thousand dollars, every month, until you died.

Naturally, the question roamed around work: What would you do with it if you won? And some of the answers I heard infuriated me. “Oh, you know,” they began. “I’d keep my day job, of course. I’d make sure that plenty of it went into savings, and I’d use the rest to take care of my needs and live comfortably. Maybe a small house.” Even now, years later, I can feel my pulse quickening at how stupid that is.

Do you-

Can you even-

Does it settle on you how much money $300,000 is? Much less, that much every MONTH. That’s $10,000 A DAY. For most of us, that’s more money than we’d know what to do with. “Keep my day job-” Listen lady/dude/you, fu** your day job. Your day job doesn’t matter anymore. Literally, whatever you were doing, it doesn’t outweigh the net good you can now do with these boatloads of cash. It would be the most actual waste of time. Your day job is now hiring the right people to make sure this money gets spent properly. Set yourself up, set your family up, then you know what you start doing? Start solving sh**.

Homelessness in your area? Not anymore there isn’t.

Local schools having issues with budget constraints? Thing of the past.

People with crippling medical debt? Be gone, foul financial demon.

Your main concern now is living a loooooong healthy life and putting together a network of qualified, trustworthy individuals who will make sure the funds hit their mark and achieve the most good. With that much money, there is no such thing as a savings account for you to squirrel away to; and if you did you’re a villain who will wind up in Dante’s Fourth Level of Hell (Avarice). In a single month, you make more than the FDIC will insure.

Maybe it’s the fact that it is so unfathomable that made my friends give such dumb answers, but it just struck me as sublimely poor reasoning. “I’d buy a yacht.” “I’d buy a private jet.” Sure, you do you, boo; but I say forget the luxury industry. They have plenty of Old Money twits to keep them in business. Be the hero the world needs. Buy whatever kind of house you want, pre-pay your life and your grandchildren’s lives, then fix the world.

In other news, I have another book out!

Well, one that I helped contribute to. Proper ownership goes to Jessica Augustsson, as she’s the editor. And due credit to her, as she was a joy to work with. So, if you’re feeling like a tale featuring a quirky future kid getting tangled up in the misadventures of time travel, check it out on Amazon, and look up my piece, “30,000 B.C.” [Here, if you’re in the UK, chaps.]

I’d be much obliged.

Stay frosty, remember ya beautiful, and I’ll see you around.