If you've been following along, you're aware that I spent some time working at a car dealership while trying to get my first novel published. I was an amazing car salesman. Despite the fact that there wasn't a lot of traction with the novel, I felt it was time to move on from the dealership but I wasn't sure as to when. Lucky for me, chance stepped in and the exit appeared.
There were some aspects of selling cars I enjoyed. I liked most of the people I worked with and for the most part it was the kind of job you left at the office. That being said, I still couldn't get past the feeling I was doing absolutely nothing with my life. It was a time in my life akin to a bus stop; it was a waiting period between what I was trying to leave behind and where it was I wanted to go. My discontent was becoming increasingly palpable.
It was a Tuesday morning and I rolled into the dealership with nothing on my calendar. Usually, someone has given me a call saying they would like to come in and so we set an appointment. Even though at least half of those people blew me off without ever notifying me, I still took the time to put things on my calendar. This was one thing that really ate at me. For the first time in my life I held a job that no one respected. I was a means to an end and just as good as any other means. This was the catalyst for the self-loathing I mentioned last time.
Without anything concrete, you're left phoning some people as a friendly follow up call and then waiting. Somewhere in between you might walk across the street and grab a philly cheese steak but otherwise the day is open to personal reflection as to how you ended up here and consideration as to when you became such a loser. I was deep in these thoughts when a young couple walked in and asked for a test drive.
We went through the usual spiel - miles per gallon, features, options and then headed out for a quick tour around the block. I was in the backseat and they were upfront, pretending it was their actual car and they actually were going somewhere. I was choking on my self hate and put my head in my hands and took a deep breath. We stopped at an intersection and when I looked up, the wife, sitting in the passenger seat, was looking back at me with concern.
"Oh my god. You hate your job."
"I do. I really do."
We finished the ride in silence, an awkward silence, and this time I didn't ask them what they thought of the car since they were all too ready to leave the dealership as quickly as possible. No one wants to be around a guy who is obviously that miserable. Based on the two stories I've shared, I bet you wonder if I ever sold a car at all. I did - quite a few. These yarns are mostly the last gasps of a dying sales career.
I went back to my desk and returned to my sandwich, now slightly cold. I took one more bite and tossed it. My appetite was gone.
There was an old timer at the dealership, a guy named Jerry. Jerry was from Chicago. He went to the University of Chicago but when he graduated, he joined a blues band playing the tenor sax. They apparently were pretty talented and cut a couple of albums. He had also published a book years before and made a little money off of it. Now he was selling cars because he said 'transactions are fascinating.'
He had a point. You get a real good look at someone when they are buying a car. A lot of vulnerability and anxiety surface. I had people break down and cry at my desk. I had a guy with Tourettes scream profanities at me and then I had people who acted like assholes with no apparent excuses.
Jerry saw me stewing and asked me to join him for a smoke break. He was a smoker, not me, but we went outside and talked about everything except the job. After a few minutes, he took a long drag and just stared at me. Then he exhaled and said, "So kid, when you gonna quit?"
"Haven't I already?"
"You quit on yourself, not the dealership. When you gonna make it official?"
"Soon, Jerry, soon."
He took another moment and another drag and still wouldn't stop staring me down.
"How you going to do it?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean you hate it here. You got way too much style to just turn in a two-week notice. People disappear from this place all the time but you don't strike me as the type to just vanish. What's your plan?"
"I don't know but I will do something professional."
Jerry burst out laughing. "Professional!?! Why? This place is a goddamn joke! Be original - do something."
"Well, maybe I will rent one of those sequined Elvis jumpsuits and stand out in the middle of the lot, flip off the management and scream a big fuck you."
"If you're gonna do that let me know and I'll bring a camera. A word of advice though - get out of here. You're too young and to smart too be this miserable."
We went back inside and I finished my shift feeling a little better. That day would be the last time I ever saw Jerry.
The next day I got a call from the owner of the dealership. The woman's magazine, Marie Claire, was hosting an event at some Beverly Hills mansion. There would be a lot of celebrities there, as well as vendors from fashion related products and accessories. They thought it might be a good idea to get some publicity by sending over a couple of the tricked-out cars we had in the dealership, specifically an orange, turbo charged, drop-top with 20" chrome wheels. They wanted me to throw on a company t-shirt and pass out trucker hats with an image of this exact car on it. I blame Ashton Kutcher for the trucker hat phenomenon we all had to endure. Who knew one goofy actor could launch a world of douchebags wearing trucker hats and Ed Hardy t-shirts?
They wanted to pay me to hang out at a fashion gig and pimp their cars to the beautiful and the famous? Sure, why not?
Saturday rolled around and I found myself at one of the biggest houses I had ever seen. It was gated and the landscaping went up in layers, with a driveway snaking back and forth from the street to the front door. The lawn was massive and there was a courtyard in which tents of at least a dozen different vendors had set up shop, handing out grab bags to VIP's and hawking their wares.
My job was simple. Stand next to the orange drop-top, wear my trucker hat, smile at the people and provide information when necessary. I wasn't there to sell anything. I was only supposed to "look cool and don't piss anyone off." Fair enough.
My manager was there helping me get things set up. It didn't really take two people but I think he wanted to check out the house. We got the hats and cars situated then set out business cards for people to take at their leisure.
He patted me on the back and said everything looked good. He told me to behave and as he was walking away he stopped and looked back.
"Oh, did I tell you Jerry died last night?"
"Yeah, old geezer had a heart attack. He seemed fine yesterday at work. Ok, call me if you need anything."
With that he just walked off. I am standing in front of a mansion with a box of goddamn trucker hats and he tells me the only real friend I had at the dealership died. I had felt numb for a while but sadness found a way to penetrate my layers of apathy.
I tried not to think of Jerry and our last conversation. He was a good man and lived life on his own terms. He was a personal hero and a mentor to me. I decided to just focus on the task at hand. I smiled at the people and talked about cars when they asked. I can flip a switch sometimes and shift into autopilot. It is mostly a curse but at times like that it can really help.
I started noticing a lot of sexy young women walking around the event. I recognized a few of them. Michelle Rodriguez walked by who I remembered from Girl Fight. I saw Taryn Manning prancing around with a grab bag of stuff. I had seen her recently in 8-Mile. Eva Mendes was there as well, who I just remembered for being really hot. Then there was this young girl, strikingly beautiful who I saw people taking photos of and talking to but I didn't recognize. She was being escorted around by her agent and I overheard him introduce her to someone near me as Olivia Wilde. She was the young star of a new TV show called Skin that had a plot dealing with the porn industry. Now, of course, most of us know who she is but she was a budding unknown then.
These were all welcome distractions from the bile and frustration building within me. I became bored at one point and started flipping one of the hats onto the hood of the car, trying to get it to land upside down. I heard a soft voice behind me asking me what I was doing here. I turned around and it was Olivia Wilde.
"Oh, hi. I'm here representing Saab and showing off these cars."
She smiled at me. "They're very pretty."
"Yes they are. I hear you are the star of a new TV show."
She blushed and smiled very shyly. "We'll see about that. For now I am working."
"Work is good. Do you want a hat?"
"Sure." She took the hat from my hand and asked me if we were going to give the orange drop-top away.
A light went on in my brain. Why hadn't I thought of this before? There I was in the middle of more beautiful women than I had ever seen and I had an opportunity to mingle with them and actually get their phone numbers under false, legitimate pretenses. If you're thinking that is not normal and slightly pathological then you're correct, although you need to freshen up on my recent tales.
Without wasting a second, I told her that is exactly what I was there to do. I had a pen on me and took one of my cards and turned it over so she could write her name and number on the back. I then took the hat I was flipping and put her card inside.
She thanked me and then lingered around a bit. She didn't really know anyone there other than her agent and she seemed somewhat reticent about mingling with the mass of Hollywood. We made smalltalk. She was surprisingly smart and articulate for such a young person in Hollywood. She then she thanked me and walked off. As she walked away I wished her good luck in the drawing.
I sometimes wonder whether I am really brilliant or really fucking stupid. Someone saw me signing up Olivia for the car and came over and asked whether she could do the same. I obviously couldn't say no and so I gave her a card and had her put her name and number on it. The word spread like wildfire. Saab was giving away a car. Soon a line formed around me with people waiting to sign up for the big drawing.
A local reporter walked up and asked if she could interview me. I agreed - I mean, why the hell not at this point? We discussed the event and why Saab had chosen to give away a car. I went into a brief but completely fabricated description of Saab's philanthropic history. They are a Swedish company so I assumed they had done something altruistic. The reporter even entered the contest.
So imagine about a dozen people mingling about me and asking questions about the contest. That was the scene when my manager returned to the event. He walked up and overheard the chatter about the big giveaway and quickly made his way over to me. At this point I have about 20 names and numbers in my hat. I had secretly marked a few of them from really cute girls, especially the ones who seemed to be flirting with me. My manager grabbed my arm and asked if he could talk to me for a moment. We walked over underneath a nearby tree.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"I am showing people the car."
"Did you tell them we are giving a car away?"
"I might have told a couple of people that."
"You realize we aren't giving a car away, right?"
"I sort of figured."
"Well, now there are all these people standing around. What are you going to tell them?"
The manager and I shared a nearly equal contempt for one another. Mine was actually a little greater. He would have fired me except for the fact that I actually did sell quite a few cars. I made him money and so he tolerated me. He paid me money and so I tolerated him. Ah, capitalism.
I walked back over to the crowd and let them know we would not be giving the car away until the next day. We were allowing everyone to enter until the end of the event and we would notify the winner via phone call the next morning. I told them they didn't have to be present to enter and we thanked them all for participating.
See, I told you, pathological.
With no fresh blood in the water, the crowd dispersed and soon it was just me and that ass of a manager. He looked exasperated but then again he always did.
"Jackson, what on earth made you think you could do this?"
"I really have no idea."
"No idea?" He had an abrupt laugh. "No idea?!? Ok, here's an idea - you need to look for a new job because you've just been fired."
I looked him dead in the eye and smiled, "If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?"
He looks confused. "What? What the fuck do I care?"
"You can't fire a man who already quit."
"Oh yeah smartypants? I just did."
I suddenly wished Jerry were alive and witnessing this.
"You know, Jerry was a better human being than all of the rest of us put together."
"Again, Jackson, who fucking cares? Do you have anything else to say?"
I paused for a moment before taking off that stupid trucker hat, removing my shirt and putting my sunglasses on. I then raised my right fist slowly up to his nose and extended my middle finger.
"Yeah, Elvis has left the fucking building."
That was the day I quit the car business.
Oh, and I tossed the phone numbers. It didn't feel right, even for me. I figure, if Olivia wants to talk to me, she will have to find me.
reprinted from jackson's blog @ www.igetpanic.com