Friday, July 30, 2004

...Getting Over High School

The office manager at a previous job of mine had the lamest high school revenge fantasy ever. I guess it really wasn’t a fantasy since it was one she actually planned on following through with. I’m tempted to reveal her real name, only because it is one of those funny names where her obviously oblivious parents unwittingly gave her the absolute perfect porn star name. She was a nice person at heart, so I will protect her identity and only hint that her first and last name put together is a synonym for “Sweet Pussy”. For the sake of our story, we’ll call her Melissa.

Melissa was what I like to describe as “work hot”. By that I mean she was one of those women who attracted a lot of attention from the guys in our office due to being one of maybe three women under 30 in the whole place, but not someone who would necessarily catch your eye anywhere else.

Although she was perfectly pleasant looking now, it was obvious that Melissa was probably considered somewhat of a nerd in high school. If her encyclopedic knowledge of all things “Star Wars” didn’t give it away, her constant talk of how was going to get back at all the popular girls from her high school at the 10-year reunion did.

Melissa was dating/engaged to this guy, Trent. Now, I’m not one of those guys who think I will spontaneously turn gay if I acknowledge that another man is good-looking, so I can say with full comfort in my own sexuality that Trent was a nice-enough looking guy. But it’s not like he was going to be confused with George Clooney or Ben Affleck either.

Melissa’s revenge plot was to attend her 10-year high school reunion with Trent. That was the beginning and end of it. Melissa figured the popular girls would be so green with envy that they would scarcely be able to contain their jealousy and anger at former geek Melissa having landed such a hunk. The success of her plan was predicated on the, if you ask me, precarious assumption that ALL of the popular girls from her high school would now be fat and ugly and that none would have anything resembling good-looking husbands or boyfriends.

The whole thing sounded vaguely pathetic when Melissa described it. The chances of Melissa being the only girl from her graduating class to now be dating a relatively o.k. looking guy seemed pretty slim. Who exactly was she getting revenge on? Really, her big revenge on the popular girls was showing them she turned out sort of normal. It seemed sad that this would be so important to her. Sometimes you just have to stop obsessing over shit like that.

Unfortunately, Melissa’s marriage to Trent lasted all of about six months. They had both lived with their parents well into their twenties and didn’t move out until after the wedding. You can really only know someone so well when you see them for all of a few hours on the weekend.

Her story was that Trent turned out to be the ultra-possessive, jealous type who wouldn’t even allow her to go grocery shopping by herself. The other story was that he was cheating on her with someone younger and hotter. I’m tempted to believe the latter because right after the two of them split up I started seeing Trent at the gym all the time with a sexy blond who couldn't have been more than 19.

Melissa started fucking all the guys in the office after her divorce. Well, most of them. Melissa had set me up with her best friend about a year earlier, a relationship I ended abruptly after determining I would rather have sex with a pencil sharpener for the rest of my life than have to spend one more minute around that smothering, psychotic, nutjob. I guess that made me ineligible.

Friday, July 23, 2004

...(Some More Of) What I've Learned So Far

That whole deal about the high school quarterback and prom queen becoming fat, poor and ugly after graduation while the nerds and geeks all become rich and good-looking is mostly an urban myth created by people who think life should always be fair

Addendum to above: Some people refuse to vote for the pretty girls on "American Idol", regardless of their vocal talents, as a way of vicariously getting back at the popular people from high school

There is a perceived shame about “jumping on the bandwagon", hence the near-impossibility of finding anyone who will admit to smoking cigars only after it became trendy or following the Anaheim Angels only after they won the World Series in `02

A good sign some of the romance has slipped out of your marriage is when your spouse scolds you for neglecting to spray Glade after using the bathroom

Nobody on either side of the abortion debate has ever changed their opinion as a result of reading a bumper sticker that argued the other side’s point of view.

Being the designated driver is never very much fun, no matter how hard you try to convince yourself that it's fun to watch drunk people act silly

After any major local or national tragedy, you can count on some "Chicken Soup For the Soul"-reading numbnut to say, “The bright side is, it has really brought us together as a community”

In hindsight, despite the relatively low price, the XFL season tickets I bought don't really seem worth the money

The reason so many people have trouble finding a mate is because too many people, regardless of their looks, think they deserve to go out with men who look like Brad Pitt or women who look like Cameron Diaz

Any religion besides your own seems vaguely like a cult

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

...My Movie Career

My friend Ryan and I thought up an idea for a movie once. It was going to be about a guy whose penis starts talking back to him. It was based on the premise that guys often tend to lose their common sense and judgement when it comes to sex. I’m always coming up with unique observations like that. The film was going to be called "Mr. Happy".

We were semi-serious about getting it made.

Serious enough that we had a whole guerilla marketing scheme planned out to get the script into the hands of a major studio. One of our coworkers at the time dealt exclusively with clients in the entertainment industry, so we figured she could drop off our script to the right people while she was out on one of her sales calls.

Not so serious that we bothered to write the script.

Mr. Happy was going to be every guys worst nightmare. He was going to act as the conscience of the main character, trying to talk him out sleeping with the wrong women. His goal was to keep the main character from doing stupid stuff he would later regret, like sleeping with an ex-girlfriend who claims she just wants to have sex for sex’s sake when she’s really using it as a tool to try to get back together. Or sleeping with some less than desirable person he beer-goggles at 1:45AM at the bars [Screenwriter’s Note: Need to establish that 1:45 is "Last Call" at bars in California]. Mr. Happy would stubbornly refuse to grow erect if he didn’t approve of the partner.

There was also going to be a sympathetic but troubled female character, Marla, in the film who was always dating the wrong guys. I don’t remember if she was going to have a talking vagina or not. She was based on another woman we worked with at the time who was dating this incredibly creepy guy in real life who was also her boss. The real-life inspiration for Marla eventually ended up dumping her boss and marrying Ryan. They celebrate their second wedding anniversary this month.

Since this was around the same time "There's Something About Mary" set a new standard for gross-out humor, we thought we’d up the ante by coming up with a scene where Mr. Happy gets all disgusted at the prospect of his owner having anal sex with some woman. I’ll spare you the details, except to say that it had to do with poo.

Always the practical one, I was a bit concerned about some of our ideas fitting within the standards of an R-rated film. Now we’ve probably really missed our shot; no way is a movie like this going to get made in the post-Janet Jackson’s Boob era. But if that should change, consider this post my copyright.

Friday, July 16, 2004

...How Customers Can Be Sleazeballs Too (High-Tech, Business to Business Edition)

Salespeople get a bad rap. Not that they don’t frequently earn the stereotype of being sleazy and dishonest. But customers can be just as bad.
Maybe they’re just trying to fight fire with fire. But in my career I’ve often found that the most unethical people involved in the sales process are the ones not receiving the commission.
Mostly it has to do with price. Nobody wants to feel stupid after discovering they’ve overpaid for a product or service. Especially Little Dick.
Little Dick

Somewhere in between boasting about how he talks his way out of traffic tickets and driving a really big truck, there is nothing that makes Little Dick feel like he’s proactively increased the size of his wanker than being able to say he beat up a sales rep on price.
Little Dick is one of those guys who thinks he's come up with a great, original witticism when he asks, “Can you sharpen your pencil a little bit?” 
I swear I could offer Little Dick a $10,000.00 product for $9.00 and he’d still try to shave it down to $7.00 just so he could say he did.
The Guy Down the Street
For as much as people complain about how unpleasant it is to buy a car, it is at least fairly easy for a customer to find out approximately what a car costs a dealership to buy and what a fair profit is for the dealership to make on a sale. This isn’t the case in my industry. You’d think this would work to the salespersons advantage, but it rarely does. Often a customer will get an idea in his head of what he thinks a product should cost, and then try to get you to sell to him at this price by claiming, “The guy down the street quoted me $XXX, but I’d really like to buy it from you. Can you match his price?”
His lie is easy to catch because the price he claims to have received is generally hundreds or thousands of dollars below dealer cost, and while getting undercut by the competition is an everyday event in my industry, most companies don’t sell at a loss. Plus, if he’s being offered such a great price, why is he bothering to call you? It is always a demented pleasure to watch these customers squirm when you tell them you’d be happy to match the price he was offered by The Guy Down the Street as long as he can provide written documentation of the quote or, even better,  tell him the price he’s being offered from The Guy Down the Street is so incredible he should jump at it while he has the chance. The customer will usually wait out his embarrassment a few days and then order from you at your originally quoted price.
If Mom Says No, Try Dad 
Remember when you were a little kid and you’d ask your mom permission for something, and if she didn’t give you the answer you were looking for you’d go ask your dad? And vice versa? I’d like to think this is a habit people grow out of, but my experience tells me otherwise. When I first started out in sales, I worked for a relatively large company, but my particular department consisted of only 3 people. Customers, for some reason, assumed we were part of some huge call center where nobody ever talked to one another. When you’re looking to make a major purchase, I can understand shopping around for the best price. But shopping different salespeople within the same company? It was not uncommon for a customer to call one of us, decide he didn’t like the price Sales Rep #1 offered, wait a few minutes, and then call back to take his chances on Sales Rep #2. Then #3.  Much to this customer’s chagrin, Sales Reps #2 and #3 would either refer him back to #1 or we’d simply all offer the same price.
The Loser
A less frequent customer, but undoubtedly the most annoying of all, is whom we’ll call, for lack of a better term, The Loser. The Loser is generally “Jeff Jones” from “Jones and Associates” Whenever you get a call from First Name Last Name of Last Name and Associates, you know it’s going to be trouble. There are never any associates. The Loser, being a one-man show, can’t afford any of the products you sell, but doesn’t see that as a deterrent.
All of The Losers must go to the same school because they all have the same m.o. Be smarmy as hell and act as if the two of you have been the best of friends for years.
At some point during the conversation he starts his spiel. He doesn’t want to have to buy your product, but tells you should give it to him anyway. For free. Not as charity, but as a marketing tool. As he explains to you, The Loser is a consultant who does frequent presentations in front of many high-profile clients. If you give him your product for free, his big-wig clients will see him using your product, be wowed by your product, and should any of them ask him where he bought it, he’ll be sure to refer them back to you.
While owning your own company can be incredibly stressful, there are a lot of nice things about it too. You can take a day off without worrying about how it effects your remaining PTO time. You can have a beer at lunch without the fear of getting canned for it. If you don’t have any appointments that day, you can wear shorts to work. You can take off your shoes in the office. But best of all, you have complete permission to tell The Loser to go fuck himself.  In so many words. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

...(Some of) What I've Learned So Far

Everybody sort of has bad breath. With some people you just notice it from further away.

It is always a pleasant surprise to discover that someone has left behind a newspaper or magazine in the large bathroom stall at the gym.

No matter how happy you are in your current relationship, and no matter how many years have passed, it is always upsetting to imagine any of your ex-girlfriends giving some other guy a blowjob.

Having a larger than average proboscis results in people telling you that you look a lot like (in this order) Sean Penn/Ralph Fiennes/Julian Lennon.

Men who claim not to be attracted to Pamela Anderson are covering up for the fact they know she wouldn’t go out with them even if she wasn’t famous.

There is likely a cause and effect relationship between: A) Not getting enough attention from your parents during childhood and B) Being really into karaoke as an adult.

It is unmanly to not have an at least conversational knowledge of all major professional sports. But if you can recite the starting line-ups of every team in the NBA, you probably need to get a life.

The first sign you have entered the “no longer relevant” stage of your life is discovering that you are unfamiliar with the majority of bands on the current Billboard Top 100 chart. For example, Hoobastank, apparently, is a musical group, not what I caught from the receptionist at my last job.

It is stupid, when discussing your favorite sports team or political party, to refer to them as “we”. As in “We have a much better defense this year” or “We should win this election in a landslide”. If you haven’t been invited to any of the meetings, it’s “them”, not “we”.

It occurs to me that I have lived during the period of a major cultural shift in our society. Today, I would likely find it icky to discover that a woman had a lot of hair “down there”. Yet, when I first started having sex, this was pretty much the norm and I never gave it a second thought.

In general, people look silly when they dance.

The fear many women have about their man being unfaithful is unfounded. If your man was truly so attractive that he frequently found himself in the position of having to turn down offers of sex from beautiful women, chances are he wouldn’t be going out with you in the first place

People who drive “raised” trucks or SUVs are, by and large, dickwads.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

...Sales Ethics 101

Working in sales often puts you in a position of moral ambiguity. The most dishonest salesperson you’re ever going to meet is the one who tells you he never lies. We all do it to some degree. I try to keep mine to the little white variety, like telling a customer that a particular product is the “best” on the market when in reality it is the one I can make the most money on or is the hardest for them to shop my competition for. Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile my personal ethics with the realities of the business world. In my personal life, there are few virtues I value higher than honesty. But I’m also not going to lose a potentially lucrative sale just because I’m afraid my nose might grow another half-centimeter.

Whether it’s hypocritical or not, we salespeople expect to be treated fairly and honestly when we find ourselves in the role of customer. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve listened to a fellow salesperson spew out one line of bullshit after another in order to close a deal, only to have that same salesperson later complain about what a rip-off artist the mechanic across the street is.

At a previous job, I worked with this guy, Barry, who was not only that company’s top salesperson, but probably the best salesperson I’ve ever come across, period. He was legendary for tricking customers into paying above retail, often making over 50% margin on his sales, which is unheard of in our industry. I once had breakfast with Barry at a hotel in Orlando. After realizing the small glass of orange juice he had just ordered cost $4, Barry proceeded to chase our waiter around the restaurant with his glass, demanding to return it due to the outrageous price .

Friday morning, one of my business partners told me about his horrifying experience from the previous afternoon. Seems he had taken advantage of one of those “We’ll Clean 3 Rooms of Your House for $99" offers from a local carpet cleaning service. After about 15 minutes, the carpet cleaner guy (CCG) came out to tell him that the rooms were finished, but the dirt would probably reappear once the carpet dried since the $99 cleaning is really only meant to prepare the carpet for a more expensive deep cleaning. CCG said he had all of the equipment to do the deep cleaning ready in his van and would be happy to proceed as long as my partner agreed to the $390 price tag.

My partner rightfully complained about the blatant bait-and-switch tactic and refused to pay anything. A shoving match ensued when my partner requested that CCG leave his property immediately, which CCG wouldn’t do without payment. Threats of calls to the police were made from both sides. It was a big mess.

I could sympathize with my partner, having fallen for similar bait-and-switch routines myself. Since he still seemed kind of shaken up over the whole ordeal, I decided not to remind him of one of the early marketing ideas he had for our company. The plan was to get our phones ringing by offering one of our products at a ridiculously low price “while supplies last”. When customers called in for the special, we were to tell them that we had sold out and then try to steer them towards a different product that we could actually make money on. We talked him off the ledge on that one.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

...Unique Learning Disabilities

I have no “Boss From Hell” stories.

For the majority of my adult life I worked for an amazing sales manager who created incentive through positive reinforcement instead of fear of termination. While many people in the technology business have a tendency to turn into fossils once they achieve a cushy management position, Bob consistently stayed on the absolute cutting edge of our industry, always filled with new and creative ideas. He encouraged hard work through example, not hypocrisy. His was often the first car you’d see when you pulled into the office in the morning, and it wasn’t rare to see that his car was still there when you went home at night. Bob was one of those important figures in my life, like my parents, who believed so strongly that I had the skills and ability to be successful that eventually I started to believe him.

When Bob approached me about partnering with him to create our own business I felt as giddy as the homely schoolgirl who gets asked to the prom by the captain of the football team.

Although our business officially has four owners, there is little question as to who has done the most to get our company off the ground. In addition to being by far our strongest salesperson, Bob personally set up our company’s Local Area Network. He connected and programmed our phone system. He is the only one of us who really understands the very complicated financial aspects of running our business. With only a high school education under his belt, Bob has learned to design complex systems integration projects that are usually the domain of those with advanced electrical engineering degrees.

To be honest, though I consider Bob a personal friend, he is one of those people so multi-talented that you sort of hate him too, for the way he (unintentionally) makes you feel inadequate in comparison. This is a guy who built a horse rink by hand in his backyard, can play multiple instruments at a professional level and can fix virtually any household problem without having to pay a professional. But everyone must have one tragic flaw.

The dude can’t spell for shit.

I’m not talking about the garden variety spelling mistakes many of us make, like forgetting the correct number of c’s and r’s in “occurred” or how the “I before E” rule works. Bob’s problem is serious enough we've had to implement a rule that he is not allowed to send outgoing emails without letting one of us proofread, lest any of our customers or vendors think we are not an actual business, but a group of children playing pretend. Spellcheck is useless to Bob, as he can’t even recognize the correct spelling of a word when he sees it.

Part of the problem is that he wants to spell everything phonetically. All incoming invoices to our company are put into a folder Bob has labeled “Payabills”.

My unique learning disability has to do with putting stuff together. Just as a dyslexic can read a book, it just takes them a lot longer than the average person, I can finish “Some Assembly Required” projects, just not within any sort of normal timeframe.

For instance, I recently replaced my old, rickety entertainment center with this. I completed the project, it’s just that it probably should have taken 2 or 3 hours as opposed to 19. And most people probably wouldn’t have broken one of the pieces of wood due to their own negligence, or SuperGlued the piece back together unevenly, or had to deinstall the entire unit when it didn’t ultimately fit together properly, forcing them to return the unit, in individual pieces, back to the store while desperately trying to convince them the broken piece of wood was actually a factory defect (Thank you, Liberal Exchange Policies). Come to think of it, the doors probably shouldn’t fall off completely everytime they’re opened either.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

...Where I Hang My Hat

Just returned from an all-too-brief trip up to the Bay Area, my childhood home. These trips are always bittersweet - a reminder of the life I’ve chosen, and the one I left behind.

Excluding college, I lived in the same house in the same neighborhood in the same suburb from the time I was 4 until I turned 23. I went to school with the same group of kids from Kindergarten through high school

In hindsight, I can see that I had a fortunate childhood. Growing up, I knew nothing of crime or poverty. I received a terrific education at excellent schools.

But throughout adolescence I resented living among people whose opinion of me had been set in stone long before. Knowing that nothing I could do would ever break the preconceived notions people had about who I was. I desperately wanted a fresh start, to live someplace where nobody remembered the humiliations of my youth: The thick, nerdy glasses I wore up until high school. My lack of athletic gifts on the basketball court or the soccer field. My embarrassing shyness.

I think this is why college was such a great experience for me. Free from the burden of living among the ghosts of my past, I was able to live out the fantasy of starting anew. In college I was a popular member of the wildest fraternity on campus. I was never lacking in female companionship. I was surprisingly outgoing, with a full and fulfilling social life.

With no clear post-collegiate career plans, I moved back in with my parents following graduation. While they were great at treating me like an adult, I detested having to move back to my old city. I hated that I couldn’t do something so basic as rent a movie from the neighborhood Blockbuster without it turning into a mini-high school reunion, where nobody was even remotely aware of my more exciting college self. Only that I still lived with my parents and had a crummy, entry-level job well below my level of education. I felt I was doomed to never experience life beyond the small corner of the word I grew up in.

When a sales position arose at my company I jumped at it, as much for the chance to transfer far from home as for the promotion. The job required that I move to Orange County, 400 miles south.

I took to Southern California immediately. In addition to the thrill, which took years to wear off, of living mere minutes from the beach, an old college buddy of mine lived in the area, which provided a jumpstart on my social life. My company’s Orange County office also had far more employees within my age bracket than did my former office in the Bay Area, providing a whole other social outlet.

I stayed in close contact with my family and friends back in the Bay Area I talked to my parents weekly and also had a regularly scheduled Tuesday night phone call with my sister, where “That’s why I’m glad I moved to Southern California” became my stock response whenever my sister would relate a horror story of running into a long-lost nemesis from her past at synagogue or around town. I visited home often, rushing around, trying desperately to fit in activities with the many friends I still had in the area.

I always had the idea that I would someday return to the Bay Area. My sojourn to Southern California was meant to be temporary, a chance for me to gain life experience and to prove that I could survive on my own, beyond the same city block I had spent so much of my life on. I came from far too close a family and had too many friends in the Bay Area to not ultimately move back. As much as I liked Southern California, I had no ties there. I couldn’t help but get both depressed and envious when I’d hear one of my friends casually mention having dropped by his sister’s house over the weekend or watching my roommate run off to his parents house for a quick home cooked meal. I got tired of being the sympathy invite at big holidays, always the outsider at somebody else’s family gathering.

Making me feel even more isolated, I began to slowly drift apart from my attachments to Northern California. I still talked to my parents regularly, but brief weekly conversations couldn’t alleviate the feeling that they knew little about my life (who I was dating, who my friends were, what exactly I did for a living). My contact with my sister faded dramatically, not due to any falling out, but to her starting a family of her own. My now infrequent visits to the Bay Area allowed for a lot more free time as I gradually lost contact with all but my closest friends in the area.

Looking back, there have been times over these past few years where a return to the Bay Area would have made logical sense. By 1999, three years after my initial move, it was obvious that the changes at my company following a merger with a large, national corporation made any chance of upward mobility nil at best. In 2002, an internal power struggle at the company led to the firing of my boss and the majority of his team, myself included. Since that job is what brought me to Southern California in the first place, it only made sense when it ended to look at it as a sign to return.

But the joke of my adult life seems to be that I make an “I’ll Never” comment, only to immediately do the exact thing I’ve sworn never to do. Following college, the only thing I was absolutely sure of was that I didn’t want to do anything involving sales, which has led to a professional career of nothing but. This includes, along with my former boss and a couple former coworkers, starting my own local business two years ago. I used to tease my old roommate, Scott, mercilessly about his propensity for dating women with children, only to fall in love with and marry a woman with two boys. A delicate and potentially volatile custody agreement would complicate any long-distance move. I used to never understood why anyone would bother to live in Southern CA only to voluntarily choose to settle in the drab Inland Empire, a seemingly endless maze of tract homes and chain stores, and an hour away from the nearest beach. But slightly less ridiculous home prices and the chance to live in a quiet, safe neighborhood filled with other young families proved too hard for me to pass up.

Circumstances now keep me tied to Southern California for the foreseeable future. Still, whenever I make the journey up North, I can’t help but wonder about my other life, the one I could have led. What if I had stayed in the Bay Area and quit my entry-level job after a year to look for something more interesting, as I was planning before the opportunity for promotion came up? What if I hadn’t been so impatient to enter the workforce and had instead continued on to graduate school? What if I had stuck with my original plan of avoiding the rat-race altogether by earning my credential and teaching high school English?

Other questions nag at me as well. Living 6-7 hours away, will my son, due in 8 weeks, ever have anything resembling the same relationship with his grandparents that my niece and nephew who live right by them have? With my parents getting ready to turn the corner on 70 in the next few years, am I going to someday regret spending so much of my adult life as a twice a year guest star in their lives as opposed to a regular cast member like my sister? How could I have let so many valuable friendships fizzle just because of a little distance?

I wasn’t a big fan of The Prince of Tides, but there was a line at the end of that book that I thought was just great. I don’t remember it verbatim, but it had something to do with wishing that two lives could be granted to every man. What I wouldn’t do.

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