SMOKE: The Scariest Salesman

Originally published: 30 September 2004

I've told you about my days of door to door sales before and if you read about them I trust you'll agree I'm qualified to know my salesmen.

I paid a lot of close attention in my sales training and took in a number of tips and tricks for gaining trust and elbowing my way into someone's life unannounced.

I learned how to make people think they were suggesting the very thoughts I was planting in their heads, I learned how to read people and know them better than their own mother within five minutes, and I learned how to screw poor people out of money they could ill-afford to be frittering away on some useless trinket they would regret for years to come.

Sales is all about psychology and social manipulation - it's the reason I loathed it as much as I did. I could have sold a helluva lot more units than I did had I been able to stomach reeling my little fishies in, but for the most part I couldn't do that.

The only sales I made were to complete whales - people with tons of cash who would gladly have simply given it to me for the hour or so of companionship I provided.

A few years ago a salesman arrived at my door. He started with the usual tricks and I cut him off curtly, despite his stammered protests to be allowed to say something. I closed the door in his face.

And instantly I loathed myself for being the bastard I had had to face so many times when trudging the suburban roads of Brackenfell, Durbanville, Mossel Bay, Paarl and George.

You can see in someone's eyes when they recognise you for a salesman - a lightbulb goes on as they realise they're being smooth-talked by someone pretending not to sell something, and their eyes shift, their lips curl slightly upwards and they start firmly closing the door.

Trust me - you never want to be on the receiving end of that shit.

So I hauled ass out the front door and ran down the road to catch up with him, and when I did I apologised for being dismissive.

I told him that based on personal experience I would highly recommend that he get out of sales today and told him if he didn't he would be a soulless shell before the year end.

It might have been slightly patronising but it wasn't intended that way - I simply had to tell him in the hope that he would go away and digest some of it, and perhaps see - through examples in his own day to day experiences - what a lot of crap it was.

I could tell he thought I was odd, as I would have done had some mad bloke come haring out of his house after me, carrying on about bullshit and lies and the bigger picture.

The only reason I had to deal with him in the first place was because I left my front gate open, something I never do as an absolute rule. It's been closed ever since, until yesterday when a friend came to visit and mistakenly thought he could leave the it open.

He hadn't been inside two minutes before I saw a bloke come swooping into my yard at pace. The blue shirt, Woolworths pants, creative tie and flip file gave him away before he even made it to the porch. He may as well have stolen the old sales clothes off my back.

He rang the doorbell, the dog went ballistic, I burst a vein in my neck trying to get her to understand that if she didn't shut up I would personally disembowel her and eat the contents as she lay gasping her last, I put the chain on the door and opened it a crack.

I peered through the crack and looked at him expectantly.

And there it was, etched all over his thin, cadaverous face: The Madness.

The insanity of someone who lost if before they even had it. Trembling with madness, he was, as the muscles beneath the skin of his face rippled with agitated insanity. I've never seen a more insane-looking person in my life, and trust me when I tell you I've seen my fair share.

He thrust a huge, laminated menu through the crack in the door and started asking questions like: "Are you hungry right now?", and "Do you have dinner planned for tonight?", and then he managed to blurt out that he was from Flambo's - a Portuguese flamed-chicken place which has a counter in the 24-hour shop of our local Shell garage.

He stabbed the end of a reversed pencil through the crack and started prodding items on the menu madly. I cut off his insane babble by telling him I was very sorry but I wouldn't be making use of his special offer.

He literally took a step back, his face screwed up in incredulity until he looked like a desiccated rat, and with arms akimbo demanded to know whether I was going to turn down an offer of 60 free meals between now and next February.

I assured him that that was exactly what I was going to do, and then he flipped.

He thrust his arm through the door and yelled "Give that back then!" as he grabbed the menu from me, and in utter amazement I watched perspiration beads form on his forehead and roll down his face as he turned to look at me one last time.

He had a thin film of dried white saliva coating the corners of his lips, his bloodshot eyes were sunken into his skull and he appeared to be having trouble breathing.

He looked at me as one would look at a mass killer, and croaked out: "You have a nice day now". And then he fled.

Cooked, man. Sales ain't what it used to be.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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