There are worse things in life than death. Have you ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman?
-- Woody Allen
'Don't make eye contact," I whispered as we walked in the door. But my warning was pointless -- I could see with a quick glance to the left and right that we were the only two customers in the store. Behind the desk sat a young, smiling, calm-countenanced woman. "Let us know if you need any help," she advised in a singsong voice. I almost let my guard down, but I knew she was most likely a decoy -- a pretty fish in this sea of discount mattresses. Before I had a chance to answer her, I was eye-to-eye with the shark.
"Hi, I'm Bob! What is it you're looking for?" New Jersey accent. Greasy hair. Two yellow stains on his white, button-down shirt and a curious rust-red splotch on his paisley tie. He smelled of plastic and McDonald's french fries. His nervous stance matched his eyes -- their penetrating, desperate stare was reminiscent of a cornered rabbit.
"Nothing, really. Just looking," said David. Contradicting my partner in order to throw the pathetic creature a carrot, I offered, "King size. On the firm side." I then explained what we were looking for in further detail, and Bob, with no small amount of confidence, said, "I bet I can find just the one!"
Crisscrossing the store, we were guided from one mattress to the next. Bob insisted -- under the assumption that people are more easily persuaded when they are comfortable -- that we lay prostrate before he went into his mattress-specific spiels. Despite the mattress man's assurance that we would "die and go to heaven" upon stretching out on any one of these "top of the line" mattresses with "state-of-the-art design features" and several other sales-pitch clichés, David and I were not impressed. After we shunned the seventh mattress, Bob was beginning to look dejected.
Since our tour guide seemed to be out of suggestions for the moment, David and I dispersed to try out some of the mattresses that hadn't been recommended to us. We found two that we liked. We were surprised that despite our thorough description of what we were looking for, these two weren't on Bob's horizontal tour.
"Can you give me a price on this one?" I asked. With an alacrity befitting a college boy asked to judge the sorority bikini contest, Bob leapt behind the counter to crunch some numbers. Apparently (according to Bob) it was our lucky day because it just so happened that the mattress I was interested in was on sale.
While he calculated away, I attempted to make small talk. "We're so ready for a mattress. We've been sleeping on a futon cushion on the floor and I think it's contributing to David's backaches."
"Yeah," said David. "I mean, you spend half of your lifetime in bed."
"More if you're a prostitute," I added. David giggled. Nothing from Bob.
"Alrighty," said Bob. Then, with a seriousness better suited for an undertaker, he pushed a blank piece of paper between us. "Here's how much that mattress usually sells for." He wrote the number. "If you take it right now , I can give it to you for this ." He jotted down a slightly smaller number and tapped his pen against it repeatedly.
"Listen, this is the first store we've been in, so we're going to look around--"
"You'll never find a deal as good as this one," Bob interrupted, his voice an octave higher.
"I really like this mattress, Bob," I said in a soothing voice. I could tell he needed some coddling if we were going to get out of there in one piece. "I think we'll probably end up grabbing lunch and then coming right back to get it."
"Where are you going for lunch?"
"We haven't figured it out yet," I answered. "Why? Do you know of a great place around here?"
"I'll tell you what. If you purchase this mattress today , your lunch is on me. I will buy your lunch, whatever you want. Unless, of course, what you want is in La Jolla, heh heh. Heh." The desperate point of no return had been reached. I shared a sideways glance with David, who looked pained by the pathetic sales tactic.
"You don't have to do that, Bob," I said. "I'm sure we'll be back before the end of the day." Bob managed to look simultaneously hopeful and resigned to the harsh reality that if he didn't close the sale right then, he never would.
Aggressive sales tactics have no effect on me. Maybe it's because I once worked in the training department in a telemarketing call center. Or perhaps it has to do with the fact that I have skeptical parents from Brooklyn. Regardless of the cause, there is only one method by which to sell me something, whether it's a mattress or a car, and that is reverse psychology. I have to believe that there is no commission on the line if I am going to consider the "facts" about to be given. I really felt bad for Bob. But after his unctuous delivery and his transparent gimmicks, I didn't care how much I liked that mattress -- there was no way I could buy it from him.
Like the majority of salespeople, I am a classic type "A" personality (angst-ridden, competitive, and time-obsessed). David is the perfect opposite as a standard "B" (guilt-free, relaxed... basically, a hell of a lot more stable). "B"s and "B"s get along fine, as do "A"s and "B"s. But rarely will you find an "A" chumming it up with another "A." Like the positive sides of two magnets, one repels the other, and for this reason, I cringe when a pushy, talkative, attention-seeking individual (like myself) approaches.
When we left Bob, David and I continued to shop around. Pushy salesmen were everywhere. In each store, we'd be asked the innocuous, "Can I help you?" and soon after, were pounced upon with the obnoxious, "Let me tell you why you need to have this." There were only three stores that did not contain sharks, and it is no coincidence that in each of those three, I dropped a load of cash.