Cory Wilson – A Consolation

When he makes phone calls, he flicks his tongue at the receiver like a snake. He just flicks it back and forth then tells the client what’s wrong with them—their situation he calls it. He never says the word, mortgage. He never says anything really, other than meet you at 3pm and be prepared for a productive meeting. I never meet anyone at 3pm. My appointments, if they come, are at 7pm when my family is finishing their dinner. I don’t live with my family. We do a fifty-fifty thing now, our son sharing two homes. It didn’t used to be like this.

In 2003, I had been offered the position of account manager, which means telemarketer, for a large mortgage corporation. It was just before the divorce but right after the recording contract ended. You know that song “The Day the Music Died,” the one that goes bye bye Miss American Pie? I hate that song.

So I started flicking my tongue, too.

It helped with the rejection. One hundred and fifty phone calls a day, thirty something contacts, twenty something hang-ups. Of the ten people I would speak with, nine would say things like “Fuck you, telemarketer”; “Don’t you have anything better to do”; “Die you scum-sucking leach.”
My boss’s last name is Leach. He’s the tongue flicker, the one with the 3pm appointments. He drives the car and has the wife and child at home. When I see them in the picture frame that sits on his desk, they seem to be waiting for him. He’s the one who got me the job. I have known him since we were kids. His sales production allows my rent to be paid, my master’s degree to be earned. Dude makes thirty grand a month—thirty grand for giving people shit on the phone. He says anyone willing to take the abuse can do the same. He’s right. One deal can equal ten grand, sometimes more. The company we work for uses the word America in its title. I suspect at some point that had to do with the Yellow Pages and the letter ‘A’ being the alpha-in-the-bet. But now it seems to signify something else.

“Hello sir?”

“Yes.”

“This is Noah from America Mortgage, how are you doing?”

“America Mortgage—are you kidding?”

I wish I were.

Once a month, the account managers and the real managers have a numbers meeting. It’s where the shit goes down. You know that saying “the board doesn’t lie”? It’s true. I have worked for the company ten plus years now, but have not made my quotas on a regular basis since I decided to go back to school; that was three years ago.

Before the meeting, Leach pulled me aside, “Dude, we gotta talk.”

We went out to the courtyard and sat on a concrete bench. There were two planters and an ashtray filled with cigarette butts. He lit two cigarettes: one for me, one for him. Everything around us was marbled and gray. The black glass building we worked in shielded us from the sun. There was a brisk breeze.

“You’re not getting appointments,” he said. “You sound like a big pussy now. It’s like ever since you went back to school, the numbers just keep getting worse.”

“Look, man, I know. I know I’m in a rut. But I’ll pull out of it. I always do. And school doesn’t have anything to do with it.” It was a lie. School is heady, and people don’t buy heady. They buy confidence; they buy emotion. Some even do it for the challenge. They want to know they got the best deal: that they could grind a person down to the penny then brag about it to their neighbor. Financial firms breed testosterone factories for this reason. It’s a competition.

“It’s been months, bro. I can’t keep carrying you: lending you money, letting you poach all my old clients. And school has everything to do with it. You use these big words, but clients don’t give a fuck. You sound like a boring professor and make people want to hang up. No one wants to feel stupid or be educated by some sales guy on the phone. People want to feel good about themselves; that’s when they buy. You know this. Rule number one, remember: feel don’t think.”

“People don’t want to feel good,” I said. “If they did, they wouldn’t borrow money.”

I knew how pious it sounded, how weak I had become.

“Dude, whatever. Make a fucking sale then. I feel like I’m enabling you, and it’s gotta stop. How long til you’re a teacher anyways—or professor or whatever?”

I ask myself this question every day. How much longer—what am I doing this education thing for—forty grand and no benefits—an adjunct? I tell myself I am doing it for my seven-year old. He has two musicians for parents. And that’s not his fault. He needs someone to be stable, someone to be around to go to his games and his recitals and his whatever.

At one point, I had been making as much money as Leach. But it took everything I had: the music, the marriage, me. Twelve to fourteen-hour days were the norm, and when I would get home, there was nothing left inside—nothing resembling love; that’s for sure.

They say money changes you, but it’s not true. What changes you is what it takes to get it; the money only intensifies what you were before. I was, or am, a thinker—a daydreamer. I think my way into dreams, and then I go after them until I dislike what I thought my way into.
I find a reason to move on.

My ex-wife calls it being a malcontent. She’s probably right. But then again, she married me. We were in the band together: two lead singers sharing the same stage. And the record deal we shared, the one we worked so hard for, lasted about three months. Three whole months to live the dream—until we, or I, found the flaws within the contract. Pious people shouldn’t look at recording contracts; they’re filled with realities. You get to see how far down the food chain you really are and how much you’ll have to give in order to get.

When the deal went south, so did the marriage. There was no longer a song to be sung; arguments began to mean less and less. She thought it was the money and the mortgage business, but she was wrong. It was the music—it killed us both.

Anything worthwhile always does.

And money did things to her, too. As a kid, she always had it. To her, it was natural. There was no need to make up for lost time. To me, it was like the lotto. I once read an article in the New York Times that said people who win the lottery feel they deserve it. They think they willed it into being. The article said that 95% of these people were bankrupt within seven years. I can relate to that. It was exactly how I felt when I started to make money, real money, for the first time. It seemed as if life were offering a consolation prize to the loss of the music in our lives.

It was nice.

And then it was empty.

When Leach and I walked back into the building, he put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a slight shove as if to say, “it’s gonna be all right, man.”
The meeting room was fluorescent and beige. Thirteen chairs circled a large lacquered table. There were donuts and coffee. Two young men in dark suits stood around a dry erase board. They were serious, closers from corporate. Twelve of us were in the room: five managers, five account managers, and the two men. We sat down.

“I want to begin by drawing an illustration,” one of the young men said. He turned to the white board and with his left hand he picked up a black pen. There was an oversized college ring on his wedding finger. He began to draw an elephant. “Does anyone not know what this is?” he asked. No one answered. “Good. And what color is this elephant?”

I looked to Leach, but he kept his eyes down on his tablet. He pretended to make notes.

“It’s a white elephant,” I said.

He looked at me coldly, “And do you know what they do to elephants nowadays? I learned this in graduate school; they poach them, sell their tusks to make soap and shit—fucking ornaments and those dinky things you get at some kids Chucky Cheese party—you know, the consolation prize. Can you believe that shit? It’s a shame, but people don’t give a fuck.”

He looked at me again and smiled, “You know what I mean?”