The Name of the Game

You need a pretty strong self-image to stay in profession that must use euphemisms to describe itself. Nobody wants to deal with a salesman – or even a salesperson – so society is constantly assaulted with thinly disguised marketer-monikers as peddlers seek positive PR.

Over the years my business cards have held such titles as “Sales Professional”, “Sales Associate”, “Sales Representative”, and “Manufacturer’s Representative”. The latter is my favorite, as it doesn’t even CONTAIN the word “sales”, thus making the disguise complete. Then there are “Sales Team Members”, “Product Information Specialists, and “Customer Fulfillment Agents”.

In this world of enhanced titles, creating new ones must be increasingly difficult. That might explain the one I heard on the radio this week. A car dealer encouraged listeners to come in and visit with one of their “Automotive Relationship Counselors”.

Yes. Really. Automotive Relationship Counselors.

Now, being a car guy, I can appreciate the concept of a personal relationship with a motor vehicle. There remains a special place in my heart for my high school romance with a 1973 Datsun 240z. Then there was the love/hate thing with the ‘63 MGB, and my too-short fling with a Triumph Spitfire. My wife will tell you that back in college, I was in serious need of an Automotive Relationship Counselor to help me through a tough time with an old 1970 BMW. After a rocky relationship, I eventually killed her (the Beemer, not the fiancé).

But I digress. My point is that these people are not relationship counselors, automotive or otherwise. They are salespeople, and should not be ashamed to say so. As salespeople, the best thing we can do to improve our image is to stop insulting our customers’ intelligence, treat people with respect, and always conduct ourselves with honesty and integrity. In doing so, we will truly be professionals, no matter what is printed on our business cards.

A Tenuous Bond

The year was 1970, and I was entering the public school system as a first grader. Mine was the first class in this East Texas town to be fully desegregated, the “separate but equal” elementary schools having been closed the year prior. This makes me a unique breed: the first generation to have never known segregated schools. Of course, we still had a long way to go. It would be nearly twelve years later before our class of ’82 stopped electing separate class favorites for blacks and whites.  Our senior yearbook contains only one set of “Most Popular” and “Most Beautiful” and all the other miscellaneous “mosts”, thus eliminating the last vestiges of sanctioned segregation. 

Mrs. Langston’s First Grade Class

Several events along the way stick in my mind.

1971 – Second Grade: A black teacher had been moved to our school from the “separate but equal” campus. There was a bit of a dust-up because many white parents did not want their children in her class. Apparently, the whole “equal” part hadn’t been true after all, because she was judged to be an inferior teacher. She probably was less qualified, but she had a heart of gold, and the students loved her, even if their parents didn’t. I had the white teacher. She was mean.

1976 – Seventh Grade: I became friends with a black kid. He was a nice guy, and I was a nice guy, and we just happened to get along well. I’m sure he knew, as did I, that our friendship was outside the mainstream, but to us it was no big deal. One day I called his house to invite him to go somewhere and do something, and his father answered the phone. He demanded to know who I was, and was openly hostile, refusing to let me speak to his son.  It stung. It still stings. In the years since, I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe he was just having a bad day, that maybe this had nothing to do with the fact that I was white. But I knew then, as I know now, that fear and resentment existed in both our worlds.

1978 – Ninth Grade:  After football practice, some of the team walked to Mac’s, a favorite local hamburger joint two blocks from the school. Mac’s still had a rear entrance and separate dining area for black patrons, and some of the older folk still used it. But our black teammates went with us through the front door and we all ate at the same tables.  Not the first, to be sure, but among the first to think nothing of it. On some level, we must have known that our generation was turning a corner at a historic crossroads, but at the time, I didn’t really understand the significance. I wonder if the black kids did.

We grew up in modern times, in a not-so-modern place. School was the overlapping subset of two circles, a place where we learned to share a society with people we could not really know. We learned of Cornelius Vanderbuilt’s railroad empire and of Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad; of George Washington’s cherry tree and of George Washington Carver’s peanut butter. We faced a future that promised a post-racial society, and we were the first generation who did not fear it.

Forty years after that first grade fall morning, I’m still in the same town, and that future is not yet present.  There are more circles now, smaller and more diverse.  Their overlapping intersections are more complex, but still they are separate circles.  I see some of my African-American classmates around town from time to time, and we usually give a genuine smile and say hi, though we never call each other up to go to dinner together. Acquaintances have become friends on Facebook, and a look at our wall posts shows that we still travel in somewhat different – if not separate – circles.  Still, I like to think that those of us in that subset share a tenuous bond – an uneasy tension combined with an unspoken pride in the Henderson High School class of 1982.

Need baking soda? I know this guy…

If you need sodium bicarbonate in large quantities, I can hook you up. Thanks to the power of the WWW, I now have a source in China for bulk baking soda.

How lucky can you get? This morning, out of the blue, an email showed up in my inbox from this guy named William Zhang. William and his business associates located my business through a careful search of the internet. According to the email, “We learn your esteemed company on your website!”

Now, most people would probably never think to market wholesale baking soda to an esteemed church furniture salesman, but then most people are not as sharp as William Zhang. He obviously thinks outside the box, and I’m inspired to do the same.

Lest you think Hangzhou Garden Corporation is just some fly-by-night outfit sending out spam willy-nilly, be aware that they’ve been at this since 2002, and they exported 120,000 Metric Tons of baking soda in 2009 alone! Besides that, the flowability of their soda is excellent. According to Mr. Zhang, “There is no agglomerate under common conditions in a year.” And the whiteness can meet 94.5. What more can you ask for?

I haven’t quite figured out how to work the baking soda into my church furniture website, so I’m offering it to you here. So before you shell out big bucks at the grocery store, call me for a sodium bicarbonate deal.

Eternal Images

When you go, how will you be remembered? 
I’m not talking about an epitaph or a eulogy.  I’m talking about your obituary photo.  What picture will be printed in the paper?  I find it fascinating to read the obits in the newspaper and compare the age of the deceased to the age of the person in the photo. Last week, for example, a seventy-one year old lady passed away, but her obituary picture was of a woman in her thirties, with a beehive hairdo and double-knit dress circa 1969.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I’m not about to criticize anyone’s perpetual picture preference.  Clearly this is a very personal thing.  But who makes the final decision?  Did this little old lady pre-select a photo and specify it in her will?  Perhaps her children selected a photo that reminded them of mom at her most maternal.  Or maybe the husband chose his favorite picture, choosing to remember her as he still sees her – young and beautiful.
The good thing about memories is that we can select them.  We remember our loved ones, and we see ourselves, as we choose to – in the prime of life.   
So I guess the real question is: When your prime be?

I’m Hacked.

Imagine my surprise upon visiting my business website to find this:
I’m not sure who Memat-Ahmadso is, but I must give him credit:
1. He was thoughtful enough to apologize to me in case I happened to be a Muslim.
2. He was honest about his motive for hacking my site (“…just wanted to…”).
3. He managed to hack Network Solutions, one of the biggest website hosting companies out there.
Fortunately, the good folks at Network Solutions have excellent customer support, and I was able to correct the problem in a matter of minutes.  Apparently I was not the only victim.  No harm done to any of my data.
I suppose I should thank Ahmadso for reminding me that I really should update my website.  It needs a new look.

Rats in the cellar of my soul

Storytelling is an important teaching tool, not only because it holds the student’s attention by entertaining, but because it makes the teacher’s point using a frame of reference familiar to the student.  Great teachers know how to use metaphor and analogies to illustrate important concepts. In this regards, C.S. Lewis was a genius. Take this bit from Mere Christianity:

“…surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.”

Lewis makes the point that our goal should not simply be to do good things, but to become a good person. Of course, we must begin by doing good, by acting like the good person we wish to become, but true transformation cannot be accomplished purely by our own efforts. For this we must look to God, as Lewis goes on to explain:

“Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.”…

“After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God.”

I thank God for transforming thoughtful men like C.S. Lewis.

Avatar Movie Review

Took the family to the movies on Christmas day to see “Avatar”. The special effects were incredible, the 3D glasses were fun, and the popcorn was great. The story was standard Hollywood fare: Evil, greedy corporation teams with bloodthirsty military mercenaries to invade a pristine civilization, killing innocent natives and destroying the environment in order to steal and exploit natural resources. Spiritually attuned natives team up with Mother Earth to fight back. I don’t wanna won’t spoil the story for you, but the plot involves a parapalegic Marine, a really hi-tech tanning booth, a bunch of tall skinny blue people, some Rock-em Sock-em Robots, and a big red bird thing.