“Joey and the Snowman”

Hello?

Hi there. My name is Joseph, and I’m calling from the credit investigation office. Can you hear me okay?

Yes….

Good. How are you doing today?

I’m all right, thanks.

Glad to hear that, sir. I’m calling….

Well, actually, since you ask, my arthritis has been acting up. I have good days and bad days.

Oh, I’m sorry to hear that, sir. I’m calling because….

And how are you doing today?

Uh, I’m fine, thank you for asking. But as I was saying, I’m….

Can you hear me okay?

Yeah, sure, but….

That’s good, because you and I need to have a little chat. This is the second time this week that you’ve called this number. You used a different caller ID each time, but I know it’s you again because of that silly can-you-hear-me-okay line. I let you run through your entire pitch the first time because I was curious. But I have to tell you, you definitely need a whole new approach.

Excuse me, sir?

Now, I admit that the part about the credit investigation office got my attention. For a while there you had me thinking some grifter was trying to steal my identity. But after that your pitch fell flat.

What are you, a fucking cop?

No, no. Relax. I just want to pass along a little friendly advice, that’s all. By the way, is Joseph really your name?

Uh…yeah….

Well, listen to me, Joey. Judging by the sound of your voice, I’d say you’re a young fellow. I’m an old pro at this game, so take my word for it: You’ll never score big with that routine.

And I guess you think you can come up with something better.

Certainly I can. I just hope you don’t expect me to share it with you. I have to make a living too, you know. But at least I can give you a few tips.

Yeah? Like what?

Like, your delivery needs work. For example, you tend to hesitate a few seconds before you start talking, as if you’re getting ready to read from a script. At first that made me think it was a robocall. At that point, most people will hang up. Another thing: You should never have let me sidetrack you the way I did at first. You always have to control the conversation.

But you were….

You need to keep talking. Don’t let me interrupt you. Confuse me. Intimidate me. Keep me off balance. Those first few seconds are crucial. That’s when you have to make me invest some time in the conversation. The longer you can keep me on the phone, the harder you make it for me to hang up on you.

Well, I know all that. So this is it? This is all you got?

Joey, Joey, you’re taking advantage of my good nature. Do you expect me to do all the brainwork for you? But I’ll tell you what: It’s not every day that I come across a young person with your enthusiasm and raw talent for our craft. And when I do, I try to help develop that talent. I consider it my debt to the next generation. You have a natural gift, Joey, and I’d hate to see you waste it in some crummy office job for the rest of your life.

Okay, okay, I’m listening.

So let me tell you your biggest problem, which actually goes way beyond your delivery. You need an entirely new pitch, one that promises people something they want, or something you can make them think they want. Or maybe you can scare them out of their wits, like the bogus IRS agent who calls and says you owe a stack of Ben Franklins and you’d better pay up right now.

Yeah, that was one sweet scam.

It was brilliant! If there’s ever a hall of fame for our profession, whoever dreamed that one up would be a shoo-in. And don’t forget some of the other classics, like the Nigerian pooh-bah who was eager to give you a few mill just to launder his money, or the giant sweepstakes you won even though you never entered it. And how about the young fellow who calls and says he’s your grandson’s buddy? You know, the kid was caught smoking pot and needs bail money, but he’s afraid to call his parents.

Those were big.

Yes, they were big because they played on everybody’s best and worst instincts: trust, love, fear, greed. And that’s precisely what you need, Joey, something big and new and imaginative. Maybe even a bit preposterous, like the computer that’s supposed to self-destruct in exactly five minutes if you don’t ante up. Your challenge is to make the impossible seem inevitable.

Well, okay, but…

Sad thing is, you have to keep thinking, keep coming up with new ideas, because it’s the best pitches that have the shortest lifespan. Every two-bit chiseler and bottom-feeder is just waiting to jump on them. And then the TV news, AARP, and Consumer Reports chime in with their smug exposés and finish them off. Just remember, when their time is up, you have to let go. You can’t let yourself become too attached.

That sucks.

That does indeed…uh…suck. But this is the kind of world we live in today. There’s no professional pride, no respect for intellectual property. People like us survive only by carefully studying human nature and its foibles. So get cracking, and don’t let me down. And when you come up with an elegant and creative pitch, call me back and run it by me. I’ll give you my honest take.

Hey, man, that’s real nice of you. But…you wouldn’t steal it from me, would you?

Joey, that cut deep. Would I do that to a friend?

About Alex Markovich

Alex Markovich was a staff editor at several newsstand magazines, including Consumer Reports, Popular Mechanics, and Popular Science. Retirement gave him the freedom to do more-creative writing. His fiction and essays have appeared in Wigleaf, Halfway Up the Stairs, Blue Lake Review, Still Crazy, and other electronic and print publications.




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