Mall People

Bill was right. All the mall’s a stage, and all the men and women are merely bit players in this comedy. Each has a role, and everyone is a punchline. So it’s not Shakespeare, but it is as I like it.

Here comes the rosary lady, arms swinging, head bobbing, and lips mouthing silent prayers as she fingers the beads on her rosary. She walks as salmon swim—against the flow. Today, like all days, she sports her Green Bay Packers jersey. She smiles and nods. Once, between Hail Mary’s, she growled, “Morning” in a whiskey-throated burst that was too deep for her slight frame. Oh boy, look out.

They streak past me like I’m rooted in the tile floor. These Lululemon moms are fit, firm, and fast. Three abreast and marching in cadence, these quick-stepping, long-striding fashionistas push their strollers, locked in a synchronous display of youthful stamina. Like a flight of geese, they adjust quickly to single-file formation as they prepare to pass the white shoe people.

With shoes as white as their hair, they amble around the mall. I’m not talking about the Nikes or Brooks or Asics that the fashionistas wear. These faux leather foot wrappers fit like a toga. Since they must house bunions, hammer toes, corn pads, arch supports, and compression socks, they come in two sizes—generous and very generous.  Were it not for the Velcro strap with SAS logo emblazoned on them, they would shuffle right out of these shoe boxes. I admire their enthusiasm as they inch-worm their way around the mall. They smile as the young ones take over their lanes. They are not in a hurry, unlike the scavenger.

Oh, how this guy amuses me. He darts from one coin exchanger to another. From vending machines, to massage chairs, to pay phones, to seat cushions, to arcade games, to ATM’s, he searches frantically for mintage. He squats as quickly for a penny as a quarter. One of his circuitous routes equals two laps for the rest of us. He completes one zig-zag lap upstairs and one downstairs every day. I’ve often mused how entertaining it would be to super glue a half-dollar to the floor and lie in wait to watch him engage in a tug-of-war with the floor. He would win of course. What is that racket?

I’ve heard that tonal, monosyllabic clucking before. It sounds like a choking duck. It’s the Vietnamese woman standing outside of her nail salon squawking into her cell phone. I feel like I’m back in the Nam hearing mamasan bark orders to the bar girls. A quick glance in the window of the salon and there she is, one of the white shoes getting the barnacles scraped off of her feet. Soon, she will emerge in flip flops with cotton bumpers stuck between her crooked toes. I’m grossed out, just as I’m coming to the food court.

The food samplers. Don’t they know by now I don’t eat their stuff? It doesn’t help that the guy who works at Subway never washes his hands, and I’ve seen him two knuckles up his nose before. If I ate their stuff I’d have to do another lap and frankly the calories aren’t worth it. Now, if they were giving away doughnuts, I’d eat one as long as the Subway guy didn’t hand it to me. But at least these folks hawking their food are reasonably polite, not like what’s waiting for me around the corner.

These carnival barking kiosk operators are the most annoying people in the mall save for the mall rats on Friday evenings or snow days. They all go to the same foreign language accent school. “Do I look like a hand cream guy to you, buddy?” Do you know how many times I’ve had to say this? Can they really earn a living selling knock-off sunglasses, cell phone cases, and massage magnets? Once, I told the magnet chick that the Chinese guy who runs the massage parlor down the hall might be a prospect for the magnets. I’ve seen that Asian masseuse work.

He had a middle-aged guy in his torture chair, and the Chinese guy was performing some kind of Kung-Fu maneuver on him—jabbing, rotating, and pile-driving a sharp elbow deep into the man’s spine. The poor guy screamed so loud that it startled the old creepy guy who sits in the massage chairs to watch the Lululemon moms walk by. Even mamasan stopped screeching into her cell phone and looked over. That yell echoed so loud throughout the mall that the security people showed up.

Mall cops are the Rodney Dangerfield’s of the mall. The few. The proud. The disrespected. They all wear the same black orthopedic shoes and tactical gear with a name badge that says, “Not authorized to carry a gun.” That’s like telling the shoplifters that all they have to do is to run a little faster than paint dries and they’ll get away. Mall cops come in every size, age, color, gender, and sweat pattern. I actually saw a mall cop break a sweat riding his Segway around the mall. I thought those things had a weight limit. If you need to find a mall cop, they hang out in the food court the way real cops hang out in doughnut shops. The young mall cop with the buzz cut is a straw. With a 24-inch waist, his only shape comes from the wallet in his back pocket and the cell phone in his shirt pocket. I know he has a crush on the girl who works at the coffee shop.

I should say the “coffee moochers” shop because most of the people I see in there are old folks like me who get their senior-discount coffee and sit for two hours draining the bottomless pots. I asked the shop manager one day if he resented the moochers and he said, “Not really, but it does bother me when they bring in food from other places, eat at our tables, and fill their travel mugs.” Every once in a while I see a real shopper eating there at lunch time.

It’s too bad that there are so few of them these days in this mordant merchandise mall. Generally, it’s the look-alike, dress-alike mothers and daughters, one trying to look older and the other trying to look younger. Sometimes when I’m feeling frisky and flirtatious I might say, “Are you two twins?” The daughters roll their eyes, and the mom’s adjust their hair. The cleaning lady thinks it’s funny.

That poor ol’ gal pushes and pushes and pushes her cleaning cart. Sometimes, it even moves. The only time I’ve ever seen her clean anything was when I hot-footed to the restroom, and she had already barricaded the door with her “Piso Mojado” sign. I try not to use public restrooms for all of my needs because men are as disgusting in public as they are at home. At home, we leave the seats up, but in public restrooms we leave the seats down, and it’s never a pretty sight. Buzz cut saw me dancing by the door and laughed. He said, “Man, every time.” I ran to the downstairs restroom by the exit. That’s where the smokers hang out.

Those poor discriminated against smokers. They cluster in cumulus clouds with the bus people and the outdoor mall cop. He’s the one that sweats; smoking and sweating is a bad combination. Sometimes mamasan goes out for a smoke, too. It doesn’t matter how bad the weather is, they are out there, those dedicated inhalers. Draw in; hold it; hold it; a little longer; blow out; and cough up a lung. They’re at every entrance. It’s like I’m back in Nam, popping smoke for the choppers to land. Damn flashbacks. Damn Mamasan. Time to go.

I only did one lap today on the upper level. I spent too much time observing and not enough time walking. Tomorrow I’ll come back and do a couple of laps downstairs. I haven’t told you about the ground-level people: exhausted playground moms sanitizing everything with germ-killing wipes; inconsiderate loud talkers adding their noise pollution to the cacophony of mall music and train whistles; tone-deaf earbud singers who gyrate to Bruno Mars; way-too-many jewelry stores, sports memorabilia shops, and candle places; the vision center that requires all employees to wear glasses as part of their uniform; the art shops for starving artists who must be emaciated by now since I’ve never seen a customer in there; the karate place with all those screaming kids and gushing parents; the fancy, ladies undergarment shop and the guys that hang out in the massage chairs waiting for their wives because only single guys go in those places. And then, there’s the winking hair dresser. I don’t know if she’s flirting or just has a tic. It doesn’t matter to me, but I think the creepy old guy likes it. I saw him wink back once.

There are more, so many more to tell you about. There’s nothing quite like a trip to the mall to awaken my muse. It’s a-musing.

Fields of Stone

Rolling hills, sacred space carved by God’s hand
High ground, a fitting journey’s end for soldiers,
Spills life into the flowing Mississippi below.
A tree here, a bench there, a flag playing in the wind
The smell of early, fresh-cut grass watered by tears
Silence is the loudest sound here
Loud words taste bitter in this solemn place
The touch of a soft and steady breeze
God’s sweet breath, a reminder—He is always here.
Streets with heroes’ names run like veins through these hills
They guide the parade of mourners to the stones.

Stones cut from God’s earth and carved by man
Sun-bleached, stained by time, standing tall—like
Silent sentinels guarding the brave that rest below.
Dressed and covered in death as in life
Some 20,000 strong this army of stone.
Stones that know the names over whom they watch—
Otto, Gary, Bobby, Howard, George, Willie
Uncle, father, son, brother, grandpa
Private Combs, Sergeant White, Lt. Scott, Capt. Gillis.
Stones that tell the story of the heroes in their shadows
Purple hearts, bronze stars, a Medal of Honor.
They came from distant places to rest here—
Gettysburg, Argonne Forest, Normandy, Pusan, Khe Sanh, Falluja
So many wars, so many stones.
Here lie dreams of what might have been—
A sweetheart sleeps, a father who never saw his child,
A book never written, a song never sung.

To these fields of stone loved ones come to grieve
They tag the stones—Gone too soon, Gentle giant, See you soon, BFF
For all that rest here, “Job well done.”
The things they leave behind, tokens of love, memories for the living—
Flowers, golf balls, family pictures, Holy cards, a pin wheel spinning in the breeze.
I want to leave but can’t.
I want to stay longer, grieve, and pray once more for their souls.
I must thank God again, for by His grace, I’ve yet to claim my stone.

For The Joy of Sales

Find a job you like, and you will never work a day in your life.

Teachers, career counselors, and motivational speakers have shared this nugget from antiquity with students, job seekers, and dissatisfied workers. It is sage advice. Having spent four decades in the sales profession, I can attest to its validity for salespeople.

For some people, sales is a calling and then a career. For other people, sales is an entry-level position into business. After the trial period, it may become a launching pad for something else. For some people, sales is a proving ground to see if they can make it in the marketing field. For Liberal Arts Majors, Sales is a way to assimilate into a world they may not have planned to join. How people arrive in this profession doesn’t matter. Sales is an exciting career for those who want to risk the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat in the business world. For most people, there is no greater challenge in business than succeeding in the role of a rainmaker.

Sales offers a way to serve others, solve problems, and build relationships. Some sales positions offers the opportunity to travel to places most people would not visit on their own. This broadens their perspectives. Sales demands that salespeople set aside their own biases to see the world in others’ terms, which results in personal growth. This transcendent quality of sales is reinforced as salespeople become part of a team that creates value for their companies and customers. Value creation is a meaningful experience for everyone. Salespeople have the privilege of experiencing this daily.

Sales allows salespeople to test their mettle. If salespeople have a compensation plan that involves an incentive for performing, they are paid what they are worth. Sales is the one true meritocracy in business. That’s why it motivates salespeople. There are no participation awards in sales. There are no third-place trophies. There is no simply going through the motions. Order-takers soon discover their companies and customers want more than a warm body in a hot territory.

The starkest reality and most exciting dynamic of sales is that salespeople are paid to make sales, not calls.

Salespeople must produce or perish. Some people are intimidated by this reality, and that’s okay. There are many other ways for those people to create value for their companies. Those people who make sales a career understand the reality of producing and are motivated by the challenge.

Whether Confucius, Mark Twain, or a Princeton Professor coined the opening quote doesn’t matter. It is sound advice. Finding something that is enjoyable to do and doing it with great pride and effectiveness is a prescription for success in any profession. It is absolutely true for salespeople.

Tom Reilly is literally the guy who wrote the book on Value-Added Selling (McGraw-Hill).