I was watching a short film made by The Jam Handy Organization for Chevrolet in 1941. It was intended to help management improve the sales technique of its workers. I learned some interesting things. I learned that car salesmen used to go door to door. They'd even show up at construction sites to try to sell the foreman a new truck. I learned that the salesman is supposed to drive the car first, before he lets the potential customer get behind the wheel. I got a clearer sense of what people meant when they said, “It's a man's world.”
In one scene, an unsuccessful salesman is saying to a co-worker, “I just don't seem to get the hang of this business.” And I could hear that standard expression when it was still fresh and slangy, but not too much so. How the hang of it felt to say, how it described a new way of seeing. The way something hangs. The salesman tests it out in his tongue. It describes his confusion, his inexplicable inability to get why his marks just won't buy. “How is this engine different from the Plymouth?” one potential customer asks. “Well,” the salesman chuckles, caught, “I don't know how it's different. I just know that the Chevrolet is better.”
It's hard to remember that the people in the film are actors. In one scene, the dealership manager sits with his father on the old man's porch. It must be summer. The old man is wearing a white handkerchief draped on his head, dispensing sage, hard-earned advice about how to responsibly train your employees. The men are so earnest, so clear in their emotions, each one telegraphed precisely to the viewer's reptilian brain.
Since I started Fear Grin Editing, No Job Too Big or Too Small, I have, thanks to a friend on the inside, been able to penetrate to deeper levels of the publishing business that I ever could have made it to, much less known about, before. Maybe I'll get some work out of this. If nothing else I've had occasion to reflect on corporate America. From here it seems a strange world filled with mirrored doors. Leaded gas. Carbon emissions. Global warming. And in the face of all this there is the beauty and order of human culture. In this case its beauty is unsustainable, it sets itself up in opposition to the natural world, and it is no less compelling for that. Some part of me adores the generous curves of the Chevrolets, the high-heeled shoes the wives wear, the stilted voices of the salesmen. I look at the strange world of people and I think, surely one will figure out a way to save us. And if not, what can we learn by dying?
I remember reading an interview with a Buddhist priest—I can't remember his name now, something long. It wasn't his original name. He was an American. And this guy had it. Yeah, I'd call him enlightened. The things he said didn't make you feel comfortable, but at the same time, they were oddly reassuring. When the interviewer asked, “What do you think happens to the individual consciousness after death?” He responded, “That presumes there is an individual consciousness.” And so I feel hopeful. I feel hopeful about the order of things. There is some rightness to all of this, some inexplicable rightness. And if I have some spare time to get depressed, I look up at Tallulah's portrait of herself in my arms.