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Archive for May, 2011

BELOW IS A GUIDE TO SPEAKING TO POTENTIAL CLIENTS:

“Hello, this is [Insert Name] calling from Smith Collins on Wall Street. Can you hear me well?”

This is to acquire your first “yes”. Accumulating “yeses” is the key to any positive agreement. This first one is a gimme. Do not say “Smith Collins Financial”. NEVER say “financial”. This is a stop sign for all sales calls. Follow with:

“Excellent, I have it on file that your are looking for a opportunity to enhance your position. I would like to have my senior analyst give you a call with an idea for equities trading. Are mornings or afternoons better for you?”

This is the close. “Mornings or afternoons?” – this is always the close. If you get a “yes” here or at any point follow with:

“That’s great. I appreciate you having an open mind and interest in new opportunities. I will have my guy give you a ring tomorrow and you will have a look at what we can do for you in the market. Have a great day!”

We all know this never happens on the first pitch. Get ready for objections, like “not interested” and counter with:

“Being interested and being informed are two different things. All I want is an open mind and ninety seconds of your time for my analyst to give you an idea for investment. At the very least you will be informed of what is happening here on the street. Are mornings or afternoons better?”

If yes, make the appointment. If he [do not pitch females] replies with financial concerns, offer:

“That’s odd, I have you down as an active investor. When was the last time you traded stock? [Regardless of answer, continue] I can provide you with the insights and analysis you need to build your wealth. Can we call you in the morning or do you prefer the afternoon?”

Things will get intense now if he stays on the line. When the objections get fiercer provide the following:

“Listen, I know it’s rough out there. However, I have been at Smith Collins for ten years now, and we have beaten the street consistently because of the resources we have. I can show you an investment product and you do not even have to buy. Just watch it and kick yourself for not moving faster as you watch it rise. Can we tell you about it in the morning or the afternoon?”

You probably have not worked here for ten weeks even. Do not worry about this or even if the stock is a solid one. Keep him on the line and close him out. When he tells you he is busy, you say:

“Of course, you are busy. That is the price for being successful. You are successful, right? [Acquire a “yes” and continue] All of my clients are successful, but they always make time for my ideas because they know it will add to their success. That’s all I want to do for you, so can we do it in the AM or the PM?”

When he objects here with “I have a broker” or “I am too tied up financially” you must keep him on the line. Your tone should remain professional, though you should start taking off the gloves. Claim the following:

“I know you have a broker. He probably lives in [insert the city the lead lives in] and tells you to buy blue chips that go nowhere exciting. Most brokers like to watch paint dry and collect their commissions. I am offering you some dynamic information that will make you prosper in directions ways your broker is scared to go. Shall I show them to you in the morning or afternoon?”

If he still objects but stays on, then you know he’s a kicker. Control the conversation. You must start twisting the knife.

“I did not get you number out of the phone book [you did, essentially]. I have you on record as an active, aggressive investor. That’s what you are right? [Acquire a “yes”] Then when I call you up with a solid investment solution you should take the cotton out and listen. Are you ready to hear it in the morning or afternoon?”

Still hemming and hawing? If he won’t commit yet this means his wife is a ball-buster, most likely. Use this to your advantage:

“Can’t make a move without checking with the misses? I thought someone like you was the boss all day long, not just at work. I am not asking for your money now, just your time. You don’t have to ask her permission to take a phone call, at YOUR office during YOUR morning or YOUR afternoon. Which is better?”

If he remains on the phone, it is a point of pride now. Stick and move:

“I’d love it if someone called me up and gave me an opportunity to make some money. The picks my man has move fast, so if you have the balls let him call you up. You have balls, right? [Acquire “yes”] Well, reach down and check. Do you have them in the morning or the afternoon?”

Sometimes you have to let them have it. If he still won’t surrender, drop the following:

“Unbunch you panties and open your ears. I am offering you a unique opportunity to get in on something most guys would kill for. I don’t call pussies. If I have a pussies on my callback list, then I will have words with my assistant. Unpleasant words.   But I am sure you are not, so let me get back to you in the morning. Or is the afternoon best?”

Expect some cursing. Perhaps he’s catching the vapors. Or he’s just a glutton. Feel free to improvise from the following:

“Go ahead call your mom. Call your boyfriend for all I care. I am speaking to you from Wall Street where we make fortunes every day. I thought you’d appreciate my time and attention. I have a dozen other guys I could be showing this to, but I thought you had the capital to make something happen. You have more than two right? [Acquire “yes”, if he asks “two what?” reply “mil” and close] So, take the cock out of your mouth and speak to me. In the morning or afternoon, which is it?”

By now he has hung up or grown cross, but if he wants to fight just go for it. Some of our “best clients” need to be taken in this way. You provide this:

“Now you’re just playing pussy. I do not have time for your shit. I just called to make you rich and you are acting like some kind of fairy.  You need to fucking understand that I am going take my toys and go home if you’re not a man. Now TELL me – morning or afternoon, you fucking faggot!”

You have closed him. Now go to the restroom and weep into your fifty-dollar silk pocket square. This is what your life has been reduced to.

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You do not know how you got on the cross-country team. You do not like running very much. You prefer team sports, and this feels highly individualized. Even in track, you can at least pass the baton. Here, the three mile distance just leaves you alone with your thoughts. Most of which focus on how little you like this. And these people.

Past the baseball diamonds where you’d prefer to be playing, the team gathers under the willow tree waiting for the coach to arrive. The boys tell dirty jokes and false stories about their racing speed and distance endurance. The girls sit on the bleachers, consumed with things that do not interest you because you are fourteen and do not understand them well. You speak to them all though only when necessary to pass information or ask questions. Like how much longer you have to wait or how far you must run. Prefer as little as possible.

The circle of boys grows restless and competitive. Kevin, the ugliest specimen, begins mocking you. You throw it back to him in vocabulary he does not appreciate. Unlike some other team members, you share no classes with him. You are on the college track and he is likely illiterate. Switch to vulgarity to get a point across. You are certain his mother is indeed popular.

Things get heated. They do nearly every day at 3:30. Sometimes just name calling. Sometimes shoving. Today he throws a right cross into your shoulder. You stagger and kick him in the chest. Kevin jumps back and grabs at the tree.  Pulls a switch from the willow. This is his favorite routine – the “Jew Whip”. The other boys, many of whom are Hispanic, watch with amusement. They’ve got numbers so why should they sympathize. You are a minority “in name only”, so to speak. Probably would not stand in the way of his “Spic Stick” – unless he went after one of the Latinas you like. Besides, you chose to be here. Stand alone and take your medicine as he lashes at you. He gets in some decent strikes before the coach arrives. You see no point in informing on him. Code dictates silence.

You plod around the track with little enthusiasm. Kevin and the others lap you, screeching vague comments about your heritage and presumed latent homosexual tendencies. Ironically, one of these boys, Juan, will come out as soon as he reaches college.  For now, he’d rather fit in and call you a “theater fag”.  You’d reject their friendship even if it was offered. It is not.

Striding for miles becomes loathsome work. You think about anything to distract yourself from the monotony of perpetual stepping and rhythmic mouth-breathing. Your classes. The musical auditions. The girls on the team. Dinner plans. Television. Always back to how much further you have to go.

The afternoon practices go on like this. Sometimes the team runs on the canal, past the orchards that irrigate from it. Orange blossoms fill the air.  A sickly sweet citrus flavor hangs heavy in your mouth. Kevin spits at you when he passes. You pick up a rotten specimen. Hurl it and strike him in the back. On the return, he draws a swastika on his hand with a black marker. Tries to slap you in the face. A glancing blow you were not expecting. He says he’s “Dr. Mengele”.  Given his general ignorance, you are impressed with the reference. Tackling him, you say you are “Moshe Dayan”. This does not register. Perhaps his unfamiliarity is intentional. You doubt this.

Your father encourages you on the weekends. He gives you a pep talk as you jog together around the neighborhood. He lets you win when you race, feigning fatigue in the final stretch. Sundays, he takes you to Hebrew school where you play touch football with the seven other Jewish kids in town. You enjoy this immensely, not least of all because you are more athletic than the others. However, there is no touch football in the high school pantheon. And you have been barred from playing the real thing. Not that you’d find the circumstances on that team much different. The freshman team’s two-a-days look even worse than your thirty miles a week.

The night before a race the team eats pasta en mass. Kevin stares daggers at you, clutching his Styrofoam bowl behind you in the buffet line. The red sauce is thin and pathetic. Your teammates sit with each other and discuss their Christian youth group’s activities. Smile and nod in bemusement. Coach chastises you for drinking soda. Claims the carbon dioxide will enter your bloodstream and reduce the amount of oxygen your body can absorb. Suppose he means well, but you doubt his authority on the respiratory system. The whole scene only alienates you further.  Wish a few kids good luck and cut out as soon as convenient. No one notices.

Dad drives you to the meet, three miles on a hilly course on a bright Saturday morning. You still feel groggy at the starting line, having woken up less than hour ago. Unguarded, Kevin trips you after the gun goes off. Dust off and let the crowd of runners pass in different uniforms as you regain your footing and resume your pace. You do not know why you even bother. Pride and irritation thrust you down the track before you can really consider surrender. Never your style.

Squinting and sleepy, you resolve to get this over with as soon as possible. Stumble a bit when you reach the first of three hills. The nylon uniform feels scratchy and sticks to your chest as you sweat. Wish you could run bare-chested, though you remain too bashful to throw off your jersey. The annoyance only drives you to run faster. The sooner you finish, the sooner you can take it off.

Up the second hill, you start to pass stragglers. You keep your eyes down, seeing only the incline in front of you. You pass Juan, whose strides are shorter than yours. Give him a glance and keep going, smirking as he struggles. Crossing over the summit and down into the valley, you increase your pace. One more up and down and you can go home. For the first and only time in your brief career, you clear your mind of all thoughts and focus on the finish.

You do not even notice Kevin as you sprint up the final hill. He tries to push you halfheartedly, already fatigued from the race. One stutter-step and you are yards ahead of him, willing your legs to push faster up the final stretch. On the descent, you skip and leap to take full advantage of gravity. Your knees strain but respond, oblivious to all but completion. You are the first freshman to cross the line.

You vomit in the woods from the exertion. Your coach congratulates you on achieving a personal best time. This gives you much less satisfaction than the Camel straight you light up that evening. Visiting town ten years later, you will put one out on Kevin’s face at a party. He will be too drunk to notice or remember you.

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Note: This will become a one act play to be produced in the summer of 2011

Dear Minako,

I had to send this letter in the company’s envelope. This way it will look like all your other mail, so at least you will open it. Please forgive me for tricking you. I knew you would recognize my poor kanji and throw it away otherwise.

You told me never to write to you again. I have kept that promise for a year now. I have stayed in Osaka, away from you and your family in Nara. When we last met, you gave me that bonsai I admired from the florist in Umeda. He told me I would need to water and prune it every month or so. I am writing because lately even this has proved too much for me.  Last week, I left a window open and it littered the floor with dead needles. Brown and faded.

You put it in my hands on the train platform in Namba. I understood you meant for me to take root somewhere, though you could never be a part of that forest. This has also become impossible. I had to leave the old place in Kami-shinjo and move into a hotel in Nishinari. Deep in the city, I can lose myself in the crowds heading to station or the stores in Shinsaibashi and not think about how different it is now. How different I am after knowing you.

You told me to take care of the tree, that so long as I kept it strong and beautiful our memories would remain so. Like all memories, I kept it well and close for the first few months. As the seasons changed and the weather turned cold, I found myself ignoring the plant as though somehow I could neglect thoughts of you. It kept growing, bigger and more chaotic than ever. I decided to water it again. With my blood.

I no longer think I can care for the tree. With your permission, I would like to plant it in Tennoji park near the zoo where we spent that last perfect day together. Do you remember how excited I became after seeing the animals? We were supposed to go for kushi-katsu, but I lost my appetite for food. Now, I can no longer walk through Shinsekai without thinking of that day. Perhaps if I plant the tree there, it will take hold and the spirit of that moment shall come to reside there – away from both of us. I will remember to water it each month when I bleed.

One day perhaps you will take your son to the zoo. While he will be captivated by the elephants and giraffes, maybe you will notice a tiny tree near the fence, more like a bush. If it has survived, perhaps you will remember that particular time when we comforted each other. If it frosts over and refuses to grow, perhaps our memories too will wilt and pass into the dust. If I leave it in the park, this is the best we can hope for.

With Sorrow,

Risa

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Note: 私はこの悲しい物語が正確であると信じています。 これは書いて苦痛だった。Cultural references with parentheticals, geographics without.

The JR Seishun Juhachi Kippu costs a little more than ichi-man [ten thousand yen]. Offered during the holidays, it allows one to ride as many trains as desired for five days – excepting the Shinkansen [bullet train]. The intent is to help university students get home affordably. Like most things I found there, I perverted the ticket’s intention to suit my tastes. School and home both were foreign concepts to me by the time I got to Japan anyway. Driven out of both you lose the taste for them.

Its name, in translation,  was “Youth Eighteen Ticket”. Chiaki and I were both well past that stage. I was pushing thirty and she was probably past it. Yet neither felt connected enough to have anything better to do during the new year’s holiday, than to ride around on Japan Railways like loser college kids. Except we had no place to return to, no one to greet us at the station. An adventurous spirit in lieu of solace.

In Japan, New Year’s is supposed to be spent with one’s family visiting shrines and making mochi [rice crakers]. Perhaps Chiaki blew off such plans because she just liked me. Simple loneliness makes more sense. We both had affects that thrust us into sharp relief against the conservative background that surrounded us. In the Japanese parlance, we were both nails that stood out from the plane. Needed to be pounded down.

For a Japanese woman of her generation, Chiaki was about as close to a “hippie chick” as one could get. I remember her always in long flowery skirts and permed auburn hair. She had a little place in the mountains, near Gotemba, mostly for the view. She had no reservations about being with a foreigner, although I believe I was the first she’d known in a while. As I admired her essence, I saw the longing in her and tried to relieve it. Recognized the feeling all too well.

In many ways, she was the most emotionally distinct person I knew in the prefecture. Growing closer, she let her honne [true feelings] out a bit more than I was prepared for. Probably thought a gai-jin [foreigner, literally outsider] would prefer she dispense with the tatemae [decorum] that frames life in Japan. Vulnerable people take chances – like an impulsive five-day train tour to edge of the island. While everyone else was going home, we ran away. Such are the wages of alienation.

On the evening of December 30th, 2004, we met at the train station in Fuji city. We knew we were heading west, with Hiroshima as a goal [500 km direct, though longer as train tracks followed Honshu’s jagged coastline]. She gripped my hand tighter as the night train pulled into Fuji. It was small and cold.

We must have been quite a sight. The tickets did not guarantee  seating and with new year’s upon us, the “home liner” was standing room only as it rumbled down the Tokaido line. Japanese do not go in for PDAs either, so I am sure we turned a few heads as I pawed at her on the floor of the vestibule. We were both excited and impatient as the train whipped past the smaller cities along the Honshu coast. I leaned against the cold doorframe and held her tightly, watching Shizuoka’s industrial corridor melt into the soft country side of southern Aichi. Dawn broke over Nagoya, where we decided to take a break. I pulled her into an alley and kissed her hungrily. The energy of the adventure still new enough she did not resist.  Going from impulsive to reckless proves an easy transition.

In the daytime, the trains ran local. They also terminated at odd places, like Gifu where we picked up some drinks, and Maibara – the end of the Tokaido.  Trains ran slowly through Kansai, as the density of the population demanded each bedroom community be served during the morning rush. Though the going dragged on the commuter rails, there were no assigned seats. Since we boarded first, we were able to sit down (in a chair at least) for the first time in twelve hours. I put my arm around her and we leaned on each other and tried to fall asleep though the constant braking jarred us every ten minutes. The whole metropolitan landscape surged in intensity as Kyoto approached, apexed in Osaka, and dissolved into green hills once Kobe was behind us. Dazed by motion and  alcohol, the snowy climes of Hyogo emerged in a blur as we gained elevation and lost temperature. We grew quiet and weary from the constant vibrations.

The landscape became rugged and snowcapped. Foehn winds kicking off the mountains blasted us awake every time the doors opened.  She shivered and laid her head on my forearm. I was too tall for her to use my shoulder. She shut her eyes and I stroked her hair, regretting that we did not have time to see Himeji castle as the train pulled further west into Okayama. There, the first  foreigner I had seen got on the train with his girl. I sized her up, preferred mine, and wondered what had brought him here. Gai-jin play the comparison game all over the country, always considering whether the other has a larger piece. I had little to envy from such countryside expatriates, they were always the most peculiar and usually went native if they stuck around.  Never my style, as my linguistic ability will attest. Too tired to actually engage in conversation, I watched them get off a few hours later at some snowy village station. Even when they were also onboard, we continued to receive the bulk of the stares. I felt immune and Chiaki played along, or grew too exhausted to care about the rurals’ appropriations of her choices. Suppose it does not matter now.

Hiroshima stood in the last purple twilight of 2004. We stumbled out of the station and somehow found the hotel Chiaki booked for us. After almost twenty-four hours of motion, the rhythm of the railway continued to course through our blood. We purged those vibrations as night fell.

Chiaki waxed repeatedly about Hiroshima-no Okonomiyaki [Japanese pancake noodle dish done in the regional style, supposedly the best version of it], so it was imperative we head downtown to find the authentic griddle. We found one that satisfied her and I drank a beer, smiling politely. Walking back to the hotel along the river, we held hands in silence, catching timid glances at each other like school crushes. The ride and the release put us out of sorts – almost not believing where we were in that moment. Or in my case who.

As we passed the Peace Dome [atomic memorial], a light snow began to fall. Chiaki laughed and stretched out her arms to catch the descending flakes. I smiled knowing this was the equivalent of a “white christmas” for her. I spun her about and we danced a step before kissing in snowfall. In a place where everything felt limited by propriety, this moment achieved the unvarnished expression of our sentiments. In that sense, we were perfect for ten seconds. More than one usually is allowed each year, in my experience. Proved fleeting, like all things. Japanese know this well.

On the first day of 2005, we took the ferry to Miyajima. The red pillars jutted out of the water in a symmetrical precision that could move even the most indifferent barbarian. This being the most important shrine in the region, we milled through thousands of pilgrims and had our picture taken at various locales. I marveled at how jaded we stood in contrast to this ancient place. Chiaki lit incense and while I washed my hands according to the ritual. In spite of the crowds, we found a certain peace staring into the water.  We were on holiday now, relieved we had no trains to catch. Yet somehow I knew we were already leaving the station.

We rambled back to Kansai and used up the rest of the tickets touring about until we ran out of money. We weren’t broke, but for typically officious reasons the Japanese ATMs refused to dispense cash during the holiday period. We also got on each others’ nerves after ninety-six hours in direct proximity and kissed good-bye at Fuji station. The next time I visited her in Gotemba, she had put our photo on her desktop. I knew then I could no longer salve her lonliness. Thought ephemerality pervaded Japanese culture. Her heart was not part of that territory. I could not chart it. Not where I was going.

Six months later, Chiaki arrived unannounced in Osaka. I took her to an Izakaya [Japanese diner] and tried meekly to explain. The next day, I left her tears at the station. She took the Shinkansen home. Gomen Nasai, Chiaki-Chan…

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I knew Jeff and Lisa when they first got together. Ten years back, Jeff and I were struggling writers fighting the good fight and splitting rent in a one bedroom on the West side. I took the living room. He wanted the window, I preferred darkness. This reflected our different approaches to life.

When he met Lisa, they caught fire really quickly and he moved her in without asking. Figured paying the extra ten percent entitled him keep me awake with the sounds they made. Naturally, I did not see it that way. My contempt comprised a mere footnote to their attentions. When love flowers, all else proves peripheral.

Our falling out came rapid and extreme. Coarse words, simmering aggression (active from him, passive from her), and my paralyzed protestations exchanged for a month before I cut out for a sublet. I promised myself to get retribution, but four years later we ran into each other in Riverside park and could not remember why it had gone sour for us. I felt genuinely happy they had stayed together all that time. Then as now, women continued to put me through my paces. It was usually a short race.

We stayed friends and kept in touch as we each bounced around the island. I would meet up with Lisa for lunch or catch a ballgame with Jeff or do a weekend out of town with both of them, if I had someone to bring along for balance. They’d tease me about the strays I seemed to pick up in those years. Had to much class to suggest I was one myself.

That Sunday, I parked my bucket of a vehicle ten blocks from their building. Parallel parking has always been a challenge for me, so I looked for a spot that I could just pull into. Not too hard in their current neighborhood, what with people coming and going from Riverside all the time. I noted the cross streets and proceeded to their building.

“What’s up Ted, good to see you!” Lisa beamed through the open doorway. Jeff usually greeted me so this felt odd, as were the boxes scattered on the floor of their place. Something was amiss, even someone as romantically obtuse as myself could detect that. We had been friends long enough that a comment would not come across too prying.

“Are you guys going through another one of your splits? It’s so silly, you know!” I offered caustically. They had broken and mended probably five times over the decade. Neither could quite find another that proffered the same compatible misery. Both were built for steady companionship, while I had a less rigid concept of human relations. That’s why in the intervening years, there lived a mutual admiration and no jealousy between Jeff and I. Professionally at the same level, and personally each knew we could not wear the others’ clothes. Awareness cuts worst in youth, then comes softly as the scars appear.

“It’s all on her this time, you know that old song!” Jeff called from the kitchen. Both chuckled halfheartedly. I assume this reference to the old issue of kids. He didn’t want them, she did. Both were in their thirties by now, and this had come up with greater and greater intensity over the years. Still I did not see how they could find another that would match them nearly so completely. Love breeds a certain myopia, even in the observer.

“This whole scene is starting to depress me you guys! Will there ever be a rainbow?” I mused. They laughed and looked at each other. A muted affection remained in their eyes, though tempered enough that the laughing stopped. I figured this was a cue to take care of why I had come.

“The wheels are parked on the downtown side of Riverside about ten blocks down. It is good until Tuesday, so if you can move it once I will be back from the coast by Friday.” I said handing him the keys. Alternate side of the street parking is the bane of driving in Manhattan.  We had done this favor for one another repeatedly over time. I did not need to ask if he would. Some favors are unspoken, others unpaid.

I blathered a little bit about my trip and excused myself from the apartment. I could tell I kept them from their packing and fighting. My presence might have provided a welcome distraction for a moment, though I am hardly charismatic enough to change anything. Decided to head out before things became forced. Though that instinct is forced in an of itself.

I checked in to the hotel before four. She had already paid the deposit. I took the elevator up to the fifteenth floor. We always used a different room in a different hotel. Made the whole thing all the more tedious.

“It was not my intention to wreck your home.” I mumble as I admired her faintly clothed body. Lisa told me to shut up. So, I did not mention I did not want children either.

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