PISCARY by Steven J. Rogers
ON WEEKENDS MADDIE BROUGHT her kid to work. He’d sit alone in the break room, work on homework, and eat candy bars from the vending machine. It was hard not to feel bad for him—the break room was like the third circle of hell. Limbo. And not the kind from Dante’s Inferno, where at least you’d get to hang out with Caesar and Brutus. Just the boring kind.
For some reason, one weekend corporate decided to do a remodel on the back offices, break room included. So while Maddie was busy negotiating with a dentist and his trophy wife over the cost of the leather interior on a custom two-door BS3 Boxer convertible, her ten-year-old was holed up in the corner of the display floor by the picture windows.
Car sales is a competitive field. The difference between making a sale and watching a customer walk out is sometimes the difference between defaulting on a mortgage or having a place for your kids to live. In my case, it was the difference between paying child support for a son I hadn’t seen since I was nineteen, or going to jail.
Because the weekend is the best time to make a sale, the sales reps engage in piscary. I think piscary means trolling for fish, but for those in auto sales, it means to stage oneself in the best spot to make a sale, even if that spot infringes on the health and well-being of a fellow salesmen.
I’ve seen salesmen jockey, stand right next to each other in a battle of wills. I’ve seen soda pops spiked with laxatives. Once, a salesman bought out the vending machine from another salesman’s favorite candy bar, I guess so the competing salesman’s blood sugar would drop so low he’d have to give up his spot by the front door.
Maddie had been the top sales rep for six weeks, and her lucky spot was the spot where she told her son to sit while she negotiated with the dentist. The two most desperate salesman on the lot, one who speculated a little too hard on real estate foreclosures and one who was no stranger to sips from a flask before noon, piscaried themselves by the boy.
The alcoholic one pointed his gin blossomed nose at the kid, and said to the other, loud enough so the boy could hear, “You ever heard of FLK syndrome?”
The one who listened to far too many podcasts about real estate investments nodded. “Funny looking kid syndrome. Yeah, I’ve heard of that one, not a whole lot a boy can do about it. Usually, nobody likes them.”
"You know who has FLK?” Gin Blossoms said, “Maddie’s kid.”
While I never put much stock in “the spot,” it was a slow month and child support was overdue. So I stood next to the kid, who did look a little funny, and glared at the loser salesmen. They were not the kind of men who did well with confrontation, no matter their desperation. They turned tail and went to wait for a customer by the bathroom door.
I stuck out my hand and introduced myself to the kid. He said his name was Walter, but everyone called him Pudgy, a nickname no self-esteem would ever be able to overcome. Most methods of piscary involved superstitious alignment, but I had my own theories. Every sale I ever made required a different, personalized customer manipulation. The kid could help with something like that.
I asked him if he wanted to sell cars. The expression on his face was one of someone who had waited his whole life for the invitation. “Car salesmen,” I told him, “need to be slick and aggressive, but confident. You know what confident means?”
“I’m confident I could sell cars better than those clowns,” he said. I was surprised how precocious he sounded when he said “clowns,” then I remembered that was how his mom referred to her co-workers. I handed him my oversized windbreaker and told him he needed to come up with a different name if he was going to outsell the clowns. He stood, brushed the unkempt hair out of his eyes and stuck out his hand. “Call me Slick.”
Slick and I moved from the perch at the window to the lot and paced the row of cars closest to the suburban road that led to the entrance of the dealership. While the oversized windbreaker dragged on the ground by Slick’s feet, he told me about his father, and how his house was so much cooler than his mother’s. There was a video game system, a pool, a pile of step-brothers who were all younger than him, but that didn’t matter. They liked to jump on the trampoline, and play a game called “odd monkey out.” The only problem was his stepmother hated him and pretended he wasn’t there.
“The kid who wasn’t there,” seemed smart enough to turn into “the kid who could help me pay my bills.” I told Slick if a customer came around to play along with whatever I said, and try to act cool. We only had to pace the lot for five minutes before a young couple pulled in. She had thick glasses; he had a mustache that wouldn’t have been out of place in the early nineteen-thirties.
They got out of their beat-up station wagon, and immediately approached Slick. The mustachioed man made a joke about Slick being too young to be a salesman. I told them his mother was inside and Slick was only hanging out, in case they were exceptionally well-disguised undercover agents from the office of Labor Investigations and Enforcement.
“What’s it going to take to get you two in a car today?” Slick said, his chest puffed out so far the windbreaker didn’t touch the ground. The young couple grinned and the woman’s eyes sparkled. I think she touched her belly, like maybe there was a baby in there that she wanted to be as charming as Slick.
“As my associate so elegantly put it, what kind of vehicle can we put you in today?” I said, and put my hand on Slick’s shoulder to show we worked in solidarity.
“Oh, we’re just looking,” glasses said. Typically, with that kind of response I back away and curse my foul luck, but today I had Slick. The couple didn’t look like they had much money, but looks can be deceiving in an era where kids can invent a video game for a cellphone and become millionaires.
It was before noon, the perfect time to gamble. I nudged the kid, and pointed at a German convertible, the biggest commission on the lot. Slick turned and eyed the car like it was the biggest trampoline he’d ever seen.
“If you’re just looking, I suggest taking a look at this fine German vehicle,” I said, while the couple gawked at the kid gawking at the car they probably couldn’t afford even if they had invented Candy Jewel Crush.
Slick didn’t wait for a response, he bolted across the lot, and hopped into the convertible. There was a pair of sunglasses in the pocket of my windbreaker. Slick put them on, and draped his hand over the steering wheel. “I could see myself in this car,” he said.
“Couldn’t hurt to look,” Mustache said, as I followed the couple to the car. Glasses ran her hand over the hood like it was a soft blanket. Mustache smiled at Slick, “You like this one, sport?” Slick slowly nodded. He knew how to hook the guy.
“You want to take it for a test drive?” I asked, still not sure if I was wasting my time. Mustache looked to his wife, she looked at me and asked, “How much?” I pointed to the small sticker on the windshield. The couple looked at the admittedly excessive price. Mustache gulped. Glasses stood upright and said, “Let’s take her for a test drive.”
I grabbed the keys from the office, Slick insisted on joining in the late morning cruise. Glasses drove, Mustache sat passenger, and tilted his head halfway out of the top of the convertible, like a dog who couldn’t quite commit to its dog nature. Slick and I sat in back and watched the winding cul-de-sacs pass by.
The first fifteen minutes of the drive were filled with the kind of windy silence you can only get in a severely overpriced German convertible. When Glasses stopped at a stoplight, I mentioned, “There’s plenty of room in the back here for a car seat. Plus, the vehicle has one of the highest safety ratings of all custom convertibles.”
Slick reached forward, put his hand on the woman’s shoulder, and pointed at a drive-thru burger joint across the street. “It would be so cool to grab a burger in a car like this.”
The light turned green, Glasses whipped a u-turn and sped back towards the dealership. I figured I shouldn’t have mentioned kids, or maybe I should have insisted Mustache take a turn behind the wheel, but it didn’t matter. Glasses got back to the dealership in record time. I never know what to say when I’m sure the sale isn’t going through, but Glasses surprised me, and asked if there was somewhere private they could go to talk about the car. I suggested they use my office, but they elected for the side of the building.
I bought Slick a candy bar, and we waited around the corner from the young couple. It was hard to hear through the muffled chomps Slick inflicted on his candy bar. So I inched closer and listened.
I heard Glasses say she needed this, it was a new beginning. Then, she said something about fertility, and how it was his fault. At that point, Mustache raised his voice, and accused her of holding his own biological shortcomings against him. No matter how desperate I was for a sale, to listen to whatever came next would be far too uncomfortable. I nodded to Slick and we resumed pacing along the road by the entrance to the lot.
I asked Slick if he liked school. School seemed to be the last topic he wanted to talk about and he told me about his mom instead. How she complained about her job, but thought some of the people she worked with were nice. He told me how everything in life was like that: school, the baseball team, church. For the most part things were boring but once in a while something was nice.
We only paced for a couple minutes before the couple walked out from behind the building. Mustache had red eyes, like he’d shed a couple tears. I had no idea if that was a good thing or bad.
Mustache placed his hand on Slick’s shoulder and told him he was a fine salesman. Glasses shook my hand, and announced that they would be able to purchase the car, but only for seventy-five percent of its sticker price. Otherwise, they’d have to finance.
I took them into the office, Slick came along and sat at the desk like an executive salesman. I began the process of negotiating the couple up to eighty percent sticker price. Seventy-five percent, cash down, was a pretty good sale, the commission would be enough to cover the back child support I owed, but I felt obligated to piscary a better deal.
I had them up to eighty-percent, when Maddie burst into the office, her eyes as angry as a storm drain in Portland. There is one unwritten rule amongst car salesmen — don’t interfere with a sale. Maddie didn’t care about rules, she was livid, and shouted, “Pudgy, what in the hell? I told you to wait for me by the window. Now I lost my spot.”
I shot Maddie a look that said, “I’m in the middle of a goddam deal here.” She immediately composed herself, took her son by the arm, and out of the room. I wasn’t sure if the sale would go through without Slick, but the couple stuck around. We eventually agreed on seventy-eight percent, and spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for their bank to transfer the money.
We lingered by the coffee machine in the showroom, and tried to engage in small talk. I asked Mustache about sports, and Glasses about art, but they were done forming words for the day. Whatever they said to each other behind the building had sucked the life out them. I wished I hadn’t eavesdropped.
At sundown, the sale was approved. I ushered the young couple to their car, handed them their keys, and relevant paperwork. I wanted to hug Glasses, to tell her that I knew what it was like to want a family you could never have. That I hoped the car was the new beginning she needed, but I’d seen enough cars drive off that lot to know that wasn’t how it worked.
They drove into the sunset. Towards the fancy mall at the end of the cul-de-sac. In that moment, the entire traffic laden suburban strip surrounding the dealership felt like the third circle of Hell. Limbo. The boring kind. Where everything and every day is more or less the same. Where the only hope is that something better might come along. Even though you know it never will.
“I told you I could sell a car,” Slick snuck up beside me. I shook his hand and said, “I didn’t get you in trouble with your mom did I?”
Slick pointed across the lot to Maddie pulling out of the garage in her beat up four-seater American car. Somehow, Maddie maintained an exemplary sales record, even though she only worked ten hour days. “I got to go home now, my mom wanted me to say I was sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
Slick shrugged, “That’s what she said to say.”
As Maddie pulled up, the exhaust from her tailpipe choked me. She rolled down the window and gave me a mumbled apology for yelling during a sale. There was no reason to apologize, but I didn’t want to let her off the hook. It’s good to keep the competition guilty.
While Slick got in the backseat, I tapped the roof of the car and gave him a thumbs up. After the day we had, it felt like I should say something. Maybe tell him how he shouldn’t worry about what those loser salesmen said, or that his stepmother was just jealous of the attention his father gave him, but I didn’t. Slick returned the thumbs up and Maddie put the car in drive. They drove east, away from the sunset and into the cheaper part of the suburbs.
After Slick left, I walked to the sales floor, and poured some cold coffee into a styrofoam cup. It was too dark to pace outside, so I paced by the bathroom door. If my luck held up, I might be able to make one more sale.
STEVEN J. ROGERS is an avid canoesman and beardsman from Northern Wisconsin. Alas, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California. Steven is not an absolutist, so he is willing to accept the idea that there might be a hell. If there is, he’s pretty sure that it would involve writing bios. He has a BA and MFA which he’d happily trade for some beer money. To learn more about him and his upcoming publications please visit www.stevenjrogers.ink.