“Couldn’t you, just once, tell somebody what they really want to hear?” my wife asked, almost immediately after I got off the phone with the Redfin recruiter.
“Is that a rhetorical question? You just asked me a rhetorical question!” I snapped. Ever since I turned fifty-five I get snappy when someone I love questions my intentions, especially when I’m hungry.
She didn’t answer but instead, continued her Words With Friends game on her iPad. I walked into the kitchen.
“They’ll call me back,” I said after a few moments of silence, my fat head deep into the refrigerator looking for just one thing to shove into my mouth that didn’t have soy as its main ingredient; something with a little gluten, perhaps. Is this too much to ask?
“No they won’t,” she countered from the other room. “You just used the F word during a job interview.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did. I heard you.”
I walked over to the sofa with some type of pickled vegetable wrapped in a grape leaf. My wife did not look up from her backlit screen.
“Does Xerox really have two x’s in it? Is that even a real word?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, now a little stunned by what might have just happened on the phone; not sure of anything at that moment. Appetite quickly waning.
“Two x’s? I don’t think so. Well, maybe…And it wasn’t really a job interview. It was only an initial phone call. Introductory.” No longer hungry at all, I tossed the unsavory snack into the waiting mouth of our slobbering dog who, in turn, spit it immediately onto the floor.
“Hmm,” my wife said to nothing in particular, or perhaps, to everything in general.
That was six months ago, and although the names and details are a bit blurry now, the gist of the episode remains clear.
It all began with a conversation I had earlier that same week with a fellow Realtor—-an old-schooler, like me. We were seated at our favorite Starbucks window bar nursing triple espressos when he mentioned a new type of Redfin partnership program that offered leads to selected non-Redfin Chicago brokers. You just had to pay a referral fee at closing with no other upfront costs. He pointed out two young women with strollers who were enjoying mommy-time with their toddlers out on the patio.
“Both of them are Redfin partners who work part-time in my office,” he said. “Pretty sure one of them doesn’t even know how to spell condominium and she already has three deals this month. I think the other skinnier one is a yoga instructor for her real job.”
“A yoga instructor?”
“I think so,” he said. “She’s always wearing yoga pants. At the very least that makes her a housewife. Either way, they both drive nicer cars than me.”
“If this Redfin thing is such a good deal, why don’t you sign up for it?” I asked.
“I hate this business too much already,” he said. “What I don’t need is a flock of twenty-somethings texting me every time they log on to Trulia and get a real estate stiffy.”
While my buddy, clearly, was too jaded for the job, I somehow felt that I wasn’t. With fifteen years experience, I figured I was a slam dunk partnership candidate; just what the Redfin folks might be looking for—a full-time, condo slinging, non-yoga instructing, ass-kicking, downtown Chicago real estate professional. And besides, business was slow and I could use a little boost. A slow drip of fresh blood would blend nicely into my current marketing mix; a few extra ‘my watch cost more than your car‘ condo buyers here, a couple ‘coffee is for closers’ listing appointments there. A steady stream of new prospects could keep me in the real estate game until retirement. All I needed were the good leads. The Glengarry leads. You know, the ones Mitch and Murray send in from downtown…
So I Googled Redfin, found the program, applied on-line, did the tutorial, attended the interactive webinar (even kept my mouth shut), and scheduled my initial phone interview which, true to form, I forgot to enter into my calendar and promptly forgot about.
A couple days later, my phone rang at an inopportune time–as it always does, the screen flashing a familiar Seattle area code. I was certain it was that Dave character from Zillow’s advertising department who had been calling every month for three years trying to get me to pay him for posting my listings on his real estate site. Go figure. Anyway, when I answered the call I was ready to let poor Dave from Seattle have it, right between the zillows.
“Hi GG! Sky from Redfin here! Can you talk?!”
“Sky (or maybe it was Sea) from Redfin! We have your interview scheduled for 2 p.m. Pacific!”
“Oh yes Sky. Of course (??)”
“Cool. GG. Let’s do this! What made you want to become a Realtor?!?!?”
It was such a stupid question I honestly don’t remember what I told him. Truth is, seven years ago I wouldn’t have even considered such an arrangement. Everybody and his gardener had a real estate license back then but we were all stacking paper. My biggest professional worry in those days was which Rolex to buy next and how to keep the nicks and parallel parking scratches off the bumpers of my big body Benz.
“What are your best qualities as a Realtor, GG? What makes you outstanding?”
Or something along those lines. And to be fair, there was an echo on the phone connection so maybe I was imagining the GG part. Maybe I was just in one of my snappy ‘Meano Geno’ moods that day. (Another Realtor actually called me that once, right before hanging up on me. “Meano Geno!” Click.) Anyway, like I said, this all went down six months ago. And I’m getting old.
“What I’m really good at, Sky, is negotiation. I’m really good at getting the other side to cave-in, thus procuring the best possible deal for my client.”
“Yeah. Cave in. You know, win,” I said.
“Win/Win, you mean?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess. Win/Win. Sure. Why not.”
“Okay, cool,” he said. “Now, what do you think makes you exceptional as a real estate agent?”
“I don’t know, Sky. I suppose the fact that I’ve negotiated over three hundred deals and more than a hundred million in transactions in my career. Something along those lines. What do you think?”
“Coool. And how do you envision the Redfin Partner Program fitting into your current business model?”
“Come on man. What kind of questions are these? You send me the leads. I get them to buy something they like. Get them a good deal. Everybody’s happy. It’s pretty simple. Just keep me on the North Side. No foreclosures. No suburbs. No ghettos.”
“Okaayyy…..What was the biggest obstacle you’ve ever had to overcome as a Realtor?” he asked.
“You’re f*king kidding me, right Sky?” I replied…
Anyway, it was about two seconds after that when my wife asked me the rhetorical question. A week later I received the following email:
To: Geno Petro
Subject: Redfin’s Partner Program
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider you for the Redfin Partner Program and taking the time to speak with us. While we are impressed with your success as an agent, after careful consideration we have decided to pursue other candidates in your market at this time. We will maintain your application in our active files and contact you if there is an opportunity for a future partnership.
We do wish you continued success in your real estate business. Thank you again for your time!
To be honest, I forgot all about this nonsense until a Redfin ‘Partner’ called on one of my listings last week, requesting a 7 p.m. showing on a Friday night. After bitching about the time (and weather) for thirty seconds, I finally agreed. And even though I’m apparently not qualified to have her job (but am somehow qualified to show her one of my properties on a Friday night in the middle of a week-long ice storm), she sounded very nice. Like someone’s wife.
So she shows up thirty minutes late with her three-year old daughter and a 2014 Infiniti QX60 full of Millennials. Everyone was holding Starbucks cups and wearing North Face and UGGS.
“Sorry we’re late. Traffic sucks,” she says.
“Yes it does,” I tell her. “That’s why I left my yoga class thirty minutes early. To arrive here on time.”
“You practice yoga?” she asks me.
“No,” I reply, as I watch them slosh, one by one, across the family room carpet, “I just like wearing the pants.”
I recently bought the book, How To Write A Sentence (and how to read one) by Stanley Fish, but it still didn’t give me what I wanted. What I wanted was assurance that all those tricky uses of semi-colons and parentheticals, gerunds and so on, that I mastered during my state college educational stay, were still in literary vogue. You know, in case I ever publish something besides here.
I’ve been receiving The New Yorker in the mail every week or so for the past twenty years so, in theory, I could probably learn as much in those volumes (and saved paying $19.99 USA for the Fish book) if I ever did more than simply browse the cartoons, movie reviews, and fluff essay pieces–Sedaris, Larry David, etc– and then immediately stack the latest issue neatly on top of the previous issue with tiny alleys separating each pile, on the floor, next to my bookshelf. My wife keeps threatening to scoop up the whole multi-tiered lot and haul them to the curb, all 1,000 or so cleverly covered magazines, but I beg her otherwise. To reconsider. A modification, perhaps…
“Since I failed as a real estate developer,” I tell her, “At least allow me to construct a pulp fiction/non-fiction skyline on my own office floor. As of this morning the stacks most closely resemble Omaha, Nebraska, from a bird’s eye view. I suppose that’s a city.
And to be truthful, I really didn’t ‘fail’ as a developer because I never actually jumped in with both feet (I know, two ‘ly’ adverbs and a cliche in a single sentence but in case you missed it the first time: state college. Hel-lloo!) and I never lost any other people’s money. I guess I could have been a bit more ruthless and turned a buck or two but we’re talking about residential real estate and in the end, somebody has to eventually live there. At least, that is, until the banks stop merely threatening and actually figure out a way to first scoop it all up…and then haul it all to the curb.9 comments
I happened upon an HGTV re-run the other morning while waiting, impatiently, for the French press water to boil. I stood before the ubiquitous 42 inches of plasma in our kitchen (itself, a residential multi-plex food prep/family room, laptop wireless docking station, and occasional espresso/dessert/wine/tapas bar for ourselves and the ever present house guest, or two, or six…) and recalled a simpler domestic time, back in….
In the 1960s, the Petro family kitchen was barely big enough for two grouchy adults, three kids, and an AM radio. Our infrequent household guests were offered Maxwell House and served spaghetti and meatballs on big clunky plates. We had one army green rotary telephone attached to the wall, used mostly for sending and receiving bad news. When it rang, everyone’s heart dropped.
Our dearly beloved Emerson TV/HiFi cabinet was reminiscent of a thick mahogany coffin. It had its own dedicated wall, in it’s own dark paneled viewing room beneath one of my mother’s oil paintings. The setting was proper, solemn, and predominately prime time. Back then, ‘wireless’ meant, well…it meant there was simply never any wire when you needed some. It was more of a bad thing than a good thing. You know what I mean.
I steeped the morning nectar and settled in to watch an older segment of House Hunters. At once I was cyber-sucked back to a virtual real estate WTF of a housing market long since past; a pseudo-realistic scenario starring three perfectly staged, non-foreclosed, dream homes, a deer-in-headlights couple with one in the oven, and a Stepford wife Realtor named Roxanne. I laid back, clicker loose in hand, and unwillingly suspended my post-housing bubble disbelief. I gazed on as my iPhone pinged an endless wave of inedible Spam (the even worse kind).
Roxanne, the star of this particular episode, was strikingly unfamiliar. What is with all the famous nobodies on the tube today? If you’re a casual, part-time channel surfer, as I am, then it’s even more confounding.
Back in the Day you had your Lawrence Welk, your Walter Cronkite and your Johnny Carson. Three totally different dudes on three separate channels. There was no confusing any of those guys with each other. And for the record, there always was, and ever will be, only one Johnny. (Sorry, Sirs Depp, Knox, Knoxville, Winter and Walker.) Only God knows how many Roxannes there are.
And nobody judged anybody on their dancing ability, either. In those days you were either a dancer or you weren’t. And what does dancing have to do with anything anyway? You had your Ted Mack Amateur Hour and that was enough. All the talent in America; dancers, singers and jugglers, could easily fit into one 60 minute segment per week, including commercials. And real commercials, too. Commercials about liquor, tobacco, and Corvairs. Commercials about shit that could kill you. There were none of these new age mother and daughter vignettes walking along a beach, holding hands, discussing their less than fresh moments with each other at sunrise. There was no such sharing back in the Day. You had your Ozzie and you had your Harriet. He drank Cutty. She used Kotex. End of story.
Now compare it all to today: Heidi, Spencer, Speidi, Kate, plus Eight, that Octo-mom lady, JLo, LiLo, ShiLo, Brangelina, TomKat… Im telling you, It’s a big multi-media mess. Throw in all the Jennifers, Jessicas, and Kristen/Kristins and it’s downright confusing. Which one is married to Ben Affleck again? And what happened to him anyway? From what I’ve gathered from my weekly cocktail dose of TMZ and Entertainment Tonight, there are at least fifty nobodies more famous than him these days, including his baby brother, whoever he is. My guess is big Ben is wandering around with all those misguided Vanessa avatars from the 1990s. He’ll no doubt be back soon. Dancing.
And it doesn’t help that I always get the names wrong. I seem to have inherited this middle aged trait from my father who went to his grave thinking our current President was some guy named Bako Moreno (and he was a Democrat). My pop was a man who epitomized the Day. He never cared for ‘any of that RoeBuck’s scented coffee.’ Sanka was good enough for him. He was a man of very few channels. Good solid channels with simple numbers like 2, 3, and 5. None of that artsy fartsy upper band HD nonsense.
They Tried to Make Me Go….
And then there’s rehab. I basically made the decision to quit drinking on my own, for free, sometime during the previous century so this is another present day televised phenomenon I don’t quite get. Now Charlie Sheen, hookers, and jail time? For some reason, I get that. But moving on…..
Anyway, back to House Hunters and all those other real estate shows on the upper band cable channels that were the rage five years ago. It all seems passé now. Nothing is more painful than watching a pre-meltdown episode from the glory years of this early housing Millennium. No negotiation, no short sales, just yakety-yaking nobody Realtors showcasing pre-bubble properties and making fake ass, full price offers. I watched the Roxy Realtor dissolve into a commercial break with un-smart flip-phone in hand, and in the 60 seconds it took the ghost of Billy Mays to totally piss me off with that orange crap he’s always hawking, she was magically back with a signed and fully accepted contract from an invisible seller. Voila! Another lockboxed, no haggle deal on the books. (BTW, good luck with that B of A.)
It’s painful to watch, I’m telling you. Almost as visually painful as The Early 1970s Porn Network on Channel 669, or so they tell me. And if a time stamped imprint of a bearded Billy Mays between money shots isn’t enough of a buzz kill, all that other unruly Nixon era hair surely is. Anyway, I know it when I see it….you know what I mean.
Dark matter can be a bitch. And I mean this in the politest of ways; a mere postmodern posing of the generational Petro/Girard family tenet, ‘in a hundred years it will all be over.’ Anything after that, please, draw your own conclusions.
I’m speaking as a self-actualized moving part of an economic algorithm (and every time I use this word I must ask, ‘is this particular rithm an Al Gore invention?’) that I was born into—with about the same amount of choice I had in the decision whether or not to crawl from my mother’s womb (yes, I was a breech birth baby) several decades earlier—the end result of a totally nother flawed rhythm method. I have become cyber-morphed with the last four digits of my social security number, a randomly assigned superfecta I’ve lately grown to loathe…
“Excuse me. What was your name again?” I ask the voice who finally takes my call.
This was my second twenty-two minutes on HOLD in the Michael Bolton Greatest Hits audio loop queue of the American Express Blue Card Department. By this point I was looking around my office for a blunt object to off myself with. (Excuse the non-participial modifiers and occasional tense shifts as I’m a bit rusty at posting any thought that requires more than 140 characters these days.)
“It is Jess-ie, Mister Petro,” the voice answers.
I instantly think of my deceased father, a passing memory still fresh in my mind; the other Mister Petro, forever with a faint whiff of expensive cologne and a seemingly wise and vast financial demeanor. (And that Mister Petro survived a real economic Depression.)
“Thanks you very much today,” the odd voice, not from this hemisphere, adds on cue. “How may I assist you?”
“Hmmm. You don’t sound like a Jessie,” I say, looking to cyber-bully an over-matched, out-sourced CSR.
“Thanks you very much, Mister Petro.”
I swim back in space and think of my father and me playing golf under the lights back in old Charlotte, many years earlier; that little Par 3 course on a swampy lake just off Independence Boulevard. At once I smell the honeysuckle fragrance and imagine the chatter of the late night crickets…I recall the real Mister Petro as a much nobler man than I find myself today; a Post-World War II protagonist who paid his bills uncontested, never looking for a break, or an angle, or a re-work.
I take a deep breath but still can’t find the humanity to mince my words.
“Jessie. Look down at your shirt pocket…. Do you see a name tag?”
“That is correct, Mister Petro. Thanks you very much.”
I think back on our younger years and how the old man would join me after work to observe every football and baseball practice; both of us with our own personal reasons for not heading directly home…just yet—to that humble place where time chipped away at the kitchen table reminding us daily of our mortality, much in the same manner that the post-gothic South of the 1970s reminded us that we’d always be, in most ways, outsiders in their territory; carpet baggers who swooped in and swept away the prettiest debutantes for ourselves, leaving their mansions of memories and debt behind. Time and Space hanging in the magnolia air.
“You do or you don’t have a name tag?” I press.
“Yes, Mister Petro.”
“Then I don’t want to talk to you,” I snip. They shouldn’t have left me in the same one-way chatroom with a whining DWTS loser for 44 minutes.
“I’m very sorry about that, Mister Petro. Thanks you very much.” Oh my sweet, sweet Jess-ie.
“Quit yanking my crank, Jessie, and connect me with someone in your department who has been promoted to at least short sleeve shirt and cheap necktie status (as I sit at my desk in my boxer shorts) and also has the authority to lower my APR to something more in line with…. say, my bookie!”
“Please hold, Mister Petro. Thanks you very…”
Click. Silence. No Michael Bolton. Dial tone. Again.
And, as a movable social part, I’m left with little choice but to take another deep breath and re-enter the queue. Tiny pieces of my identity are tethered in so many separate but interconnected directions—my real estate buyers and sellers, American Express (Blue, Gold & Business), Bank of America Home Mortgage, BMW of North America (and not even the 7-Series), NAR, CAR, AARP (gasp)—that I dare not make a false move lest my FICO score, or Page Rank, or LinkedIn social rating suffer a virtual ding. I am, at the very least, defined by the last four digits of my social security number. At least for the time being.
I’m waiting for Higgs Boson. And if the world is still in this mess in a hundred years, you can mark my RNG words in 140 characters or less, that I’m coming back as a cyber-ghost super-hero to put everyone with a name tag on permanent HOLD, godammit.
‘….Tell me how am-I sup-posed to-live with-out you?….’8 comments
it’s not that i don’t want to control my own virtual weight. au contraire, mes amis (i am my own worst higher power). there just isn’t an app for such a thing in the itunes store yet. i’ve been existing on 140 characters or less for months now, purging what isn’t vital (caps and font size to name a few), and withering away to mere silicon and bones. when i check my profile in the mirror an unfamiliar bot stares back. and, just between us bffs, he looks a bit bulimic since he all but eliminated spam from his diet.
he had me delete all my firewalls and security programs because he couldn’t trust which were real and which were fugazis. no doubt, a 17 year old megalomaniac from the ukraine is stealing my identity as we speak. (the joke, of course, being on him.) all my listings have mysteriously expired from realtor.com. good luck with that, comrade.
what i fear now is this: if all these ones and zeros ever do bio-degrade and dissolve into the ozone will there even be a digital record of my existence? i lost all my paper records in a basement flood two years ago and never did get that book published. paperback. yuck. too rich.
all my really good thoughts are in the notes section of my iphone; as is my music library, email, contact ppl, precious family pics and vids, restaurants on speed dial, calendar of my life—past, present and future. rss feeds, maps, passcodes, swiss acct #s, etc. u can listen to my voice on the greeting if u wish to get personal although i politely request that u don’t. my battery life doesn’t permit such things and my mailbox is redlining @capacity. but if u must…lv a mssg.
i find myself praying to @god for guidance but alas, nada. i get an instant message that my spiritual tithing has slacked off and that my universal pay-pal account is about to be condemed to….fail.
alert. my karmic credit score has just been lowered.
all i can conclude is: if anorexic realtors hate the way they look on the outside…. @lord only knows what they are saying about mobile-me. #
sent via iphone5 comments
The Glass Ceiling
I remember the moment I decided to stop wearing a suit and tie in public—forever. It was a couple days before Christmas and I dropped by the K-Mart to pick up a punch bowl for the office party. I was looming in Housewares when an elderly woman approached me with a fistful of coupons. Alvin and the Chipmunks were singing that insidious song through the sound system.
“I want to file a complaint.” She said.
“I don’t work here.” Me.
“You’re not the manager?” She asked, insistent.
“No. I’m not the manager.” I replied, perhaps a little snippy.
She glared up at me like…well…like I was lying. More than anything, I hate being implicated in an aspersion when I’m innocent. I’d rather receive three french hens every day for a year from someone I don’t truly love than be deemed a liar (unless of course, I actually am, in which case, I will simply deny until totally boxed in).
“This is an Italian suit, lady. You need to find someone with a name tag,” I continued, perhaps a little prideful.
“That lady over there said to ask you. That you were a manager.” She pressed.
We turned our attention to a squat woman in a burka, a rare sight in Richmond, Virginia in those days.
“That lady over there doesn’t speak English.” Me, perhaps a little too loud.
“I speak better English than you,” the lady yelled back across the aisle. “I speak five languages. How many you speak?”
Oh yeah. One of those days. A blue light siren began twirling above my head and something inaudible was announced over the speakers, interrupting the chipmunk falsetto drone. I froze as a wave of shoppers began scurrying in our direction; something about cutlery.
“You don’t have this Foot Soaker in stock.” The elderly lady shoved a coupon under my nose as the herd surrounded us.
“I know I don’t, ma’am…Because…. I. Don’t. Work. Here.” Me.
“She deserves a rain check,” Burka lady. “It’s false advertising if you don’t. Bait and switch.”
“Yes. Bait and switch,” Elderly lady.
“Bait and Switch!” Somebody yelled from the mob. “Bait and Switch….”
About that time an employee approached me and ask if she could please go on break now. I turned and walked out of K-Mart forever, sans punch bowl. We drank shots all afternoon at the office instead. That was 1994. By Christmas the following year, I was corporate history on so many different levels.
The Trap Door
My wife, Mona got ‘let go’ this week from her Fortune 500 employer. Ironically, she received sparkling evaluations from her clients and never missed a quarterly bonus but who knows how these things are ever really decided. I do suspect there was a big fat vice-president involved but then again, isn’t there always?
She came home in tears. I told her it was the best thing that ever happened to her, she just didn’t know it yet. That they did her a favor, freed up her future…
I took her and the Kid, a looking-for-work sommelier, to dinner only to discover, over appetizers, that my wife was most upset because they turned off her BlackBerry with no advance notice. “How heartless is that?” she asked me after her second glass of Pinot Noir. “And right before Christmas, too…”
“Dicks,” the Kid.
He then ordered a bottle of 2005 Bordeaux to make everyone (but me) feel better. He insisted it was a good deal and I believed him. I just don’t understand drinking wine. I understand drinking whiskey but that never really worked out for me either, come to think of it. These days I simply sip iced tea, observe, and if the waitress doesn’t bring the AMEX back in separate pieces, pick up the check.
“Screw it. Let’s celebrate. I’ll buy you an iPhone tomorrow, ” I said.
“Yeah. Only Suits use BlackBerrys,” the Kid added.
We all agreed.
And, since I’m a Realtor, technically, we are now all three ‘unemployed’ according to the way the government bureaucrats report these statistics. Suits. Dicks…
So…we’ve decided to load up the X3 (no new car anytime soon) and hit the road for the remainder of 2009: Chicago to St Louis to Memphis to Pittsburgh to Philadelphia to Cleveland to Chicago (or thereabouts). We will listen to iTunes, eat at Cracker Barrels, stop overnight, visit loved ones, and see the country; the Wife, the Kid, and Me. It will be like the Grapes of Wrath except we’ll be in a BMW.
We will enjoy every one of those days of Christmas, just like the song suggests. I hear there is even a place with Ladies Dancing just outside Charleston, WV. We answer to no one this Holiday Season. After all, we don’t work here.
And finally, a word of advice for the rest of you to take into the New Year:
Don’t be so concerned with the glass ceiling. It’s the trap door you have to watch out for.
When presented with an ultimatum my first inclination has always been to go for the ‘or else’ end of the proposition— a defiant tendency that was pointed out to me by more than a few black-hooded figures in charge of my early catechism. This probably explains the abnormally high pain threshold I lug around to this very day. (Go ahead, smack me across the knuckles with a ruler the next time we’re doing math together and see for yourself how little I seem to care.) I’m convinced this emotional dereliction has to something do with a mutated gene strand that skipped a few low risk taking generations in my inherent DNA. Clearly, I was breech born under a bad moon. I am a Virgo, they say, but not by much.
In the late 1960s, when the Age of Aquarius was recruiting the deflowered masses of my wayward generation, I found myself stalled, hesitant to beam up to the mothership. Manned with my own back alley (hearsay, to be sure) knowledge of that dirtiest of deeds, I actually did the arithmetic and concluded that my parents must have lost the rhythm on, or around, Thanksgiving Dinner, 1955. Born in the late afternoon on August 23rd the following leap year (and exactly three complete trimesters to the dinner bell hour later), I concluded that had my mother only pushed a little harder during labor, I could have been a Leo. But then again, if everyone hadn’t started drinking Cold Duck in the morning exactly nine months earlier, I probably wouldn’t have been…. at all.
So hence, I mentally celebrate—in my sick, sick head—two birthdays every year: The day of my most probable, mathematically correct Conception (Thanksgiving dinner, badda-bing), and…. August 23rd, that so-called celestial cusp I barely missed by some late breaking water. When someone asks me what astrological ‘sign’ I am, I simply spew out my theory as posed above… and they usually go away. It’s my own ultimatum of sorts, I suppose, to anyone who tries to get too close. After all, I did come out feet first and tend to veer a little to the left. We breech babies are like that—a bit contrary, I am told.
So dear friends, enjoy my Conception-Day tomorrow and to those of you born on October 1st …. Happy New Years! (Do the math.)
In my dream I’m always gasping for air; as if the trillion or so cubic inches of ozone I’ve already blown through in my lifetime somehow counts for nothing. I awake, step over the dog, and scramble downstairs in my boxers in search of a physical remedy to a metaphysical dilemma. Something is bothering me and I can’t quite place my finger on it. Life is short and, on this crisp autumn eve, I’m clearly too underdressed to even be considering my last breath. Our fifteen-year old cat follows close behind, his own mousy demons no doubt, in tow as well.
‘Dear God, please don’t let me die with money in my portion of the Charles Schwab account,’ I think as I root through the herbal medicine cabinet, next to the dishes, above the microwave. ‘That’s what the Prudential life insurance policy in the house safe is for,’ I obsess. It’s an odd recurring thought, I realize. Just being forthcoming.
We keep no real drugs in our house.
Ginkgo Biloba, Paranil, Senna, Licorice Root. Green Tea, White Tea, Black Tea…where the fck is the Alka Seltzer?
Over the years I’ve developed an internal ON/OFF switch of sorts; a requirement for any man whose livelihood simultaneously hinges on rejection yet somehow also depends on the act of a total stranger purchasing something of considerable value; house, condo, etc…. every month. It’s an Acceptance thing, I’ve learned. This emotional circuit breaker has, for a long time, assisted me in affairs of the heart, finance, most of the Deadly Sins—Fear, Greed, Anger, etc… not to mention social and personal guilt. And in case you haven’t been following the box scores at home this season, I’ve been in the OFF mode for a while now.
Over time I’ve learned to appreciate the next ‘Next‘ in life—I just haven’t learned not to eat Mexican food before retiring for the evening or found a way to avoid the night scares that have startled me ever since that stupid monster began squatting in my childhood closet at 39 Vineyard Road in Levittown. And as my Life flickers before me this particular night, I wonder:
‘What to do with the lingering wreckage of my Past?’
Just as my faithful canine companion would rather bark at intruders from inside the picture window when it’s chilly outside, I too, prefer to write a quick note or better yet, cower behind electronic messaging for all breaking news, good and bad, anymore. Even my foxhole prayers begin with OMG these days. I’ve become shrinkwrapped into a Twitter mentality, 140 characters at a time. If I feel any emotion at all I toss in an exclamation point or two. Even Facebook is becoming a burden. I don’t even call it Facebook anymore. I call it FB. OMG. WTF…is @ 2 me?!! Critical mass approaches as my social network expands and my personal circle contracts….
But I mentally carve deeper and in a brief moment of clarity, it hits me as I hover over the sink swirling the midnight elixir in a half washed coffee mug, old as hell goddamn cat on the counter beside me. I tip-toe into my office, dig out some dusty boxes, and begin tearing through decades of loose leaf pulp in search of a single folded sheet.
An hour later it is in my hand. I examine the inky yellow page beneath the reading light on my desk. The Amends. One unchecked-off task remains although the list is from another millenium altogether. A previous Life, to be sure.
I walk back into the kitchen and toast the harvest moon through the window. I boil some water for a final cup of Sleepytime and snoop through the fridge for a quick nibble. The cold white light is blinding—Soy this, 1% that, Non Fat everything else. Yogurt? I think not. Flax seed, Organic, Antioxidant…my wife is clearly trying to torture me into good health.
And, like most things in Life that have challenged me since those early monster days in (bucolic by name only) Violetwood, once I let the problem go, the solution appears on its own…
I step off the commuter jet in Pittsburgh and walk across the terminal to Avis. The girl behind the counter thinks I’m ancient, I’m certain.
“What brings you to Pittsburgh today, sir?” She asks.
“Class Reunion,” Me.
“High School?” Her.
“No. Slippery Rock….” Me.
Silence, as always, follows. Two underachievers, we stand an arms length and several generations apart, avoiding eye contact.
“…I’ve owed someone $100 for almost thirty years and I’m going to repay my debt today…” Me.
“…then reunite with some old friends.” Me still.
More silence. Silence and Judgement, I sense. I’m being judged by a rental car clerk in Pittsburgh.
“You reserved a Chevy Malibu?” Finally, Her.
My wife always makes my travel arrangements so alas, a sensible Mid-Size American ride awaits my AMEX imprint. I immediately upgrade to a Cadillac, confirming I guess, that I am indeed… old. We’ve been doing this for years. Mona has yet to ever rent me a car I’d actually be seen driving in real life and I always end up getting a Caddy because they don’t rent German cars in this country for what-ev…..
I exit the airport complex and drive north for an hour, texting on my iPhone and fumbling with the satellite radio the entire way. I push On-Star by accident twice. The third time they inform me I’m being charged. Bite me. Besides the makes and models of vehicles cruising in either direction along I-79 (and the daunt figure that keeps staring back at me in the vanity mirror on my visor), Western Pennsylvania hasn’t changed at all in three decades.
I pull into my old college town as the Homecoming Parade disassembles. As Fate, I suppose, would have it, I find a parking spot directly in front of the Camelot Restaurant. There is a line out to the sidewalk. A hand painted banner hangs from above the awning:
Everyday. 99 cent Breakfast.
Nothing has changed. I ate a hundred of these meals for free thirty years ago and then left town without paying the tab. What a schmuck. I step inside and push through the crowd into the kitchen. The interior has remained stagnant over the years. The aroma of burnt, bottemless coffee fills a crease in my mind. An old man is hunched over the griddle frying a dozen eggs at a time. An old woman stands beside him slinging potato hash onto chipped plates.
“I’m looking for Gary,” Me.
“I’m Gary,” Him.
I stare back at a gray ghost of the man in my memories. I hand him the one- hundred dollar bill already in my fingertips.
“I’ve owed you this for thirty years?” Me.
“What?” Him. A little miffed. He doesn’t stop cooking.
Hey, I’m not in the mood for perturbation on this day; not when I’m attempting to make a grandiose gesture. I just want to get a good night’s sleep, for crissakes. I continue…
“I’m Geno. I ran up a tab here when I was in Grad School and left town without paying. It always bothered me.” Me. (white lie)
“I don’t remember you,” Him.
“I was an actor. Streetcar, Equus, Hot L Baltimore. And a writer. I had a little column in the Tri-City News…. Geno…remember? You let me eat here free for like a year…” Me.
“Whatever. I don’t remember. Amateur theater around here has never been very memorable.” Him.
“Well I wanted to make good on my debt.” Me, also a little miffed now as well but it’s too late to slip the bill back into my pocket.
I place the C-note next to a toaster.
“I remember him,” The old woman. But she doesn’t elaborate. No need to I suppose. Yet another disappointed woman to add to yet another unresolved list. Not.
I turn and head off to the reunion hoping that my reception there is a little warmer and wondering if there is a Starbucks anywhere in the tri-county area. Ironic… I never had a buck for a plate of eggs thirty years ago but I’m quick to drop a five spot on a decent cup of coffee in a heartbeat today. I pull a Green Tea capsule from my coat pocket and swallow it instead. WTF…
I stroll down the Main Street (actual name) of my Bohemian years and stop in front of an ATM. I check my balance and withdraw the maximum daily limit just in case I suddenly kick the bucket as I make this final turn in Life with no intention of ever looking back. After all, they say an unrealized expectation leads to a Resentment. And holding on to a Resentment is pretty much like drinking the poison and waiting for the other person to die. Don’t you think?4 comments
Finally, a bloggable thought!
Let me attempt to serve up something palatable on the fine tapas Chinette as I poke through the leftovers in the upstairs icebox. I know, it’s been a month of Sundays since I’ve broken literary bread with the family.
Hey, what’s this here?
Some freezer burned Zig Zigler? Better check the expiration date on this mentally recorded morsel: 1976? Hmmm…perhaps I’ll just let it thaw and feed it to the hounds with the dry food…
Insert frosty Beta into Radarange and press PLAY
‘So there’s this Chinese bamboo tree that doesn’t grow an inch for four years, barely pokes its stem out of the dirt, then, in one amazing swing around the Sun, in year five, it shoots up ten feet…..’ and so I paraphrase the Zig man and countless other soap box derby wearers. It’s an old story.
I’ve tripped across many versions of the above Eastern yarn over motivational time and space; some prophets claim seven years for the phenomenon, some claim five, still others declare overnight! The same question is always begged….does a bamboo tree (Chinese or otherwise) really grow ten feet in any amount of time (save a little daily watering) after laying dormant for 1500 days ? And if so, why?
Oh hell, we’re are all pretty smart dogs around here. We all know why.
Personally, it took this mutt over thirty years to complete and submit for publication, a written project that was greater in length than a thousand words and didn’t involve an iPhone snapshot. The notion struck me like a branding iron as I sat at my desk completing the final U.S. Copyright and Writers Guild of America keystrokes (along with credit card info, of course) into my tired machine. I can only hope that after 60 days and nights of finger pecking toil (not to mention the 30 years below the soil), what I sent off , paid for, copyrighted, and registered, is even worth stealing.
So anyway, here’s a sample of what my bamboo tree just sprouted:
SCOTTY takes two more shot glasses off the tray and hands one
to CAT CHOW who reluctantly accepts the offering.
So, do you guys whack people?
MICKEY and SCOTTY look at each other. The housewives at the
next table are making out now. Patsy Cline plays through
the speakers. The lights come up for last call.
No. I’ve never whacked anybody.
Murder is above my pay grade. How
about you, Slick? You ever whack
Me? Nah. I’m a Buddhist. I did
staple a guy’s balls to his ass
once but I heard he didn’t die. So
no. Technically, no.
I’ll be back soon,
In dog years I’m pushing 8; city dog 8, not country dog 8. I like a crisp biscuit in the morning and a nice can of food with an ice cube in my water at night. I enjoy a leisurely stroll through the neighborhood and don’t really care to muddy my feet in the parkway or venture too close to the curb anymore. Not sure what I’d do if I had to rely on chasing rabbits for food or stray bitches for frolic. If I want to press my point, I piss in the bushes. At the end of a long dog day, I retire to my own bed where the cool sheets calm my simple soul and pull me into a dreamland of temporal puppy moments.
I stopped barking at the mailman years ago when I realized that he was merely the messenger. I stopped chasing cars when the reality of an $800 per month payment finally stung me on the snout. I’ve learned to separate unconditional love from raw, base instincts. I stopped humping legs for no good reason.
As a man, I will always be some sort of a dog I am told. The best I can hope for is to be the best dog I can humanly be. At the very end of the run I wouldn’t mind if my epitaph, carved into the side of a red Arizona mountain, read something like: ‘Here lies the ashes of Geno Petro. He was a very good dog although his bite was much worse than his bark…’ Something like that.8 comments
The base anticipation that precedes any journey to a new destination is always more vivid for me than the denouement that accompanies the physical descent to earth. With rare exception (perhaps Paris and maybe Vegas), the image I conjure up in my two dimensional mind beforehand always seems to fall somewhat short of the real 3-D deal. On our first trip to Maui, for example, my notion of grass huts and Woody Wagons clamped with surfboards was quickly dashed the moment I spotted a Costco and a Wal-Mart just steps from the arrival terminal. It was raining ukuleles that day and the lone, Port Authority hula dancer was, how shall I say… Samoan? I was expecting something a bit more, I don’t know….svelte?; like the subject of one of those Sailor Jerry tattoos I threaten to get stenciled across my chest every 120 lunar cycles or so—-pure 1950’s South Pacific paradise-of-the-mind stuff. I think we bought our own leis for 8 bucks each at the gift shop, rented a Taurus from Avis, and called it a day.
And it’s not just Hawaii. The same holds true for Jamaica—or as I like to call it, The Bangladesh of the Caribbean, with its human squalor, smelly ceviche, and over-abundance of muddy water. Even the Antiquarium in Boscoreale, Italy, beneath the shadows of a nearby looming housing project, is sequestered by a string of barbed wire and discarded heroin needles. Not that I don’t enjoy myself abroad, mind you. I’m an enthusiastic traveler, to be sure. The foreign landscapes that ultimately unfold just never fully mesh with the spatial images dancing around in my head before touch down.
Alaska was pretty spot-on but to be honest, I wasn’t expecting too much from that particular latitude. And while I did not get a tattoo while docked in the port of Juneau, I was presented with a shiny new Rolex Datejust in our cruise ship cabin later that evening. Since I’m clearly never retiring from anywhere, my wife decided to give me my ceremonial timepiece a few decades early— for my 50th birthday. Just so you know, the name MONA, is tattooed on my left bicep. (It was only erased and changed to MOM once, and then back again to MONA as quickly as possible but as I often tell whoever will listen—that’s another story for another weekend writer’s block.) I’ve long since admitted to God, to myself, and to at least one other expatriot on foreign soil, that I should have re-thought that whole laser/erase/redo episode beforehand. So what if the Rolex is stainless steel and not gold. I’m just assuming its not a fugazi.
I’ve owned 20 different vehicles and a half dozen dwellings in my 30+ years as an adult—each one, a little disappointing in its own way; wrong model, too small an engine, obstructed view, wrong city. Never ‘Sailor Jerry’ perfect like those carefree models on the vintage posters—forever young and beautiful. Never what one thinks a tattoo is going to be before the alcohol wears off, the flesh begins to rip, and the ink sets in for good. This causes me to think of the elder men who have preceded me in this life as I ponder their own indelible whims.
My Uncle Zip never did move back to Hawaii after World War II, or own a brand new Coupe De Ville like he said he one day would, or meet Frank Sinatra in person (Vic Damone or Buddy Greco either, for that matter). But every speck of his being, from here to eternity, let everyone within swinging distance know that these were items on his personal bucket list. In my uncle’s case, the dream itself seemed to suffice in lieu of the destination or even the journey. When the old Navy dog finally did make his final pilgrimage back to the Big Island much later in life he would, too, find his black sand paradise covered beneath a sheet of rain and asphalt. He died in Levittown, Pennsylvania with a rusting Dodge Polara in the driveway.
And as I now recall my own father, a soul whose passing is still within clear sight, I’m certain he would have preferred to spend his final years gazing at egrets and herons through binoculars from an Adirondack chair in Cape May, New Jersey; much more so, I think, than being held hostage by the Fox News Network and ESPN via his north Philadelphia blue leather recliner while fretting over the pink ink of his Wachovia accounts. Think about it—a man can probably die wherever he wishes with some proper planning, enough dough, and a little luck. He just needs a willing spouse to help move things along. That’s all.
Truthfully though, I don’t give this all too much thought. I see little use in being disappointed in something as anti-climatic as my journey to the After Life. Obsessions, like tattoos, begin to fade after so many years in the sun. But you must admit, those four-color brochures that the Seventh Day Adventists leave on the front porch every summer do catch your cosmic eye—like a Sailor Jerry classic. In Paradise. ‘Forever.’ On a deep six holiday.
image by sailor jerry6 comments
To pluck a petal from the bloom of friend and recondite commenter, Don Reedy, I’ve been ‘face down in a slope of iceplant’ for 30 days. Yes, iceplant. (I’ll let the man himself expound a little later but allow me to tempt you with the essence of his yarn—- it involves a houseboat in San Diego, a Belushi Halloween costume (including handcuffed briefcase), and a lost weekend somewhere in the bowels of the 1980s. Un huh.)
You see, I too have been on a pastoral quest of sorts this month and presently find myself scurrying through the Bloodhound shadows to slip this flimsy piece under the Big Dog’s door before the triple witching hour tonight—June’s last breath. I take a peek around the literary pound and am relieved to find that my WordPress password is still active and that my name and mugshot are still posted on the BHB sidebar. Only a handful of hours remains between me and blanking an entire month on the hallowed front post page. Hopefully I’ll push Publish before the final strike of Midnight and keep the holy streak alive. Admittedly, I’ve been remiss in my self-imposed dogmatic duties.
So this is what has gone down since I last posted Mother Nature is not a MILF on May 30th (an essay written mostly on my iPhone that netted a total of 6 unique comments including a few of my own trite responses). I pooled my talents, sunk my literary savings into a mental Ponzie marketing scheme, and found myself nearly wiped clean from the blogarian grid as I danced 30 days straight ‘with the one who brung me’ to this economic station in life to begin with—real estate sales. Eleven of them to be exact. I’ve never done eleven of anything in a single month much less an activity involving commission checks with accompanying deposit slips. And now, after eleven hard money contracts written and/or Closed in June, I come crawling back to my digital workspace on knees and elbows on this last day of the month, famished and thirsty for Google juice; mind, gut, and Adword account all but drained. On figurative creative fumes. A quip or two every few days on Facebook (again, via my iPhone) has been my only contact with the electronic media. I forgot to pay my Comcast bill. Twice. When I finally booted up my laptop at home to begin this piece last Sunday, the bastards had already unhooked my shit. Some nice gentleman from a war torn Third World nation assisted me with the re-connect. I think he said his name was Billy Bob. Billy Bob Pakhtoon.
I posted my first blog in December of 2005 because my lead generation efforts had basically dissolved into sediment. Momentum alone carried me through 2006. It was only after reading a Time Magazine article later that year that I decided to change my real estate physiognomy and commit to a low carb regiment of dietary backlink fiber. For the next several months I was more concerned with the BMI on my Page Rank scale than the actual dirty act of soliciting….ahem…. property. And as my writing skills appeared to flourish, my sales skills began to atrophy. I showed up at my accountant’s office in 2008 with my 1099s in hand and his secretary asked for ID. I was fiscally unrecognizable. I had become the Joaquin Phoenix of his client base. I told her she should check out my blog, that I was now a writer and a Realtor. I believe her response was, “Whatever. Cash or credit card only, Mr. Petro.” Whatever…
So, as Mr Reedy so beautifully explains it in the comment section of a previous post, “A friend found me two days later, face down in a slope of iceplant (I’ll bring a sample, because iceplant only grows where it doesn’t freeze). It took another two days for my face to lose the iceplant imprint…”
And there, too, is where I only recently found the other half of my creative soul. In Iceplant. Face Down. On a Slope. Imprinted. I’ve said it many times before on this venue; I can either write or I can sell. I just can’t seem to do both at the same time worth a darn. So for the next 30 days or so I suppose I’ll write. I’m in a Francis Ford Coppola Zoetrope Screenplay Contest with an August 1 deadline. Now that’s as good an excuse as any for not selling jack squat in July.
Now the hard part—fabricating an essay that somehow pertains to real estate and ties in with the above catchy title; one that popped into my head while hydroplaning through a stop sign in a downpour earlier this month. At the next red light I quickly texted the lofty thought to myself expecting to come up with an accompanying point (and several hundred additional words) once I made it safely back to my desk—my writing desk that is. Not my selling desk. I have a separate hard, cluttered surface for each, you see.
More accurately, what I’ve set up are creative stations for each side of my brain; right brain/writing desk, left brain/selling desk. And it’s not hard to tell when I’m performing the wrong creative duty at the wrong desk, either; I basically suck at whichever task is at hand, I’m always running behind schedule, and I don’t make any money. Anyway, that Mother Nature idea was almost three weeks ago.
So tonight I was reading Jeff Brown’s latest post (and most of the 100 or so comments that were bound to ensue) when finally, the ideal segue hit me. Transparency! Why not try and give that clear concept a whack myself since, as hard as I tried to think of a comment to insert, I had nothing intelligent to add to Mr Brown’s already lengthy thread. Perhaps instead, I could unveil a few secrets of my own that the BawldGuy might feel are nobody’s fiscal business. Actually, I agree with him (and his grandparents) on this one but I happen to be sitting at my selling desk in boxer shorts now so…. down they come. Ah transparency.
* In 2006 I earned more income selling real estate than the combined government salaries of the Vice President of the United States and a typical City of Chicago Streets and Sanitation worker on the ‘no show’ payroll.
* Last year, according to the cover of Parade Magazine, I basically matched dollar for dollar with the average preschool teaching assistant in Youngstown, Ohio (Fail perhaps, but not quite Perish).
* So far this selling season, I’m keeping signing bonus pace with the two lowest paid relief pitchers on the Cubs roster who have but one Save between them. That’s only one Save more than me and I don’t even play baseball. Still, it beats the hell out of singing Barney songs to kindergarteners and cleaning up spilt milk…in Ohio.
* I’m yet to directly make a nickel writing anything in any year, sing-along session, or administration.
* Sometimes I imagine a cute saying or vivid scene, edit the content for profanity and blue imagery, QWERTY it into the Notes page of my iPhone then blog about it later, generally at my writing desk. I try very hard to keep at least an element of truth in these sorts of writings. If the piece winds up getting too far out there then I just stuff it full of keywords and hyperlinks and post it on Active Rain instead.
* Other times, the event actually does unfold before my very eyes which immediately hurls me into multi-talkxting mode (simultaneously talking with one person, texting another, and drinking a caffeinated beverage while operating a motor vehicle). This is always about the time I accidently drop my iPhone in one puddle or another.
* The rest of the time I just wait for Saturday evening to arrive and, if I haven’t dozed off in a corner somewhere, log onto my Bloodhound WordPress account and try to slip a semi-polished post past a couple of the sleeping big dogs before midnight. If I’ve had enough coffee throughout the week, it generally writes itself.
This morning in the shower a new title popped into my head. The New York Nicks: a story of two cooks, both named Nicholas, who work at a Greek restaurant during the day and play in a Staten Island garage band at night. How I’ll ever find a way to make that notion somehow pertain to real estate, I haven’t a clue. But then again, Mother Nature is not a MILF took since May 12th to end up here.10 comments
It’s not that I couldn’t somehow get my hands on a late model Ferrari if I really wanted one (and I doubt I’m any different than most happily married men of my demographic in this regard). After the divorce, I’d simply have to move in with relatives, liquidate whatever is left for 100 pennies on the dollar, then slap down the balance on American Express between billing cycles, that’s all. With the proceeds I could probably score a pretty decent off-lease, if not road worn, Enzo Berlinetta…in the least desirable color—with stock rims. I’m just saying.
I want one, but ideally…I want one 20 years ago. (Actually, I’ll just take the 20 years ago and you can keep the Ferrari and this whole real estate business.) A 32 year old Realtor in a Ferrari is a Bad Ass but a 52 year divorcee old living at home with mother is….well, just plain sad—especially when forced to park a high mileage phallus behind her Subaru in the driveway. (God how I hate that Freud.)
So this middle-aged guy zooms into my rear view mirror on the freeway entrance ramp last evening, hesitates for a double-bump tach rev, then screams past me on the right in 1st gear. He was neatly tucked into a couple hundred thou of handcrafted, precious scarlet metal and buttery cowhide. His straw gray, combed-over tonsure hovered in the breeze above a sun-chapped bald spot. A rose gold Chopard watch, with matching cuff links, deflected all remaining rays of Envy as he dissolved into the North Shore Chicago smogset. Judging from the pink gold blur, I pegged his left wrist alone at around 50 grand. Clearly, our little speedster’s got more jack than any man knows what to do with. His engine sounded like an amped-up Joe Satriani guitar riff in the dusky ether. His license plate read RAINMKR. I’ve been behind this ass clown before. He used to double park his banana cream Bentley at a renowned Viagra Triangle watering hole during happier hours. Must have gotten a divorce. If he got a red Ferrari then somebody got a house. You can bet on it.
I mentally counted the remaining months on my forest green 2006 BlahsMoW X3, followed immediately by my own marital blessings–bountiful, to be sure. I surmized (once again) that I have a personal mortality with which to wrestle and I don’t need anybody elses. But…. if I did get the opportunity to be RAINMKR for a day I’d probably hawk the pink watch if for no other reason than to see the look on the pawnbroker’s face . Then I’d go right back to my wife where I belonged…..but not before doing 185 (that’s when the rear wing is actuated to maintain the downforce of 775kg) on the way home; just like in that song I sing to myself every time it comes on the radio.9 comments