Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Love of Latin Girls

There’s this fellow I got to know recently, he’s in software sales. His job was to come and visit me and convince me that I should recommend his company’s software based on its technical merits. When a large corporation is looking to make an enterprise purchase, the decision-making process can sometimes take up to 18 months and involves a number of steps. By the time this fellow came to see me last week, the company for which I work (let’s call it LC, for Large Company) had narrowed the field down to two choices. This fellow (we’ll call him TS for Technical Salesman) represented the larger company, the company that was better-established but which was inferior from a technical standpoint, at least in my opinion.

I met this fellow in a local restaurant a few blocks away from my house. I always take people to this restaurant when I can, even though the food is not very good, because it’s owned and run by a hopeful young couple and I’d like to see them make it. Even though I’d never met TS before, I knew him right away because my boss had said he looked like a “dissolute former punk-rock drummer.”

Yes, that fit pretty well. He was wearing jeans and a short-sleeved shirt, untucked, with prints of various American cityscapes on it. He had sunglasses nestled in his reddish, spiky hair. His eyes were rather close together, his nose was long and thick, and his upper and lower lips were precisely the same size and shape. We shook hands, ordered and sat down. I’d come with all sorts of papers and sketches and printouts of his company’s technical documents and whitepapers. I was prepared to get to work, and began to ask questions about his company’s implementation strategy. These questions seemed to bore him. He continued to eat steadily and to suck at his drink when he wasn’t chewing; now and then he would make a statement that indicated, vaguely, that I might be on the right track.

After lunch he said that he’d like to go to Starbucks, so we got into his rented convertible and began to drive toward the beach. He lit up an American Spirit cigarette while I sat in the passenger seat, clutching my sheaf of printouts and drawings, trying to keep them from blowing out of the car. It occurred to me that I must look like a real square, sitting next to LS with his sunglasses and spiked hair, talking into his cell phone in a gruff, man-of-the-world way to some member of his sales team.

At Starbucks TS ordered an eleven-dollar coffee. It involved several shots and several pumps of various flavors, prepared at a specific temperature, double-cupped. We sat outside in the sunshine and I continued to struggle along with my questions and note-taking and implementation diagrams. Now and then TS would wave the cigarette between his fingers in a dismissive way and say, “Yeah, we’ve got that. We’ve got all that.”

When I’d stopped talking he began to tell me about his family, how his wife complained that he was never at home while she was stuck with their two children, but that she didn’t realize how tough it was, this life on the road. This took a long time, and several cigarettes, to describe in detail. He went to refill his coffee, and when he came back he mentioned that he had a certain kind of car which he identified only by a letters and numbers, assuming I would know the make. I nodded my head as if I understood when he said he was thinking he might sell it now and collect the $55,000 or so that it would bring.

Then he began to enumerate all the problems with his company’s competitor. It was as if some invisible switch had been flipped in his brain. He ticked off the points on his thick, freckled fingers, with his mouth curled in disdain around the barrel of his cigarette. It was so absurd and strange that I found myself mesmerized. I had no idea what to think of his sales strategy, which seemed to be constructed around a kind of vicious but joyful negativity. In that sense, it was an extension of his personality and was equally captivating in its own strange way. I duly wrote down all his points. Without thinking I took a cigarette from his pack on the table and lit up.

TS asked had I ever been with a Latin girl. I said I had, once, in high school, but that we’d only kissed behind a sand dune because she had a curfew. TS asked had I noticed a special smell to their skin. I said I couldn’t remember. He said the skin of a Latin girl was always sweet. He began to talk about the Latin girls he’d known in other cities around Florida. He told a series of fantastic stories involving dance clubs, shots of liquor, short skirts, hotel-room balconies, and Latin girls with soft, smooth, dark skin. It was almost poetic. His red, bushy eyebrows popped up from behind his sunglasses like puppets and his white hands flashed in the sun as he pantomimed the curves of his Latin lovers. He left the possibility open that some of these encounters were quite recent, perhaps as recent as last night.

I took another cigarette and lit it. I felt sick but strangely excited. I had the idea that I could follow TS’s example. I might be capable of similar exploits and perhaps I, too, could smoke and drink anything I liked. By now it was late in the afternoon and TS said we ought to consider where we would like to eat dinner. It was on his company, he said. His treat. We drove back to my house so that I could send my meager collection of notes and drawings to my boss. TS spoke loudly and laughingly on his cell phone while I tapped away on the computer, squinting at the screen with dry, smoke-hazed eyes. Then we proceeded to dinner.

When we got to the restaurant TS ordered three drinks at once and tossed them off in succession. His phone rang and he said that it was his wife and that he would “have to face the music sometime, god dammit.” I suggested he go talk with her before we sat down to our table. TS told me that while he was gone I should have a drink or two so that I would be ready for some action at the local strip clubs.

But then, during dinner, something strange happened. Perhaps it was the call from his wife, perhaps it was the food in his stomach, perhaps it was the drinks or the late hour, I don’t know. Something seemed to leak out of TS and he looked crumpled, deflated, and ordinary. He seemed to have shrunk by several inches. His hair looked slightly wilted. He lay back in his seat as if he’d been stunned by some blow. His conversation was disjointed and difficult to understand. I realized that he was struggling to keep up the man-of-the-world tone which he’d established with me and which had worked so well for him thus far. He began to talk very earnestly about his company’s technical accomplishments, and I joked with him that it was a little late for that, as I wasn’t planning to take notes during our dinner. He slumped further in his seat.

I was worried that he was going to make some kind of confession to me. I did not want to find out that he was miserable or lonely. If he’d been playing a part during our day together, I felt he should play it to the end. After all, I’d enjoyed it immensely, even believed it a little bit. I quickly changed the topic of conversation to sports, and he seemed to brighten a bit; he even managed to stare at the waitress when she came to refill our drinks, but as soon as she was gone he lapsed back into his melancholy silence.

I told him I had work to do that evening and that I could not go out with him after dinner. He mumbled some regretful phrases and extended his hand, not even bothering to get up. As I was walking away from the table I looked back and saw him standing there, squinting in my direction, but in the dim light of the restaurant I couldn’t be sure he was looking at me.

I was puzzled by TS’s behavior. I could not figure out why he hadn’t tried harder. It seemed absurd that he’d fly in to see me and then behave so strangely. But, to my surprise, his company won the contract. As it turns out, they’d already managed to lock up the support of my company’s VPs the week before. He'd only come to see me as a matter of form.

From what I understand, and this is only a rumor, TS flew a group of my company’s executives to a weekend retreat in Miami where they stayed at a hotel on the beach, golfed, and at night they were entertained by some Latin girls of TS's acquaintance. Can you imagine? Is it possible that TS might build an entire business empire on his connoisseurship of girls of a certain ethnicity? I can say this about his approach; it sure beats grinding away at technical diagrams.


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