by Jason Love
March 05, 2005
I stood outside jewelry stores holding jumbo signs. Look at me. Look at me. If I jumped up and down, the owner would slip me a twenty. I felt like the guy who drives the Weinermobile, only without the prestige.
For a time, I produced "stress balls," those things you squeeze when you want to shoot someone in the head instead. After all the money my folks spent on tuition, they were pleased to find me on the balcony stuffing balloons with bird seed. Then one night I left the seed outside, and it disappeared to a pack of pigeons.
The most enlightening work took place at Toops Real Estate, where I spent my weekends. I'm still not sure what my job was there. Mostly, I wrote agent bios.
If you haven't been to a real estate office, I encourage you to go. Pack a lunch and take the kids. Tell them you're looking to pay cash for your home -- they'll massage your feet throughout the conversation.
The real estate agent works on commission. Like other percentage pirates, they are never not working. I felt bad for the saps who walked into Toops looking for a home. As soon as the door opened, the scent of commission wafted into the building, exciting a frenzy on the floor. Before the guy could say hello, sixteen agents materialized, business cards in hand.
Perhaps my view is jaded because I worked alongside the weekend agents. They are the ones who had to make cold calls and call you "sir" (unless you were a woman, in which case that would be awkward). The rookies worked in cubicles because you have to earn your way into an office. If you wanted to know how far you had to go, you consulted the Victory Chart in the break room. It outlined your value as a human being.
Pierre worked the floor every Saturday, determined to make a million dollars like BJ upstairs. Although Pierre spoke perfect English, he became Pepe Le Pew on the telephone. His call list consisted of people who were French, part-French, or European enough to like a guy named Pierre.
Beside Pierre sat Harry in his wheelchair. Harry had been climbing the Victory Chart in recent months, so everyone hated him. But only on the inside. The real estate agent is always happy on the outside. People bought houses from Harry because they felt if push came to shove, they could, well, push him over. Harry didn't mind. Rumor had it that he wasn't crippled in the first place.
Finally, there was Sebastian, who spent his time hitting on me. Like so many others, Sebastian thought I was gay. And he wasn't deterred when I said things like, "Sebastian, I'm not gay." So it goes.
Today, Sebastian's mind was on other things: he had just sold a million-dollar shack in Malibu. If Sebastian normally walked on air, now he was scraping the ceiling. He whistled at his cubicle as he finalized the paperwork, then floated past my desk and -- with a wink -- upstairs to see BJ.
The agents were in charge of foreplay; BJ did the screwing. BJ made sure the numbers were confusing and that the fine print paid for his Mercedes. He carried himself like a man who couldn't decide between going to the bathroom or doing another line of cocaine. Greed does wacky things to you.
BJ stepped onto his balcony and announced that Sebastian had just found a special place in his heart.
"Justin," he said to me. "Make a note in his bio."
I didn't tell him my name is Jason. That's as close as he came to getting it right.
There's an art to writing the real estate bio. You have to dig for talents like "familiar with community" or "good with numbers" but leave out more obvious traits like "will sleep with your wife if need be."
Here is an example, parentheses mine: "During his limited time in the U.S. (27 years), Pierre has become a real estate pundit (oxymoron). He specializes in exotic properties befitting his European lineage (gag me with a spoon)..."
Here is another: "Harry has sold more homes than any other physically disadvantaged agent in California. With Harry, you won't purchase a lemon -- he won't stand for it!"
Whenever I finished a bio, I had to shower. That must be what it's like to write speeches for the President. I saw what happened behind the scenes. When an agent walked a family into the conference room and drew the shades, you could smell the BS for days. The husband would ask questions about local schools and the climate; the agent would nod and appraise the man's watch.
It's not entirely the agent's fault; he was commissioned to behave that way.
Looking back at Toops Real Estate, I thank God that I went to college. It has allowed me to pursue more dignified work. Like stuffing balloons with bird seed.
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