I used to have an office with a window back when I was a manager
and there were still people to manage. Now I sit alone in a cubicle at the
windowless center of the empty seventh floor. No one else ever comes
to the office. The other survivors prefer to work from home, and all of
us work harder than dogs, the functions of a team of forty devolved to
the aging shoulders of the five of us and our tyrannical machines always
pinging and dinging and pressing for our attention at every moment of
the day. In two years, the lease on the building is up, and a large multinational conglomerate will conclude its long, slow digesting of what was
once Manifold Northeast Mutual Life & Trust. What few jobs are left
will disappear down to corporate headquarters, and we’ll have to retire
or relocate or find other jobs; not that there are many jobs around here
to be found. I run into my former colleagues sometimes taking coffee
orders or ringing up groceries, their forced smiles deepening crow’s-feet
and laugh lines.
I delay opening my e-mail for as long as possible. I fold my coat
carefully, deliver my sandwich to the fridge in the break room, brew a
Keurig, sort and stack papers on my desk. I liked it better when we did
things by phone. The agents are great talkers, true American heroes of
salesmanship and bullshit. If you want to learn how to sell—and what
an art that is, selling—go find yourself a successful life insurance agent.
They’re selling a nonsense product no one needs and no one wants to
think about, and they do it with such style that you find yourself smiling
even after you realize you’ve been conned.
Take, for example, Bubba, an agent in Atlanta. He sends me an enormous policy for a guy who’s got every disease in the book—
hypertension, hepatitis, heavy smoker, basically a walking diagnostic laboratory.
Only he couldn’t possibly be walking, the shape he’s in.
In two years, the lease on the building is up, and a large
multinational conglomerate will conclude its long,
slow digesting of what was once Manifold Northeast
Mutual Life & Trust.