Standing on the cedar deck outside the glass door I see myself looking back at me, the sport coat I bought for 3 dollars at the Goodwill store, the briefcase I carry to look educated. Behind me is the neighborhood of Ponyboy Curtis, an unfiltered assortment of bent automobiles, broken houses and discarded people.
My footsteps drum the wooden deck. Behind the glass, two men drink scotch at a coffee table in a cloud of Winston and Lucky Strike. The heavier one looks up at me, then back to his scotch as I swing open the door and step inside.
“Whatever you’re sellin’, we’re not buyin’.” His eyes never leave the scotch.
“Probably advertising,” said the other, careful not to look my way.
“I came in here because you guys appear from the road to be smarter than most. Don’t tell me I made a mistake.”
Both men turn to look at me. They stare. I stare. The second one speaks again.
“What makes you think we’re so smart?”
“The sign, the flags, and the angle of presentation.”
His eyes grow cold and hard. “Explain.”
Holding a solitary finger in front of me, I give them the facts.
“Five sheets of inch-and-an-eighth tongue-in-groove plywood gave you an 8 by 20 sign on which you painted ‘Veterans Housing Specialists’ in exactly the same style and colors a government agency would use. You’re looking for that Veterans Administration ‘one-dollar-move-in’ money that you know every Viet Nam vet has available to them. You’re smart enough to paint the sign. I’m smart enough to know it’s working.”
A second finger joins the first.
“Every other dealer on mobile home row uses exactly the same strings of cheap vinyl flags to get attention. Red, yellow, blue, green and white. But you paid extra for unicolor strings of metallic silver and metallic gold. It makes your mobile homes look upscale.”
“You have the least inventory of any dealer but your customers never realize it because while every other dealer places their homes parallel to the road, you’ve angled yours so that no home is ever blocked from view. This is visually more interesting, gets more attention, makes the homes seem distinctive AND you’re creating leading lines in a V-shape that guide the eyes of passers-by to your seemingly official ‘Veterans Housing Specialists’ sign.”
The second one stood up and shifted his scotch to his left hand.
“I’m Jim McDuffie.”
Pointing to his partner he said,
“That’s Mac McKean.”
Reaching toward me for a handshake, he said,
“And you’re our new advertising guy. Tell me what I need to buy.”
I like to tell that story because it makes me look smart.
There are other stories I don’t like to tell.
– Roy H. Williams