I wake up to the sound of Cecil vacuuming the stairs. Maybe itís just me but I need to awaken ever so slowly and gently, otherwise I disrupt my sensitive energy field. This can cause one or two things depending upon the state of my fragile grip on reality. Firstly I tend to feel very unreal as I hover between this world and the next. Secondly I become strangely melancholic and think about things like famine times and poor Irish people who had to eat grass. So all in all my entrance to the day is of utmost importance. It dictates who I am, what I feel and my ability to function normally. Today I am a corporate adult about to join the real world. Thank you Cecil for fucking it up.
Shower and dress in vague donít give a shit sort of mood. Looking in the mirror to see if I have created desired effect I seem to have forgotten to outline eyes with pencil making me look like an anaemic reptile. What else is missing? Watch? Where is watch? Watch is on right wrist. See what I mean? I need to connect to the world big time and I have one hour to do it.
I arrive on time to the Burlington hotel, staff training venue for the day. Euphoria at starting a new career has created miraculous recovery from unfocused state. I am a living breathing business person someone to whom determination and being positive are like second nature. I am ushered by the manager to the Clarence room where I find myself inundated by my future business colleagues. I smile but not too furiously, just enough to show that I am not socially backward.
Thankfully At 9.30 staff training begins allowing all fifteen of us to relax, observe and listen. In other words go back to sleep. Mr Greene the supervisor welcomed us to the company and gave us some spiel about its background and ethos. I focus on my new brief case with new pens and folders and feel a pathological urge to use my new toys. Start to write notes.
Apine Growth, founded in 1983..Insurance. Pension plans. Feel fed up with writing notes. Doodle instead and create genetically modified flowers and houses with chimneys belching environmentally damaging smoke. Depressing doodles sign of impending PMS or a warped destructive psyche?
"Do you have any questions?" asks Mr Greene.
One hand shoots up whose owner looks terribly focused and ultra serious. Question was highly relevant so owner of hand begins to take on smug and superior look. I couldnít understand the question so I just nod and smile, not too much.
At 10.30 it was getting to know everyone in this one big happy family type company. Mr Greene distributed name -tags that rescued us from anonymity. "Anna Moran, pleased to meet you" said the tag that was Jason Burke. We mingled and focused on tags to mutter a few formalities to show that we were all normal socially adjusted people, a welcome asset to the company.
At 10.45 more spiel from Mr Greene about Apines position in the Irish market today. Innovative, up and coming company, successful, blah, blah, blah. Went back to sleep until he mentioned rewards. Ah ha now heís talking.As employees in innovative successful growing company we were to be given free membership to Bupa. Make note to catch at least one deadly disease a year for prolonged hospital stay. I love hospitals, well private ones only. Wish a gym was included but no such corporate luck yet. Whatís that a cruise? Suddenly I was all attentive and fully focused, not hovering in any world other than this one. Seemingly if I reach my targets selling each month I get one step nearer to a cruise in the pacific. The more I sell the greater the chance I have of cruising. Feel sudden injection of enthusiasm and happiness to be part of generous company.
By 11 two of the lads on the course started to yawn, causing Mr Greeneís eyes to dart rather furiously around the room. It was time for a half hour break and more serious mingling. I gravitated towards Peter and Mark who looked as if they had no interest in the growing insurance sector in this tiger economy. Mark had a comical smiley type of face who started making joking remarks about the conscientious Mr Greene. I warmed instantly. Mark told me he only planned to stay in the job til he learnt what he needed to know for his fatherís firm in Paris, that he planned to join after 18 months. In other words he wanted to plagiarise Apineís strategies. Mark was an economics graduate from Trinity but seemed a nice self effacing type of guy.
Peter was a hoot with the kind of personality that any woman would fall for if they werenít averse to 4 stone overweight men. He also had a well defined receding hairline and freckles, whisking him totally out of my hemisphere. Peter had a commerce degree from Galway and wanted to use insurance as a stepping stone to the financial sector in general. I too made my formal introduction, saying that I wanted to get experience in this area. I told them I wanted to branch into selling and marketing, blah, blah, bullshit. I avoided mentioning my degree as wanted to make good impression on fellow colleagues.
The next few days were spent learning some vital skills in selling insurance. Mr Greene was replaced by a more senior member of staff judging by his superiority complex. Mr Hughes, one of the companyís demi-Gods who had travelled the world with the company was to be our advisor and tutor for the day. The first fifteen minutes were spent pointing out how successful he was, and how proud he was to be part of such a wonderful company. He tried to make us feel privileged and grateful, kinda like the chosen ones; the new generation that would carry the torch for the company and propel it onto greater heights and success. This was beginning to sound too much like nazi brainwashing so I disconnected and withdrew into fantasy.
Anna Moran going on her third cruise. Success and greatness have been her norm since she joined the company in 2000. We are voting her business woman of the company. Lots of clapping and standing ovation. We are sorry to have to loose her as she is leaving to get married and join her equally successful and talented husband Mr X.
The training was too real and boring for my divergent nature. One of the advantages of my degree is that I can create a parallel universe with magic and wonder as a much needed contrast to selling strategies. Hence I do not appear as bothered or as stressed as the rest of my colleagues. The concept of competition is one I donít even ponder upon. Iíll do by best but will refuse to think for high moral reasons that I am a better salesperson than the next. I refuse to enter the blood thirsty arena but I will be known and respected for my gentle arts of persuasion and co operation. I feel much better within myself when inner life is pure and highly intentioned.
The selling techniques must have been devised by anal retentive with the social skills of a institutionalised lifer. For instance on gaining entry to a personís home we are told to focus on some object in the room and start a conversation about same object. For instance see some golf sticks and say "Do you play golf? Whatís your handicap? 24. Excellent" (For a blind man) or see a painting and discuss impressionism or nouveau art I think Iíd prefer to talk about the madness of the creative urge but that would depend on sanity level of client. Like the part where they have to disclose if they have ever taken medication and they start listing the a to z of uppers they are currently popping then I wonít mention chopped off ears or the crazy mistral. I have pictures of me rummaging furiously through the attic of prospective client to find something of interest to talk about. Ah yes, some old photo albums of whom? Your mothers uncle who ran off to India with Father Moriartyís housekeeper who was half his age. How fascinating. Do tell. Honestly we can and do talk as part of normal daily discourse. If we are unable to make small talk at this stage in our development then we are seriously lacking.
Some seriously lacking colleagues thought all of this was a great idea. There was lots of note taking among such ilk. Breeda Nolan, colleague from Sligo with degree in Marketing said she would talk about any children present and try to get the client to also include policies for them. At this stage MR Hughes nearly reached an orgasm in response to the forward thinking and initiative shown. I wanted to throw up. Decide there and then not to take advantage of clients children and force him/her to take out policies that they may not afford. Decide that Breeda is the more cut -throat business person and not at all like me. So I ask a question. Big mistake in retrospect.
"What happens when a client clearly canít afford an extra policy like for instance a child?" Silence as a horrified Mr Hughes looks around for much needed support in his about to lets dissect Anna Moran while she is still alive plan.
I concentrated on his facial features to avoid feeling I was the one on trial for treason. I kept thinking Mr Hughes looked like a bull and should for reasons of public safety be compelled to wear a ring on his nose. Like the dragons in my mythological tales he started to exude fire in of course my direction.
"Not afford?" He roared. " What is not afford? "
Shit I hoped he didnít want me to answer so I pondered a few seconds too long until his impatient bull like nature prompted him to answer his own question.
"Afford" he said " is all relative to priorities
"Do they own their own home? Have they got a car? A satellite dish? Are they above the poverty level? If so they can afford. It is up to you to convince them that they can and will. "
He glared at me for a few seconds longer trying to intimidate my idealistic nature. From now on I will have to go underground with my humane strategies. I already hate the job and this is just staff training. How was I going to survive?
The days seemed to loose their colour and dissolve into a false world of business talk and advice. Our final day however the light well and truly came back on when Connor Fitzpatrick walked into my life. Mr Hughes had an emergency meeting in the London office so had to be replaced by Mr Fitzpatrick who incidentally was to be manager at my branch in Fitzwilliam Street. Morose mood due to facing another day with the belligerent and pompous Mr Hughes suddenly evaporates. I mean this guy Connor is divine, dark with sallow skin, tall and broad. Not a freckle in sight.
Today is lets boost staff morale day by letting them feel they are on top. Of what I do not dare to ask. A Client? " Hi you wouldnít mind if we lay horizontal as you sign on the dotted line. Yes me on top. You donít mind do you. Part of company policy. Cease fire of demented thoughts necessary if am going to be a serious eminently successful business person.
Mr Fitzpatrick told us to call him Connor which is supposed to put us all at ease and make us feel we all belong to one big happy family. Which one? The Waltons perhaps. My favourite is Little House on the Prarie, where tragedy unites every saintly member. Must remove image of Laura Ingels from mind as recall that she was prosecuted for abuse of her own children and do not want to be guilty by association.
Connor introduced himself and told us that he had been working for the company for three years and had been promoted to branch manager. Connor was a natural born storyteller with a soothing calming voice. He made the whole selling game almost seem like fun. He related some funny incidents about his early days selling policies to clients in rural Ireland. At one stage he was based down in Kerry. Thatís where I used to live I wanted to say in order to create mutual experience type bonding but refrained. Had to bite my tongue and cross my legs.
Anyway Connor had made an appointment to see a client whose house was a half a mile outside the town. The directions that he was given were totally wrong so he pulled over and asked an old man at the side of the road to point him in the direction of Mrs O Neillís place. " You must go back into the town and then you turn left and after that take your second right. " Connor thanked the man only to discover half way down the road that he had taken up residence in his car. After all he pointed out that he was also going in the same direction. That wasnít too bad but after dropping the man off in town Connor turned left to discover that he was driving up a cul de sac. This time he asked a woman who was laden down with shopping bags where Mrs O Neillís house and discovered that she too had jumped into the car before he knew it. She and her forty bags of shopping.
"Up the hill and two stops after my house is MRS O Neills. "
The moral of the story is do not get mistaken for the village taxi or the village idiot. Everyone laughed, me especially, which I think was noticed by Connor. Men like appreciation of humour, makes them feel very funny and kinda important. Our eyes met and lingered just that little bit longer. He has lovely eyes.
How to present a policy to a client made me loath though I am to say it very sexually aroused. This is not because power is an instant aphrodisiac but the words Connor used were so God damm suggestive. By the time he was finished I was positively squirming in my seat.
"When you present a policy to a client you donít tell them everything in one go. In the beginning you must sow the seeds. Give them enough information to let them dangle" God forgive me but I kept thinking of naked clients being held hostage and dangling their didgeridoos in front of me. Let them dangle all night long I say.
"Just before you get to the climax allow for a pregnant pauseÖ"
Climax: this insurance stuff is getting decidedly better. Start to think about reaching a climax with a client. Wonder if Iíll still have to be on top. Bit awkward that but could be done.
"Then itís full steam ahead for full penetration" Connor says to an enraptured audience. At least I am enraptured also highly sexually charged. Maybe this is how selling works. You need to use the second chakra, seat of drive, reproduction and good old fashioned lust. Bit like giving birth really, that sense of achievement when you manage to sell. Also may be compared to post-coital satisfaction. For a B. A. V. I have found my calling without breaking any vows so still feel morally on top! I laugh hysterically to myself. Anna Moran has given up sex and taken up selling insurance. Furthermore she gets paid for it.