Love and the Bullshitter
Marv is nearly seventy years old, and recently he was in my office to catch up on his life. We stood outside in the parking lot so he could have a cigarette. He shared a few stories with me about his very busy but rather checkered career.
He’s prone to start his conversations with the statement, “I’ve made a million and lost it all.”
This time, I asked him to explain it to me.
“I’ve been in sales all my life.A good salesman distorts the truth a little. Makes something bigger or shinier or more important and useful than it needs to be.I had to make people want what I had, whether they needed it or not, and mostly they didn’t.” Grabbing his pocket for his cigarettes, he tapped the bottom of the package. “I don’t call what I did “salesmanship.” I’ve always called it “bullshitting,” but you gotta know, it’s just flat out lying.” His eyes dropped to the ground as he fumbled for a cigarette. “To be honest,” he said, “I can’t remember all of the lies I’ve told over all those years. I’ve been a liar and a bullshit artist all my life, and at least a few of those lies caught up with me.”
I’ve always thought Marv was a pretty straight up guy, so I was a little incredulous. “All your life? You were like this all your life?” I asked.
Nodding his head, he definitively said, “Yeah, absolutely. And I know when it all began, too.” Looking across the parking lot, cigarette between his fingers, he stammered. “When I was six, my father sent me to pick something up from the store. I forget what, and I forget the store. But I remember I stopped to look up at a tree. A bird was doing something, and I think it had a twig or a piece of grass in it’s mouth, I’m not sure.”
“I must have taken too much time on the way home, because my Dad was waiting for me at the door. When he asked me why I took so long, I told him there was a long line at the store. He would have never understood me spending time looking a a bird.”
“But,” he said, “he knew I was lying. I don’t guess it’s hard to tell when a six year old is lying.”
Marv shifted his weight from one foot to another, and looking away he said, “And then, I felt this “smack” on the side of my face. I didn’t see it coming. I fell down into the grass.”
“He smacked me in the face so hard my head still hurts to this day.”
Shaking his head, a nervous smile came to his lips. “And as a result, I became anxious. I vowed I would do whatever I could to please him. Conflict made me really uneasy. I guess I never learned to stand up for myself.”
“I never learned to defend who I was, let alone become the person I was supposed to be.”
The smoke eased our of Marv’s mouth as he took another pull. “So,” he said, “I made my life a story. I spent a life trying to get people to like me. And I did everything I could to please somebody, regardless of what I said or did. I avoided conflict. I tried to make people laugh. And, eventually, people responded to me. They laughed back. And I think they liked me.”
“As a result,” he said, flicking his cigarette into the wind, “I discovered this was transferable to being a great salesman. I got paid for making people like me.”
“I could bullshit better than anyone, and I made a lot of money. And in the process,” he said, pausing and looking out the window as he spoke, “I kind of lost who I was.”
Marv said, “I never focused on who people were. Instead, I focused only on what I could get out of them, or what they could do for me. And it meant that I wasn’t honest. I didn’t have to be. I just told people what they wanted to hear, and the rest was easy.”
Marv cleared is throat for a second. I could tell his words weren’t coming forward very easily. Finally, he looked at me and said, “I wasted so much of my life afraid that I was going to get into trouble, that I was going to be rejected or cast aside. I kept my encounters with people short, abbreviated little spurts of energy that kept us at a distance from one another. I didn’t get hurt that way. I didn’t run the risk of people rejecting me.”
Marv got out of sales about three years ago. “It was a blessing. Things started to change. The old quote from Death of A Salesman, “He’s a man way out there in the blue riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back—that’s an earthquake.” Well, that happens to all of us in sales. You feel that earthquake.”
“But now, I’m here. I’m seventy. And I finally learned something.” He took another cigarette out of his pack and lit it. “It’s OK to just let your guard down and allow people to see who you are. A lot of people won’t like you, and people say that’s OK. I never got that. I was too afraid. But when I retired, I didn’t have anybody around me. I got really lonely. So I went to coffee shops and just sat. I could talk to people, and I’ve been good listener.” Marv pulled on his cigarette, and looking away said, “I just had to be straight. Just be honest, be myself. But at first,” he said, looking me right in the eye, “it’s doesn’t feel good. It hurts. It’s so brings up so much anxiety, it’s too familiar. Made me feel like I was six years old again.”
Flicking off the ashes, Marv revved up, poking the air with his cigarette, wanting to make his point clear. “But it gets to be OK, and it gets that way faster than you think. That surprised me. You’ll begin to like yourself because you’re finally just you. You’re truthful. You just think your own thoughts. And they come out of your mouth, kind of slowly at first. Talking while you’re being honest is a scary thing. You ease into yourself. But people will get that. They’ll finally get to see you for you or, in my case, whatever I might have left. And they do stay with you. They’ll stay with you like friends do. They’ll give you time, they’ll call and ask how you are, you do the same for them, that kind of stuff.”
Marv put out his cigarette and we went toward his car. “I’m seventy years old. When I stopped lying, became a little more brave and let myself out there, the phone started to ring. This is the first time in my life I’ve any had friends.”
“I wish it hadn’t taken so long, that’s all. I wish I would’ve been less afraid.”
“Today,” he said, “I can honestly tell you that I know who I am. And I’m OK with that guy.”
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