The Gentle Art of Salesmanship

By Shaun A. Saunders

Ray sat back on the grassy lawn and basked in the gentle sunlight. For the first time in a long, long while, his joints moved easily, and the ever-present reminders of diabetes had vanished. If he lifted his shirt, he’d probably find the surgical scars from the gall bladder and thyroid ops gone as well, but there was no need. Ray had always been able to sum up a situation pretty swiftly, quickly getting a sense of the ‘lay of the land’ and the how the variables might be balanced more effectively.

And here was no different. Ray was dead, and this was the afterlife, or his slice of it, anyway.

Around him, neatly dressed couples and contented families reclined on woollen blankets, making a tidy chequerboard of the neatly trimmed lawn. Some were eating food, others reading or just chatting quietly. It could have been a postcard image of any 1950’s American "Happy-ville".

Occasionally, a fresh looking boy or girl in a waiter’s uniform of one sort or another would appear from one of the nearby shops bordering the park and walk over. After a brief and cheerful conversation with a picnicker, they would carefully make their way back to the timber framed stores. Perhaps later, the attendant would appear again, maybe carrying a drink, or a tray of food. Sometimes, they’d simply pick up an empty tray, and, always smiling, hold someone’s hand before vanishing with them.

There was no sense of hurry – indeed, time itself seemed lethargic.

In his day, Ray had sold paper cups by the millions, five-spindle multi mixers which could churn out milkshakes day and night, and a heck of a lot of take-away food. Whilst doing so, he swore that he’d never stood still for more than thirty seconds. Why change now?

With mounting impatience, Ray turned to the nearest recently departed. "Hey, what gives here?", he asked. "What are we all waiting around for? Who’s in charge?"

A lithe and pretty girl – apparently in her early twenties – smiled back at Ray. "Oh, hello. I’m Betty. Pretty neat here eh? Just like I remembered my childhood, well sort of, anyway. Just the nice bits. And look at me", she gestured demurely, "I haven’t been this slim since my prom."

Ray was a straight shooter, and the afterlife hadn’t dimmed that one iota. "Listen", he said, "that’s just great. Really. But if you could answer my questions, I’d be much appreciated."

"Oh, I’m sorry", replied the girl. "Um, I guess I’m just waiting for one of the angels to come and speak to me. You know, to ask me where I’d most like to go next, who I’d like to see first, and those sort of things. Don’t be afraid, I’ve been here longer than you. You’ll get used to it soon."

No, I don’t think so, thought Ray. Had he had real blood, its pressure would have been rising, and, on cue, one of the young attendants made their way over to him.

"Hi Ray", the smiling attendant said. "My name’s Rafael. How’re you doing?", and without waiting for the obvious answer, "Look, we’re pretty busy right now – we’ve had quite a lot of new faces today. Why don’t you just sit back and take it easy for a while. If you like, I could get you a cheeseburger and chocolate shake, just the way you liked them. How about it?"

Ray looked at the youngster with pity. "You’re new at this aren’t you son? Listen, I spent half my life selling burgers, fries and shakes to folks; first across America, and then the world. Along the way, I learned a little about customer service. And let me tell you, you’ve got it all wrong here. Yeah, it’s clean, and I bet the burgers are good, too. But the way you’re going about it, it’s gonna take forever – "

"But", the youngster interrupted, "we’ve got all – "

"Nonsense son," Ray retorted. "If I’m not mistaken – and correct me at any time if I am – we’re here because, all said and done, when the chips were counted, we played fair more often than not. Right"

"Well, yes. And now we just need to sort out – "

"Exactly," answered Ray. "So you and your buddies traipse out and talk to the dear departed – or newly arrived – one by one …" Casting a shrewd gaze over the parkland, he continued "This is like some sort of staging area. Yeah, we’ve all made the muster, but now it’s time to sort out exactly what folks want and where they want to go. Right?"

"Um, ah, yeah, that’s pretty much it."

"Good," smiled Ray. Time to make the deal. "Look son, I’m not cut out for all this idle time, and I think you could use some help. First of all, before you can provide good service, you’ve got to understand customers. As I always said ‘The definition of salesmanship is the gentle art of letting the customer have it your way’ " .

The angel dressed as a waiter (who had no previous experience as a flesh and blood mortal hungering for fries and burgers), was both enthralled and shocked by Ray’s words. There seemed to be an element of truth in what he was saying, but -

"I think I’m gonna like it here", said Ray, feeling more alive than had in ages. Turning to the youngster, "Come along son. Pay attention, and you just might learn a few things about customers. Rule number one: limit the menu choices. What people don’t know about, they can’t dither over. Second, always make them come to you. This individual approach of your just doesn’t cut it. Now, when I started out in this industry, first thing I did was to standardise the menu … "


"Jesus H Christ!" shrieked the Almighty One. What the – ". The One caught Himself before muttering an obscene expletive. Whilst rank hath its privileges, one also had to set the right example in front of the troops.

Turning to the nearest angel, the Almighty One asked, "What in eternity is going on here? And what are those damned golden arches? What happened to the traditional pearly gates. You know we have rituals and customs to uphold!", and finally, "what are you wearing?"

Rafael was slightly shaken, but he remembered his training well: ‘In the situation of an overly demanding or finicky customer, appeal to seniority and refer the problem to the store manager’ the manual said.

Smiling with the utmost sincerity and enthusiasm, Rafael gently guiding the One by the elbow and replied, "Sir, if you’ll just wait over here for a moment, I’ll get the store manager for you." Then, beaming with inspiration, "while you wait, perhaps you would a like a choc shake? Or a strawberry one? You won’t have to wait either, not with our new five-spindle multi mixers …"

Summoned by Rafael, Ray looked upon the bewildered Almighty One (who was still somewhat preoccupied with the choc shake that had been placed in His hand). Turning to his aide, Ray said "Thanks Rafael. Oh, while you’re here, I’d like you to keep an eye on the litter outside the restaurant: don’t forget, first impressions come through the eyes and nose. Remember – ".

"Yeah, I know" replied Rafael with a smile, "if you have time to lean, you have time to clean". With a laugh, he was off.

Ray turned to face the CEO, mentally rubbing his hands with glee. Just like old times back in ’54 when he made his opening pitch to brothers Dick and Mac in San Bernardino. Thrusting out his hand and smiling broadly, "The name’s Kroc. Ray Kroc …"

"…you’ve got a pretty neat set-up here, but you’ve gotta follow the trends" said Ray, and then with pride "so you see, I’ve added a few wrinkles of my own. For example, people nowadays are tired of the same old traditions and rituals. What they want is fast, clean and efficient service, and from an easily identifiable venue. And never forget the kids …" (then, with narrowed eyes) "say, how’s about trading that bed sheet for something a little more homely, like big red floppy shoes, baggy pants and…"

The End

Copyright © 2004 by Shaun A. Saunders

Bio:Shaun is a 38 year old psychologist living in New Castle, Australia. His last appearance in Aphelion was Curtain Call .



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