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The Stars of Tomorrow

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DAVID ROGERS
33, from Peekskill, New York
Growing up, Rogers spent a few years in special-ed classes. “I don’t think they knew what to make of me,” he says, “until I started writing stories and they could see that I had a brain, possibly an imagination.” Now an editor at Picador, he’s writing a novel about researchers studying an invented hoofed animal, and he knows he’ll find an agent in his own good time. “To me, the pace at which a writer is created is glacial. I knew that right off the bat, and I was okay with that.” The excerpt below is from one of his short stories.

In His Teacher’s Words
“David can build his own parachute, construct the weirdest emotional landscapes, go beyond what he has any right to know,” says Peter Carey, director of Hunter College’s M.F.A. creative-writing program, which Rogers attended part-time from 2002 to 2006.

From “The Tie-Down”
You have to work fast on the phone. Say hello, tell them where you’re calling from, then go right into it. You‘ve got about ten seconds to hook them. If in those ten seconds my bullshit isn’t working, naturally the customer hangs up. Many of them did this before I could say a word, two words, or they had silently done it while I was talking and I didn’t hear them.

There are things you’re supposed to say to keep them on the phone, tie-downs. Just as you’re about to hang up, just as you think your mind is made-up, you’re pulling the phone away from your ear, and then you hear my voice through the phone say something presumptuous, a little provocative, a little personal, a few words that get the phone back up to your sweaty ear. Sometimes I’d throw out a bogus crime statistic, sometimes I would say there was a free trial period. You want to know what was my favorite tie-down?

“But sir, isn’t the safety of your family important to you?”

That one made me uncomfortable at first, it just seemed like such a judgmental thing to say, like I was making the customer feel bad. And that’s why it worked every single time. I expected someone to say “How dare you, how dare you, say that I don’t care about my family?” Never happened. Not once. They always said things like “of course, of course, and I think my house is pretty secure, why would I need … ” and the longer they talked to me, the more they found things to worry about in the world.

I’m not in the home security business anymore. It’s strange to think that I talked all of these people into buying this thing, really made them think it was worth their money, but could never convince myself of the same. Personally, I don’t think any of those tie-downs would have worked on me. I would have hung up on myself. I should have gone to work for Medico. Thwick!

I was eating in a crowded deli in the Flatiron District the other day, when a man a little older than myself asked if he could sit at my table. There was no place else for him to sit down, so I gestured at the chair with my head. The guy was a couple inches taller than me, his face was tanned, like he just got back from Florida or something. I imagined that this guy must be an actor, maybe even a famous actor, because his face had those large features that make you think of people in show business. The man carefully unwound the tan herringbone scarf from around his neck and pulled off his trench coat, draping them over the back of the chair. He wore a gray wool sport coat and pressed white shirt. The tanned skin of his neck was radiant against the open collar. Before he sat down, I caught another look at the scarf, and thought I’d ask him where he got it after I’d finished half my sandwich.

The man sat down and played with the toothpicks in his turkey club for a minute, and although I didn’t look up at him, I’m pretty sure he was staring at me, waiting to catch my attention.

“You look like a theatre-lover,” he said, his voice a rich baritone.

“Not in years,” I replied, trying to think of the last play I had seen. It was something called “Waiting for Lefty.” Crummy.

“Well, my name is Roderick Lansing, and I have written and produced an epic play at the Stella Adler Theatre. It is a large scale staging of the stand-off between the Jewish Zealots and the Romans at Masada, an exciting piece of theatre that has been playing to sold out houses since the beginning of its run.”

“Good for you,” I said.

“A block of tickets has just been made available to me, and I would very much like for you to see my play.” “So you’re giving away some tickets?”

“Who would you bring with you to see it?”

“I don’t know. My wife, I supposed. Maybe I would double date with my buddy.”

“So, four total? In that case, I can release these tickets to you for only five dollars apiece.”

“I thought you were giving them away.”

“An evening of epic theatre for only five dollars, I don‘t think you‘ll find a better deal than that.”

“No thank you,” I said.

I always feel awkward saying no to a salesman. The man sighed and settled into his chair. I did not look up at him, but could sense the forlorn breathing of failure across the table. Then I looked at his hands, and he carefully removed the toothpick from one half of his turkey club. He held down the piece of whole wheat toast with his finger, waiting to eat.

“Never thought, at my age, I’d still be still be a street fighter,” he said.

Most of the salesmen I know don‘t like to talk about the rejection. We convince ourselves, both customer and salesman a like, that losing the sale is nothing personal. For every thirty hang-ups or no-thank-yous, I got someone to buy an alarm system. That ratio of rejection is a bit staggering, and I’ll admit that the hang-ups got to me; sometimes it rolled off and I didn‘t care, but other times, if a pitch suddenly went sour half-way through, or if a customer just got prickly and rude, then it really hurt. I‘ll admit that it hurt.

“Tell me the first scene,” I said. “If I like it, I’ll come see the rest.”


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