Tag Archives: speechcraft

The Art of Talking Yourself Up

Even though the video is pitch black, the audio confirms life exists beyond my domicile. With all of the creaking, chirping, and squeaking going on outside my window you’d think wildlife is in need of an oil can. This is fairly common for a Summer’s night in the fields, though, and it’s quite welcome. The alternative is disheartening. I’m strongly adverse to another winter here, but where would I go? Who really wants an outsider? Having the experience of more than one out-of-state relocation, I can tell you few.

At this time of night (4 A.M.), my brain would be faltering and sleep would consume most of my thoughts. This is not the case tonight, as I really put the nose to the grindstone yesterday morning and invested 5 hours of sweat equity into the house with an additional 4 hours of life maintenance (e.g. mowing the lawn, doing laundry, etc.). At least I have a new chandelier, new ceiling fan, mowed lawn, and clean clothes to show for it. It’s a pretty basic work and reward situation. Writing, on the other hand, is a little less straightforward.

I’ve got professional writer’s block right now, but it hasn’t to do with any of my stories. I was going to dedicate a few hours yesterday evening for writing a profile for the family business, but instead fell asleep for 8 hours. Now, I’m wide awake playing personal schedule catch up. While adhering to a schedule is not my idea of fun, there are times when I know I need to move the ball down the field. That’s the mark of an effective person: identifying priorities.

You see, we’re sending in a proposal on Thursday to work on a project with the state of Ohio. The government is making its usual feel-good laundry list of demands and the owners, my parents, have realized they can’t complete it all themselves. Being the good-natured son and dutiful employee I am, I’ve finished some components of the request to speed things up. Coming from a small public accounting firm background, this is another day at the office: a client needs to be done in five days and there’s not even a draft on the partner’s desk… HAUL ASS, PEOPLE!

The biggest block to this profile I have is a crossover… a holdover from the personal realm. Company profiles are tethered to advertising and advertising is indelibly linked to sales. In sales, the concept of “talking up” the product or service rears its oft-deceitful head. Ever hear the expression “could sell freezers to Eskimos” attributed to a phenomenal salesman? Yeah. Deceit brings in money, and this isn’t even speaking on a fraud level. This is everyday business.

I’ve struggled with this concept for decades. My personality is one to reject boasting or otherwise hustling anyone in business. My ethics bind me to a position of letting the quality speak for itself. For years, I thought if my work proved itself strong, it would be self-evident to others. They would naturally choose to work with me. As good and right and egalitarian and logical and ethical and solid as that was on paper, it didn’t translate well in the trenches. Often the client has little idea of what is quality and what isn’t. This is hard for me to accept, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t the truth.

Who do they pick? They pick the lesser quality work with a company that dazzled. Even if the client eventually figures out the work is sub par, I’ve noticed clients will work with a lower-functioning business if they feel comfortable with the team. It blows my mind; I, personally, look for results. If someone isn’t performing, I put in the energy to find someone who does. That’s how I do business.

Now it’s my turn with sales. Even though I know it isn’t shuck and jive, it still feels like braggadocio. It’s hard for me to refrain from erasing the sentence I’ve written several times before. I’m getting in the way of myself. I’d love to instantly come up with lines that are comfortable to me and effective with my audience, but I don’t know if that common ground exists. This is absolutely why I didn’t go into sales or do well at the record label. My ethics are just too strong.

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My City by the Bay (Chapter 4, Part 3 of 4)

Chestnut Grove

“Do you see her?” Benelli slowly rolled the SLS down a side road bordering the graveyard. Evening was making its way toward the bay, and the two of them wouldn’t have much time to screw around. The somewhat honest people of the neighborhood started to wrap up their day and lock down their possessions. Few were up for the hilarity and hijinks the slum provided in the night time. There were enough hassles in broad daylight.

“Nothing yet. Let’s park the car and search on foot.” Sig indulged his nervous habit of smoothing out the wave in his hair. He was getting nervous. It may have been the coffee though. “She can’t be too far.”

The vehicle slid into a parallel spot, and they stepped out into the misting rain. The whether there wasn’t the most predictable, but Sig always thought weathermen didn’t know rain from shine regardless. What exactly did they do all day in meteorology school anyway? Who knew? It was best to just roll with the punches and deal with the consequences.

“We’ll need to work quickly, if we want to find her. I don’t know too many cart vendors that will work in a darkened downpour.” Sig stared up at the sky.

Walking the perimeter didn’t reveal much. Light, while giving a valiant effort, was on its way to a retreat. There wouldn’t be enough time to accommodate to a search of the interior.

“Dammit! She must be gone.” He slammed his palm on the wrought iron gate.

“There’s always tomorrow.” Benelli knew it wasn’t much of a consolation prize.

“No! We need this now! Nownownownow!” Each command was summoning a blow to the gate. Rust from the neglected iron covered his hand.

“Come on now, Sig, I know you were close to Sal but we haven’t seen her anywhere. She’s probably gone for the day.” That would be the only logical explanation for it. How else would an old lady be able to evade them?

“God damn it, Benelli! I want her now!” His brittle side surfaced after several days of stress.

“Calm down!” She was starting to lose her patience as well.

“Calm down?! I’m perfectly fi…” Sig stopped in mid-sentence and completely forgot his frustrations at the moment. “Do you hear that?” He scanned the horizon.

“Hear what?” Benelli was less than impressed with the non-sequitur.

“It sounds like some sort of… cowbell.” It certainly wasn’t a sound fit for the city.

“No, I don’t. Wait, yeah, it sounds like a cowbell. It’s coming from inside the cemetery.”

No sooner did she say that then a small figure with a catering cart appear at the mouth of the graveyard. She was aged and petite, with grey hair wrapped up in a scarf and in a black dress. She stopped her plodding to look at the two officers with annoyance. “You shouldn’t be carrying on like that, young man. There are still dead here to be respected.” She was quiet but got her point across.

Wasting little time on debate, Sig spoke up. “I apologize for getting out of line, ma’am, but you see I’m the doghouse with my girlfriend and a vendor recommended you. It sounded like he was your husband. The other florists around here didn’t have anything I wanted, and he told me to give you a try.”

“I would imagine so, on all accounts.” She was a judicial person; there was no doubt about that. “He always enjoys making money. You wouldn’t happen to be this gentleman’s attachment, would you miss?”

Benelli took a moment to register the question and with a few awkward, jerky movements answered, “What? Oh, no. I’m his par… friend.” She always came down hard on herself for not being as fluid an actress as she could be. Like most people, she was her worst critic.

With a suspicious tone, the elderly lady turned to Sig. “Well, I can see why you’re in such trouble with your romantic life. Brazen men like you always do first and ask for forgiveness later. If you don’t take care of it now, it’ll catch up with you.”

Even though Sig reddened out of injury, he thought it provided a more convincing act. Knowing when to bite one’s tongue is important in this line of work. “Err, well, yeah. I’ll make it up to her, starting with this.” The nervous smile was ambiguous enough, but the whole act was starting to require effort. He really didn’t want it to unravel on him so soon, but the needling was getting under his skin. “What do you recommend for sweeting up a significant other?”

The old woman stood back and surveyed her inventory. After a moment of moving flowers back and forth, she pulled together a mix of blue delphinium, white roses, and yellow aster. “I think this should do nicely. If it works for that one man, then I’m sure it’ll work for you. That will be seven dollars, dear.”

“One man?” Sig almost fell over himself to pull out information.

“Oh, yes, there’s another man who’s frequently in trouble with his woman. You two seem to have something in common, but he’s much larger than you. Sweet little boy, though. He visits me all the time. Most people buy my flowers for graves. It’s nice to have the recipient see them every now and then. Here, take the bouquet, and you get your life together. Do you understand me, sonny?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he shot a tired look at his partner. This routine had worn out its welcome. “If I ever need you again, where can I find you?”

“Oh, my dear, I walk this area all the time. You heard the bell before I showed up, correct? Just follow the ring and I’ll be around.”

“Thank you, ma’am.”

The matriarch laid her bony hands on the cart and moved it down the sidewalk. Since it was getting dark, she was more than likely going back to her house for the evening. Tiny would have to wait to buy flowers either tomorrow or the next day.

© 2013 by Corvidae in the Fields, all rights reserved

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My City by the Bay (Chapter 4, Part 2 of 4)

Old Town

“We’re looking for this man. Have you seen him?” Benelli held up a computerized sketch of Tiny, recreated from the best of Sig’s memory. The two spent most of the day hitting up every florist they could find in the vicinity. All of it was tiring footwork. No one liked to be harassed by the cops around there, especially when it drove away paranoid customers. There’s a saying on the other side of the river: “everyone has a rap sheet in Old Town.” It wasn’t without a little merit.

“I don’t know who that is.” The clerk at the final flower shop dismissed them in short order, and went back to throwing cheap flowers in a second-hand vase for the budget section. He reeked of gin, and looked like he hadn’t seen a bathtub in days. Both of them stepped out of the shop a little disappointed. Benelli turned to her partner and asked the inevitable.

“That was the last of them. Got any other bright ideas?” The sentence was punctuated by two cats going at it around the corner.

“Maybe we’re not approaching this problem the right way. It’s always possible they wouldn’t talk to the police. It’s not like we’ve done them any favors over the years.” Sig stared out into space.

“If that’s the case, then we totally blew it. They’ve already seen us once. The thieves would have to do something to make it a losing strategy to keep quiet, like make a shop owner go missing. Trying it again another day would be stupid.”

“True, or…” Sig’s voice trailed off and he started to blink like something flew in his eye.


“…or he’s not buying them from a store.”

Benelli knew their current conversation was now secondary, as the vacant look meant he was out to lunch. If gears were turning in his head, the smoke would surely follow. She pictured a hamster running as fast as it could on a wheel, then collapsing from exhaustion. As irritating as it was, she learned by now not to take it personally.

“He’s not buying them from a shopkeeper.” Sig finally came back to the real world. “They might just be telling us the truth after all.”

“So, where is he getting them? You said yourself he wasn’t getting them from the graves.”

“Sure, but there’s still more than one way to buy flowers around here.” He stopped to put a cigarette in his mouth. “I’m willing to bet there’s a travelling merchant on the street.” With a short point, he made out a kiosk to the north of them.

“How are we going to find them? Street vendors roam and we could be on the hunt for days.” Benelli was disappointed in the long shot. It was starting to sound like he was getting desperate, and wasting time wasn’t much of a hobby for her.

Sig frowned at the question and then added, “word of mouth.” A small light from a Zippo could be seen inside the palm of Sig’s hand. “They have their own little trade organization down here. They’ll talk each other up, if there’s something in it for them. It’s the best advertising they can get at this level. Everyone helps everyone else out. You know, quid pro quo.”

“How can he string all of his wild theories together to sound so plausible?” Benelli thought. It drove her nuts, but it was all that they had at this point. A shot in the dark was better than back to the drawing board. Sig was already walking across the street at the vendor he saw. She decided to stay there and let him do all of the work this time. She needed a break from the race.

“Hey buddy, how much for the apple?” Unwittingly, Sig walked straight up to the man whose cart recently became part of the car chase obstacle course. Fortunately for him, the merchant never got a good look at his face. The corpulent senior looked up attentively, after he put the pen down on his crossword puzzle.

“30 cents,” replied the immigrant. “You look like a shrewd man, and shrewd men know it’s the best deal you’ll find around here.”

“Great. I’ll take that, a peach, and a pint of blueberries. By the way, I’m looking to pick up some flowers for a special someone. Do you know where I could get that on the street? All of the florists around here don’t have anything I want.”

The old man’s eyes sparkled and a smile spread across his face. “Aha! You’re in trouble with your lady friend, ah?” He nodded toward Benelli on the other side of the street. “You’re wise to beg for forgiveness. You’re also a lucky man. My wife sells flowers to people who want to remember their dead. You can find her near the graveyard.”

It never occurred to Sig that there were still grieving people in Old Town. Where else would they go? The proximity would also be perfect for Tiny. The times didn’t jive well, but he could always loiter about during the daytime. He’s obviously not the brains of the operation.  Sig handed a few crumpled bills to the seller and denied his change. A sense of accomplishment came over the fruit seller, as he thought all of his work paid off. Little did he know it could have been twice the price, and Sig would still have paid him.

“Thanks, friend, I’m always around if you want more fruit!” The merchant beamed not only for the profit from the sale, but the prospect of future income. Sometimes the small things in life mean a lot. Sig tucked the produce under his arm and trotted back to his partner.

“You starting a health food kick?” Benelli was eying the peach. She hadn’t eaten much all day, and she was starting to get curt. Not being as dense as he looked, Sig tossed the fruit to her. “Here, it looks like you’re going to pass out.”

With the bite of peach still in her mouth, Benelli mumbled,“what did you find out?” The sticky sweet juice dribbled down her chin as manners were for another day. Sig bit into the apple dramatically. “We need to go to Chestnut Grove to pay our respects.”

 © 2013 by Corvidae in the Fields, all rights reserved

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