Thursday, August 14, 2008

My Friends Ask Me What I Do For a Living

During the heyday of my cubicle career, I was a dynamic semiconductor broker. Oh, I was a superstar. We BOUGHT, SOLD, BOUGHT, SOLD with wild abandoned. We squeezed every last drop of profit out of a deal until it looked vacuum-sealed. We begged for business, told customers we'd show up the last schlocky broker/cheat, then acted like all schlocky brokers by charging as much as we could and expected them to kiss our feet for doing so. We did get the customer chips when no one else could. Usually on time. When their trusty factories failed them, we brokers, no matter how slithering or beady-eyed, delivered product insuring that their manufacturing wouldn't screech to a halt. Most of the time we delivered, at least. Ok, sometimes we delivered unapproved replacements and counterfeits, but can't you use that Mr. Customer? Don't those work still? We strutted around like the best of the fat-cat brokers because we preached that semiconductors were golden. We were convinced that the progressive world was built with electronic chips, and we believed brokers would always be in high demand because of it.

That was eight years ago. We don't strut around so much any more. We slither still, but more humbly; those of us that are still around that is, those who didn't self destructed in a rock-star's pile of drugs or drink, or who didn't blow every cent of the lion's share made years ago. Well, we ALL squandered our money away. That's a broker's MO. We earn it with a fast, good hustle, and then spend it furiously like we'll win more prizes for the speed with which we spend. Most brokers don't lament all the material wealth lost -- boats and houses and bullshit -- because we always believe the next up-swing is just around the corner. In reality, my industry's success graph, during the 15 years I've been in it, looks like this: peak, down, peak, down, PEAK OF ALL MOTHERFUCKING PEAKS, down . . .and freeeeeeeeee ffaaaallllllll. The semiconductor market has been relatively dead since 2000.

I'm still a broker -- I think -- though I haven't slung a chip in a good two years. Need chips in this day and age? Even the sleaziest brokers now tip their hats to the humming counterfeiting operation going on in China. Some old-time brokers whine and complain about having our lucrative niche taken from us. But most of us are impressed by the ambitious and frankly better hustle achieved by counterfeiters. We're just mad we didn't think to invest our money into actual factories that produce near-exact replicas of chips. (DAMNIT!) Well played, China. Bravo.

So what do I broker then? I say that I sell computer equipment now. But that's so broad it's like saying I sell shells from the ocean. To be honest, I don't know what I'm selling. When the semiconductor market plummeted, the company I work for was smart enough to roll with the punches and shift to other types of product: Cables, screws, display screens, software licenses -- whatever a customer was willing to buy. In the beginning of the shift, I'd say things indignantly like, "You want me to find a thousand fasteners and washers?" I would try to tell the story of how I bought a couple million tantalum capacitors below market off a truck in Belgium just a few short years ago, but nobody wants to hear it anymore. No time to reminisce. We still have to turn a trick.

Now -- my last semiconductor buy a distant memory -- I'm not surprised by anything I'm asked to buy and sell anymore. We simply cater to what our big customers ask for and we humbly accept. We are so far removed from the fat-cat, big-shot days. We tap dance and say, "Yes, ma'am. I'd love to find you a cabinet to hold your server." "Oh? Mouse pads with scenic ocean scenes on them? You only want five units? Sure, sir."

I was pretty good at sourcing projector lamp bulbs a few months back. I've become known as a little bit of a scanner expert. I've sold a few Samsonite cases and quoted many lap top bags. Need 500 touchscreen styluses? I might have a good place. Batteries? Sure. Left-handed keyboards? Oh yea.

I bought a couple of these the other day. Cube doors. Is this really useful to somebody? I told a coworker that I was selling a cube door and he said, "What, so it can be enclosed like a rubik's cube?" I said, "Not a cube lid, just a door." He said, "That's stupid. Ok, gotta go sell a case of Magic Bullets right now." "The hand blender? You gotta be kidding?" He said, "Naw, I think I can make five points on the deal." Well, go get them then, Partner.

One of the guys at work brought in ten refurbished motorized scooters to sell. We were driving them around the halls of the office. Accounting bought a couple, the shipping department one. Three of his regular customers bought the rest. The salesguy changed the price to whatever he felt he could get from whomever was asking. We just can't help ourselves.

This product to the left, the steering wheel computer mount, I felt was morally irresponsible to quote. But then I found some that cost fifteen percent lower than what the customer wanted to pay. They would be sold into Wisconsin so I made a note to never drive there, and took the order. I suck.

The biggest irony of my broker prowess is that if you asked me to quote you the price of a homemade vegan cake, I'd stutter and fumble. Ask me how many of my completed stories I've submitted to literary magazines for publication and I'd blank out, intimidated by the business side of writing. A famous friend of Husband's asked me if I'd paint him a painting for his house -- for money -- and I shut down and avoided the request. I treat artistic endeavors so preciously that an exchange of money for them seems demeaning to the art. I want my creative things to sell themselves without me noticing; funds magically appearing in my account, rent paid. I know how to callously whore computer chips and equipment all day long, but that's the last thing I want to feel with the endeavors that mean the most. I suppose with that kind of thinking I'll be brokering any and all kinds of shit for the next 100 years. Magic Bullet anyone?


CWrites said...

I understand your apprehension concerning "selling your art". However, I believe you have a true gift and calling based on what I read here on your blog. Your writing is the best I've read in a long while and it deserves to be shared on a much larger scale. I don't believe you would be selling out. I believe it's a blessing to get paid to do what you love and be supported by your gift. I think it would be a horrible loss to yourself and many others that could be touched by your writing or other creative gifts if you are brokering for the next 100 years. I know there are many journals and people who are waiting to pay for your art, I'm one of them!

Melinda said...

Oh, I know you're not dissing the Bullet, bitches.

the kitschen table said...

I must add that I loved my Magic Bullets...right up until they died quick,unexpected and grief inspiring deaths. Now,I am devoted to my $10 Hamilton Beach, baby. As far as brokering....after reading your blog for quite a while, I think that your many talents and interests would be well served by pursuing your artistic nature. And at the risk of sounding like a Lifetime Movie title....maybe you should Follow Your Heart.

the kitschen table said...

Mad...I also want to add that I admire the way you put yourself out there on your blog. You write honestly about your feelings and your life. No..'.and we all had the most wonderful time' BS on every post.Just wanted you to know your honesty is acknowledged and appreciated.

Julie a loyal lurker

madness rivera said...

Hi CWrites, thank you so much for the great and encouraging comment. I didn't mean to shamelessly solicit praise for my writing - though I'll take it!

M, I t'aint dissing the bullet, just letting you know I can get a case or two. You may need it when they break one after the other.

Kit - I can get you the Hamilton Beach for $8.75/ea for 2 or more. Holla. But you too, thank you so much for the encouragement and the delurking to tell me kind and meaningful things. It is greatly appreciated.

Anonymous said...

In wicca, there is an expression that says,"When the student is ready, the teacher appears." Don't sweat it. When the time is right, things will start moving. I am kind of embarrassingly in love with your writing style, so don't think that no one will buy it or nuthin'. :)

greenish gold said...

Man, I had 2 month projector bulb debacle at my job about a year and half ago.

If only I'd known.