Back in the years of the XT, AT and early 386 clones, I used to sell computers. Sales had its moments. I was never a big star in sales, but I did it well enough that when I left after two years, it was of my own choosing. Remember the Microsoft/IBM wars? I was a foot soldier in the trenches of those, five miles from the M$ campus. One of these days I’ll write about just how tremendously out of touch IBM was with dealers and clients. For now, I’m going to make fun of myself instead.
One of my best clients was an underwriting firm south of Seattle, run by two brothers named Doug and Dick Rodruck. Great guys, steady customers, the sort of people a commissioned salesperson could make a living by helping. I looked forward to all their calls.
The sales floor could be chaotic at times, with people needing help on the floor, calls announced for you while you were helping them, stressed-out receptionists desperately seeking someone to help the biggest salesman’s clients (with zero hope of profit or appreciation from him), and warehouse staff moving forty boxes in for storage wherever space could be found. One could lose one’s focus. Sometimes real badly.
Of course, I knew most of my customers by voice. When I wasn’t going in six different directions, I picked up on who I was talking to. At the same time, I had a lot of customers, very loyal ones, amazed that I could ‘remember’ what they bought a year and a half back. (I wrote it all on rolodex cards. I cheated.) So when I heard the page “Dick is on line 1 for Jonathan,” I didn’t think. I took the call and said hello.
“Hello, Jonathan, it’s Dick. [Here followed a bunch of specifications for new hardware they wanted to buy.]” I listened and started working up pricing, but after a time it occurred to me: I do not know who this is. I can’t place him. Well, I’ll eventually pinpoint him.
Which I did. Unfortunately, that was before I learned in life that not everything on one’s mind needs to be blurted out at random, especially stuff like evidence that you had no idea who was on the phone. I watched my mother do it all growing up, so in addition to the blurt genetics, I had an unhelpful example. I was still learning how to shut the hell up rather than spit out my latest revelation.
Thus, when Dick finished describing whatever computer need he was describing, and asked me a question, it was blurtin’ time: “Oh. Dick Rodruck! You’ll have to excuse me. There are a lot of Dicks out there.”
A very awkward silence. I realized what I’d just said.
Now what? The silence was mine to break. Or, at least, it had better be me.
“I do hope and trust you realize, Dick, that in no way did I intend that the way it came out. I apologize profusely.”
How you can know that Dick Rodruck was such a great guy? He forgave me. He said not to worry about it, and continued with the substance of the discussion. The bullet of a ruined relationship whistled past me.