Snake Oil

Recently I ran up against an exercise of ‘salesmanship’ that I suppose we all encounter a lot, reminding me there are lots of ways of making a living we can be glad not to have to practice. Usually when we go shopping for something, we’ve a need to fill. Sadly, there are some among us who have gotten themselves into a bind that makes them go about misrepresenting what they’re charged with getting us to think we need.

I am thinking about buying a small truck since I do a lot of traveling. It would be safer on the highways than my tiny compact car, and I could take more with me and thus do more extensive traveling – and also pack more too. I did a run by a local grocery store parking lot where the back area has long been an informal flea market for people selling their old cars.

I took down a few numbers and then asked a friend with some knowledge of mechanics to help out. One of the little trucks seemed overpriced for what it was, but the seller told my friend all sorts of really amazing qualities the truck had that made the price seem reasonable. The truck sounded like a great find.

I thought it over, and a couple of days later I went back by the market area. To my total shock, there were now three different little trucks of that variety, one even with dealer plates, that the guy was now selling. The person I’d taken for an owner seeking one sale appeared to be a used car salesman using the place to push his goods – masquerading as an enthusiastic owner turning over his own car/truck.

It may be a good little truck, but I have to wonder about someone doing a job that makes him need to misrepresent yourself.

I admit I personally never suffered so much sheer need that I took a job pushing something that was useless or bad for people. Having to fool someone so I could make my own living could be pretty destructive I realized. Have you found yourself being pushed into doing something that was all about selling others on something they didn’t really need -or want?

I do remember a family member who was out of work who answered an ad for salespeople for vacation time shares. The sales manager who interviewed him told him a sad truth about what he’d be doing. He asked “Can you meet up with a sweet old person and take something he doesn’t need, doesn’t want, and can’t afford, and shove it up his ***?” That’s the description of sales at its worst that stays with me to this day when I see something of questionable value being dangled before me as great stuff to have.

There are sales gimmicks that become legend, and I’ve heard about the sales of the alcohol laden elixir Hadacol since I was a little girl. In small town U.S.A., during a previous age, salesmen went door to door selling the famous energizer to unsuspecting housewives as just-what-you-wanted-to-give-you-a-lift when you felt poorly. The resulting rehabilitation of addicted housewives turned the art of selling snake oil into a bad joke on whole communities.

Have you gone looking for something you needed only to find that you were being sold a ‘bill of goods’?

We mostly have been fortunate enough to never have had to push anything really bad to make a living. I don’t know if I could, but haven’t been forced to, either.

I ran into a lot of bad feelings some time back when I was working on the campaign of a longtime friend. We went to a training session for campaign work, and I commented publicly that I thought the really important part of the business was choosing a candidate that was worth electing. Oops. That was not supposed to be said aloud, I guess. We were supposed to be learning about selling, not producing.

Have you found yourself being asked to sell what you felt uncomfortable about?

I really do need those velvet dice to hang on the rear view mirror, though.


(Picture courtesy of opacity at

Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.