Selling by Subterfuge, Global Province Letter, 15 January 2014

Only for You.  The late Stanley Marcus, merchant extraordinaire, once came up very close to us in his office at the Crescent Hotel, grabbed the lapels of our tweedy jacket, and said, “That’s awfully good material. Fine jacket.”  He could make you feel as if you were engaged in a once-in-a-lifetime conversation in the thrall of a truly unique man.

We have said elsewhere that in this post-mass manufacturing era the challenge is not only to fashion an article that seems to be one of a kind but to convey it to the customer so magically, so personally, and so incandescently that it has a one of a kind feel which is as special as the product itself. Mr. Marcus grasped and exuded the magic, and his joie de vivre provides us with a roadmap of how business must be conducted in high cost Western economies in the years to come.  Up close. Personal. One of a kind.  Touch. Human.

An old friend of Mr. D, a partner in our firm, the ever-buoyant Mrs. Linda Peterson, is now on a book tour for her new mystery The Devil's Interval.  So we told her that we should help her peddle her book with some “Up close, personal, one of a kind” selling. It is “sale by subterfuge” wherein one rings the cash register by skipping the sales spiel. So listen to Mrs. Peterson and Mr. D  do a non-sale of her book:

The two opinionated friends (gently) interrogate each other.  Recently, Mr. D and Mrs. Linda Lee Peterson chatted each other up across days and leagues and wide belts of time. We thought you might like to listen in:

Mrs. P: You always have a point of view about technology and related toys. Which ones charm you? Which ones annoy you?

Mr. D: I actually love GPS’s. First met up with the gizmo in an Avis test car in San Francisco years ago. This was before Joe Consumer ever heard of these lifesavers.  It got me to one of those two-block long streets in Silicon Valley with little fuss and bother. Gee, I was even on time for my appointment and did not have to go round the block 15 times. I wanted to go right out and buy one immediately. Now I have 4. All the GPS units built into upmarket, fancy cars are lousy, by the way.

Mrs. P: I agree! I have a very adorable (and fancy) little red car made by the Germans and it came with one of those fierce Valkyrie voices telling me where to go and what to do. But it takes so long to program the address, I just use my cellphone TeleNav instead, a lovely, person-friendly app.

Mr. D: You’ve just hit on the tech thing that annoys me most. Cellphones — they are not well-made or well-designed, break easily and provide lots of functions I do not want or need, all of which further contributes to their breakability. One grad student working for me could call home more cheaply from Germany to Indiana than he could from Raleigh-Durham.   A few weeks ago, when I had taken leave of my senses, I went into a Verizon store to buy the smartest of the smartphones.  That was on a Saturday morning.  Early Sunday AM I returned the ghastly thing.

Mrs. P: Uh-oh, we’re sounding like curmudgeonly Luddites. Let’s talk about something that works, needs no power source, and is not squeezed out of a tube in China. What’s your most indispensable piece of clothing?

Mr. D: Somewhere in prehistoric time, probably during the turbulent sixties, I came into a possession of a lovely turquoise Indian belt buckle.  Even then I paid some egregious price for it.  It sat on the shelf for years.  Then a fine lady from the Main Line spied it and vowed to make it whole.  She got it leathered up.  I wear it frequently:  it is impractical, with the one prong often slipping out of the holes in the leather strap.  But then I love it.  I could use it in an art appreciation course to explain the need for little flaws.  Beautiful imperfection is an ingredient of manmade beauty, something quite apart from the creations of the gods or the sterile sameness of mass production.

Mrs. P: My best-beloved items of clothing come from my fashionista sister. She lives in Geneva, and travels from Milan to Paris to London on a regular basis. She lives in fear that the great swath of flannel she sees in Portland may erode what shreds of chic I still possess. A few years ago she gave me a wonderfully fitted red leather jacket. I feel instantly younger, cooler, and more capable of mischief whenever I put it on. But when my sister is not around to watch I do wear my husband’s flannel shirts as improvised jackets. I think I look vaguely like Rizzo in Grease, which is just another homage to bad girls.

Mr. D: Linda, I think I always secretly knew you wanted to be a bad girl once in a while. You now live in flannel-lined Portland, Oregon but your mysteries linger in tremor-tossed San Francisco.   Is your heart still there? With Johnny Mathis. Or Tony Bennett?

Mrs. P: Big piece of my heart. When I was in college the boy I was dating took me to San Francisco one spring evening. We had to cross Market Street to get to the cable car turnaround on California Street, and because BART was under construction and it had been raining, Market Street was a big, wide muddy mess. I had on white shoes. The boy picked me up and carried me across the street. So I married him. San Francisco inspires those kinds of gestures. Also, a writer needs to know a city well to make it a character in a book. Dashiell Hammett on SF, Robert Parker on Boston, John le Carre on Hong Kong, Donna Leon on Venice. Portland is still new to me. Give me another 10 years.

Mr. D: My favorite mysteries are by Andrea Camillieri, I am all for those Inspector Salvo Montalbano adventures in Sicily — good food and excellent misbehavior. I put you down for Murder at the Gallop and the others in that series. Murder most foul, but not really.

Mrs. P: Hmmm, so who doesn’t admire Agatha Christie? I had to look up Murder at the Gallop,that was the movie version of Christie’s book, After the Funeral, and I confess I haven’t seen the movie. But here’s the thing – that was the Margaret Rutherford era of Miss Marple, and my favorite, favorite Jane Marple is the sly and slender incarnation played by the wickedly talented Joan Hickson.

My faves? Oh, those Peter Wimsey-Harriet Vane books written by Dorothy Sayers. Think I’ve read Gaudy Night20 times or more. Romance, higher ed, feminism, gallantry, the life of the mind, and a puzzle to solve — my idea of literary heaven. In our era, I love Cornelia Read’s books, anything by Louise Penny, and those of a fellow author at Prospect Park Books, Naomi Hirahara, whose sleuth is an elderly Japanese-American gardener. If I’m stuck on something, I read Robert Parker because his dialogue puts the metal in the pedal. Kate Atkinson is a genius who just happens to write mysteries.

Mr. D: I have to fess up:  I loved Peter Wimsey on Masterpiece Theater or wherever he appeared on PBS. What does your sleuth, Maggie Fiori, look like? In my imagination, I favor the gal from Detroit who is played by that fine comedic actress.

Mrs. P: You mean Kathleen Turner, who played VI Warshawski, Sara Paretsky’s creation? I still think of her scorching poor William Hurt into oblivion in Body Heat. When I first imagined Maggie I saw her as Susan Sarandon in that movie about the creepy dentist who gets murdered, Compromising Positions.  Like Sarandon’s character, Maggie is red-headed, smart-mouthed and impetuous. But Maggie has a much nicer, sexier husband. And now Sarandon is 67, and still immensely sexy and appealing, but she’s significantly older than Maggie who is not yet 40, so the casting wouldn’t be quite age-appropriate.

Mr. D:  But to fess up once more, I don’t read Fiori for blood and guts and grime.  I think of you as a pleasant summer read on Nantucket, an encounter that will not sully my soul or my boots. You see, the world is enough of a mess at the moment, full of nameless cruelties as Krishnamurti would say.  So I am looking for comfortable crime, and you provide it.

Mrs. P:  So what do you read when you don’t have Maggie at hand?

Mr. D: I go for some poetry now and again.  I read a fair amount of meter, and more often, I lyricize myself about peace of mind, love, and perhaps a meditative estate.

Mrs. P: Such as?

Mr. D: Here is one I offer up to the dispossessed about our earth.

The Roots of Happiness If You Should Be An Orphan

Ah, if you be an orphan,
Then You Must Find a Glade Where All is Happy
A bath redolent with the ginger scent of love
A light without glare that casts soft shadows
A place where you can stand still
At last your feelings unchanging
At last a lastness
Where outside is inside
And inside is out.

Mrs. P: Thank you. That is a gift.

Mr. D: You’re welcome. A lovely documentary inspired it. http://rootsofhappiness.org

P.S. Linda Lee Peterson’s latest mystery, The Devil’s Interval is available in bookstores and libraries, but also from the e-book people such as Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Should you wish it personalized, drop a line to Linda (linda@petersonskolnickdodge.com) or visit her website www.lindaleepeterson.com  and she will prepare a bookplate per your instructions.

P.P.S.  We now confess that we prefer the title of Mrs. Peterson’s first mystery Edited to Death.  For years Mrs. Peterson has been a communications consultant serving large companies and institutions.  When writing for them, she has been “edited to death,” often by middle managers who don’t know how to write. Clearly the rapier has turned in her consciousness, when she has witnessed her prose being turned to mush.

P.P.P.S. A lovely wooden letter opener from Stanley Marcus sits atop our desk.  It reminds us that it is time for people to start writing real letters again to put feeling back in our missives to each other.  Some friends have given up email, since it is coated with sterility and insincerity.




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