I’ve spent five months in New Jersey chasing my tail. I’m acutely aware that I could have written a book or learned French or picked up some marketable computer skills. But I had this dream that I could flip middle-class housing, and it was a pretty powerful dream: cash for distressed sellers, better housing for middle-class buyers, a decent living for me.
At the point where I’m ready to throw in the towel – starting down the path of getting my license in New York – there’s one last swing I want to take: to speak at a sales meeting at my firm’s South Orange office.
The office manager is incredibly eager to have me. He says that the office I’m based in is too upper-middle class (read: too rich and too white) and that the agents in his office will have the kind of properties I’m looking for.
My first hint that something is very, very wrong is when the manager doesn’t return my call to reconfirm the date. I finally wheedle out of the receptionist that he’s actually been fired.
One of my partners, the president of the firm, urges me to come in anyway. So I gird my loins (the modern way, by putting on pantyhose without any runs in them) and show up to a huge audience, probably 50 agents.
The agenda for the meeting runs to over a dozen points, among them:
- Your firm’s fantastic new technology;
- The latest co-op listings;
- What happened to the disappearing manager; and
I do the exact same presentation I’d done at my firm’s home office. Same emphasis lines, same jokes. Only this time I’m bombing. I won a state speaking championship when I was in high school; I bombed in a comedy club in downtown Manhattan; I know the difference. The agents are restless, twitching their feet and shaking their heads at me.
Once, when I was in my twenties, I read a humor piece at an open mike night. I was performing in a friendly space, and the piece had killed before. This time it didn’t. Midway through, I heard one audience member say to another, “My god, she’s terrible.”
This felt like that.
I kept going because I am classy or stubborn or something, and then sat down. One of the agents in the back beckoned me over.
“What made you think you could find a house like that?”
“I went over it with my partners; we put together a business model; we expected to find six a year,” I said.
“And how many have you found?”
“Didn’t you wonder why? The reason is, if any of us found a house like that, we’d flip it ourselves. You’re looking for something that is too good – and the people who own this company should know better.”
“I can’t have any thinner a spread, because then I can’t pay them.”
“What do you need them for? To get you a mortgage? You find a house this good, any banker in the world will write you a mortgage. The partners would just be trying to stick a finger in your cookie jar.
“Except that they didn’t tell you it’s impossible in the first place. They’re just trying to pimp you out. If you get lucky, they make money, and it doesn’t hurt them if you fail. They’re just trying to pimp you out.”
I thanked him and went over to the next agent, who told me the same thing – the kind of house I wanted to flip would be a winning lottery ticket, and who wouldn’t want to pick it up? And then again.
I made my excuses to my partners and then left, collapsing into sobs.
I cried for three hours. First I wandered blindly for a few moments: Night, on foot, in suburban Jersey, with no Springsteen soundtrack isn’t a beautiful thing. Then I got on a train home, the other passengers looking at me sideways, sympathetically, trying to figure out who died.
I was so upset I called my mother, who isn’t the right person to call when you’ve just f—ed up a career, not because she doesn’t have sympathy but because her tolerance for stupidity is small. I got home and had a fight with my husband for somehow not understanding me, and cried some more. Poor me. Poor poor pitiful. I felt conned. All the risks I had taken, and the money I had blown through, and for what? A dream that didn’t exist; a mirage. And I had learned that it didn’t exist because my firm’s own agents had told me. Couldn’t somebody have pointed this out five months ago?