Saturday, January 30, 2010

Chapter Nineteen

The Cochise Country Club was a man-made lake, a club house with a restaurant and bar, a 9-hole golf course and 15,000 acres of desert with roads cut in it located a mile north of the stoplight in Wilcox, Arizona. You couldn’t miss it, there was only one stoplight.

Still is. But the Interstate, which bi-sected the city, now by-passes it.

One of the owners of the operation was Leo Ackerman, a former Arizona gubernatorial candidate. The controlling company was called Western Growth Capital Corporation and was headquartered in Phoenix.

The property was a 79 mile drive from Tucson through Benson, where Chiracahau Apache Chief Cochise and Geronimo roamed. You could make the trip in just over an hour if you hurried.

I first worked as a "public relations man" for the place, out of the Tucson office. A jovial fella name Woody Janda was the manager. He also owned Woody’s Toy Store in Tucson, though he never seemed to be there.

My “PR” job was to work the phone room and cold-call folks at home at night and tell them they'd won a free, all expense paid trip to the beautiful Cochise Country Club (now known as the Twin Lakes Country Club) plus a chance to win 100,000 Gold Bond Stamps.

Trading stamps were all the rage. They were given with purchases at many stores at the rate of 10 to the dollar which were then glued into little books redeemable for all sorts of merchandise.

The “winners” were told they could even bring their golf clubs for a round of golf if they wanted to. Nobody ever did, though. I'd tell them their chauffeur would pick them up, say, at 8 am the next day for their big trip to the club.

The actual pickup time was negotiable and was rarely the next morning.

Then I'd use my own car, my own gas, and on my own time drive these "lucky winners” to Wilcox to deposit them in the restaurant and sit with them drinking coffee until a salesman came over. I introduced the salesman who joined us and we made a little small talk before he invited them for a "look around the place".

The salesman would load them into his car and drive them around the property extolling its virtues, explaining the investment opportunity, the profits to be made because the prices were going up in 90 days. He’d tell them the "guarantee" was so good because, if they wanted, we'd sell the property for them and they'd make a huge profit.

He’d explain how a little down payment and a few dollars a month would mean a nice place to retire or a nice nest egg for the future or a tidy profit in only a few months.

By now they were in a tiny "closing room" about the size of a walk-in closet...with a huge plat of the available lots on the wall.

If they bought a lot I'd be paid between $65-$100 for just driving them up and back. If they didn't buy, I was out my time and gas.

So much for being a great and famous public relations man.

The good news was a lot of people bought lots! I was making several hundred bucks a week...and in 1964 dollars that was a lot of money for a pair of newlyweds still in their teens.

Woody taught a free real estate class for the PR people who wanted to get their real estate licenses to sell at the site. I lied about my age, took the class and passed the exam to become licensed real estate salesman in the State of Arizona.

On paper I was 21.

My income went up, too. I was good. I got so good I became a T.O. Man: other salesmen would "Turn Over" their prospects if they couldn't close a deal but thought there might be a sale there, somewhere.

I was a good T.O. man, too.

I was given a nice elderly couple on a TO one afternoon. The hand off usually took place back in the restaurant after every trick in the book had been used on them in the closing rooms.

Mind you, these salesmen were seasoned land pros. But, I was good; probably, because I was new and didn't know any of the tricks in the book, yet.

I was just honestly persuasive; a good actor.

This particular couple had a home in Tucson and they were interested in selling it and maybe moving to Wilcox. I told them they could move up anytime they wanted to. But the roads weren't quite ready to be paved just yet, and the electricity lines were still being held up by the utility commission because they had to cross the railroad tracks or something stupid like that and Heaven knows what else those dumb commissions could think of.

Interestingly, no one ever asked where we were getting the electricity to run the building we were in.

I assured them there wouldn't be any problem getting a building permit right away if they wanted to move up in a month or so.

I reminded them the price was going up in a few months when the permits for the electrical work and paving work were issued so they might think about getting a lot or two right now. And then, if they wanted to sell the lots and realize a profit and move to Scottsdale, like half the country seemed to be trying to do the last couple of years, then we'd be happy to do all the sales work for them.

They wanted two lots.

I took them back into a closing room and helped them pick out a couple of nice ones across the street from the lake. I sent them back into the restaurant while I filled out the paperwork. Twolots. Not bad for a slow day.

And on a dead deal to start with!

I brought the papers to their table and the man asked me to bring them by his home tomorrow. He wanted me to give him an estimate on his house, just in case he wanted me to sell it for him, and he'd give me a cashier's check for the full amount, then.

I shook his hand, told him I'd see him the next day and sent them on their way.

Their driver was really upset; but, then, she was always upset.

She'd been driving people up to the property for three or four months and hadn't had a sale yet. And it wasn't her fault, she swore. She just drove them up. She wasn't a salesman. The other salesmen tried to sell her people just like they sold everyone else; but, for some stupid reason, her people didn't buy.

We thought she was trying to pre-sell them on the way up: a major no-no. The PR people were told not to talk about the property at all, to change the subject if it was brought up. Politics, religion and the property were off limits as topics of discussion for the drivers.

When I turned in my paperwork Woody got pissed. He yelled and ranted and raved at me, “You always get a deposit. You never let a contract go out unsigned. You'll never see them again as long as you live. You're a fool if you think you'll see any money from them.”

Yada, Yada, Yada.

The next day I kept my appointment with the couple. They welcomed me warmly, offered me coffee and we sat and chatted about their home. He said he wanted an honest appraisal. I told him I didn't know the first thing about homes. I was a land salesman. I sold lots. Not houses. I didn't have any idea what it was worth.

It was a lovely old home perfect for the desert. He showed me the inside, the outside, he pointed out the eaves, the foundation, the shutters, the door frame, the shingles, everything there was to see about the house and then he asked me if I honestly thought it was worth some figure that escapes me now.

I told him I thought it was worth more and that was my honest opinion.

He said he wanted me to sell it for him. I told him there were better qualified people out there who had a better grasp on the house-buying public and said just look for someone whose ad states they were a Realtor, which I was not.

I was relieved when they didn't push it.

When it was time to go they both thanked me, and he handed me a bona fide cashier's check for $3,600 and wished me well.

I thanked them, got their signatures on the contracts and said I'd see them around the club. I added when they wanted me to sell their lots I'd be happy to oblige.

I went back to the office all hang-dog looking.

Woody could see I'd failed and lit right into me. He screamed at me and when he was just hitting his stride I pulled the check and contracts out of my pocket, snapped then a few times and let the packet float, gracefully, down onto his desk top. His mouth hung wide open in mid sentence.

I not only made Woody eat his words but feed both me and the PR lady whose first sale I had just made, a full steak dinner. I was becoming a legend and a great and famous land huckster.

Lesson: Good sales is truthful lying: good acting.

One Father's Day, instead of going back to Tucson, Julie, and our son David, I hung out in the bar with the "big guns"; the old timers who'd been selling land collectively since Adam started raising a family, to hear them tell it. They introduced me to "Black Russians": vodka and Kalua, a yummy little drink.

I'd been drinking vodka regularly during my stand-up days, though I'd never get drunk, mainly because I never drank that much. I nursed my drinks in those days. Nobody wants to listen to a drunken comic... unless he's funny.

Some people are funny when they're drunk. Some comics are funny when they're drunk. I wasn't either. I was just drunk when I was drunk. Friendly, though.

This night we were putting half dollars into the bar's Scope-a-Tone machine and watching the 1960's forerunner to MTV music videos while we tossed back a few .

I listened to stories of successes in Scottsdale, Fabulous Florida, and the Sun-City Scandals. Those were the golden days when money just flowed into a salesman's pocket from people who couldn't wait to shell it out.

As the night wore on, I got potted. Boy, I liked those little Black Russians. And I liked Scope-a-Tone, too. It was mesmerizing. It was a jukebox hooked up to a film loop machine that played the appropriate loop with each song chosen.

It got dark and I had a long drive back to Tucson and my little family ahead of me. I bade farewell to my compadres and "mounted up and headed out".

I was very very drunk. I was also 19. Underage. And I was driving a motor vehicle.

But I was driving said motor vehicle verrrry carefully. I was driving so carefully it took me a verrrry long time to get to the highway a mile from the club. I was putt-putt-putting along at about 30 miles an hour on a 70 mile an hour highway when I decided this wasn't what I should be doing and pulled over to the side of the road.

I was on the shoulder of the road and fully at a stop when a set of blinking red lights appeared in my rear view mirror.

I rolled down my window and waited. A young trooper came up and asked me if I was alright.

"I'm drunk", I said, "I pulled over to sleep it off, 'cause I'm drunk!"

"Do you know who I am?" he asked. He had a kind face and was 100% professional.

"You're a Highway Patrolman", I answered, "And I'm drunk."

"Are you aware I could arrest you right now for driving under the influence and you'd have to spend the night in jail?" he asked.

I told him I knew full well it was wrong to drive while drunk: that's why I'd pulled over to go to sleep.

He asked me where I'd been drinking as he looked at my license. My license had my correct age on it, mind you.

I told him I worked for the club driving people up and back and that we'd been celebrating a very good day.

He admitted he was surprised at my attitude. He'd never seen a drunk who'd admitted it to him, especially while operating a vehicle on the highway. He liked my candor and decided to cut me some slack. A lot of slack, if you ask me.

He told me he had the duty in this area for the rest of the night and that he'd keep an eye on me. He wanted me to pull further off the road and try to sleep for at least two hours before continuing on to Tucson.

He said if he saw the car gone before that time either he or another trooper would come after me and put me in jail.

He then reminded me of the consequences of that: losing my license, possible jail time for drinking under age, possible closing of the club for serving a minor, possible other legal action against the club’s owners and management.

I told him I'd be there for two or more hours, reassured him it was my idea in the first place to sleep it off and that I'd stay there if I didn't feel I was sober enough to go on after the two hours.

He again expressed his astonishment at my attitude and wished other drinkers were more cooperative. He wished me good luck and went on about his duties.

I went to sleep, but not before relieving my stomach of its contents.

Lesson: Be nice to the constabulary, it works.

It was more than three hours before I arrived home. Julie was pissed. She had made a marvelous chicken-ala-something dish in celebration of Father's Day for me.

She'd had to watch it dry up and shrivel as she kept re-heating it to keep it warm and tasty.

She was in tears. She was fuming. She was right.

I apologized and explained what had happened and then ate every morsel she put before me. Actually, it was still delicious.

I don't know how long she stayed mad at me but we never seemed to stay mad at one another for very long.

We had a little tradition: Truce! When either of us got too mad at the other we could stop the anger and the fighting by yelling "Truce!”

It was usually followed by observing the time honored ceremony: make-up sex.

I was spending a lot of time working for this company. I enjoyed it. It was easy. It paid well. What more could I want?

Because I was showing results, I was put in charge of the phone room and had six people working for me. I was still going down to the property on the weekends to sell lots, too.

Due to overworking the phone books, our phone sales were beginning to slow down a little. There are just so many phones in Tucson. So, I came up with the ingenious idea of sending out "research teams".

I convinced Woody to authorize our sending out a crew of University of Arizona students to canvass neighborhoods from 7 to 11 am during the week.

They took an “entertainment survey” of the residents. They weren’t to make any pitches or mention property sales at all. All they did was ask questions about the entertainment habits of the respondents and mention they might win Gold Bond stamps for their replies or maybe even a “free trip for two to the Cochise Country Club just outside of beautiful Wilcox”. No promises were made.

I composed all the materials and had them printed. The questions covered how many times they went to movies; did they like to fish, boat, water ski, hunt; did they play tennis, golf, bowl; were they campers; did they have a motor home; what types of beverages did they drink; all things that indicated, to us, that they might be prone to look at a country club investment.

The first batch of surveys came in and went right into my desk drawer. At the end of the first week we had hundreds of new -and qualified- leads.

We knew who these people were from their responses and we were ready to pounce. I started passing the survey cards out to the phone solicitors (this was before the term "telemarketer" was coined) and turned them loose.

Sales went up $60,000 that week! They stayed up, too!

We kept the surveys going for about a month and had thousands of cards on hand to pitch. During that time I was offered and accepted the manager's position of the Douglas, Arizona office.

The Three Little Moellers moved and found a town that didn't know where it's next breakfast was coming from. It was a border town across from Agua Prieta -Dark Water- Mexico. It lay in the shadow of a smelter that was shutting down and lots of folks were out of work.

I inherited three women still selling on the phones in the office during the day. They also drove potential customers to the property as I did, too. But this was a different kettle of fish.

The town had been raked over the coals a few times too many and sleazy managers had gouged the population dry.

What few people we could get to agree to go to Wilcox couldn't afford a newspaper, let alone property.

Once in a while someone would buy a lot, but this was the last chance for the company to squeeze a nickel out of anyone.

One family I drove up lived in a hovel of a house. They didn't have laundry detergent. Their clothes were clean, but grey. There were 4 of them: father, mother and two kids. I personally bought them all lunch in the clubhouse restaurant before I took them on the obligatory tour of the property.

To my surprise they bought a lot! They thanked me for letting them make a few hundred dollars when the prices went up in 90 days. They needed the money and figured the $90 in payments they'd make for the 3 months would be pretty easy to come up with...especially if they were going to make a profit of several hundred dollars!

Surprisingly, their paperwork went through, too. But something didn't sit right with me on this. Something really bothered me about selling to someone who couldn't wash their clothes. They were nice people caught in the middle of a financial crisis and I didn't feel good about my ability to get money out them for something they didn't need and certainly couldn't afford.

They were the last prospects ever taken up from Douglas. A day or so later I was transferred back to Tucson.

When we got settled, Woody called me into his office and said he wanted me to take a ten percent over-ride on all sales from the phone room.

I said ok.

Things were going great. It was a great idea that worked far beyond what anyone had expected.

He also said they had made a sales film of the property and wanted me to host sales dinners at one of the hotels. They'd show the film after which I'd make the pitch to the audience, the salesmen would move in for the kill and I'd get another ten percent over-ride on anything that was sold there, too.

I said ok.

Everybody was happy.

The first sales dinner was a huge success. For 10 minutes work I made several hundred dollars. I was turning into the golden boy of land developments.

When I got home that night Julie told me she'd received a call from Attorney Kelsoe that the a.m. was dying.

I called him and learned she'd had a stroke. She’d been taking a shower and, while sitting on her special little stool and using her special little shower hose, she'd overloaded a blood vessel which burst in her brain and lapsed into a coma.

The a.m. was still washing “possible” when they turned the water off.

Lesson: Masturbation won’t make you go blind; it’ll kill ya!

She was still alive, though, Kelsoe told me, but they didn't expect much improvement. If she lived she'd probably be no better off than a vegetable (lettuce, no doubt). What did I want to do? I told him to keep me informed as to her progress and bid him goodnight.

Then Julie and I went out and had a celebratory drink.

"Ding Dong the witch is dead..." from the Wizard of Oz kept running through my head for the next few days. I checked in with Kelsoe daily. The third day he called and said she'd died.

He made arrangements for us to fly back to Dallas the next day for the funeral. Julie and I decided I didn't need the job anymore since the a.m. had had a comfortable income of her own and now it would be mine.

I made a few calls saying hasty good-byes and I'm-sorry-I'm-going-to have-to-take-care-of-business-in-Texas-now's.

We packed everything we wanted to keep -we hadn't acquired much in the six months we were in Tucson- and headed to the airport.

As we took off I kept looking to see if I'd be able to spot the Wilcox property from the air but I never got my bearings and don't know if I found it or not.

Today the land has been condemned by the City of Wilcox which exercised its right of eminent domain. The restaurant and bar are still there and operating as Twin Lakes Country Club (there was supposed to be another 10,000 acre lake built "in just about 6 more months").

The golf course is the greenest green you've ever seen. The solitary house that was standing on the property -it was a selling landmark and proved the habitability of the place- still stands.

The roads that were laid out are still there: visible, drivable, unpaved; but covered over a bit by years of blowing sand.

And the lake? It's now the town sewage repository. All the town's refuse is flushed into it and the water is used on the golf course, thus the green greens!

There's a sign posted warning not to swim in the lake.

On my move in 1988 from Houston to California I stopped at the property and took photos of it.

I’d sold myself a lot back then, too, and I took photos of it: desert, with weeds and roads and dreams cut into it.

Pity. It could have been a nice little place.

The death of the a.m. was more difficult for me than I expected it would be. I was vulnerable. I had all sorts of love and hate and dread and regret and even guilt type emotions running around inside me.

When we got back to Dallas I learned she had made a change in her will leaving everything to Roger Brown, Gramma's eldest son, who had been living with her for some time.

She left one piece of property, 1308 Main St. –twenty five hundred square feet of downtown Dallas!- to me. But the income producing notes she still held were to have been his.

I had to hand it to ol' Rog: schtupping a 71 year old woman was about to pay off...he thought.

She had changed her will, alright, but she hadn't signed it. Kelsoe told me she had an appointment to do just that the day she had the stroke!

Lesson: Timing is everything.

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