From Musæum Clausum
11. Glengary Glenngould (1995), by David Mamet. A viewing of Thirty-Two Short Films about Glenn Gould reportedly inspired Mamet to pen this reworking of his classic real estate selling play.
SUMMARY: Centuries of received commercial wisdom are summarily nullified on the sales floor of the Buffalo branch of Steinway and Sons with the arrival of Gould, a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, holy water stoup-mouthed rookie sales rep from Toronto. [There is, incidentally, a back story to Gould’s appearance in Buffalo: the town affords him ready access to his sweetheart Cornelia, the wife of the conductor of the Buffalo Philharmonic.] Declining to deliver the barest rudiments of a sales pitch, and preferring to close his deals at night by telephone at his lodgings in a Howard Johnson off of I-90, Gould opts to fritter away his workdays by wordlessly (if not exactly mutely) playing the keyboard works of Bach, Haydn, and Orlando Gibbons on his favorite concert grand, CD 318, and quickly outsells every other salesman in the shop. His seemingly inexorable juggernaut of a hawker’s career is finally and permanently derailed when Caputo, thitherto the rep with the least spectacular commission record, takes a spanner to the shop’s hot water heater, thereby preventing Gould from performing his indispensable pre-recital arm-soaking ritual. For my illustrative excerpt I have chosen the Act II showdown between Gould and Wieszkieszwiscz, the branch manager, which is widely regarded as both the play’s pivotal moment and the finest stretch of dialogue as yet penned by Mamet.
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Ah, Gould.
GOULD: G. Gould, sir.
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Shut the fuck up. Tell me something, Glenn: you ever take a dump and feel like you just slept 12 hours?
GOULD: No, sir, but I have just taken a Valium and feel as though I could stand to sleep eight.
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Enough of this babyshit chickenshit trying to bullshit its way into being taken for full-fledged horseshit. I gotta fucking tell you, Gould, a lot of fucking us—erm, or, rather, a fucking lot of us here at S&S aren’t exactly fuckin’ in high shittin’ cotton—
GOULD: Excuse me, sir: but should that not rather be, erm, stuffing in high fluffing cotton?
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Erm, yes: mutatis fucking mutandis, I guess it fucking should. So, as I was fucking saying: a lot of us aren’t exactly shittin’ in high fuckin’ cotton over your approach to sales. You are, I fucking take it, familiar with something known in our fucking industry as a pitch?
GOULD: I was not aware, sir, that Steinway and Sons had given over flogging pianos in favor of procuring sexual favors.
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Don’t give me any of that fucking patent-pended Jesuitical lip of yours, Gould. You know full fucking well I said “our fucking industry,” not “our fucking industry,” and that there’s all the fucking difference in the fucking world between the fucking two.
GOULD: Agreed. So, sir, you were saying…
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: I was saying, Gould, that there is a thing known to many in our fucking industry as a pitch, and—
GOULD: “—and this pitch, as ancient writers do report, doth defile; so—
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: —doth thy fucking company.” Shakespeare, I Henry fucking IV, Act II, Scene fucking IV. That’s not the kind of pitch I’m fucking talking about. I’m talking about a certain kind of pitch there you can fucking count—as in a pitch, some pitches, ten, a hundred, a fucking gazillion pitches—
GOULD: —for example, C, C sharp, C flat (more often known as B in the system of equal-temperament), D, D-sharp (more often known as E flat—
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: —No, not musical pitches, you fucking dumb or smart ass: sales pitches, of which I have yet to hear a single one via that insufferably smug fucking puss of yours. Come on, Gould. What fucking gives? Do you think you’re too good to play ball like the rest of us paeans?
GOULD: Not at all, sir. What bothers me, rather, is the competitive, comparative ambience in which the pitch operates. I happen to believe that competition rather than money is the root of all evil, and in the pitch we have a perfect commercial vocalization of the competitive spirit. Obviously, I’d exclude the round robin pitch from what I’ve just said.
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: Yeah, I know you have a dim view of salesrooms in general. You once told the fucking New York Times that you found all the fucking live arts “immoral” because “one should not voyeuristically watch one’s fellow human beings in testing situations that do not pragmatically need to be tested.”
GOULD: Yes, I confess that I have always had grave misgivings about the motives of people who go to salesrooms, department stores, whatever. I don’t want to be unfair about this; in the past, I have sometimes made rather sweeping generalizations to the effect that anybody who visits a salesroom is a voyeur at the very best, and maybe a sadist to boot! I’m sure that this is not altogether true; there may even be people who prefer the ergonomics at J. C. Penney to those in their living room. So I don’t want to be uncharitable. But I do think that the whole business about asking people to test themselves in situations which have no need of their particular exertions is wrong—as well as pointless and cruel.
I’m afraid that the “Let’s climb Everest just because it is there” syndrome cuts very little ice with me…there’s a pun in there someplace. It makes no sense to do things that are difficult just to prove they can be done. Why climb mountains, or ski back down, or dive out of airplanes or race motor cars, unless there is a manifest need for such behavior?
The sales pitch has been replaced, you know. I don’t want to bore you with all the reasons why I think technology has superseded the sales pitch—I’ve enumerated them on many other occasions, and I don’t want to do that act again. But there is one reason which I think bears on this question: technology has the capability to create a climate of anonymity and to allow the salesman the time and the freedom to prepare his conception of a product to the best of his ability, to perfect a statement without having to worry about trivia like nerves and spoonerisms. It has the capability of replacing those awful and degrading and humanly damaging uncertainties which the pitching-session brings with it; it takes the specific personal performance information out of the commercial experience. Whether the salesman is going to climb the commercial Everest on this particular occasion no longer matters. And it’s for that reason that the word “immoral” comes into the picture. It’s a difficult area—one where business ethics touch upon theology, really—but I think to have technology’s capability and not to take advantage of it and create a contemplative climate if you can—that is immoral!
WIESZKIESZWISCZ: No, Gould, I’ll tell you what’s really fucking immoral: that Goddam, chickenshit, panty-fucking-waist, high-fucking-falutin, way you got of fucking talking. For fucking fuck’s sake, Gould, why the fuck can’t you fucking say fuck, you fucking fuck?
GOULD: Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.