I have never been nor was I ever nervous before waking in to a ‘cold’ call. It seemed natural that if i was happy, the person who would ultimately be responsible for placing an order with me, whether it be plastic bags, 8 track stereo units or medical devices, would be happy too. I have no idea why I always believed that, and of course it’s not always followed suit, but that was my philosophy and at 17 years of age, I’d developed an attitude with no real qualms about talking to anyone. I used to talk to people at bus stops, shop counters, and just ordinary passers-by in the street, all of whom either responded or not. Even if is was just a quick nod of the head and a smile, I really couldn’t care. We were all human and no one, not even the Queen, was beyond responding with a simple ‘hello how are you?’ Unless, however, they were just plain old miserable bastards, in which case, fuck them, move on and find someone who was pleasant and willing to acknowledge me as a person. A ‘cold’ call, meant walking into an unknown place, seeking out an unknown person and placing unknown trust into their responsiveness until that is, you had their attention, trust and willingness to communicate. Most people found that daunting, I seemed to have a natural talent for putting people at ease instantly, and I had no idea why or how I was doing it. Going back to my first experience in my father’s company, when one of his employees, and now a good friend of mine, Richard, was teaching me how to do tele-sales, the very first call I made, to Bill Ronald, who I’d never met or talked to prior to that call and who at the time was a great client for the company, ended up with the two of us having a rare old conversation filled with lots of banter, laughs and of course, a sale! From the moment that sale took place, my fear of rejection was nonexistent, and I was able to call on anyone, with a sort of ‘I couldn’t care less’ attitude, knowing that making a sale was great, and not making a sale just meant I had to try harder next time. Nothing was personal, other than one time in Aberdeen where the owners of the company I was trying to obtain business from, sat me down and told me that they liked me but that my company was run by ‘Jew Boys’, not knowing that I was indeed the company, so they couldn’t do business with me! Assholes!
23 Gibson St, Glasgow, 7 Pm on a Monday night in June. I opened the door. Like all other Indian restaurants of its time, the interior was dingy, dimly lit, and with the distinct odor of stale curry wafting through from the kitchen, always at the rear, to the front door. As soon as you entered any of these establishments, there was, in my opinion, a feeling of dread. I’d heard so many stories of people coming in to try a Vindaloo with a pint of Scottish larger, and then puking up all over a street corner in appreciation of their new-found love of foreign food. The thought of that stench alone, was enough to send my stomach into unprecedented somersaults, declaring war on anything other than steak and potatoes. But, as time passed, I grew to love and adore Indian cuisine, only on that night, my focus was not on an empty stomach, it was on obtaining an order for plastic bags.
Mr. Amin had on his best beige suite, and an open collared shirt. His hair, jet black and Brylcreamed to perfection. Brylcream was the ‘in’ thing at the time, and kept mens hair perfectly greased and in place. His face was sullen, his teeth, yellowed from all the cigarettes he smoked, and his fingertips matched each tooth, one for one. When he approached, I had no idea he was the owner of the Shalimar. He came across the restaurant from the back of the dining room and with the look of ‘oh no not another salesman’ he got straight to the point.
“Can I help you?” he asked. There was no inflection in his voice. His accent purely Scottish and his delivery, direct and forthright. ‘This was going to be difficult’, I thought.
The restaurant had a few diners placed strategically in corners and one or two in the center of the room. This was the age of booths, but this place had none. It was filled by small square tables, covered in white table clothes, semi gleaming cutlery and half washed napkins. Each chair looked like it had been there for 50 years, when the truth was, the Shalimar had only been open less than 7 years at that point.
In my quiet polite manner, and with my smile on full beam, I began.
“I am Alan Zoltie” hand outstretched, ” and I would like to show you something new and something that might save you money in the long run” Mr. Amin took my hand and shook it, and asked, “what is it that you are selling?” He offered me a seat, right at the front door, and that took me by surprise. I thought, and under normal circumstance, we would remain standing, he would look or listen and then eject me. This man was different. We sat.
I began to tell him how I’d started selling plastic bags and how I believed they were going to revolutionize the take away food industry. He sat and he listened and never said a word. I took out samples, and he played with them, all the while intently listening without making comment. When I finished, the first words from his mouth were,
“Alan, how old are you?’
“I wish my son was just like you? You are nicely dressed, you speak well and you are ambitious. My son is……..”
And so he began to relate to me the story of his son. It took him two hours, a Tandoori chicken dish, which we shared, and some naan bread and a coke. By the time he was finished, I was exhausted. Mr. Amin was a very unhappy father. His perspective on life was 180 degrees different from his son’s, who was one year older than me. His son, as he related so eloquently, was a bum. He poured his heart out to me that evening and when he was finished, it was well after 9 30PM. He said,
“Come back tomorrow, I am going to order some bags from you, but I have other ideas too that will make you very happy”
“Just come back at the same time tomorrow and we can talk” he said, as he ushered me quite forcefully out through his front door. We shook hands and I bid him goodnight. He smiled and closed the door, leaving me in the street wondering what just happened? I marched back to my car, which I thought I’d parked in a secure spot, only to find I’d received my very first ever traffic ticket, for parking in a residents parking bay! As somewhat of a novice on the road, I couldn’t believe what I’d done. That evening cost me 10 pounds, to me, a fortune, but is would all be for a good cause, only I didn’t know it just yet. I drove off, my head filled with the possibilities of ‘what if?’ I arrived home, showered and stayed awake past midnight. Something about Mr. Amin, resonated deep within my soul. I believed he was a good man, although at 17 years of age, my innocence didn’t allow me the experience of why I thought so. Eventually I passed out on my bed, and when I woke the next morning, it was back to the grind, Mr. Amin could wait, I had to shower, get dressed, nicely of course, and begin, once again, walking those Glasgow streets, in the hope pf making a living!