Troubled Water

Michael Flack

I RECENTLY MADE a good decision, all thanks to director John Frankenheimer’s penultimate film, Ronin. In it, Robert De Niro plays a mercenary who, early in the movie, refuses to enter the roadway under Paris’s Pont Alexandre III because he’s wary of getting caught in an ambush. It’s a decision that saves his life and that of his colleagues. When he’s later asked about the decision, he replies, “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”

A few months back, my wife received a postcard offering a free set of steak knives or a 40-piece socket tool set. As my wife really likes steak, she called the number on the postcard and set up an appointment with a salesman from EcoWater Systems, a water-softening industry leader “with game-changing innovations,” who would give her the knives after we listened to his sales pitch.

A few weeks later found Sam standing in our kitchen testing our water for hardness and asking us innumerable questions about our clothing, cleaning and coffee needs. After about 15 minutes, my wife broke into his spiel and asked him if he “could cut to the chase.” He replied that he couldn’t and, over the next 45 minutes, explained how a whole house water-softening system could make our clothes last longer, our house cleaner and our coffee taste better.

And we could have all this for only $115 a month—for the next six years. Now, I was concerned about the hardness in our water causing future plumbing issues, plus the other benefits sounded nice. My wife appeared excited about a future filled with less lint in the dryer, better tasting water and healthier, softer skin. Still, $8,280 seemed a bit steep.

But what did I know about the chemistry of tap water? I started to get a little concerned about making the wrong decision. Then Sam said the magic words that made all my worries go away: “You have to make a decision right now… as soon as I leave, the offer ends.”

I immediately visualized De Niro drawing his Colt .45 semi-automatic and shooting the sniper hiding under the bridge—who was about to shoot his colleagues—and thought, “Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.”

I immediately asked Sam, “So… where are my steak knives?”

I knew I might be on to something when Sam said the offer would actually be good until later that day—right up until he “submitted the time sheet to my supervisor.” I then reinquired about my knives, adding, “How many of these deals do you actually close?” When he replied “90%,” I knew he was full of it and I just wanted it to be over.

When Sam left, I was without soft water or steak knives, as he was out of the latter. All he had left was the 40-piece socket set. My wife was relieved I didn’t bite, and later mentioned that I was way too smart to fall for Sam’s schtick. I thought she might be laying it on a little thick, but then figured she might be right. As De Niro said in The King of Comedy, it’s “better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime.”

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