Biff, listen, Biff. You're my son and I know what you think of me. I know I'm a washed up salesman, going off in the world on a smile and shoeshine, polishing the apples of customers, groveling for sales and -- alas, alack and all of that -- getting none. But once, Biff, once I was a terrific success. Yessiree, Biff. I sold shoes to Imelda Marcos.
Oh, boy, those were the days. The Philippines were my territory. Hot. Muggy. Those fans turning slowly overhead. Everyone smoking Camels. All the women wearing slit skirts. I was alone and afraid and not doing particularly well, but I thought, what the hell, I'll try the palace. I asked for Imelda Marcos. What are you selling, she asked. Shoes, I said. She said she'd take 400.
Biff! Biff! I couldn't believe my ears. I whipped out the old order book, made sure I had my carbons in the right place, took out the old pencil, wetted the end of it and wrote it all up. Yessiree -- 400 pairs of number 72 black pumps, size 61/2. Would the lady like anything else? Yes, she said. She ordered 400 insoles, 400 shoe trees, 400 little plastic bags for the shoes and $813 in Dr. Scholl's foot powder, which was another of my lines.
I could hardly write fast enough. My hand was shaking. I flipped the order pages on my book, smearing carbon on my fingers and later on my face. Imelda just smiled at me. I tried to calculate the commission. Oh, the days we could spend together at Ebbetts Field, Biff. I would take you and your brother, Happy, and your mother out
TAKE 035909 PAGE 00002 TIME 13:20 DATE 03-15-86 of that house near the El where Arthur Miller had put us. I was going to buy a condominium with a fancy British name -- the Buckingham or something. Imagine me, Willy Loman, in a condominium!
I could not believe my good luck. Of course, I told nobody about Mrs. Marcos and the way she was spending money. When a Philippines aid bill came up before Congress, I just looked the other way. I was not alone, of course. Real estate agents all over the world knew. The fanciest jewelers called on the Marcos family. Mstislav Rostropovich played his little cello for them. George Hamilton sang for them, and furriers sold Imelda hundreds of fur coats. What becomes a legend? I'll tell you. 150 fur coats in the tropics. That's a legend.
Biff, you remember that toast Vice President Bush made to Ferdinand Marcos? I was in the palace at the time! I used to stay in the salesmen's quarters. All of us were there. Gus from Cartier's, Phil from Tiffany's, Ernie from Rolls Royce, Jay from Gucci, Sal from Kron chocolates and Irv from Sotheby Parke Bernet. Most of the time we used to play poker, but that night we went to see Bush. What a toast! That stuff about admiring their democratic ways. I thought Ernie would die laughing. Only Jay didn't laugh. Those creeps from Gucci. Nsense of humor.
Anyway, Biff, there was no way we would say anything. The money was rolling in. Anytime the good old U.S. of A. sent the Philippines aid, I would show up at the palace gate with my order book. Just last year, we offered them a $900 million package over five years -- economic and military aid, you understand. Bingo! I was at the palace. Anything you need, Imelda? My you
TAKE 035909 PAGE 00003 TIME 13:20 DATE 03-15-86 look lovely, Imelda. Some women get old, but not you, Imelda. I tell you, Biff, that line of patter works.
Biff, she gave me a weak smile and then started calling out the order. I'll take 600 pairs of slingbacks and 800 pairs of pumps. Throw in 312 stilettos and 912 sandals. Do you sell panty hose? she asked. I had to say no. Too bad, she said. I need 4,000 pair. Are you the fur man? she asked. No again. Paintings? Office buildings? Townhouses? Estates? No, no, no and no. Just shoes, lady. Just shoes.
And then, Biff, just like that it was over. Some lady named Corazon Aquino, a size 7 probably, took over the Philippines. One look at her and you could tell -- no sale there. One by one, we salesmen snuck out of the Philippines and headed home. It was over, Biff. We had had our ride. Another year or two, another American foreign aid package, and we would have been out of Brooklyn. No more elevated trains rumbling right outside the window. Biff, Biff . . .
For the Philippines it was the return of democracy. But for good old Willy Loman, it was the death of a salesman.