Glengarry Glen Ross

by David Mamet

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Are Moss, Aaronow, and Levene desperate?

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In Glengarry Glen Ross some of the salesmen are becoming demoralized because they aren't "closing." They may not realize it, but their problem is that the general public is getting wise to the scams that are being perpetrated all over the United States. The typical scam was to buy a large section of very cheap land in a place like Hawaii, Florida, or Arizona, and then subdivide it into lots. This was sometimes hard to do because the developer had to get authorization from the state's real estate commissioner, and the commissioner should have known that the land in question was in a swamp, or on the side of an active volcano, or out in the middle of a desert full of rattlesnakes and coyotes where the temperature could go as high as 120 degrees in the summer. The salesmen would be given "leads" obtained from coupons mailed in by people responding to specious ads in newspapers and magazines; and they would also be given brochures showing what the development was supposed to look like when it was fully completed. They would have shopping, restaurants, golf courses, club houses, fountains, artificial lakes, and other amenities. Most of the people who bought the lots were starting to think about their future retirement. It was not typical for most buyers to invest large sums of money, as they do in Mamet's play, because most of them didn't have that kind of money. It was fairly common practice for a salesman to collect a very small down payment, as little as $100, and then get the buyers to sign a contract to make small monthly payments for many years until the price was paid in full, with interest. A lot might be sold for as little as $2500. The salesman got to keep part or all of the down payment for his commission. The buyers were not given deeds to the property as a rule but were buying on what was called a "land contract," which is not much different from the way people buy cars, furniture, and jewelry. The buyers forfeited everything they had paid if they failed to make one or two payments. If they finally paid off the entire purchase price, they would then get the title deed. Many buyers defaulted on the payments after they had taken a good look at the lots they had bought sight-unseen. The developer would then sell the lots to other gullible people. But word got around that many of the lots were worthless. Nobody was actually living on any of them, except perhaps for a few hermit-types living in house trailers. There must have been a lot of high-level collusion. The developer was doing nothing to develop the land except bulldozing a few dirt roads and driving little stakes with strips of colored cloth attached to them to indicate the locations of the various lots.

Dave Moss, George Aaronow, and Shelly Levene are getting old and desperate. One of the main themes of David Mamet's play is that desperate men will do desperate deeds. Robbing the office for the Glengarry leads is symbolic of what men will do when they have families to support, when they are heavily in debt, and when they are running out of money. When the real estate bubble burst around 2007, it was largely because men just like Moss, Aaronow and Levene were arranging mortgage loans for people who were almost certain to default. These loans were then "packaged" and sold to investors, who probably expected a certain number of foreclosures but could not foresee that most of the loans were based on utterly false credit information--or no information at all! It was often referred to ironically as "creative financing" or "mickeymousing." A lot of the packages of mortgaged loans must have been bought by foreign investors, especially in the oil-rich Middle East, who were looking for high interest on their ever-growing billions and assumed that any land in America must be as good as gold.

Ricky Roma and John Williamson are crooked too. Roma is deliberately trying to stall his buyer James Lingk by telling him his check hasn't been cashed yet, and Williamson thinks he is helping out by saying that he sent the check in and it had been cashed. Aaronow is perhaps the most honest of all the men in the office, but he was obviously considering going along with Moss's idea of faking a burglary and stealing the new Glengarry leads to sell to Jerry Graff, who is guilty of receiving stolen property. It might not have been Aaronow who backed out of the deal but Moss who changed his mind and took Levene as a partner instead. Levene was probably not hard to persuade because he is the most desperate of all.

Moss, Aaronow, and Levene are like passengers on a sinking ship. They are desperate--and their desperation doesn't help them in "closing" deals, because prospects sense their anxiety and neediness. Such feelings are subtle but can be sensed and even transferred to the prospects themselves.

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