Rental Dementia: The Myth of the Selfless Agent


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A very good friend of mine just returned from Africa—Uganda to be precise. Normally a nomad bartender in some of Manhattan’s hipper night spots, we were all a little surprised, even mildly worried, when he decided to run off and work in a malaria clinic for three months. It seemed random and out of the blue for a trip that deserved a bit of scrutiny and planning. Yet nothing we said or asked was able to deter him. He was going to Africa, but no one understood exactly why. Swept up as we were in pressing and maintaining our own lives into something resembling long-term security, how could we understand anything that didn’t build toward that universally recognized excuse for having to pay the rent? Later even he admitted that he wasn’t all together sure of why he went.


I had heard of these young people who, for lack of any sincere direction in life, end up abandoning themselves to a helpless cause. Until I spoke to my friend a few weeks into his trip, I worried he might end up in the same naïve predicament. Those fears were swiftly erased the moment he said he was there for his own benefit, seeking his own adventure. It only took getting off the plane and settling into a small and very foreign village before he realized it. Without a strong cause or belief in his ability to change Africa, his trip was more of an offbeat and visceral vacation than it was a misguided Western desire to save, fix, or cure Africa. His trip wasn’t an act of selfless generosity, and I admired his honesty for having said so.


I’ve always been suspicious of the idea of selfless living. It seemed to me that behind every good intention there was at least a little something in it for the saintly do-gooder. And yet I find myself in the only selfless occupation left in Manhattan. You see we real estate agents are held to a higher standard. In fact we are under certain obligations to give up the pursuit of our own personal gains and are instructed therefore to solely think of our beloved clients when helping them find their new dream apartment. Otherwise we would only be in it for the money, and that might somehow taint our service. Can you imagine?


It cracks me up when people accuse real estate agents of only caring about their commission. As if there were another plausible reason to guide a perfectly capable stranger through the process. It’s an obnoxious accusation when you think about it. No one would accuse a dentist of only being in it for the money, “You don’t really care about my teeth.” But have you ever met anyone who is actually passionate about other people’s teeth?


It’s the double standard that bothers me. I’ve had my balls in the hands of enough doctors to realize they weren’t in it for the greater good of humanity any longer. I cough and they charge me $200 bucks for being healthy. I’m guessing the whole “feeling good about what you do” thing wears off quickly. A year or two into looking into the ears of strangers and tapping knees must make the country club perks that come with being called Dr. start to feel pretty good. I once had a guy at my bar demand I call him Doctor when I asked, “What can I get you pal?” How the hell was I supposed to know he was a doctor, and as I was in charge of that particular emergency room, I’d call him what ever I felt like.


It was in that same bar in upper Manhattan where a small group of lefty teachers drowned their idealism and begged for a few rounds on the house every evening. They’d get plastered, incoherent and whine on about what exactly was wrong with the bureaucratically crippled school system. The whole city was unfair and corrupt according to this sloppy group of do-gooders. I had some advice for them as well. Try seeing straight one or two evenings a week, and those precious school children who you care so much about, might get more out of class than a contact high from your alcohol saturated breath.


You want to talk about lawyers? How about Wall Street money managers? I guess it’s all about the selfless pursuit of creating wealth for other already well off people? Cops? Journalists? Judges? All ego-less and spiritually minded careers for the good of the common man, I presume. How about our senators and the folks sitting in the comfy congress? It’s only the lowly real estate agent out for his own end. Pitiful as it may be. 


Now, back in New York, my friend is slinging drinks again in another nightspot. But he’s not any happier than most people are with their jobs, and now he’s looking for something more meaningful. He is not looking to save humanity or anything … in fact he’s thinking about getting into real estate.


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