Death of a Salesman by Economic Depression

by Jane Burns –

Raymond Mohr, known as Raymo to his friends, crossed over last summer. His was a relatively young death--early 50s.

The son of a CIA man who himself declined such employment after graduating from American University where he pitched baseball, a huge fan of Springsteen and The Police, a lanky fellow with strawberry blond hair and direct hazel eyes, Raymo had a heart attack as a complication of diabetes.

But for my money, it was the economy that killed Raymo--an early casualty of the crashed economy, our Great Depression 2.0.

Yes, we all die eventually. But death by bad economy that was set up to fail by government and Wall Street oligarchs who had to know the consequences for working Americans? This enrages more than I can say; if my anger at them were electricity, it could power the planet.

Raymo, who'd been in the television home entertainment system and Custom installation business for decades in suburban Washington, D.C., had most recently been part-owner of a retail mini-chain. He would, say, beat Circuit City's price by $100, and sell customers on the home installation. He was the kind of guy that wealthy (and snooty) Washingtonians could feel comfortable having in their homes.

He worked six days a week in the store, at least, and was always
Available on his cell phone if needed. And when Raymo wasn’t working, he was tending the flock of rescue animals he'd assembled on a little farm in Maryland.

Raymo was the kind of guy who would literally transport a roach
outside rather than kill it. He took it really hard when, in order to stop a barn invasion by rats that had gnawed a fatal hole in the belly of a beloved rescue pig, he finally donned night goggles and massacred the vermin.

Raymo had diabetes for a number of years, but didn't seem to do much About it. He didn't appear to take insulin shots or pills and, like many hard-working American men, lived on a diet of mostly meats andstarches.

He didn't eat breakfast, smoked tons of Marlboros, and drank lots of coffee.

Raymo also had a modern man's appreciation of recreational drug use. As things turned out, this ease with drugs eventually led to the death of a man proud to be a salesman.

When the diabetes started causing great and constant pain in his lower extremities at around the same time sales started falling earlier lastyear, even at his location in Bethesda, Md., which is like the Beverly Hills of suburban Washington. Raymo found a dealer who could deliver massive quantities of pharmaceutical pain-killers. They allowed him to keep up his schedule.

Yes, avoiding doctors is, for many men, typical self-destructive
behavior. Still, Raymo told me that if he started getting treatment, it would keep him out of the store. And he couldn't depend on employees to close sales as he could. Accustomed to being the boss, he desperately wanted to keep the store open.

But Raymo, long a smooth salesman, started losing it behind the pills.

He got into an extended argument with a female customer. He almost passed out afterwards, he told me. He had a weird altercation in a parking garage. By summer, the store was drawing sadists, blood-smelling customers who angered Raymo, always a fair and often generous guy, by demanding impossibly low prices.

Then Raymo got into it with the majority owner of the mini-chain—and suddenly he was out. Briefly shocked, he quickly accepted the change as provident. He could collect unemployment benefits and rental income, if the tenant ever started paying. There was an offer of part-time work in a stronger, competing chain coming in the fall. And he finally had the time and willingness to deal with his diabetes.

But right after Raymo started going in for care, we talked about his doctors and it didn't sound good. He was having too many arguments with them. I got the vibe that the doctors, without telling him, were trying to buy him time while hoping for a miracle. And Raymo said his former partner was stalling on paying him money owed--he was waiting out Raymo's death, I feared.

I went west for a few weeks in August and we stayed in touch by phone. The last time we spoke, Raymo said he was going to have to take insulin shots--not an easy thing for a man's man, or anyone, for that matter, but he sounded okay with it.

Then Raymo didn't return a call. Raymo always returned calls. I
figured he was either off on vacation with a new girlfriend, in a coma, or dead.

Back in town, I reached Levon, the young Russian political asylum student and salesman whom Raymo had mentored in the store, treated to $150 rock concert seats and generally man-counseled. Yes, Levon said heavily, Raymo was dead--heart attack, at home, alone.

I drive by the store frequently. I miss you, Raymo! I say aloud in the car. His last voice message on my answering machine? Can't delete it. He was trying so hard to sound positive, as he knew any good salesman must.

(Photo credit: Ian Britton)

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