Excerpt from The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lay of the Land

by Richard Ford

The Lay of the Land
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2006, 496 pages
    Jul 2007, 496 pages

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My other duty for the morning is to act as ad hoc business adviser and confidant to my realty associate Mike Mahoney, about whom some personal data would be noteworthy.

Mike hails from faraway Gyangze, Tibet (the real Tibet, not the one in Ohio), and is a five-foot-three-inch, forty-three-year-old realty dynamo with the standard Tibetan’s flat, bony-cheeked, beamy Chinaman’s face, gun-slit eyes, abbreviated arm length and, in his case, skint black hair through which his beige scalp glistens. “Mike Mahoney” was the “American” name hung on him by coworkers at his first U.S. job at an industrial-linen company in Carteret—his native name, Lobsang Dhargey, being thought by them too much of a word sandwich. I’ve told him that one or the other—Mike Lobsang or Mike Dhargey—could be an interesting fillip for business. But Mike’s view is that after fifteen years he’s adjusted to Mike Mahoney and likes being “Irish.” He has, in fact, become a full-blooded, naturalized American—at the courthouse in Newark with four hundred others. Still it’s easy to picture him in a magenta robe and sandals, sporting a yellow horn hat and blowing a ceremonial trumpet off the craggy side of Mount Qomolangma—which is often how I think of him, though he never did it. You’d be right to say I never in a hundred years expected to have a Tibetan as my realty associate, and that New Jersey homebuyers might turn skittish at the idea. But at least about the second of these, what might be true is not. In the year and a half he’s worked for me, since walking through my Realty-Wise door and asking for a job, Mike has turned out to be a virtual lion of revenue generation and business savvy: unceasingly farming listings, showing properties, exhibiting cold-call tenacity while proving artful at coaxing balky offers, wheedling acceptances, schmoozing with buyers, keeping negotiating parties in the dark, fast-tracking loan applications and getting money into our bank account where it belongs.

Which isn’t to say he’s a usual person to sell real estate alongside of, even though he’s not so different from the real estate seller I’ve become over the years and for some of the same reasons—neither of us minds being around strangers dawn to dusk, and nothing else seems very suitable. Yet I’m aware some of my competitors smirk behind both our backs when they see Mike out planting Realty-Wise signs in front yards. And though occaisonally potential buyers experience a perplexed moment when a voice inside them shouts, “Wait. I’m being shown a beach bungalow by a fucking Tibetan!”—most clients come around soon enough to think of Mike as someone special who’s theirs, and get over his unexpected Asian-ness as I have, to the point they can treat him like any other biped.

Looked at from a satellite circling the earth, Mike is not very different from most real estate agents, who often turn out to be exotics in their own right: ex-Concorde pilots, ex-NFL linebackers, ex-Jack Kerouac scholars, ex-wives whose husbands run off with Vietnamese au pairs, then wish to God they could come back, but aren’t allowed to. The real estate seller’s role is, after all, never one you fully occupy, no matter how long you do it. You somehow always think of yourself as “really” something else. Mike started his strange life’s odyssey in the mid-eighties as a telemarketer for a U.S. company in Calcutta, where he learned to talk American by taking orders for digital thermocators and moleskin pants from housewives in Pompton Plaines and Bridgeton. And yet with his short gesturing arms, smiley demeanor and aggressively cheerful outlook he can seem and act just like a bespectacled little Adam’s-appled math professor at Iowa State. And indeed, in his duties as a residential specialist, he’s comprehended his role as being a “metaphor” for the assimilating, stateless immigrant who’ll always be what he is (particularly if he’s from Tibet) yet who develops into a useful, purposeful citizen who helps strangers like himself find safe haven under a roof (he told me he’s read around in Camus).

Excerpted from The Lay of the Land by Richard Ford Copyright © 2006 by Richard Ford. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher

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