Fool's Gold

When my sister died suddenly a few years back, we all descended on the bank one grey April morning—me, my other mostly estranged sister, my parents, my dead sister’s daughter, and also a lawyer, just to keep us honest. Tracy had a safety deposit box in the floodlit, camera-rich basement and after a lot of key jangling, and huffing and puffing from an embarrassed bank employee, we found ourselves alone with that smudged steel tray, that shallow box of her most important bits.

There was a ring from my grandmother that I’d forgotten about, with an emerald the size of a tic-tac set into its dull lacy band, a letter from a pilot she was seeing for a while when she worked check-in at the local airport, a lock of someone’s hair, probably her daughter’s, an expired health card with a pretty goofy picture of her, two hundred bucks, a few photos of all of us on a verdant lawn somewhere, looking younger and a bit more vital. And beneath that depressingly simple collection, beneath the plainly insignificant markers of a life that ended earlier than it should, was a coupon from a real estate company. It entitled the bearer to a free home evaluation, with “no obligation”. A gold “seal” the size of a loonie was printed at its heart, and some frilly golden doodles marked the edge of the certificate. “If you don’t need this at the present time,” it said along the bottom border, “just file it away with your valuables. There is no expiry date on this special offer.” And that’s what Tracy had done. It fit into the safety deposit box bottom as perfectly as would have into its own envelope. I could have wept.


Actually the trip to the bank is an invention, a trick that gave me a bit of distance from the reality of that night. A way of making it possible to write. But my sister’s gone, sure enough, and what she left behind was absolutely ordinary. I don’t think I kept anything. But I did see one of those damned coupons at her apartment during the clean-up, and it did annoy me.

I have no idea whether she ascribed any value to it. She was a lot smarter than that, but she was also short on energy at the end, and you need plenty of that, I reckon, to sort through the offers and entreaties that come at us in the course of a normal week, and from there decide what’s true and what’s not. The world—at least this part of it—has evolved to a state where a good part of a waking life has to be spent fighting off the sharks and the salesmen, pushing away the empty promises printed on shiny paper that flutters through the mail slot as lightly as a butterfly.

A similar coupon was delivered to my house this week. This one, from another real estate brokerage, promised to give me “a good idea” of the market value of my home. This was, I was told, “a special free offer.” And again, it ticked me off.

Because here’s what’s really going on (and you probably know this already):

That coupon/voucher/certificate is just a ploy to get into your house, to forge a connection with you, to have you feel obscurely obligated to whichever agent it is that ordered that a couple of trees be cut down for the printing press. It’s a bald attempt to get leads, and to convert those leads into clients.

Now don’t get me wrong. All of us realtors think about how we might get new clients. The kids go hungry if we don’t plan ahead, and try to build the business. But making you feel that you’re getting something precious, that you’re getting something valuable for free if you pick up the phone and call one of these people, is just objectionable to me. Absolutely any realtor will be more than happy to price your house for you. To suggest otherwise (because surely that’s the only way the offer would have any “value”) doesn’t sit well with me. That’s not the sort of person I want in my house. And that’s not the sort of person I want talking up my sister. Life’s too short.