A STAR CALLED PHANTOM
And the hearts of agents.
UPDATE. April 30, 2007: Sadly, the Phantom died last week.
A personal story by Neil Jenman
In 1983, when I was setting up my real estate office, a likeable young man came to lay some second-hand carpet. His name was Peter Loizides.
Peter had an enthusiastic personality and a tremendous smile. He was a natural-born salesperson; and so, by the time I opened my office, I persuaded him to join me.
Peter was an amazing communicator. His magnetic personality made him irresistible to home-sellers.
Peter could beat other agents before they realised what was happening. Indeed one agent once said, “We go home thinking we have won some business and then he strikes in the night like a phantom.”
The name stuck. Peter Loizides became known as The Phantom.
His feats became the stuff of legend. In our real estate circles, The Phantom was a superstar salesperson, akin to a sports star such as a Bradman or a Thorpe.
But, behind-the-scenes, The Phantom, like many sales stars, was hard to manage. He could be moody, impatient and ever-so-cynical. Often, he wouldn’t show up for work. Sometimes he’d go missing for days, weeks or even months.
One day, after almost a decade of on-again-off-again employment, he never came back. It was such a tragedy, such a waste of talent. We missed his quirky personality. We missed his sales results too.
Over the years, we often wondered what happened to The Phantom.
A couple of months ago I heard that he was seriously ill. He was asking to see me. And so, together with another old friend of his (from our real estate days), we went to his parents home in the Sydney suburb of Yagoona and knocked on the door.
His mother, a tiny Greek woman in her seventies, burst into tears when she saw us. “Peter so sick. Why?” she wailed. Peter was not home but his mother phoned him. After a few minutes, an emaciated bald man stepped from a white Falcon. He smiled and yelled out. The Phantom was back in our lives.
Over the next three hours we laughed so hard that our cheeks seemed permanently wet. Three old friends, all of us around 50 and all laughing at the highs and lows of our lives. Incredible.
But what was so incredible was that one of us, The Phantom, had inoperable lung cancer. Not only had he lost his health, he was recently divorced. Instead of being with his wife and three children he was living in a room in his elderly parents’ home. He has no financial assets and, if his doctors are right, his future is grim.
What The Phantom did have, however, was courage – buckets of it. His attitude was nothing like I remembered it. Chronic cynicism was replaced by honest realism.
Here was a man who, as Somerset Maugham once wrote, had “made a complete hash of his life” but who blamed no one but himself.
Indeed, he laughed loudly at his former follies – his mood swings, his lack of savings, his chain smoking. He even praised his ex-wife for staying with him as long as she did. “Hey, if I was her, I would have kicked me out a long time ago,” he laughed.
As for smoking, he had this to say, “Well, what do you know, those warnings ‘smoking causes lung cancer’ were right. I thought they were bluffing.”
He said that one in three smokers will die of lung cancer and because the three of us had all smoked at one stage, he had done us a favour. He laughed at the money he lost gambling. “You were right, Jenman, when you said that gambling was a legal tax on stupidity. I should have listened to you, you smart-alec.” More roars of laughter.
I wanted to go to my car. “I’ll come with you,” he said. He wanted an excuse to get away from the home. “Mum’ll kill me if she sees me smoking,” he said. “She seems to think things will still be alright. But, hey, now’s not the time to quit. It’s too late.”
As I left I grabbed his bony shoulders, kissed him on the forehead and said, “I don’t want you to die, Phantom. I love you. Hang in there. We’ll be back to see you soon.”
“Thanks for coming fellas,” he waved as we left. Since then I have barely been able to get The Phantom out of my mind.
A few days later he sent me a text message which read, “Friends are like stars in the sky, you don’t always see them but they are always there. I was graced by the best, had the time of my life and never realised the influence you had on my life. Thank you my lifetime friend for the laughter, the joy, the excitement, the thrills, the education, the frivolity, the highs and lows, the friendship and for all that you shared with me. I really missed you throughout those years of exile. It was like a part of me had left. So good to have you back, even for a moment. Do great, stay strong and be well. Phantom xx”
Last week, in Melbourne, I told Phantom’s story to a room of 500 agents. I urged them to send him Christmas Cards, to wish him well, to pray for him, to do whatever they felt they could to help a flawed but courageous character.
I appealed to the hearts of the agents, many of whom are my friends. It worked. Cards and good wishes have been pouring in to The Phantom’s home thanks to so many kind hearts.
But I have to tell you about the heart of one agent (a former close friend of The Phantom’s) who, a few hours after my talk approached me (at a dinner) and said, “Mate, when you told us about The Phantom today, I was gutted. I couldn’t believe it. I have to tell you something – earlier this year I set a goal to buy myself a Rolex. I planned to put aside two hundred dollars from every sale starting in January. But I didn’t do it. And then, when I heard what happened to The Phantom, I was ashamed of myself. I thought, ‘To hell with it, I have to do something’; so, as soon as you finished your speech I went to the jewellers and got the Rolex.”
He held up his wrist and stuck a gaudy gold watch in my face. “Whadaya think, mate, fifteen grand but I got it for ten. Life’s so short, we could all be dead tomorrow.”
I wanted to tell him what I thought about him and some of the characters in real estate, but I held my tongue and smiled politely.
I think I am a better person since meeting The Phantom again.