Aaronow: Yes. I mean are you actually talking about this, or are we just.
Moss: No, we're just.
Aaronow: We're just "talking" about it.
Moss: We're just speaking about it. (Pause.) As an idea.
Aaronow: As an idea.
Aaronow: We're not actually talking about it. Moss: No.
Aaronow: Talking about it as a.
Aaronow: As a robbery.
Moss: As a "robbery"?! No.
Aaronow: Well. Well.
Moss: Hey. (Pause.)
Aaronow: So all this, um, you didn't, actually, you didn't actually go talk to Graff.
Moss: Not actually, no. (Pause.)
Aaronow: You didn't?
Moss: No. Not actually.
Aaronow: Did you?
Moss: What did I say?
Aaronow: What did you say?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.) I said, "Not actually." The fuck you care, George? We're just talking.
Aaronow: We are?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.)
Aaronow: Because, because, you know, it's a crime.
Moss: That's right. It's a crime. It is a crime. It's also very safe.
Aaronow: You're actually talking about this?
Moss: That's right. (Pause.)
This exchange in Act One, scene two, is a clear example of how slippery the definitions of words can become in the salesmen's hands. The ability to sell is entirely dependent on the ability to manipulate words to mean what the salesman wants them to mean—or what the customer wants them to mean—at any given moment. It is, then, particularly amusing that the word that is scrutinized here is "talk"—the very definition of what the salesmen do for a living.
Moss has in fact planned the robbery that they are discussing, but he does not want to admit this fact to Aaronow until he can be confident that Aaronow will agree to conspire with him. He thus evades Aaronow's question about whether or not they are "talking" about the crime (discussing it seriously with the eventual goal of carrying it out) by countering that they are just "talking" (having an intellectual, theoretical discussion) about it. The word is the same but the meanings are different, which generates confusion and makes it very difficult for Aaronow to pin Moss down. The structure of this conversation almost resembles Abbott and Costello's "Who's on First?" routine: just when Aaronow thinks he knows what Moss is saying, Moss switches the definitions of his words or throws Aaronow's questions back at him. At the end of this exchange, when Aaronow gets Moss to concede that he is in fact seriously "talking" about the crime, the verbal chase that precedes this admission seems all the more humorous and useless. Moss has not accomplished much with his evasion, but he has at least remained in control of the dialogue.
Moss: In or out. You tell me, you're out you take the consequences.
Aaronow: I do?
Moss: Yes. (Pause.)
Aaronow: And why is that?
Moss: Because you listened.
Just as "talking" can go from harmless to criminal in an instant, "listening," as we see in this exchange from Act One, scene two, can be equally dangerous. Moss explains to Aaronow that if Aaronow does not commit the robbery Moss has planned, Moss will have to commit it himself. Then, when the police catch Moss and ask him who his accomplices were, he will turn in Aaronow. There is a bit of logic to this threat, though it is hardly airtight. Nonetheless, the choice before Aaronow now—either commit a crime tonight, or be accused of a crime later—is a ludicrous one, and Aaronow demands to know why he has been put in this position. Moss tells him, "Because you listened." In doing so, Moss implies that Aaronow, by having listened, is already guilty of a crime. Even if Aaronow does not break into the office, the fact that he is aware Moss intends to do it but does not prevent Moss from doing it makes Aaronow an accomplice in the eyes of the law. Moments ago, Moss was just "talking" and Aaronow was just "listening." However, now that Moss's talking has become criminal, so has Aaronow's listening.
Levene: They signed, Ricky. It was great. It was fucking great. It was like they wilted all at once. No gesturenothing. Like together. They, I swear to god, they both kind of imperceptibly slumped.
Here in Act Two, Levene is describing to Roma the sale he has made that morning to the Nyborgs. This is a great triumph for Levene, who tells the story with relish. But the scene he is describing is not a jubilant or even pleasant one. The Nyborgs' "imperceptible slump" is a sign of defeat. The way Levene describes it, it would seem that after twenty-two minutes of watching Levene hold his pen over the contract, waiting for them to decide, the Nyborgs had decided to relent just to get him out of their house. Whereas Roma, a great salesman, has the ability to make people truly believe that they want what he is selling, Levene seems quite content to merely wear down his clients, as if he were winning a staring contest. This quote vividly illustrates Levene's sales technique, and when compared with Roma's sale to Lingk, it becomes apparent why Levene is having so much trouble selling.
Lingk: But we have to before Monday. To get our money ba
Roma: Three business days. They mean three business days.
Lingk: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday.
Roma: I don't understand.
Lingk: That's what they are. Three business if I wait till Monday, my time limit runs out.
Roma: You don't count Saturday.
Lingk: I'm not.
Roma: No, I'm saying you don't include Saturday in your three days. It's not a business day.
Lingk: But I'm not counting it. (Pause.) Wednesday. Thursday. Friday. So it would have elapsed.
Roma: What would have elapsed?
Like Moss evading Aaronow on the subject of whether or not they are "talking," this segment in Act Two is another fine example of a salesman manipulating words and pretending not to understand what his conversational partner is saying. Roma is masterful at elaborate psychological cons, but in this segment he resorts to the simplest, silliest form of trickery to try to fool Lingk. Lingk's wife has told him that, by law, he has three days in which he is allowed to cancel the deal that he has signed with Roma the previous night. Roma is trying to delay discussing this matter with Lingk until Monday, when it will be too late for Lingk to renege. Lingk, however, is aware of this timeframe. Roma ridiculously tries to convince Lingk that he is erroneously counting Saturday as a business day when Lingk knows that he is not. When this tactic does not work, Roma pretends that he is confused. Though most of the characters in the play are planning scams and cons, this is the most plain-faced example of an attempted con. What Roma is doing here to Lingk—lying to him and confusing him—is the essential cornerstone of business practices for these men.
Roma: I swear it's not a world of men it's not a world of men, Machine it's a world of clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders what it is, it's a fucked up world there's no adventure to it. (Pause.) Dying breed. Yes it is. (Pause.) We are the members of a dying breed.
Throughout the play, the salesmen describe themselves as "men," as if salesmen were a select order of people—or, as Roma describes it here, near the end of the play, a "dying breed." They are speaking not just of gender, of course, though that is relevant; there are no women onstage in the play, and the only woman who has any bearing on the action is Mrs. Lingk, whose feminine power to control her husband makes her an adversary for Roma. Self-determination seems to be the primary definition of manhood. The "clock watchers, bureaucrats, officeholders" that Roma describes are not true men: they take orders and their personality has little bearing on their work. Like Williamson, non-salesmen are despicable "company men," mere cogs in a corporate machine. There is, of course, an irony in complaining of the disappearance of true men to someone who is nicknamed "Machine": Levene's former success is equated with inhumanity. Mamet implies that Levene, at the height of his success, determined his own destiny but did so mechanically. If a "Machine" can be a true "man," then the definition of manhood in this world has less to do with compassion or dignity or integrity than it does with the ability to succeed.