Archive | August, 2012

For Love of Money Part 3: The Great Escape

17 Aug

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more…”

-Flavor Flav

Because this story has already been dragged out to an epic length, I’ll dispense with the cutesy introduction. All I will say is that the epigraph above is not actually a quote attributable to Flavor Flav, but is from Henry V by one Sir will.i.am Shakespeare. Sure, he unleashed the curse known as “My Humps” on an unsuspecting public, but he gets a pass for also writing the greatest works of literature of all time. (Hmm, I may be conflating my historical figures.) As for Mr. Flav, I think it’s safe to say that he’s never uttered that quote. Well, perhaps that isn’t fair. Maybe he says it every day upon waking, but I’ve got to think if that’s true, it’s closed with a hearty, “YEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH BOYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!” He does often wear a Viking helmet that makes him look like an extra from a Wagnerian opera. Perhaps he’s more cultured than I think. Nah, probably not. Let’s just move on.

We pounded the pavement for a solid 2&1/2; hours, entering every small business and accosting every individual walking the street in an effort to shill our pitiful wares. There is no way to adequately express what a miserable, embarrassing, nightmare of an experience this was for me, but I’ll try: remember that scene in Boogie Nights where Scotty J. tries to kiss Dirk Diggler, is pushed away, and then repeatedly begs Dirk to let him kiss him? That moment of sheer humiliation when Scotty J.’s advances have been soundly rebuffed and he sits in his car, crying and repeating over and over again, “I’m a fucking idiot!” – that’s the level of shame I was experiencing. I think the only way it could have been worse would be if my pants and underwear had spontaneously unraveled and I had to walk around selling garment bags, totally nude from the waist down.

We headed back to the gas station where the yellow Samurai sat. Thank Christ. It seemed the “sales calls” were at a merciful end. Just in time too: my feet were destroyed. You may recall that way back in part one of this tale, I mentioned my sweet-ass suede shoes. That was no throwaway statement designed to inspire envy over my footwear. No, that was what we in the writing business call, “foreshadowing.” You see unlike Nancy Sinatra’s boots, my shoes were most definitely not made for walking. I could feel callouses and blisters rising on my feet like volcanic mountains from the sea. The shoes themselves were scuffed and battered. I looked at them, they looked back at me. I could swear I heard them whisper, “Please kill us.” Yep, this situation was driving me absolutely bat-shit in-fucking-sane.

He drove us away from the gas station. We traveled a mile or so down the road in silence. Suddenly, he turned the wheel and pulled into a small lot in front of a lawyer’s office. OH GOD NO! NO! WHY ARE WE STOPPING?!? It seemed we weren’t leaving after all. Panic coursed through me like a runaway train. I felt like that teenage girl in the movie Poltergeist when she arrived home, saw her house getting seriously fucked up by a multitude of ghosts and shouted: “What’s happening? What’s happening? WHAT’S HAPPENING!?!” Before he could get out, I composed myself, mustered my courage, and told him that this wasn’t for me. Besides, this wasn’t the job Sal hired me for; I was supposed to be a manager. Kevin assured me that Sal was the manager and this was the job. What I thought: “Fuck you, Kevin. Fuck you so goddamn much. Why don’t you take your shitty little Suzuki Samurai and drive it straight up your own ass?” What I said: “Well, can you at least bring me back to my car?” He smiled, “Sure thing, guy: at the end of the day. I’m making too much green to stop now. This is what it’s all about.” He flashed four one dollar bills in my face. “Those are ones,” I noted. He shrugged, unperturbed and put the money away. “Let’s go,” he said and got out of the car. I dropped my head, defeated. Once more, I followed this idiot unto the breach.

We walked over to a KFC. It was lunchtime, it seemed. “I suppose I could go for a two-piece,” I sighed as we entered the restaurant. The place was packed. There were maybe four lines of people with eight or nine people per line. We queued up and waited for what seemed like an eternity. By the time we got to the front of the line, I was starving. That two-piece was going to be accompanied by a biscuit and – ooh! – maybe even some mashed potatoes. I let Kevin order first, because “I’m a fucking idiot!” He didn’t order. Instead, when the irritated teenaged drone working the register nasally inquired, “How can I help you,” Kevin threw his case on the counter and said, “No ma’am, it’s how I can help you.” He showed her the socket sets. People behind us groaned. I was beyond shocked – I was shell-shocked. I was somehow suffering from PTSD as the trauma was occurring. The cashier didn’t bat an eyelash, just summoned a manager through that ridiculous microphone on the counter. I suggested, very quietly, that we leave. Kevin wasn’t concerned. He was sure the manager being summoned meant some serious sales were about to be made. It finally hit me: Kevin was fucking nuts. For real.

The manager appeared a few moments later and was not pleased. He told us (I had briefly forgotten that I too was the asshole here) that there was to be no soliciting to the employees. Again, this completely oblivious, crazy fuck was not knocked off his game. “Well maybe you’d like to see something today. Mike, hold up those garment bags.” I didn’t – my sole act of rebellion thus far. The manager’s face turned redder than the devil’s dick. He cursed at us and threw us out of the restaurant. The customers applauded as he issued us a lifetime ban (though I wondered how he could enforce such a thing). Outside, I was sure Kevin would change his tune. Maybe now he’d be willing to take me home. He had to realize how terrible this job was – he had to! He had to feel some of the shame I felt; at least a little. Ha. Wrong again. With a level of optimism that only the truly psychotic can possess, he pointed to a Toyota dealership across the street. “That’s where we need to go!” And suddenly we were crossing the street.

We entered the Toyota dealership. A salesman clad in an eye-rapingly hideous sports coat approached. Holy shit: this guy was Kevin in 30 years. If this were an Ingmar Bergman film, it would’ve been a meditative study of a young man gazing into the literal face of his own mortality. It would’ve been profound and life-changing. If Kevin were more philosophical, perhaps he would have seen his face reflected in the older salesman’s eyes and pondered the path of his life. Personally, I was intrigued. This was going to be amazing: a dual salesman faceoff. It would be like watching Superman battle The Incredible Hulk. Two evenly matched opponents – who would win? Fight!

The Toyota salesman wore an enthusiastic idiot’s grin and a truly awful wig. Seriously: it sat jauntily askew upon his head as if someone had hurled it up there while playing the world’s most bizarre game of ring toss. It couldn’t have looked worse were it secured to his melon with a chin strap. Tears welled in my eyes for the tragedy that was this man’s hairpiece. If I were a sculptor, I would’ve carved a monument to it emblazoned with the caption, “NEVER FORGET.” He chirped, “How are you gentlemen today? We’ve got some great deals on Camrys, but I can tell this guy wants to see the Celicas.” He pointed at me and laughed his shrill salesman’s laughter. Was that a lame joke or was he instinctively mocking me for the humiliations I had endured that day? Kevin didn’t hesitate: “Not interested, my friend, but how would you like to see something today?” [By the way, “How would you like to see something today,” has got to be the worst sales pitch of all time. It’s something that should only be uttered by a man wearing a trench coat and nothing else.] The smile fell from the salesman’s face as if it had been bitch-slapped off.

Something snapped inside me. I couldn’t do this anymore. “But Mike, why did you stay so long? Why didn’t you punch this guy in the dick and bail much sooner?” Good question. I think my embarrassment; my feeling of complete and utter stupidity (“I’m a fucking idiot!”) made me stay far longer than I should have. I excused myself to use the bathroom.

In the bathroom, I tossed the garment bags over the top of a stall, stood at the sink, and threw water in my face. I looked at myself in the mirror. All I could do was shake my head. Once I felt I was ready, I exited the men’s room.

Kevin was still engaged with the salesman and now another guy as well (probably the manager). He didn’t see me – perfect. I sidled towards the front doors. I made it all the way over and even got my hand on the door when I heard a voice from behind me: “Hey guy. Where you going?” I turned slowly around – Kevin, 30 Years Hence Kevin, and Other Guy stared at me as if I were some exotic zoo animal – a Fantasticorn, perhaps. I opened my mouth to say…something and then I made eye contact with Kevin. I looked into the void that dwelt behind those eyes and saw nothing, not even madness. That did it. Adrenaline flooded my body, and I burst through the doors and onto the street. I ran; I ran so far away. I ran like the wind; like I had such a long way to go to make it to the border of Mexico. I ran so fast and so far, I started passing Kenyans. Fire engines fell in line behind me assuming I’d lead them to some serious shit that was burning down. Once I felt I had run far enough, I darted behind a building and pressed my back to it. For some reason, I was convinced Kevin would be chasing me and he’d probably have a knife or something. I have no idea why I thought this, but I did. I peered around the corner of the building. He wasn’t there. I’d made it – sweet freedom! Great, so now what? I had no car and no idea where I was. What I did know was there was a Denny’s across the street and I was going to have me a goddamned Moons Over My Hammy to make up for the two-piece I missed out on.

Ah, Denny’s. Before I got anything to eat or even sat down, I used the payphone. The only person I might be able to get ahold of was my sister. I just prayed she’d be home. I called, and, thank you, Baby Jesus, she answered. I told her my horrific tale. It was such a relief to share all my traumas with a sympathetic ear. I’d suffered, but I’d made it. Her response? She began to laugh. And laugh. And laugh. She laughed so hard, she dropped the phone. She laughed so hard I thought she might hyperventilate and pass out. I was not amused. This shit wasn’t funny! Didn’t she understand that? Once she finally composed herself she asked where I was. Fortunately, she was able to guess the locale from my half-assed description (to this day, I still don’t know), said she’d get me, and hung up. I got a table near the window so I could keep an eye out for Kevin. Fortunately, he never entered the Denny’s.

My sister finally showed after an hour or so. Of course, when I got in the car, she was still laughing. I was so pissed. She asked me to tell the story again. I did and she laughed some more. After a while, I began to laugh too. What else could I do?

On the lot and back in my car, I drove past the warehouse. I could see Sal in there smoking and reading the paper. I didn’t want him to look up and see me, so I drove quickly past. On the ride home I thought about this whole scheme: posting a job in the paper that you’re not really trying to fill, telling interested applicants they’re qualified for a better job, kidnapping said applicants and driving them out into the middle of nowhere, and forcing them to sell bizarre, shitty items accompanied by a lunatic – I’m not sure that that’s a sustainable business model. Then again, I didn’t major in business. I only took one business course in college and this particular method was not covered. For all I know this is how Amazon.com got started. Damn – I should’ve bought stock.

That was but one of the jobs I worked during what I would eventually dub my Year of Bad Jobs. Women have thought about my Year of Bad Jobs and wept. Better men than I have written really shitty poetry about it. I installed a reflecting pool in my home so I would never forget it (okay, it’s a foot bath, but still, it counts).

So finally, Gentle Reader, we’ve reached the merciful end of this tale. This was quite the endurance test, no? If you enjoyed it, I have plenty of others to share. If you didn’t, wow, you really know how to hurt a guy’s feelings.

Next up: a bonus post for all of you faithful readers; all five of you. YAY!

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For Love of Money Part 2: The Squeakquel

7 Aug

“They say everything happens for a reason. What if that reason is: God hates me?”

-Chris Mueller

When we last left our hero, he was tied to the train tracks while a locomotive sped towards him, a meteor was on a collision course with earth, gladiators battled with swords, and giant ants were tearing up the town. Wait…sorry, got stuck in a cliché loop. Actually, I got in the car with Kevin the shady salesman. If you need more of an update than that, I recommend you re-read (or more likely, read) part 1. No, go ahead, we’ll wait. While we’re waiting for the others to get caught up, a question: what’s your favorite Wuss Rock artist? There are many to choose from – Ambrosia, Dan Fogelberg, Christopher Cross, Chicago, Bread, and many others that I sadly know all too well – but for my money it’s Air Supply. I love Air Supply – I’m not even saying that ironically; they’re just a sweet band. Just two Australian dudes singing about love and heartbreak while wearing gloriously tight slacks. Plus the higher-voiced guy has a ridiculously phenomenal Aussie-white guy ‘fro. It’s insane this guy’s ‘fro. Ladies, how in the Christ do you resist an Australian crooner with tight slacks and an afro? I mean, that’s got to be like your Kryptonite, right? Anyway, everybody caught up? Good. Oh, and if you’re not down with the Air Supply love, I’m totally kidding. Ha. Kidding… Now, back to my sordid tale…

I sat down in the passenger seat. Kevin hit the button for the power locks and they slammed into place. In the silence, it sounded like a gunshot. I even jumped a little prompting Kevin to laugh his high-pitched, weasely little laugh. It was half Riddler from the ‘60s Batman TV show, half Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. I imagine it was meant to set my mind at ease. Instead, my Sympathetic Nervous System kicked into overdrive. My palms were sweaty, my heart was racing, and I was in full-on fight or flight mode. As we pulled off the lot, I glimpsed my car in the rearview mirror suddenly sure I’d never see it again. Basically, every instinct gifted to me by evolution was telling me something was wrong…and I ignored them all. Brilliant. Thank God I was born when I was or natural selection would’ve murdered the fuck out of me years ago. Suck on that, Darwin!

We drove in silence for the first several minutes of the trip until the Samurai cruised onto the exit ramp for 695. It occurred to me at that moment that I had no idea where we were going nor had I even bothered to ask. If this was a game of poker, I had just pushed all my chips to the center of the table before the goddamn cards were even dealt. That reality hit me like a ton of bricks and so I sheepishly asked, “Uh, where are we going?” Unfazed, he replied, “I got a few leads on a place. Relax. This is going to be fun.” Fun? I like fun. If this was going to be fun, I was all about it. Still, some doubts lingered. “Are we going far?” I asked. “Nah, just up the road a bit. Hey, you seen that movie The Net?” I imagine this amazing segue had the desired effect as I jumped right on board. “Yeah, pretty scary. Computers, right?” He agreed that, “Yeah, computers,” and suggested I look in the back seat. This seemed like another bizarre non sequitur, but I turned my head. Nothing much to see except for that—HOLY SHITBALLS IS THAT A CELLULAR PHONE?!? This was mind-blowing in the mid-‘90s. It was a Zack Morris special (easily bigger than my entire head), but still – THIS GUY HAS A CELLPHONE! Considering it cost about $400 per minute to use one of those things back then (give or take a dollar – I don’t understand finance), that was impressive. He gloated about it and told me that he owed it all – the phone, the sweet-ass whip in which we currently sat, the girlfriend – to sales. Good for him, but didn’t he understand I was in the management program? I was only learning sales to make me a better manager. Clearly this douche-lord didn’t get it…

We drove. And drove. And then we drove some more. Over an hour went by. We had been talking the whole time until there was literally nothing left to discuss. At one point he even asked me, “Hey, how come just because it has a name like Smucker’s it has to be good?” What a great question. I had no answer than and I have no answer now. This guy busted out non sequiturs at a superhuman pace. I began to suspect his brain was broken. I looked out the window as I pondered his jam-related query. Wait a second: just where in the hell were we? I was completely disoriented. Looking back now, I realize that must have been part of the plan. I turned to ask him where we were, but just then, he took an exit ramp.

Off the beltway now, we were on a main drag littered with businesses. Our meeting place was no doubt close. We pulled into a gas station. Well, we’d been driving a long time; stopping for gas made sense. He bypassed the pumps and instead pulled into a parking space. Now I was really confused. He turned the car off and turned in his seat to face me. Just what in the hell was going on here? Confused doesn’t even begin to cover it anymore. I was trying to find my happy place when Morgan Freeman began narrating from inside my brain:

“I wish I could tell you that Michael fought the good fight, and Kevin let him be. I wish I could tell you that – but gas stations in the middle of nowhere are no fairytale world.”

“We’re here!” Kevin’s cheery voice and idiot grin shocked me out of my Shawshank rape-terror fantasy. I shot him a puzzled look, but he was already getting out of the car. I followed.

I walked to the back of the car where he was standing with the hatch open. “Are you ready for this?” he asked with the giddy anticipation of a man who’s just set up the punch-line to the world’s greatest joke. I looked in the back – a blanket covered something lumpy and shapeless. ‘I bet that’s his girlfriend’s corpse,’ I morosely thought. He pulled back the blanket to reveal dozens of boxes of…well, I didn’t really know. After a moment or two, my brain determined them to be obviously shitty quality socket sets with some even poorer quality polyester garment bags thrown in for why-the-fuck-not. Speechless, I just gaped at him. “This is what we’re selling today!” My mind flashed back to the warehouse. It all made sense now – the small pallets of nondescript boxes, the tiny forklift – Sal was Keyser Soze! Wait, that’s not right. Well, whatever; he played my ass like a pair of bongo drums. And yet, I still clung to denial as if it were a lone branch extended over an abyss. I still believed scheduled meetings were about to take place. Who was I to judge a company purchasing shitty socket sets with “Made in Corea” proudly emblazoned on the box? [You may have realized (like I did) that “Corea” is not a country. Hell, even “Korea” hasn’t been a country since it split into North and South in 1945. So either these socket sets were produced during the WWII era by Koreans unfamiliar with the English spelling of their own country, or they were made in the new country formed after the future war between China and Korea and shipped through time back to the past. I like to think it’s the latter and that some sort of Asian John Connor sent them so we could dismantle the machines. I’m probably not right about that.]

Kevin handed me about six garment bags, filled up a low quality valise (sealed with Velcro) with socket sets, and closed the hatch. “Follow me,” he said as he walked confidently towards the service station. God help me, I followed.

We went around back where some mechanics were staring at a car on a lift. “Watch and learn,” Kevin implored me as he strolled over to the grease monkeys. “Hey there fellas!” The mechanics regarded him with contempt. “Thought you gents would like to see something today.” With a flourish, he tore open the Velcro case and presented his wares. The mechanics were intrigued and approached, but quickly turned away, laughing hysterically once they saw what was inside. Only one guy still seemed interested. “How much?” the mechanic asked. His friends immediately began to bust his balls unmercifully. Kevin smiled, “For you, my good man, $6.00.” He countered with an offer of $5.00 and walked away with a shitty socket set. His friends laughed and mocked him before one of them noticed me. “Hey, what’s that guy got?” Kevin, to me: “Hold them up, guy.” I obliged and the mechanics laughed harder. My humiliation was complete (for the moment, anyway). The guy who bought the socket set inquired as to the price of the garment bags. Kevin quoted him the ridiculous price of $30. He again offered $5.00. He did not also walk away with a shitty garment bag. With that, Kevin bid them good day and we walked away as they continued to howl laughter.

We walked back around to the front of the station, but not to the car. Kevin turned out of the gas station and walked down the street. “Come on, guy, this stuff ain’t gonna sell itself.” Truer words had never been spoken. I had no idea what was going on. It quickly became clear as I watched him approach and try to sell our garbage to various people unfortunate enough to cross his path: people at the bus stop, teenagers, joggers, dog walkers – he even approached cars stopped at red lights. A few people bought socket sets; no one bought garment bags; most either laughed or openly threatened us with a well-deserved ass-beating. None of this fazed Kevin in the slightest. Me? I was in shock, but no longer in denial: this was the job. And just like that, my dreams of managing a wee warehouse and raking in $10 an hour vanished like so many pairs of panties at an Air Supply concert. Fuck. How in the hell could this be the job?

A better question: how in the hell could I have written so much and STILL not be done with the story? Part 3, “The Merciful Conclusion,” coming next week. Seriously.

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