Thursday, June 19, 2008

FLASHBACK SPECIAL SERIES: April 2003

The Koyaanisqatsi Chronicles

Chapter 3 - The Rat Race

It wasn't long after moving in with them that I found out that my roommate/hosts, Regan and Jay were quintessential night owls. They didn't need to wake early for their respective jobs so they thought nothing of playing music and chatting away with each other 'till the wee hours, every night.

I, though, had just gotten a job that started bright and early at 8:00 in the morning. With no car, of course, I had to get to work by walking 1.5 miles and riding the RTA, New Orleans' public transit service...notorious for treating a schedule as if it were merely a suggestion.

I had gotten the job fairly easily, with a brief phone interview and a quick meet n' greet, I was in. And, comparatively, especially for Louisiana, it paid well...with average commissions: $500/week. The catch? Well, it was, how shall I say....um...a scam.

Oh not a scam to us employees of this discreetly-located, small Uptown office. I was worried about that, of course, especially after the fiasco of the "vacation room" jobs in Orlando. The money for us was real. For the folks calling though...

Here's how it went down: The owner, John, put little ads in cheap free publications like Thrifty Nickle and Pennysaver. The ads were put in the "Financial Opportunities" sections of the classifieds. They weren't much different than the other scams along side of them. Instead of offering thousands of dollars to "stuff envelopes" and the like, his ads offered the "opportunity" for you to obtain a federal government grant to fix your home, start a business, go to college, etc.
The ad gave a toll-free number to call where readers would be able to find out if they might qualify for these free government grants. That number...called us...and we were ready.

This job was strictly commission, and though they didn't say that you had a "quota", it was the kind of sales job where the management didn't have to state that there was a quota. If you made sales, you stayed. If you didn't, you were fired. Simple as that. In the financial predicament I was in, I needed to STAY. Period. So I did what I had to, to survive.

This was no slick corporate call-center with "quality assurance" and "monitored calls" and shit. It was a fucking ghetto-ass boiler room! You could lie your fucking ass off. You could tell these fucking losers who were stupid enough to believe that they would get the fucking "hook up" any, fucking thing! As long as they paid the $195 fee. That's right. If they would cough up their fucking bank's routing number and their checking account number and agree "on tape" to give us almost two hundred dollars to get nothing but a 5-page photo-copied guideline on how they can complete a government grant application, with no guarantee to get it, we would get paid.

So for me, the incentive was to make as much money as quickly as possible because:

1. I knew the job wouldn't last. This place would be shut down eventually.

2. I needed to get out of Regan and Jay's house. It was getting really bad...

"Finally," I thought one night, "They went to bed. Now maybe I can get some sleep!"

"I needed to be sharp and witty to scam suckers in the morning, couldn't Jay and Regan empathize with me?"

Now that they had gone to bed, and the lights were shut, I was able to finally let my Benedryls take effect.

As I lay in my mattress, up in my sheet-shrouded loft, I started to doze off.

Suddenly, I heard a scratching sound.

As I opened my eyes I could just barely make out this shadowy "thing" skittering slowly along one of the beams of the rafters over my head. As my eyes adjusted I could see what it was...

It was a rat!

A rat as big as a small cat!

I don't know how I avoided screaming and freaking out, maybe it was the Benedryls, or the 6-pack I had drank, or the fact that, well, this was so apropos...I'm sharing my hovel space with a rat, but I just nodded to the rat, rolled over, and went to sleep.

This rat incident was not the worst problem at Regan and Jay's house.

They were starting to rapidly tire of me and wanted me out.

One morning as I was descending the precarious "ladder" that was my entryway up to my loft, my bare foot stepped into a fresh pile of ferret shit.

Jay and Regan, especially Regan, were fanatically in love with their little smelly rodent pet ferret. They doted on this creature every freakin' minute they could.

After hopping to the counter to get a paper towel to wipe off the shit on my foot, I walked over to the ferret, in it's playpen they had built for it, and, calmly, not loudly at all, told it that pooping on the floor was "bad".

Within seconds, Regan stormed out of her room and screamed at me, "Never raise your voice to 'bleepshit!'" (Whatever the fucking animal's name was, like I remember!)

I tried to explain to her that I wasn't yelling at it, but was trying to verbally provide a bit of discipline so the pet would not be the master, the humans would.

Um, needless to say, Regan saw me as the devil from then on.

Regan screamed, "Don't you see? She [the ferret] left that poop for YOU to step on because she doesn't like you here!"

Can you say personification?

Within a week or so, as I came home from work one day, I saw Jay standing on the porch, smoking a cigarette. Though Regan didn't allow him to smoke indoors, he usually went out back, not here, in the front. I knew something was up.

Sure enough, he said that he didn't think the arrangement of me staying there was "simpatico". Odd word to use, I thought, but essentially, it meant I had to make arrangements, and fast, to get out.

I was hoping to wait another couple of weeks. I had saved up about $800, but I knew I'd need more for down payment and rent on an apartment. Now, I could see, I wouldn't have time for that.

So I found out about a room for rent from a co-worker, Alicison. It was in the same house she was staying at since she was separated from her estranged husband who was struggling with alcoholism. She herself was a recovering drug addict. It was a small room, with a portable TV (rabbit ears, no cable), a mini-fridge and shared bathroom, no kitchen. $125/week. With a one weeks deposit.

Regan eagerly helped me move my stuff over in her car. It would only be a few blocks away, but I wasn't going to be in her house, abusing her precious ferret anymore.

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