You’re through to Summit Finance, my name is Dave. How can I help you today?”Another call. How can I help? Jesus Christ, I can’t help these poor bastards at all. I’m just digging the hole they’re in a little deeper.
My computer screen flickers and a name appears. I’ve seen it before. One of our regulars. She wants more money. I check out what she has as collateral. This will be the last time I can help her out, otherwise, my boss will kick my ass.
“Hi, Candy. It’s Dave.” Candy tries to tell me her problems. She doesn’t want to borrow anymore, but she has bills to pay. I think she’s trying to hold back the tears but she’s not doing too good a job. She says I have a nice voice. I do. My voice can charm snakes. The numbers are tight. A few more questions asked, ok. I say she can have the check and tell her to have a nice day.
I put the phone down and look around. There are a hundred advisors here and we all have a story to tell, each tale more sorry than the next. We have quotas and targets and, like headless chickens, we dance around the screens, hitting buttons and achieving diddley-squat to the well-being of the world, always busy, always doing nothing. It’s not enough, though. The war boards flicker and tell us that there are forty-three people waiting. The war board never lies. The war board is God in a call center. The war board is omnipotent and always right.
“Dave?” My team leader looks at me and glances at the war boards. I get the message. We all do. There are very few words of consequence spoken between the team leaders and the advisors. The team leaders speak in numbers and numbers is a foreign language. We, the advisors, we speak English, although section A deals in Spanish, too. There are a lot of Hispanics in LA who need us to dig their holes a little deeper. We're here to give them the shovels.
I take another call.
A guy called Russell wants $10,000. I ask him what for. He says he’s behind in his alimony and unless he finds the money, he’ll be thrown in jail. I'd like to think it’s a better alternative. He has no collateral. I ask him how he expects to pay it back. He asks me to trust him. He‘s not from Planet Reality. I stop digging his hole. He swears at me and I really hope he has a nice day. I think jail will improve his prospects.
At lunch, the advisors sit together. We don’t talk much because we have nothing to say. Amir prays in a corner. He does that a lot. I wonder if he says a prayer for his clients. I chomp my way through pastrami and rye and drink a non-diet Coke. Carol is pregnant again. The boss won't like that. Sandy tells everyone about her boyfriend. He's in the Army, fighting in Iran. She asks if it's in Europe. I say it's close to. The war boards flash on red and we ignore them for as long as we can. My boss looks at me and smiles. He has spinach on his teeth. It improves his character a hundred percent.
The afternoon continues in much the same way it always does. Working for a high-interest loan company is depressing. We are always high on the hit-list of consumer watchdog programs and the media hates us. I'm not proud of myself. People trust us too much, we, us, me, just a voice at the end of a telephone call. I'm a stranger who knows their secrets. Their life lies at my fingertips, all of it, down to the last detail. By four o’clock, I have reached my quota of loans. I’m not able to sell any more today. Our managers, the suits, decide on our quotas. I lean back in my chair and decide that's it. I can’t take anymore.
I go over my crib sheet and study all my victims for the day. These are people who live in the city, my city, who try to survive each day without imposing themselves on others, people who just want to make it through to the Jay Leno Show. I deal with these people. People like Jonas Kite, a Vietnam veteran. He's 73 and in a wheelchair. We’ve given him $15,000, so he can live out his last years on a ventilator at the Sunnyside Nursing Home. He has a house that his relatives will find is not going to be wholly theirs when he dies. I hate my job.
I look over each and every one of these people again. It's hot. Summit Finance doesn't believe in air-conditioning. I feel the sweat run down my back, my shirt is damp and I have a headache. My team leader comes over.
"Good work, Dave. I see she's back for more." He points towards a clients' name who's virtually hocked her soul to the company. "Interest rates are increasing by one or cent next week," he adds. He's like a medieval torturer twisting the screws into a lost soul's body. He smirks like he thinks it's fubby and pats my back as he moves away. That's it, I think to myself.
I go back to my desk. My fingers move over my keyboard as I decide to do one good thing. I use a code we are told about in training and also told never to use. It wipes their accounts clean. They are now in financial la-la land. Their holes are concreted over. In the morning, they will all receive emails to advise them that they have a second, third or fourth chance in life. They'll call up. My boss will check everything and have a heart attack. His boss will kick his ass so the heart attack may be the best option he has.
I won’t care.