Listen to this story as told by master story teller Otis Jiry.
Most of the people hired by the call center couldn’t find jobs elsewhere. They were society’s cast-offs.
Each of the men and women in the call center had a story that led to their downfall in life. Being fired. Losing a job because of too much sick time. Losing jobs because of drugs. Petty criminals who never went beyond elementary school. Paroled criminals desperate for any job. Homeless people. Former street vendors who violated city rules and lost their licenses. Criminals. Gang members.
The one thing they all had in common was their need to make money.
So, they worked 12-hour shifts in a brightly lit warehouse dotted with workstations and only two ten-minute breaks. They read from scripts urging people to buy everything from insurance to vacation homes in the Bahamas. The products they promoted were generally scams. Supervisors roamed the floor like trolls, trying to catch someone not doing their job. The constant buzz of voices intermingling sounded like a colony of bees on a busy day. There was no air conditioning. The big overhead fans cycled so laboriously they threatened to spin-off their shafts.
Lucas felt his bladder bulging. When he could wait no longer he signaled for his last break of the shift. On the way to the men’s room he felt a growing anger with the world. After relieving himself and buying a bottle of water from a vending machine he went back to his workstation. The county health department kicked him out of the psychiatric program because he kept fighting with other patients.
Once released, he tried begging on street corners until he realized no one was going to stop for him. He figured it was his bald head that was festooned with tattoos of comic book characters. Whatever the reason, he had to try something else or starve. That’s when he saw the ad for the call center on a community billboard.
When he applied all they asked for was his name and social security number. His female interviewer did ask a few other basic questions, then outlined what his job would be. He half-listened to her while staring at her breasts. Nasty thoughts wiggled through his consciousness. He stuffed them down like snakes in a snake-charmer’s basket, trying to pay better attention to what she was saying.
“We pay $8.00 an hour. Do you have any questions?” she asked.
“Yeah…I don’t remember what you said about lunch.”
“That’s because I didn’t say anything about having one. We don’t. Like I said before, you get two ten-minutes breaks every 12-hour shift. You can take them when you want to. That’s our policy.”
“When can I start?”
“Monday. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re late more than twice your fired. I’ll see you then.”
Lucas spent the weekend going through back alleys behind restaurants in search of food. He slept on a bench in the community park, using old newspapers for a blanket. When Monday arrived he was ten-minutes early to his new job.
The day flew by and before he knew it, the week was over and he was given a paycheck. He had to pay to get it cashed. After state and federal taxes he was left with $365. It was like a fortune! The first thing he did was rent a room by the week as close to the call center as he could. It left him with $115.00 for food and whatever. For the first time in years he smiled. It hurt his face.
Three months later he was still in the same room. It was the longest he’d lived inside somewhere since he was in the county program. He was wearing new clothes and shoes, not cast-offs from other people. He was able to take a shower everyday. He could afford to eat out a couple of times a week. And he wasn’t happy.
He hated his supervisor at work.
Not because he was a homosexual. It was the fact that he wouldn’t stop hitting on him. He turned him down gently numerous times, but Lane didn’t seem to get the message, or he chose to ignore it. His constant sexual innuendos were grating on his patience. The fact that he was still there after three months was a testimony to how much he wanted to make money.
But he had limits. He exceeded those limits before and bad things happened to him. He was arrested and did short stints in different county jails. Lucas was a tall lean man without an ounce of fat on his frame. His sallow cheeks, thin aristocratic nose, and recessed eye sockets gave his face a skeletal look that was enhanced by his bald head. There was a look of wildness in his dark brown eyes that seldom blinked.
One day, while he was on his 10-minute break and taking a piss, the men’s room door opened and Lane came in. He walked up to the urinal next to Lucas and unzipped his pants.
“I’ll show you mine, if you show me yours.” he said coyly.
Something snapped in Lucas! The resulting carnage made the little room look like a slaughter house afterward. There were blood splattered walls, urinals, and stalls. Lane looked like a ragged doll with it’s face smashed into something unrecognizable. Lucas was covered in his blood when he stumbled out of the room and past the vending machines.
A woman in a nearby workstation looked over and saw Lucas. Her screams caused instant panic. A frightened herd mentality took over and 300 people left their stations at the same time. In the mass confusion, Lucas made it outside and ran down the street before anyone could stop him. He ran for miles through the city streets and alleys before finally stopping on the outskirts of town near a community forest.
He bent down, hands on his knees, and took deep gulps of air. His head slowly cleared. He touched the still-sticky blood on his shirt and knew he’d done it again. This time looked worse than the others from the amount of blood he had all over him. He suspected Lane was no longer alive. It wouldn’t be a county jail this time. Maybe prison for life. Maybe a death sentence.
He looked for a gas station with restrooms and washed his hands and face before the busy attendant could notice him. Still wearing his blood-soaked clothes he made his way down back alleys until he came to a service dock for the Salvation Army. There were bins of donating clothing piling up outside, waiting to be sorted and tagged. He went through the piles expertly and selected a long-sleeved shirt and pair of torn jeans. No one working there paid any attention to him.
He used the last of his money to buy a bus ticket to another state; Florida. He heard there were plenty of call centers there, and hoped to get a job again. Like always, he had to be careful another incident didn’t happen. He knew he was lucky to get away from the last one. As long as people didn’t mess with him, he knew he could lead a quiet and happy life.
As It Stands, I sometimes wonder how many Lucas’s live among us?