"I think this is a scam," Bodie said as he took a big drag off of a joint. "Ya know, like one of those pyramid scams you hear about on those investigative news reports."
"Think?" I said. "I know it is."
We sat in his car and listened to a demo of his band while on a ten minute break at work. We snuck outside to the parking lot to get high.
"I should probably stop using my own name on the phhhh...," he said before he started a coughing fit.
"Yeah, I stopped using my real name," I said. "I tell them that I'm Martin."
I knew Bodie for about two weeks, the same amount of time we worked together for a call center in a dreary office building located on the outskirts of Seattle. When I first arrived in Seattle a few weeks earlier on the Fourth of July, I didn't have a job. I found a place to live in less than three days, but it took almost two weeks to find work. I sent my resume to a several places and applied for a couple of bartending jobs. No one responded.
I saw an ad for a job at a telemarketing firm in the Seattle Weekly. The ad said that they had a dozen positions available and that they paid a salary plus commission. I faxed them my resume and received a call the next day. After pounding the pavement for two weeks looking for a job, they were first the place that offered me an interview.
I had done plenty of phone sales and telemarketing in the past and felt good about my chances. I wore the best clothes that I had brought with me to Seattle, including a Jerry Garica tie. I was interviewed in a small one room office near downtown by a woman with flowing blonde hair. Her hotness distracted me. She reminded me of Natasha Henstridge from the Species movies. She flirted a lot with me, something I thought was odd, but I let it go. She told me that she had been working with the company for over four years. I seemed like a perfect fit, she said several times before she hired me on the spot.
"We're going to be working very closely together," she cooed as we filled out some paperwork.
Initially, I thought they were a legit enough company to give Natasha my social security number. I needed a job and had no reason to believe that they were illegitimate. I eventually found out that she told Bodie the exact thing. And she lied to both of us. I was seriously bummed out when I discovered that she was just a recruiter who purposely mislead me. That's when I knew something was rotten.
The call center was just south of the Kingdome (SoDo). When I arrived for my first day of work, I was greeted by a surly woman that looked like a Goth version of Rosie O'Donnell. Great. I had to take orders from a Goth bull-dyke. In most of the places I lived, it was weird enough to be a lesbian or be a Goth. I quickly discovered that Seattle was a bastion for the super weird. You needed to have layered eccentricies in order to stick out among the masses of freaks. Goth-dykes with foot fetishes might freak people out in conservative cities and small towns, but in Seattle, that puts you in the core group of "normal people." After all, Rosie Gothdyke held a steady job which is something that not too many people did in Seattle.
I was assigned to Rosie Gothdyke's team and not with Natasha, like she promised. The damn flirt. I fell for it. Angered at first, I kept bugging Rosie Gothdyke. I guess I touched a nerve with her because she snapped, "She never comes down to the call center! Get over it."
I met Bodie in training along with Ruth, a born-again Mormon middle-aged mother from Bremerton. She was the perfect employee: always on time and never asked questions.
The call center was located in one massive conference room with a smaller room off to the side where the manager's office and a series of file cabinets were located. Fifteen banquet tables with phones and scripts cluttered the room. Twice a day, starting at 9 AM, a shift of workers would come in and make calls for six hours. Then another group would come in at 4 PM. There were about fourteen people assigned to the afternoon/evening group. I was one of them.
The job was simple. Upon arrival, you checked in with Rosie Gothdyke who handed you a list of new contacts and old contacts that you were cultivating. Then you sat down at your phone station and made calls. Using a script, you followed along and tried to hook them in. If they objected, you had a prepared comeback. By the second day, I made my first sale and threw away my script. My former experiences on Wall Street were enough for me to do the job. Scripts were for potheads like Bodie or conformist Jesus freaks like Ruth. By the end of my first week of work, I had the second most sales in the company.
We were paid by the hour for about $1 above the minimum wage. However, I was there because of the commission bonus for the number of sales we got every week. If you made a couple of sales a day, your weekly income could be profitable. There were other bonuses too for random contests like $10 per day for the first person to make a sale. If you didn't sell anything, you barely made more than someone nuking Filet-o-Fishes at McDonalds.
The odd thing was that no one worked there for more than two months. A guy named Pete held a tenure of seven and a half weeks. The turnover was high for a company in business for several years. Why such a high attrition rate? Either the telemarketers couldn't pull their quota and were fired or they simply didn't like it anymore and quit.
Everyday, Rosie Gothdyke was training two or three new people. And everyday I'd show up to discover that another person quit or disappeared. By the third week of work, Bodie, Ruth, Pete, and I had the most seniority.
I started getting suspicious. I asked a lot of questions about the product we were pitching and I didn't get any answers from Rosie Gothdyke. We were told as much as we needed to know... or to reveal to the potential victims on our lists.
It didn't matter if we were selling vacation packages, land in Arizona, or health club memberships. We were paid peanuts to drum up business while the fat cats on the top of the scheme collected most of the dough. Although I knew were we implicated in a scam, I could always claim ignorance to the federalies.
The job was just a job. I knew it was a pyramid scam and didn't care. It was a way to earn a paycheck while I figured out what to do with my life or until I could find a higher paying job. Morally and ethically I knew it was wrong, but I also knew that I had to pay rent and other bills. After a tough drive cross country with Senor to move out all my shit to Seattle, my car was in horrible shape. It nearly died in Jackson, Wyoming and we were shocked when we successfully traversed the Rockies in one piece. The car made it to Seattle but still had issues with about six hundred dollars in necessary repairs.
Aside from my friends from college that lived in the area and a few of my roommates that I shared a big house with in the U District, I had not made any new friends. Except Bodie. He was your typical Seattle neo-hippie circa the late 1990s with long hair and a beard, he looked more like Jesus than the clean cut photo on his South Dakota driver's license. He dropped out of college and dicked around with a bunch of musicians in Portland, before he moved to Seattle and started a new band that sounded like a third-rate Grateful Dead cover band.
Bodie was a decent musician and a horrible telemarketer. But he was a bright kid who knew a lot about drugs and where to score them. He had a vast knowledge of the effects of almost every pharmaceutical drug on the market. Prior to my meeting Bodie, I had a novice education on pills. After a few conversations with Bodie, I had a quick tutorial on various pharmacopoeia.
He came over to my house one day where I lived with seven other people in a gigantic house. He made a beeline for one of the bathrooms.
"Any medicine cabinet in the Western world is a junkie's paradise," he said as he rifled through the shelves looking for bottles.
"Nope. I can't use this. It's an anti-depressant. This here? Anti-acid medication. This isn't too bad," as he handed me a bottle of diazepam.
Bodie kept pulling out bottles and tossing them into the sink. He only kept two bottles. The diazepam and a bottle of Percodin.
"I'm a fan of Percocet, Percodin, and Vicodin," Bodie explained. "Any form of codeine is what you are looking for. Pop one of those every four hours after washing it down with a beer, and you're golden. Mostly everyone gets something like that once a year from their doctor. They take the pills for a couple of days then stop. What you have is a neighborhood filled with half-filled prescription bottles."
He also told me where I could score pills in Seattle and which skater freaks on the Ave were legit and which passed off extra strength Tylenol. His girlfriend used to take heavy dosages of Klonopin. She quit but he had been getting her to keep up the prescription. He would sell a few solo pills to the runaways on the Ave or college kids who wanted a quick high.
"But the best shit you can score aside from heroin is Oxycontin or what he kids call Redneck Heroin," Bodie said. "It's tough as shit to get. So let me know if you can find a reliable source."
He told me that the high was time released ad a couple of pills could keep you high for up to 12 hours. If you snorted Oxy, it kicked in faster and gave you a slightly better high. We went into my room and we divided up the pills. It was an even split. He kept about two-thirds and I got the rest.
Bodie and I squirted Visine in our eyes and headed back inside to work. When we got upstairs, a middle-aged guy with glasses and a Seattle Mariners baseball hat stood in the doorway to our call center and blocked our entrance. He screamed obscenities at the top of his lungs. Rosie Gothdyke tried to calm him down by threatening to call the police.
"You fucking cunt! You screw me over and then say you're gonna call the cops? Go ahead. Call them. That way I can tell them how you've been ripping off your employees. And don't get me started on those bogus vacation packages."
"Just calm down. You can discuss this with Bob," Rosie Gothdyke continuously said.
"Where's my money bitch? You've been fucking me over for two months," the guy responded.
"Talk to Bob. He's on his way. Please wait for him outside or I'll call 911."
The disgruntled former employee left and Rosie Gothdyke told everyone to get back to work.
When our shift ended, the angry guy was still outside waiting. He walked over to me and introduced himself as Clay. He said he used to do my exact job until he quit. Then he asked questions about my paycheck.
"Are you getting your bonuses?"
I had only received one paycheck up until that point and all but one bonus was on there. Rosie Gothdyke assured me that it was an error and said it would be corrected for my next paycheck.
"That's what they always say," he said as he pointed at the building. "Just wait until you get your next check. They will pay you for the missing one, then probably forget to pay you for half of your bonuses this time around. And then the check after that, they'll fuck you again. And again. Those fuckers owe me at least four grand in back bonuses. Why do you think they never have anyone who works more than two months? Because they are lying scumbags who don't pay out bonuses."
"They can't do that," I protested.
"They can and did. They're sneaky fuckers too. They say that their bonuses are not necessarily determined on number of sales but rather it's up to them to determine if they want to pay them out to you. That's what Bob told me the last time I complained. That fucker is a sleaze ball and I'm going to get his ass thrown in jail."
At that point, a Seattle PD squad car rolled up. A cop jumped out of the car and told Clay to keep his hands in sight. I walked away as they began a heated discussion.
Before the cops showed up, Clay managed to tell me some background on the owner. Roberto "Bob" Ochoa was busted in Texas during the Savings and Loan scandals of the late 1980s. He resurfaced in the mid-1990s hawking fake sports memorabilia in San Diego. After that fell apart, he was back to his old tricks in Seattle with a pyramid scheme. His business was not illegal per se, but he definitely flirted with unethical business practices.
A couple of days after the incident, we were paid. I opened up my paycheck and Clay's prediction ran true. I was paid my hour slave wages plus the old missing bonuses, but only half of my current bonus sales were paid out. I made 14 sales and was only paid for 7. When I brought this to Rosie Gothdyke's attention, she apologized and assured me that I would get paid in a couple of days for my missing bonus. A couple of days later, I asked her again and she promised me that I would get any back bonus on my next paycheck.
Bodie had about one sale per week, so he barely noticed a difference on his paychecks. When I asked Ruth the Mormon about her check, she agreed that there were missing bonuses. But she believed that she would get paid like Rosie Gothdyke promised.
"Why would they lie?" she honestly said.
I knew what was happening and there was nothing I could do about it. At that point, Bodie went on a serious cough syrup and diet pill bender and he was no help. He was just waiting to get fired and fucked around most of the time on the phones. We'd sit in the back of the call center and as soon as I got my one sale of the day, I'd mess around with Bodie. Most of the time we pretended to be on the phones, but we were actually talking to each other or we made long distance calls to our friends outside of Seattle. We got caught a couple of times by Rosie Gothdyke. Bodie didn't care one bit. And my work demeanor had drastically changed. If they were going to be unprofessional and fail to pay me on time as promised, then I was going to act as unprofessional as possible. You get what you pay for.
At the end of our shift one night, Rosie Gothdyke said that she was going to separate me and Bodie. She said that Ruth and a few of the new employees complained that we were fooling around too much. Bodie was sent to the morning shift while I was given a written reprimand. Total bullshit. As soon as I got home, I printed up a dozen resumes and mailed them out the next day.
A couple of days later, I got a call from Bodie around 10 AM. He had gone into work and found the door locked. He tried to call the office from a payphone and there was no answer. I told him I would call the number that Natasha gave me and meet him down at the office.
I called Natasha and the number was disconnected. I went downstairs to the living room and found a copy of Seattle Weekly. The same ad that I originally answered was in the Jobs sections, except that it had a different number. I called it and Natasha answered. She pretended that she didn't know who I was. I told her about the office being locked and all the crap that happened with Clay and myself and all the missing bonuses. She hung up. When I tried to call back, the line was busy. She wised up and took the phone off the hook.
When I showed up at our office, Bodie had parked his car in front of the building. He was waiting for me.
"Everyone went home," he said. "They showed up for work and no one was here to let them inside. They left."
Bodie and I went back inside the building. We tried to open the door and it was locked. Bodie said he knew how to pick a lock. I told him he was full of shit. We bet $20 that he could get the door open. He used a credit card. Nothing. He used one of my credit cards. Nothing. He ran out to his car and used a paper clip covered in marijuana resin from his pipe. Nothing. That's when he took two steps back and kicked the door as hard as he could. He did it a second time and I heard cracking noises. He kicked the door a third time and it flew open.
The call center was dark. The tables were there except all of the phones were gone. We walked into the office and the file cabinets were empty.
"Jesus man, they got out of here in a hurry," Bodie said. "I guess they fucked us over."
"Bastards," was the only thing I could say.
Bodie wandered around looking for stuff to loot. Aside from a few empty files cabinets, folding chairs, banquet tables, and a water cooler, there was nothing of value left over to steal. Bodie grabbed two folding chairs and headed for the exit. I had to urinate, so I whipped out my penis in the middle of the darkened conference room and pissed over the floor.
Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.