by Kevin Dicciani
— Part One
The classified ad called for a communications assistant. The position didn’t require any experience and listed only that the applicant know how to speak, email and multitask in an effective manner. Figuring I was qualified, I dialed the number on the listing.
Within seconds a woman answered the phone. We’ll call her Claire. Claire reiterated what was printed on the ad and asked if I was available in the morning for an interview. I said yes. She said she was looking forward to meeting me and hung up the phone.
In the morning I caught a bus at Sunset and Robertson Boulevard (I was living in Hollywood, California, at the time.) I got off the bus in Century City and found myself standing upon the glass facade of a strip mall.
I entered the lobby and walked up a flight of stairs and into a hallway full of windows, all of which were covered in curtains or blinds. I knocked twice and waited. A few minutes went by until the door swung open, and a woman in glasses, maybe in her late 20s, early 30s, stood there smiling. “You must be Kevin,” she said.
“Yes, I’m here for the interview at 9.” I extended my arm to shake her hand.
“Aren’t you going to ask me if I’m Claire?” she said, leaving my hand to dangle in the air.
I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead, my temples pulsating. I peered over her shoulder and into the office. It was empty. I looked back at her, still staring at me through her eyes of stone — and laughed nervously. “I’m just messing with you,” she said, shaking my hand. “You should’ve seen the look on your face.”
Claire led me into the office; it had white marble floors, white walls, fluorescent lights. Four white leather recliners furnished the corners of the room. Two glass desks equipped with iMacs faced one wall. On the opposite wall, another desk, this one decorated with photos, covered in yellow Post-it notes, faced the door. Half of the room was all black: black floors, black walls, black desk, black chair, black ceiling, black etc.
Claire explained the duties of the position, all of which related to communicating with clients: making and answering phone calls, sending and responding to emails, chatting with clients online, etc. Claire kept repeating that the job had nothing to do with “cold calling,” a less abrasive way of saying “telemarketing.” Obviously, if an employer posted a job listing for a telemarketer, no one would show up. Most people think telemarketers should be condemned to the Eighth Circle of Hell.
She told me the company, Company Y, we’ll say, specialized in payday loans, but that it wasn’t a direct lender. The company acted as a mediator between those looking for a loan and those that could supply it. All the company did was refer loaners to money lenders and get paid for it; it was that simple, Claire said.
“So,” I said, “I don’t understand. How does the company even make money?”
Claire explained, “When someone goes on our website and applies for a payday loan, we ship off their information to our affiliate partners, the lenders, who then decide who gets paid. For every person we refer to a lender and gets accepted for a loan, we get paid. For every person who completes the application for a loan on our website, we get paid. And then, every single person who applied for a loan and got denied gets a special offer to re-apply to reach a larger number of our partners in our lender tree. If they re-apply, we get paid.”
“How many times can they re-apply?”
“I apologize for asking this, but is this legal?”
“Oh yeah, it’s legal,” Claire said. “Is it shady as hell? Absolutely … but I have to put gas in my car, pay all types of insurances; I have rent, a cat to feed, me to feed … I’m not in this for the long haul, dude. I just need to survive like everyone else. I completely understand if you want no part of this if you’re skeptical. I was, too. Still am.”
“But it is legal, right?” I said.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”
Claire gave me a rough idea of the hours and the pay (all under the table). She said that the boss, whom we’ll refer to from here on out as The Kingpin, would explain the rest of the details to me if I was hired. She asked me if I was interested. I couldn’t help but nod. Since I graduated college eight months prior, I had applied for roughly 200 jobs; this was only my third interview. I feared that if I was offered the job and turned it down, I wouldn’t get an interview for another five months.
I thanked Claire for the opportunity and exited the office to find six people lined up in the hallway, all waiting to be interviewed. They looked tired. Dejected. And every one of them was old enough to be my parent. Realizing the gravity of the situation, my doubt ballooned and rendered my optimism nonexistent.
My phone rang the next morning at 7 a.m. It was Claire, asking if I could work in a place that resembled an operating room. Then I thought about the word ‘eviction.’ I could hear a clock ticking in the back of my mind, and before I knew it, I had accepted the job.
I arrived at the office the next morning at 8. In the back of the office sat The Kingpin. He was British, small, about 5’5’’ and dressed in Gucci sweatpants and a plain white T-shirt. He wore a 5 o’clock stubble on his face and reeked of cologne. He gripped my hand like a vice and looked deep into my eyes as if he was trying to read me, or intimidate me. He went over to his espresso machine, came back with the most perfect looking cup of espresso I’d ever seen and drank it like everything else in his life — black.
I sat across from The Kingpin in his office. “Kevin,” he said, “have you ever dialed a phone before?”
A smirk formed on my face until I realized he was being serious. “Plenty of times, sir,” I said.
“Well, that’s cherry and all, but have you ever dialed a phone when seeking something truly important?”
“OK,” he said. “When?”
With no real answer, I said the first thing that came to mind. “When I called Claire to apply for this job.”
“Cheers,” he said, raising his cup to me, looking impressed. “You’ve successfully completed Stage One … The test, mate. You passed the test. You thought on your feet and told me exactly what I needed to hear. Precisely what you’ll be doing here while you work for me. And Kevin, I don’t trust many people. You can see that. It’s just me, you and Claire here. We’re a team now, so I hope I can trust you.”
“You can, sir.”
The Kingpin told me to arrive for work at 8 the next morning. He shook my hand and told Claire to train me and have me memorize the lines I’d be speaking on the phone. He patted me on the back and said, “I hope you like money, Kevin, because one morning when you come into the office, you’re literally going to have to swim through dollar bills in order to get to your desk.”
Kevin Dicciani is the Chestnut Hill Local’s I.T. specialist.
— Part Two Next Week