DIGGING HOLES - ALUN WILLIAMS
“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 any more, 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. 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-sqat 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 little words of consequence spoken between the team leaders and the advisors. The team leaders speak in numbers and numbers is a different language to we 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.
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. I guess because we don’t have a lot to say without our headphones on. 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. People trust us too much, we, us, just a voice at the end of a telephone call. They don’t know me but I know more about them than they do. I have their history all on computer, 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 how much money we can take. Too much and we get canned, too little, yeah, you guessed it. I continue to sell, then decide 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 which 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. My fingers move over my keyboard as I decide to do one good thing. I wipe their accounts clean. They are now in financial la-la land. Their holes are concreted over. In the morning, my boss will check my figures and have a heart attack. I think that’s the best option he has. I won’t care.
I drive home and it doesn’t get better. The road is full of cars. Everyone drives here because they’ve forgotten how to walk. The sound of the highway is one of honking geese. It’s a language all of its own. Short staccato honks when we‘re angry, long tedious ones when we’re at a standstill. It’s all the same. I pass people digging holes with smiley faces oblivious to the geese around them. Smiles! It’s a sight I don’t see that often.
My apartment is surrounded by boarded-up shops and two bars. It’s not the high-class area I was hoping for. It’s not even good enough to be lower class. People who live here merely exist. There’s a one legged hooker, an old Polish guy who stinks of cat pee, and a young black couple who beat the crap out of each other every Saturday night. There are others, I believe, but I’m afraid to look, afraid of what I may find. I don’t know their names, I don’t even know their faces. I hear them occasionally. I hear their screams and I feel their hurt. Times like that I wish I had myself a woman. Someone who cares enough to shout, but I only have me. I only ever have me.
I eat a takeaway meal. It’s a great metaphor for how I live my life. Takeaway, throwaway. Basically when you analyse the ingredients, it’s all just crap.
There’s an old film on the TV, so I sit and watch Bob Mitchum shoot the bad guys. My dad looked liked Mitchum, more so when he had a drink in his hand. He perfected Mitchum's snarl so he could impress other women. They laughed at him. I watch the Monday night ballgame and a chat show. I don’t recognise anyone that’s on it. I hear that it’s a sign of old age, like when the cops look younger and the music gets blander. I don’t turn on the news. My life makes its own headlines and I don’t need to share anyone else’s hurt. Why should I, they don’t tune into mine.
I lie on my bed but I can’t sleep.
The clock on my wall says 1.35 A.M., my watch says 1.40 A.M. and I’m locked in in-between.
I turn on my radio and listen to a talk show and wonder why all nighttime announcers have that same lazy, languid style.
“Where would you rather be now?” he asks in a voice that is as smooth as a crème caramel chocolate. I look out at the rain and think anyplace but this.
“I mean you, Roy.” he says. “Yeah, you! Don’t turn me off Roy because we want to know about you.”
This geek does this all the time. He mentions a name and every Edith, Mike or Roy call in. Pretty soon, a row of flashing lights on his monitor will no doubt tell him that there are a lot of Roys out there and I thank the Lord that my name is Dan.
Roy from Tulsa says he’s rather be anyplace but. Another Roy from Tupelo tells everyone that he’s the reincarnation of Elvis and he’d rather be in Vegas. I listen and think to myself that there’s a lot of Roys out there and I try to recall any Roys that I’ve come across but I can’t think of any.
Outside, the rain stops and I think of life someplace other than downtown LA. It doesn’t help matters and I still don’t sleep. The guy on the radio plays a slow dreamy tune that sets the mood for the night. My life is held together by four walls and a dumb-assed voice on a radio station that only comes alive at night. Over the road, the neon light flickers every few seconds and illuminates my room. I’ve asked the landlady for new curtains and she promised to get some last July. It’s March now. Life is slow.
I read a book that I read last night and the night before and make a note to buy a new one. I think Hemingway’s a pretty cool writer but there’s only so much fishing stories a guy can take. I light up a cigarette and promise myself that someday soon I’ll give up another bad habit.
My life is full of those. A half-empty glass of cheap whiskey remains on the bedside cabinet from yesterday. I look at it and blow smoke rings. Another bad habit. I think of the lady called Candy and wonder what she looks like. I imagine her a little tired, a little grey. There’s still a little hope in her brown eyes. I think she’d have brown eyes. I know she has a soft voice and maybe she carries a little extra poundage. She has a nice home and I wish myself there. There’s a shout from the street below. It shatters my moment with Candy.
The guy on the radio asks if we know our neighbour. He thinks society is selfish and greedy and we’ve all become our own little islands. Very profound. I can’t recall many of mine, although I hear them often enough. I ask myself if that’s enough to call in but then I remember that I don’t have a phone. Most call handlers never have a home phone.
Life sucks. Night in LA carries on regardless and I wait and wonder and close my eyes and hope for sleep that never comes.
I live a long night.
The next day, I drive into work, past the smiley faces digging holes in the road. The geese are already angry. No one at Summit Finance gives me a second look. I sit at my desk and begin to cry. No one at Summit Finance cares a damn. I hear my boss call my name. Jesus, he knows my name! He knows my name! He comes closer, close enough for me to taste his peppermint breath.
“Hey, what the fuck did you do yesterday? You quit. You're fired!” He's confused.
I hear him call security, so I reach into my pocket and take out my gun. He won’t be eating spinach anymore. People scream, but I’ve only one more shot to make. They can dig one more hole for me.
BIO: Alun Williams, 55. Born and still residing in Wales. Member of Crittersbar (writing under maxieslim), Zoetrope and Scrawl (writing as Maxwell Allen) and has had several shorts published in Write Side Up, Bonfire, Twisted Tongue, Skive, The Legendary and various others. Loves noir and Charles Bukowski.