Friday, July 25, 2008

In the Beginning

Picture a fine, undulating front desk with a bronzesque, oval sign in the back with the company logo. Standing up front is a neatly clad businesswoman dressed to the 9's. Her hair is long, brown, and cascading with with fine, little curls. She wears a dark blazer and smiles kindly. The customer stands, looking at her, ready to give his financial all to her. He does so with joy, because the service provided him sends bells of freedom and financial security. He gets the money he needs at a payment he can afford. He even likes the payment.

She gives the money, she makes the money. She brings it home and celebrates with a glass of white Merlot, sitting in her easy chair at night, feeling a cool breeze coming through the deck doors. The crickets send her off to a comfortable sleep. She'll be ready for tomorrow. She's a loan officer; it's a noble profession, and the conduit for transactions of which we are all proud: the interest is just right, the customer is happy, the company makes money, and more white Merlot will pour after another fine day at the quiet, professional office....

"How do you handle stress?" she asks. "Well," I say, shifting my leg to the basketball coach position and leaning back, with my head gazing upward, eyes focused, as I'm ready to pontificate upon something profound and candid. "I'd like to tell you I pray, or meditate, but really, what I do is usually lift weights or go for a hike, or sometimes I just scream," I say politely. She smiles. "Good," she says. She tells me the job can be stressful. Okay. No problem, and I wave my hand.

Not. I walk in the 1st day and Lenora, the manager who interviewed me sticks me in a cold, freezing office to watch videos and click on the computer for "training" for nearly 8 hours a day. It is the end of the month, and she had no time for me. End of the month means something that I will have to explain later--but it's not good. So I "trained." I came in at 11am and left at 8pm every day for three weeks. 11 to 8. And we have a new baby. With these hours, I never see her. My white collar job seems to be a slight shade of brown.

Lenora seems frustrated. The picture I thought of with the nice girl behind the counter is now gone--a faded dream. No soft, classical music in here. It's loud. And the 1st song I hear is Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train," a classic, yes, but I'm thinking I'm working in a "professional atmosphere." I have a master's degree. I'm in a field that requires a college education--preferably in finance. False. In fact, I learn that I replaced a woman named Karyl (pronounced, "Carol") who had left the company on "medical leave" due to depression. The truth is she showed up to work hung over and smelling like alcohol and was a mean, dirty cheat--especially with customers. Very argumentative. "She could sell anything," Lenora says. "She sold a LOT of insurance," she adds.

I didn't know I'd be selling insurance. Or credit cards. Or the Home and Auto Plan, which I refer to as AAA on steroids. Or EZpay. Or unemployment insurance, or disability insurance or life insurance. All extra insurances added to the loans you get. It's called Credit Insurance.

And it was loud in the office. Heavy metal abounded from the radio and this guy Marcel spoke with a booming voice on the phones with customers so loudly that I wondered if I'd be able to concentrate on learning all this new material about the company. What is it that I am doing here? I mean that not in some existentially-driven angst, but I mean it for real: what is it that I am actually doing here?

I'm going to learn how to be a loan officer, right? False. I'm involved in something quite different from the kindly bank or credit union in the prim, proper, downtown centers--with quite a different lot of people as well. But it moved in on me, and I stepped into it slowly and without peripheral vision so that I soon walked in molasses and sunk deep up to my neck in a thick clod of profit-driven (not customer driven), blinding greed--and all with a smile. Smiles, however, are often the result of a bypass mechanism that are external only, and deceitful. They reveal a not-that-which. They cover. As a forced response, they dull the truth that is dying for exposure. I'd be doing a lot of dying here.

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