Roni made one more call just before the end of his shift at 10 pm. The west coast number was in the queue. Someone picked up. A young girl answered.
“Hi, this is Roni. Is your mom or dad home?”
“Mom, someone’s on the phone!” When the girl yelled into his headphones Roni yanked them off of his ears and held them away from his head.
“Who is it?” It was the voice of the mother in the background.
“Who are you?” The girl queried.
“I’m Roni with American Resources.”
“Roni ’merica rescores.”
“What? Let me have it. Hello?”
“HI I’m Roni of American Resources. I called to tell you of a special offer…”
“No thanks.” The phone clicked off.
10 pm. Roni removed his headphones and signed out. His shift at the call center was done for the night.
He had one taker that evening. A woman in Hawaii. When she picked up Roni heard a piano playing in the background. He started with his usual opening and then asked, “Is that a piano playing that lovely music?”
The woman said yes. She was giving someone piano lessons.
Hearing that Roni said, “I’ll be brief. You have been chosen to receive a special offer.” Roni sped up.
“The card is only made available to qualified folks. I won’t be long. The card is a valuable resource as it is accepted in almost everywhere. Parity Platinum doesn’t charge penalty interest. That’s a potential lifesaver for cardholders who occasionally miss payments due to liquidity issues. And when you use it you earn points, when you shop, when you eat at restaurants, when you travel… That sounds like Debussy. Is that clair de lune.”
“It is. Are you a musician?’
“I played the trumpet for many years. I bet it is a beautiful day there.”
“It is. There’s a breeze coming off the ocean.”
“I’ve neve been there, I… well, you’re in the middle of something. I better be quick about this. Are you interested in the Parity Platinum Card?
“I will need to verify some information and then read you the terms and conditions and then we will be done. OK?”
Roni spent the next minute verifying her name, date of birth, address, and her occupation – Piano Teacher. He then read the terms and conditions on the computer screen, a full page of fine print. He only stopped to catch his breath in the middle. The 29% finance charge was read off in the same rapid-fire monotone as the rest of the legal boilerplate. When he had finished, Roni asked her if she accepted the terms and conditions. She said yes.
“Thank you, Ms. Hampton, for accepting this offer. You will be very pleased with this valuable resource in your wallet. Parity Platinum Card welcomes you. And, thank you for the beautiful music. Your card will be mailed to shortly. You should receive it in the next 10 to 18 days.”
The call ended. Roni caught his breath as he removed his head phones and then signed off. The telemarking manager, Tyronne, who listens in on the telemarketer’s phone conversations, gave a shout out to Roni. Roni learned from Tyronne that he would receive, at the beginning of his next shift, a certificate: Quality Award for Presentation Performance. He understood this to mean that he basically said every word of the legal contract and left nothing out. He also learned that this meant a small bump up in his next paycheck.
Roni grabbed his jacket and headed to the door and out to his car. Outside, he lit up a cigarette. He smoked it facing the call center and away from the glare of the white LED parking lot lighting, which bothered his eyes. After six hours staring at a computer screen his eyes were burning. He took several long draws from the cigarette and then flicked the remains to the curb. He wanted to get home and get to bed by 11. He had to get up at 6:00 am for his full-time job. The half-hour drive home would be under the same discomforting lighting. He knew that the glare and the high blue content of the lights would affect his sleep, making for another restless night.
The next morning Roni began his daily routine. He put on coffee and went out to the patio for a smoke. He scrambled some eggs and then got dressed. He needed to be at RRR at 7:30 am.
Roni and his two brothers had taken over the family business – Resolution, Reset & Recovery Corp. – when their father retired. The debt recovery service had its own automated call center. Roni supervised the ten employees who dealt with those who picked up. He listened in on the phone conversations just as Tyronne did on the calls of the employees at FirstOne Telemarketers.
Roni’s younger brother Ruben purchased bad debt at a discount from other collection companies who had no luck making a recovery. The third brother, Rohn, managed the business, making sure that payables and receivables were taken care of. The fourth brother, twelve years younger than Rohn, was told to stay away from the business. The three brothers were the owners and they didn’t want a young upstart around telling them what to do.
Though the three brothers had been handed a going concern, the brothers were jealous of Raphael. Their father had given him money for his education. He wanted Raphael to become an investment banker. The three older brothers were given no money by their father for an education. The early days of the business were a financial struggle. There was no extra money for education. Beyond this, Raphael seemed to cocky, too sure of himself, too privileged. So, they kept their distance, despite their mother and father’s desire for family unity. They voiced their concerns when the family gathered for the holidays.
That day at the office, a Friday, the hours dragged on for Roni. The lack of good sleep didn’t help. And out of the five hundred automated calls placed, only two debtors picked up the phone. These were offered payment plans and a chance to pay off their credit card debt over time. At three in the afternoon Roni received a text message: “Hey, want to come by for a beer after work?” Roni texted a reply to Marty, “Sure”.
Marty was Roni’s apartment neighbor. Marty liked to talk politics and Roni didn’t. Roni thought politics was boring. All that who’s the bigger hypocrite back and forth was irksome. Most of the politicians wanted to pick your pocket anyway. So ‘n So will save the planet if you vote for him or her and turn over your income to them. Who needed that? With having to pay alimony and child support and growing credit card debt, Roni wanted no more hands in his pocket. Making ends meet was the only politics he cared about. He would have a beer with Marty and turn in for the night.
At five pm Roni’s day was almost done. The automated calls would continue till 9 pm on the west coast. Those who picked up could leave a message where to contact them. Each response would be noted to show a debtor’s willingness to pay. Before the employees left for the evening, Roni checked with each one to fill out the schedule for the next week. The employees were part-timers. Some had classes to attend. He also praised Charisse for the way she handled her call and secured a payment plan for their client Parity Platinum Card.
Roni then checked in with his brothers. Rohn, looking depressed, said that they were about to lose their biggest client Parity Platinum. Roni told him that RRR had just secured a payment plan for Parity. “No matter,” Rohn responded. “They have contacted a bigger firm.” Ruben also looked depressed. “With the cash flow the way it is, it has been hard to buy bad debt. This will make things worse.” The three of them looked at each other and shook their heads. Roni finally spoke. “If dad finds out he will blow a gasket.” The two brothers nodded. “And, if that pip squeak brother of ours finds out he will have a good laugh at our expense.” After several silent minutes Rohn threw up his hands and said he would make calls on Monday. “There has to be more business out there …or, we will have to lay off some of these kids. We can’t keep taking out loans with no receivables.”
Roni left the office crestfallen. He didn’t want to lay off anyone but business is business – making ends meet. Now between the ends, things were becoming dire for Roni. He had used his credit cards to get by thinking that at the end of the year there would be some payout from the profits that he could use to pay them off. Now the chances of that looked slim to none. “Debt has no pity”, he thought. “I don’t think dad will either with the choices I have made.”
After changing clothes, Roni walked out his patio door and headed over to see Marty. Marty was on his patio drinking a beer.
“Well, look what the cat dragged over.” Marty chided Roni when he saw him. Roni gave a half-smile in return. Marty offered, “You look like you could use a beer.”
“I could use a beer and a chaser.” Roni plopped down on a patio chair and lit up a cigarette.
“Wow, a bad day?”
“You could say that “, Roni replied looking at his phone. Another call he didn’t want to take.
“Well, if we had the right people in power, then us working stiffs wouldn’t be so stressed out.”
Here we go again, Roni thought. The garbage man dishing out political garbage.
Marty handed Roni a beer and then went into his apartment for something stronger. He came out with a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. Marty poured whiskey into the glasses. He handed one to Roni and said “Cheers.” Roni clicked his glass with Marty’s, leaned his head back and downed the shot. Wiping his mouth and knowing that his reply would only prod Marty to continue the political mumbo-jumbo, but feeling irate about the day’s bad news he spoke anyway. “Even with the ‘right people’ in power there isn’t enough money in the world to pay to fix the bad choices people make. Besides, there is always cost incurred when you use other people’s money.”
“With money in the right hands we could put a dent in it. That’s why I am voting socialist this time.”
Roni cringed. He knew he shouldn’t have replied. He had other things on his mind. His phone buzzed again. The same caller he didn’t want to answer.
“Hey, how’s your business doing?” Roni was glad Marty changed the conversation but it led down an even less desirous path.
“We’ve hit some bumps in the road. Our biggest client is leaving us for a bigger collection agency, one with (quoting with his hands) a “better reputation”.
“I thought you guys had it made in the shade.”
Roni was quick to respond. “Someone moved the shade.” He gulped down some more beer and lit up another cigarette. Looking at it he thought, “If I kicked this habit, I could repay my body for the six years I’ve been smoking”. He took a long drag and thought ’but not today’.
“Hey, you know what I found on my route today? In the dumpster was a plaque with a gold crowbar stuck on it. The plaque said LEVERAGE EVERYTHING. Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah, it means you put yourself out on limb where someone can come along and cut off the limb.”
“That’s weird. Hey, how’s your other job going there, Shylock?” Marty goaded Roni. Roni smirked.
“Just swell, I make $12 per hour and talk to people I wouldn’t otherwise talk to. It’s a job, a part-time job that’s all.”
“You are offering credit cards at 23 to 36%? Yikes. How can anyone catch up?”
“I offer people a choice. They can choose to use it or not. They know the terms. I’m not a loan shark, if that’s what you are implying.”
“No. I’m just giving you a hard time. The rich will have a hard time, too. The rich will know ‘the terms’ when my candidate is elected.”
Roni’s phone buzzed again. He didn’t pick up. The caller left a message.
Roni lifted his glass. “I could use another shot.” Marty poured another for both of them. Roni knocked it back and thought of a reply for Marty.
“With socialism, the usury is your freedom. The percentage of the freedom taken from you keeps going up. And when your freedom is gone, they come for a pound of your flesh. That’s been recorded in history.”
“Yeah, but this time…”
Roni shifted in his chair and turned toward Marty. “I better be off. I’m seeing my kids tomorrow and I have to get the place cleaned up a bit.”
“You’ve been divorced for six years now. You need a woman. They say ‘Love conquers all.”
Looking at his hands, Roni scoffed, “Love conquered my checkbook.”
Marty looked over at Roni. “For the love of Pete, man, you look awful.”
“I have a lot on my mind right now. Thanks for the beer and the shots.”
With that Roni walked back to his apartment where he listened to the phone message. It was from Endal Debt Recovery. They were calling to set up a payment plan. Roni had missed several payments. He was out on a limb and the limb was being shaken. Now he faced a tough choice: he could go with Endal and their payment plan or he could call his younger brother Raphael, ask for loan and come up with a repayment plan. Either way, the minimum payment would be at the expense of his pride.
© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved