Introducing “Torchy’s ‘merika,” a Regular TNN Feature
Note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the author from lawsuits.
There was no signage on the door other than a dangling placard that announced, “Yes, we’re open!”
The office lobby looked like a methadone clinic and smelled like curry. A Hispanic woman entered the empty room. She was short, wore heavy makeup, spiked pumps and Lycra pants that were mercilessly stretched over her bulbous Oakland booty.
“Is this Anywho Associates?” I asked.
“Yays, thays ess Anywho Assussyates,” she replied in a heavy accent and handed me an application to complete.
“I’m here for an interview. My name is Torchy. It’s for a PR position, yes?” I asked pensively.
“Aye dunnoh. Aye weel check,” she replied, then left and never returned.
I sat on an orange plastic lobby chair, balanced the stained clipboard on my knee and contemplated whether I should provide the real phone numbers of four personal references, as instructed on the application. Five feet from my head, the lobby television blared an infomercial for a copper frying pan. They probably use the TV to drown out the sound in the next room of the staff speed dialing job candidates or potential customers. The TV was too loud to tell which.
After 30 minutes, a statuesque black woman entered the room. She had a big smile, gold-tipped teeth, long dreadlocks and flowing clothes. She introduced herself as Lashawnda, the hiring manager, and said someone would be with me shortly.
Moments later, a tiny Pilipino girl in a tight black polyester suit entered from another door, introduced herself as Ms. A, the owner of Anywho Associates, and said to follow her. She led me outside and down a long outdoor walkway to her slightly upgraded office fashioned with all the personal style and charm of a cheap roadside motel.
When seated, she said warmly, “I am glad you came. I had a full schedule of people to see today, but I don’t know what happened.”
I do, I thought to myself.
“Let me tell you a little bit about what we do,” she began.
Ms. A said she started her marketing firm nearly seven years ago and has maintained just one client: A major U.S. cell phone company. Let’s call them “Squint.” Squint hired Ms. A’s firm to sign up low-income people for “free” cell phones and “free” service plans. The smart phones with unlimited calling and data plans are fully funded by federal and state tax dollars collected by phone companies. On your phone bill, it’s the entry called “Universal” in the taxes and fees section. The free phone program began long ago, she said. More recently, it expanded to include cell phones and data plans.
Ah, yes, “Obamaphones,” I thought to myself. I remember hearing about those.
“When the low-income person no longer qualifies for the free phone, Squint hopes they will continue with the service and sign up for a regular plan,” Ms. A explained.
Her “marketers” work booths inside Walmarts, 99 Cent Stores and other places poor people congregate. Today, she has 18 locations throughout California and is preparing to open five more.
“I see you have lots of marketing experience,” she said as she thumbed my resume.
I have none. Zip. Zero.
“Aside from my recent post-graduate program, I’ve worked almost exclusively in news as a reporter and editor,” I said. “In the MBA program, we focused briefly on the metrics of marketing. This is why I applied for the PR position. It is most relevant to my experience.”
She said, “Would you be interested in compliance work? It would involve watching the booths to make sure that people are being properly signed up.”
“That’s not really what I’m looking for at this time,” I said.
“What do you currently pay for your cell phone service?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I’m on a large family plan.”
She looked disappointed, then asked me a few more boiler plate interview questions. As I spoke, she took notes, but I half suspected she was just drawing doodles in the margins of my resume. If she was, I could hardly blame her. I wasn’t a good fit as a marketing minion. And in fact, I felt increasingly annoyed by what was turning out to be a bait-and-switch job ad. So I decided to lower the boom and have a little fun.
“Currently I’m writing for a few publications,” I admitted. “I write about conspiracy theories, hoaxes, crime syndicate activity, corruption and capture. I’m also helping to develop an alternative news website. Maybe you’ve heard of it: The New Nationalist?”
She suddenly stopped doodling.
“No,” she said, “I haven’t.”
“Well, pop by sometime and have a look around,” I said with a big grin and southern drawl.
“Okay,” said Ms. A, staring blankly.
Then, as all interviewers reflexively do at the end, she finally asked, “Do you have any questions for me?”
I could only think of one, but it was one she probably couldn’t answer: How much does Squint bill taxpayers for those calling plans? I’ll bet it’s far more than a competitive rate. Yep, Squint has its mouth firmly planted on the government tit. To top it off, it outsourced Anywho Associates to do the dirty work of combing the ghettos and food banks for new government-sponsored customers.
So instead, I simply replied, “No, I think I get the picture.”
We smiled, shook hands and parted ways. As I strolled back to my car, it suddenly dawned on me — the job candidates were the potential customers.
Oh, you’re a clever one, Ms. A!
I had had enough of the modern ‘merikan experience for one day and decided to pop in to H&M, a Swedish (not British) clothing retailer, on my way home. I found a cute little peasant blouse and took it to the register.
After the clerk rang me up, she asked, “Would you like to round up for Orlando?”
She explained, “Do you want to round up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to the Orlando shooting victims?”
I said, “Really? What about the family of the little boy who was eaten by an crocodile at Disneyland in Orlando? Will money be raised for them, too?”
When I got home, I looked up online H&M to see what they’re up to. There was no mention of a round up for Orlando, but there were some notable results: