I don’t know how I ended up there. I don’t remember.
Maybe it was an ad in the paper. Back then, when that was the only way to find a job.
I took the subway downtown. It opened into Pershing Square. As you stood on the escalator, a little knot of nerves in your gut, the downtown revealed itself. An old building from the 1920s, decrepit, but coming up from the escalator it looked 100 stories high.
Pershing Square was decorated with angel sculptures. The hoboes hitched up their pants and swarmed towards you looking for change.
Right towards the street. In Los Angeles, if you stick around long enough, heavy traffic gives you comfort. There is safety in traffic.
Left on Flower.
The destination: two towers. Dark and selpuchral in the days after the big terror attack in New York. It had only been four or five months since then. In the plaza between the buildings was a gargantuan sculpture of chrome testicles. Water spurted from some unseeable source between them and filled a fountain below. In the old days the workers from the buildings all sat around the testicles eating their lunch, but since the attack they went elsewhere to eat. They wanted to get as far away from the skyscrapers as possible.
Underneath these towers was a shopping mall.
Escalators going down into a basement.
That’s where I had my interview.
You could feel the weight of the thousands of tons of building overhead. You walked along looking in all the dingy shops with bored workers staring out and as you walked along you went down, down, down. It was like there’d been a nuclear war and the last few remaining humans had built a nostalgic monument to the obliterated world. Finally, after walking these labyrinthine halls for some time, you came abruptly to the end. It was just a wall. Like the end of a mine shaft. And at the end of that mine shaft was a gym. Looking through the windows of the gym you could see a few people on treadmills, office workers by the looks of them in their baggy, sweat-covered clothes. Shared looks of misery. I walked in. The color scheme of the place was light lavender illuminated by glaring fluorescent light. Top 40 pop music in the background melded with low-key CNN jabbering on ancient tube TVs affixed to the ceilings. Solemn faces on the televisions discussing terrorism and what we were blowing up next. I’d picked a bad year to get off drugs and booze. The whole country was under a pall of depression. How easy it would be to find a dark corner in a bar somewhere. I had a cylinder of rehab pudge around my middle and I was very conscious of it as I walked up to the receptionist. She was young, fit, African-American. She swept up and down over me with her eyes, made her assessment, asked me what I wanted. Interview, I said. With a woman named Brenda. The receptionist pointed me in the right direction. A number of pre-fab cubicles where three or four people clad in the light lavender uniform of the gym talked on telephones. In one cubicle was Brenda. She looked tired, with little wrinkles around her gray eyes. Her skin was very pale, I assumed from long hours spent under the flourescent lights of the basement gym. We interviewed.
Eddie Mulnix. 20 years old.
Some college. I might still go back. I really just want to work, though.
Previous work experience?
When I said that she looked at my arms, wondering why they looked the way they did if I worked construction. I started to explain–
I worked part time, off and on, I was going to school but that didn’t work out–
So no sales experience?
Not really, but I think I could be good at sales.
Why do you say that, Eddie?
Because I’m good at talking to people.
She made little notes in a binder. I tried to see what they said. Her handwriting was illegible.
So this is what I’m looking for. We need help selling memberships here. I’m sure you noticed we’re in the basement beneath this big building? That means no one knows we’re here. We want you to get out on the streets and give away free passes to the gym. Get them in here and sell them, and if you can’t sell them we’ve got a couple closers like James who can do it.
She pointed in the direction of a guy with slicked-back hair and a big mole on his cheek and cold blue midwest killing-spree eyes. James would later become one of my best friends, a true con man in every sense of the word. I never met anyone with greater contempt for the human race. But could he sell? Oh yes.
I wanted to get up and leave but I stayed. I must have been a little nuts. It was the paranoia, the depression, the way the country had got sucked down into the ineluctable tractor-beam pull of Bin Laden’s asshole. I was a product of my time.
The sent me to salesman camp my first week on the job–a farm tucked into a remote corner of Simi Valley where they teach you how to sell gym memberships. A bizarre experience I’ll tell you about later.