Time to explain to my mom why I’m unemployed. Again.
Just off Spadina. Deep in Chinatown, and away from the main street. The place looks like a techies wet dream. Every gadget you could ever want, at affordable prices. I hold up a $15 dollar spy pen, marveling at the video quality.
From behind the glossy counter, the cashier starts enthusiastically. Winston is his name. He’s some kind of ethnic mix I can’t figure out. Judging from the hair, probably part black. “$5 off today. Just for you friend.” Good deal, unfortunately I don’t have the income for frivolous crap. I don’t any income at all. The pens go back to the shelf.
Winston stays blasé as I approach the till. Our matching glasses mark us both as people who spend hours staring at computer screens. My backpack shifts, and I slip out a crisp resume. Most of it is bullshit. Supposedly my last job was supervisor at The Source, and I’m majoring in Computer Sciences at the U of T. Forged documents courtesy of the library next door.
Without missing a beat the cool cashier grabs the document. There’s an acceptance in the motion that heartens me. Finding employment with skin like mine isn’t easy. Have to game system a bit. Plus, I’m an art school dropout who learned how to take computers apart online. What does it even mean to be “qualified” nowadays?
“The boss isn’t in until Friday. I’ll make sure he gets this.” He smiles reassuringly. My bullshit detector goes off. This dude is lying to me. I’m not sure about what. But there’s something a bit off in his demeanor all of a sudden. Make a mental note, and thank him for his help.
Electronics glitter in obscured corners. Temptation. Somehow I manage keep my kleptomania in check and exit the store. Good thing, wouldn’t want to tarnish the relationship with my future employer. TechSource . What a ass basic name. They needed an outgoing charismatic salesman like myself. People think you sell a product, when in reality you are selling a story.
Rush back to the store, early next day. Front door is bolted shut. A truck pulls around the corner. Naturally sleuth, I follow it to the back of the complex. Boxes on boxes are loaded being loaded out. A padlock rattles, and a dignified old brown dude steps out a door. He’s wearing the distinct TechSource blue.
I greet the man. He seems a bit taken aback by having someone approach him in the loading zone. Friday my my ass. Here was the boss. And here I was with a most unconventional first introduction. Being homeless brings out the best in you.
Still, I’m a salesman. So I sell myself. In the thirty seconds after we first make eye contact I shake his hand, helpfully pick up a box, and introduce myself. Crisp. Perfunctory motions. After the initial startle passes, he introduces himself back. “Habib.” He owns the place.
Few minutes later we are in the office. Less office really, and more of just a space in the backroom. I casually mention that I gave my resume the day before. Habib says that he “absolutely had a chance to read it”. My bullshit detector goes off again. I ignore it. Doesn’t matter if he’s lying to benefit me.”We we’re just looking for an electronics associate”
We chat it up for a bit. Him inquiring about my experience with electronics. I drop some tech words I read the night before. He finds “multi-threading blockchaining” extremely titillating. “Well Jordan,” My name is Jordy. I don’t correct him. “I’d like to offer you the position.”
Inside, I’m ecstatic. Outwardly, I stay cool. “That’s great Habib, I think this is a really great store.”
We shake on it. Habib opens up the desk and pulls out a banged up looking laptop. “Could you replace the screen on this? Customer is coming in twenty minutes to pick it up.”
I pass off a gulp as a glottal growl. “Of course I can!” He laughs. “Love the enthusiasm Jordan, reminds me of myself when I came here from Pakistan.” An encouraging pat on the back, and I’m alone in backroom. Time to technology I guess. There’s a row of complex tools on the table. None are familiar.
For a second I think I’m screwed. Then I pull out my phone. Google search. “How to replace Aspire 5560 screen.“
I come out the back. Winston is surprised to see me, but covers it up smoothly. Habib is counting bills at the register. He pauses. It’s only been ten minutes. I open the laptop to show a completely functional screen. They both look impressed.
“Jordy will be starting here today.” proclaims Habib, pocketing a wad of 50 dollar bills. “Before my shift starts, could I buy some stuff?” I ask. Today I can afford it. My hand subconsciously brushes against my wallet. Last night I’d gotten a payday loan. The place had asked for pay stubs proving three months of employment. Nope I don’t have a time machine, just printing privileges.
Winston shows me some of their latest laptops. He goes into his recited pitch, but a Lenovo with a swiveling screen has already caught my eye. I get it, and splurge on a few unnecessary toys. Might as well, now that I have a job. Winston rings me up. “You have thirty days to returns your product.” My receipt prints out.
Soon, I’m in a blue shirt and the first customer walks in. She’s pissed. Slams an expensive looking tablet on the counter. “This piece of shit died on me again. I don’t want an exchange, I want my money back!” She’s all up in my face. “I’m sorry mam, I would be more than happy to refu-” Winston cuts me off. “No refunds, only exchanges.”
My mouth slams shut. “I don’t want to exchange it again! Both tablets stopped working in the exact same way. The crap you’re selling is defective!” The lady goes off on a rant. Winston takes over, and I handle the next “customer” Another complaint. By noon, I’ve sold a three HDMI cables. And exchanged over $2000 in merchandise. How the hell is this business staying afloat?
Finally the traffic in the store slows, giving us all a respite.Habib pulls me to the side. Says I should only mention the no refund policy if asked. I give a tip lipped nod. He notices. “We aren’t running a scam here Jordan, this is an honest business.”
After the 30 day period, the store then offers to “repair” the electronics.
I charge someone $200 to replace their hard drive. With a worse, used one. $150 to reboot a phone. And $300 to install a pirated version of an anti virus. The “repair shop” we sent everybody’s stuff to was just the backroom. In between serving guests, me and Winston would run back and try haphazard fixes found online. Half the time, we actually broke the thing even more. All the time, we billed the customer.
It’s dark, dishonest work. But it’s work goddammit. Despite the returns, the store still had a crop of fresh new faces. People wandering in for the first time, looking for a sweet deal. “Brand new” electronics for cheap.
A weathered musician comes in around closing time. Looking for an amp. By now I’ve been bullshitting people for about 8 hours straight. Habib motions for me to to approach, eyes watching. I put on my game face and ask if he’s interested in those amps. He is very much so. Considering the portable ones at the bottom shelf.
My heart drops. I’d brought those in from the back earlier today. Somehow they’d gotten drenched in water during shipping. Habib insisted I push them to the floor anyway. I tap the top of the box and spout off some facts about the acoustics. The musician considers for a moment, then shakes his head.
That was my first and only day working at TechSource. I was scheduled to come back Friday, but just didn’t show up. With my laptop, I write and sell a few articles to online publications. Make just enough to convince myself that quitting was worth it. I specialize in creative recountings of true events. In a way still selling bullshit. Would just rather scam the editor of a rich a magazine, than an everyday person struggling like myself.
My laptop dies. Twenty days after purchase. Still feeling awkward about the way I quit so I wait until day twenty nine. Winston is working. Tense pleasantries are shared. I pull out my laptop and explain the problem. “Hard drive failure.” Winston informs me no refunds. Exchanging isn’t exactly the most attractive option either. I know what goes on in that back room.
“You’re running a scam here!” I slap the counter, getting all aggressive. “Don’t deny it brother!” He looks lost, helpless. “I know, but you can’t prove it.” I pull out the spy pen. “You’ve just confessed to fraud on camera.” We both look at small gadget. Shit isn’t even on. Maybe I should exchange.
Walk out the store. In total, $560 in the hole. My backpack heavy with worthless electronics. The flashing neon lights captivate a shmo on the sidewalk. He stops, then sidles past me into the shop. Once upon a time, I might’ve sold him something. Karma’s a bitch.