Read, Write, Repeat.

Essays, fiction, photos and nonsensical ramblings by Joel Zlotnik

Workday Wondering

Sometimes, when I’m walking across the street, I wonder what it would feel like to get hit by a car. It doesn’t happen all the time. It’s more like every once in a while. It happens today as I’m walking back to the cubicle farm where I spend eight hours a day on the phone with holders of my employer’s credit card, listening to excuse after excuse as to why they can’t make their minimum payment or how they swear they’re sending out the check today.

Someone this morning, a Mr. Cook, actually told me his dog ate his credit card bill. We’re not supposed to laugh. Not only is it bad manners, but they tell us that in the day-long training course that prepares you for a career in credit card customer service. Dispassionate is the word the trainer kept repeating.

“You will hear stories that will make you want to cry, you will hear about husbands dying young in freak accidents, leaving wives and children on their own with no income. You will hear about babies with leukemia and families that don’t have medical insurance and senior citizens who can’t afford dialysis. You will want to waive their late fees and reduce their interest rate. It’s only natural. You will treat these callers with respect and be utterly dispassionate.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle though at the dog-ate-my-bill excuse and I quickly cleared my throat a couple of times to disguise my laughter as fighting back phlegm.

I politely told the man that I could not waive the thirty-five dollar late fee and we would be happy to send him an additional copy of his statement. I also suggested he sign up for our e-bill service to receive monthly statements via e-mail allowing him to pay his bills through our Web site. And then I pictured a miniature Chihuahua electrocuting itself by chewing through the power cord of Mr. Cook’s computer. I fought back another laugh.

I was thinking about the Chihuahua, which I had named Fifi, and Fifi was wearing a pink sweater, while on my way to the deli across the street from our building. It’s a four-minute walk from my cubicle to the deli, six minutes if I miss the light at Main Street. It takes the same time to get back. That leaves me 18 minutes to leisurely enjoy a tuna salad or egg salad sandwich, depending on which I’m in the mood to eat.

I miss the light at Main Street and the corner soon crowds with chubby secretaries speaking Spanish and tiny nurses in scrubs speaking Vietnamese and people who look just like me … worn black shoes, wrinkled black Dockers and a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I’ll have to hurry once the light turns in order to beat the crowd to the deli.

I like to think of it as a race and I like to win, although in my mind I get a trophy handed to me by a woman in an evening gown wearing a sash proclaiming her Miss Something Or Other and I hold it high over my head instead of my actual prize for winning the race, which is an egg salad sandwich on wheat.

I guess I’m in the mood for egg salad today.

I spend lunch skimming the newspaper. A theme seems to emerge from the headlines: The world has been turned on its head … Unemployment is up, the stock market is down, crime is up, property values are down, the suicide rate is up, consumer spending is down. If it’s supposed to be up, it’s down and if that’s not bad enough, according to a psychologist from an Ivy League school, the cumulative effect is really starting to depress people. It says so right there down at the bottom of the front page: Study Links Economic Crisis To Emotional Woes.

My 18 minutes is up just before I start reading about Dr. Ivy League’s research. I guess I’ll have to believe the headline. I head with the herd back toward the three towers that house my credit card company’s customer service call center, a medical center and conveniently, an insurance company. Telling who works in which tower is easy, just look at the color of the badge that hangs from a lanyard around each one’s neck that allows them access into the inner sanctum of their respective building.

I miss the light and the corner again quickly crowds with the same faces as earlier. The cars speed by, their drivers paying no attention to those of us standing on the sidewalk. I wonder where they are all going in the middle of the day. Don’t they have jobs? Maybe they get an hour for lunch and can eat and still have time to drive to the drugstore and pick up their anti-depressants.

A bright blue two-seater convertible with the top down turns the corner in front of me and the driver looks my way … not at me, just toward me. She’s blonde and I can tell she’s basketball player tall by how high her head rises up from the car. Her long hair is in a ponytail, held together with a yellow ribbon. She’s wearing a black business suit. I don’t get a very good look at her face but I imagine she’s model pretty, like Swedish model pretty. And then I wonder what it would feel like if I stepped out into the street and got struck by this little blue convertible driven by a Swedish model in a black business suit.

The car’s front bumper hits me just above my knees. The initial impact shocks me, I don’t feel it for a second or two and then the pain hits like someone swinging a sledgehammer thirty-five miles per hour into my kneecaps. The blow forces my body in two directions, the lower half bending my knees, calves, ankles under the car at almost impossibly the same time my upper body, my torso, arms and head slam onto the hood of the little blue convertible. My legs spring back after the bones inside snap, the Swedish model slams on her brakes and I roll off the hood of the car and onto the hot pavement.

The secretaries shriek, someone keeps screaming, “Ay Dios mio!” and the nurses in their scrubs descend upon me, the Swedish model races out of her car to check on me. Blood begins pouring from my head where it struck the hood and I smell it mixing with the gritty scent of the asphalt and burning rubber. The pain shoots through my legs and my now twisted spine and my final thought before losing consciousness is that I’m sorry my last meal on this earth was an egg salad sandwich.

The light turns green and four minutes later I’m on the phone with a man, a Mr. Hunter, who tells me he didn’t realize that there’s a two-day delay in transactions posting when he pays with his online bank and isn’t there anything I can do to waive the thirty-five dollar late fee.
My mind flashes to the Swedish model in the little blue convertible. Driving right behind her was a bus.

I wonder what it feels like to get hit by a bus.

Joel Zlotnik • October 20, 2014

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