“I beg your pardon?”
“I said, ‘no one ever comes to these things.'” The gentleman with the tan vest over a plain white collared shirt above black slacks sounded rather annoyed. The cheap, Hello, My Name Is… sticker on his left breast read, “Harold Núñez.”
I chuckled when I saw it. “Harold Núñez? That really your name or is it like ‘nun yuz business?'”
His demeanor went from annoyed to irritated but he laughed a little anyway. “Yup, you got it. Harold’s actually my middle name but I prefer it to my first and my last name really is none of yours.”
I’m sure my face turned as red as the hotel curtains behind me. “I’m so sorry–“
He cut me off with a gesture with of his hand. “Please stop. It’s whatever.”
I nodded but kept talking out of anxiousness now that I made it awkward. “So, I’m assuming you’ve held these conferences before, why do you keep doing them if no one shows up?” I looked around the hotel conference room that had been set up to look like a public speaking engagement of some kind. Harold continued to busy himself at the table he was seated at before me while I rambled.
“It’s not up to me, I don’t schedule ’em, I just facilitate ’em. I don’t really agree with what these guys are doing, but I get paid either way. Usually I just sit here on my phone for 4 hours and collect a paycheck but now that you’re here, I guess we’ll get started.” With that he pulled out a clipboard with a stack of approximately a dozen papers on it and handed it to me. “Read the first nine pages and if you’re still interested, sign your consent at the bottom of page ten.”
Before I could even ask what I was consenting to he shooed me away. So I found myself a seat among the forty chairs that were arranged lengthwise facing the risers at the front of the room and started reading. The first few pages were standard welcome messages and hyperbolic claims of excitement to come. Even after getting through them it was still unclear what this was all about.
The ad I saw in the paper yesterday only said, “Unemployed? Come down to the Holiday Inn Ball Room on Lincoln Ave. for an exciting opportunity!” I hadn’t been unemployed very long but I was so sick of the corporate bureaucracy that existed in most of the business world I was just about willing to try anything. Even if it was just a get-rich-quick scheme, if it meant I was working for myself, I was open to it. I continued reading through to page eight and finally got an idea of what I was here for: the page explained that over the next four hours I would learn the skills necessary to recruit for one of the newest, fastest growing businesses in the country. For every person I signed up for a 1 hour interview, I would be paid a nominal finders’ fee. For every person that completed the interview process and was elevated on to the next level I would be paid a commission. Finally, for every ten people that were elevated, I would receive a bonus. It all sounded great, although the way it was worded I had a feeling that the “bonus” wasn’t a check but more like some kind of incentive or maybe stock in the company that would pay off over time. Still, even a meaningless title and bragging rights sounded good on a resumé. I filled out the standard application on page 9 and signed at the bottom of page ten. It seemed like a lot of work for not much in return but what did I have to lose? Jokingly I called back to Harold, “Hey how do I get your job?” He didn’t even look up from the phone as he gave me the finger.
No sooner did I lift my pen from the paper than a pair of well-dressed men stepped out from behind a curtain on stage I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t even look like two people could have hid back there for any length of time without being noticed. Must be a door back there, I thought to myself. They wore fancy suits and bore the stereotypical attitude of pitchmen. Good pitchmen, but ultimately still just sales guys
“Welcome to the first day of the rest of your existence!” The one on the left spoke first. His voice boomed throughout the room despite any sound system. What an odd way to phrase it, I thought. As he spoke, I began to take in his appearance. He was clearly an older gentlemen but he moved with a spring in his step that suggested he was in better shape than most his age. His hair was all white, he wore a neatly trimmed beard and had the most intense blue eyes.
He continued, “My name is Al and I’m asking you Jesse…” I was momentarily taken aback at being addressed directly. “…Are you ready to be part of history?” I nodded, more out of pressure than interest.
“That’s great! As Harry may have already told you, we rarely get any interested takers and I couldn’t be more excited to welcome you to the ground floor of this amazing opportunity.” From the back of the room I heard an exasperated sigh. “My name is Al and welcome to AVI.” Then Al jumped off the stage and shook my hand vigorously. He gave off a really palpable energy. At this point the other gentleman on stage finally spoke.
“Jesse,” he said in a tone of skepticism, “are you ready to give us 110%?”
I stammered, “I, uh, I think so. I’m not even sure what it is I’m going to be doing.”
“Jesse, Jesse, Jesse,” he sighed. “You came to us! You came here today for a job and you can’t tell me if you’re even going to give it your all? Why don’t I just tear up your application and you walk out of here?” My face began to flush as bad as it had when I put my foot in my mouth with Harold.
“That’s not what I meant,” I tried to say.
This guy was the polar opposite of Al. Black hair, slicked back with a shiny product of some kind, sharp features, but with the same piercing blue eyes. He continued, slowly and deliberately, “Are you ready to give 110%? Are you ready,” he paused for dramatic effect, “to be the first person to be asked to stand up here on this stage with us?” Jumping down from the stage himself he approached me and took my hand from Al. “Jesse, my name is Sam. What do you say?”
I almost felt compelled to tell this guy yes just to tell him what he wanted to hear, but inside I genuinely began to feel the excitement these guys were operating on. So I stood up and shook Sam’s hand firmly. “Yes, I am.” Then Al clapped me on the opposite shoulder invited me up on the stage with them.
Over the next few hours, Al and Sam proceeded to teach me sales techniques; how to incite conversation with anyone, anywhere at any time; how to overcome any objection; how to get them to sign on the line that is dotted. When it was all over, I could not wait to get out there and start recruiting. As Sam and Al explained it to me, all I had to do was convince people to make an appointment and they would do the rest. And they were good, but it didn’t matter. I felt good enough myself that I figured I could live off finders’ fees for all the appointments I was going to make. The commissions and whatever bonuses they were offering was only icing on the cake. And with the skills I had now, I had no question I could get another sales job in no time if I ever tired of this.
When it was all over, they handed me heavy manila envelope. “Jesse,” Al began, “in that packet is everything you need to get started today. There’s a pad of applications, a set of AVI pens and custom badge we had made for whomever was the first person to sign up for our services. Go on, take a look.”
I dumped the contents of the envelope on the stage in front of me and I was surprised by the heft and color of the badge as it hit the riser. It wasn’t gold or chrome like I expected but actually stark white. It looked like real ivory. I picked it up and read the word engraved on the front. “Reaper.”
I was taken aback. “Reaper? Boy you guys sure are cutthroat,” I chuckled. When I looked back toward the men they both had smug smiles on their faces, like they were in on some joke I wasnt privy to. “What’d I miss?”
“Reaper is a fitting term, regardless of the connotation,” Sam informed me. “It means ‘harvester.’ The world is your crop and you’re bringing in the harvest, my man!”
I laughed at that. “Well I suppose that’s one way to look at it.” Then as an afterthought I asked, “Why doesn’t anyone ever come to these things? Is it because they think it’s a scam?”
Al answered kindly, “We only advertise in certain papers, the kind that we know are only read by people of a certain persuasion. Without getting too technical, basically most people reading those publications already have jobs and are likely to never even look at an employment ad. How’d you come by it anyway?”
“I’ve been reading every classified section I could get my hands on, this unemployed bullshit sucks,” I said.
“Yes, I’m sure it does.” Al laughed a little at that but then asked politely, “But we do ask that you clean up your language a little.”
Sam slapped Al across the back, “Give him a break, Dad, it’s not like that’s really a big deal at this stage of the game.”
“Oh, one more question,” I wondered aloud, “what does AVI stand for, anyway?”
“It’s Latin,” Al explained. “It stands for ‘Ad Vitam, Inc.’”
“Ad vitam,” I repeated slowly, trying to remember my high school Latin. “‘Post living?’”
Sam grinned at this. “You’re close Jesse-Boy! It means, ‘After Life.’”
In that moment it all came together for me: their mysterious entrance, their appearance, Al’s aversion to swearing and Sam’s relaxed attitude toward it, the badge of *bone* that said “Reaper,” even the middle name “Harold.” In shock I struggled to speak but could only muster a whisper. “So that badge isn’t a metaphor is it?”
Sam grinned bigger than ever and shook his head. “Jesse, allow me to give you a proper introduction, since we will be working together a very long time. My name is Samael, my dad over here is Allah and my half-brother over there,” he gestured toward Harold, “is Jesus.”