SHORT STORY / NEW FICTION: High Pay, No Skills Required

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David Budnick stood before a crowded room filled with hopeful, unemployed faces and announced, “This is a great day to get hit by a car.”  

It was getting harder and harder for David to find good employees.  He had tried boosting pay, matching 401K contributions, adding vacation days and even lowering the hiring age to sixteen, but David was still struggling to find and retain workers in this hot economy.  His hope was that today’s hiring event would jump-start his efforts. It wasn’t the same world of recruiting as it was even a few years ago. David couldn’t use the same approach he’d always used. This problem had to be tackled from different angles.

David is a wide-eyed, friendly and enthusiastic thirty-five-year-old with a round face and welcoming eyes.  He’s fit but not dramatically so and favors a comfortable business casual style for events like this; jeans with an untucked button-down oxford left intentionally unironed along with a fresh, bright white pair of Adidas Original Superstar sneakers.  Nobody wants to go to work somewhere that’s stuffy and uptight. David knew he would never get millennials that way.

David had been career-focused ever since getting his Masters in Human Resource Management from Purdue ten years ago.  He had plenty of friends along the way and didn’t lack for companionship, but his professional goals always took precedence since David’s goal was to be established firmly in his career before taking on his life goals of marriage and fatherhood.  Deep down David also knew that he hadn’t found the right woman yet because he figured he was smart enough to know not to let a good one go if she came along. David took the same approach to his recruiting.

“There is more work out there than there are people to do it,” David began, addressing the diverse, racially mixed crowd of college students, recent immigrants with a limited understanding of English, and a healthy smattering of working poor including day laborers and single mothers looking to work from home, most with children hanging off their hips, and all brought to the room by the baited advertisement placed by David in the local papers promising:  High Pay, No Skills Required.  “But those good jobs never go to people like you.  My name is David Budnick, and I’m here to change all that.”

There was a large audiovisual screen hanging behind David whose content David managed with the remote control in his hand, but as he looked out at the faces in the crowd, David knew he already had them.  How could they resist? They couldn’t.

“Opportunity,” David told them.  “Why should you be denied the opportunity to work for a top company?  Okay, maybe you didn’t graduate high school or even grade school for that matter.  You know what? We don’t care.” Audience members looked around, the statement hooking attentions that had the lifespan of a soap bubble.  “Did I hear that right?” the furrowed brows and opened mouths seemed to say.

“We are an inclusive workplace.  We don’t care what you look like, what color you are, what race you are.  We don’t care who or what you worship. It doesn’t matter what team you root for, who you sleep with, what gender you identify with, or whether you stand up or sit down in the restroom,” David said.  “We believe that good jobs like this should be made available to everyone. Here, it’s not just who you know. Your name doesn’t have to be stenciled on the front door in order for you to succeed. We’re not like other companies.  In this company, we share our success with our employees.”

David looked at the screen behind him, where a picture of a horrific highway accident involving an eighteen-wheel big rig and a mid-size Acura SUV brought audible gasps from the crowd.  David moved on to the next picture showing the driver of the SUV, post-accident, standing on crutches in front of the crumpled SUV with a large, oversized check for $1,000 in his hand, holding both thumbs up and with a huge, mildly toothless smile on his face.  The crowd of job seekers cheered, looking around to each other, nodding their approval. Wow, their faces said, look at the size of that check.

“Personal Injury Insurance Fraud is an industry that’s primed for growth, with huge financial opportunities available that have historically been denied to people in your particular groups.  This company is the largest personal injury insurance fraud company on the west coast, with the biggest collective of medical clinic owners, physicians, therapists, and accident victims in seventeen states.  We have staged fake car accidents all throughout the country and in twenty-seven nations around the world so it doesn’t matter where you live, we can stage an accident near where it’s convenient to you.” The slide show behind David continued with a steady stream of catastrophic accident scenes followed by the picture of the driver getting paid with prop checks large enough to hide their debilitating injuries.  “This company stands behind you to make sure you get what’s coming to you.”

Members of the crowd nodded.  Multiple locations in a network were important because this line of work was difficult to do on one’s own anymore.  There was a time when incentive-minded people could fake getting hit by a car by running at a moving vehicle, knowing that the vehicle would stop or at least slow down, then they would throw themselves onto the hood, crash and collapse to the pavement, wailing hysterically about their now permanent, disfiguring injuries.  The problem now was that everyone had a dashcam these days and video evidence was a pesky thing when it was introduced at trial.

“This is a company culture that values your contribution.  This company succeeds because our employees succeed. We’re not just about how much bonus money our CEO and Board of Directors make while they starve out our employees by gutting pensions and benefit plans.  We care about you and the problems you have. That’s why we’re here.” David smiled. He was getting into it now. “You know what doctors and insurance companies do to you, don’t you? You pay premium prices to these people, year after year, and what do you get out of it?  I’ll tell you. Nothing.  It’s called return on investment people, and quite frankly, these folks have been and will be ripping you off year after year.  Why shouldn’t you get compensated? I knew a guy paid into insurance for thirty years, then he got sick. You want to know what happened?”

Voices shouted out from the crowd.  

“What?”  

“What happened?”

“They canceled the man.  Canceled his insurance, right out from under him after paying in all those years.  Couldn’t get the help he needed, and he died. That man’s name was Herbie Durr. I do this for Herbie Durr because Herbie Durr deserved a chance at a good life.  A prosperous life. And you deserve a prosperous life, too. The life they promised us in grade school, that if we applied ourselves, studied, worked hard and sacrificed, that we all could have our part of the American dream.  Let me tell you something. There was nothing in my dream that included making some insurance guy rich!”  

Cheers came up from the crowd.  David looked around and was pleased.  It didn’t matter that none of this was true, it was the spirit of the story that mattered.  If everyone was being honest, they would all have to admit that something like this probably happened to someone somewhere at some time, so what was the difference in the way he told the story aside from that the names and actual situation were different?

“We are a company built on our employees, so we think it’s important for you to meet some of them here today.  Our core belief is that the more diverse and creative our team is, the stronger we’ll be as a company. “We’ll start off with our most tenured employee.  This man is really the bedrock of our company, the foundation on which all of this is built. He is an innovator, a visionary, and our heart and soul. We built this business literally on this man’s back, and his contribution to this business and this industry cannot be underestimated.  Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming…Mister Walter O’Neill.”

The hump-backed Walter O’Neill walked on wearing an old-time leather football helmet on his head.  His sense of direction was highly skewed, which caused Walter to bounce into anything and everything that fell within his range of motion.  It was easy to see that Walter had been in one too many accidents in his life, but he remained delightfully punch-drunk and appeared possibly unaware of the damage that the many years in his business had caused him.  He walked up to the microphone David placed before him, shielding his eyes from the bright lights and addressed the crowd.

“I like chalk.”

David rushed in and whisked him away from the microphone.  “Isn’t he great?” Walter, oblivious, was steered to an exit door by David, which did nothing to prevent Walter from walking into everything between him and the door as he was getting there.  David knew that he had to keep Walter on a short leash. At least this time there were no obscenities. That church was never going to have them back.

David felt more confident with the next employee he was bringing out, the affable and more important, cognizant, Kathleen Zelder.  Kathleen walked with a slight limp as she strode up to the microphone. She was in her early forties, trim but not unhealthy, with strawberry blonde hair tied neatly in a bun and a disposition that was as sunny as a desert morning.  Kathleen made you smile when you looked at her.

“You are so lucky to be sitting in the chairs you’re sitting in,” Kathleen told the audience.  “It’s so exciting. I remember when it was me sitting there, wondering the same things you’re wondering.  Is this really for me? Am I willing to make the sacrifices that I need to make in order to have the life that I want for me and my family?”

The people in the audience nodded their agreement.  Those were exactly the kinds of things they were thinking about.  It was the question that everyone thinks about and it didn’t matter whether you were rich or poor.  It’s a question everyone has to consider at some point in their life.

Kathleen walked to a stool, sat down, then with her right hand removed her artificial left arm, all the while smiling like a schoolgirl winning a spelling bee.  “I’ll admit, I was one of the lucky ones. You don’t usually get the big payout on your very first job with the company, but I don’t want you to think it’s always going to cost you an arm and a leg, either.”  Kathleen removed her right leg. “Sometimes things change for the better.”

David stepped forward to assist.  “You see, it’s people like Kathleen who are the people you’ll be working alongside, and we sure do love her positive, can-do attitude!”

“If I hadn’t taken this job,” Kathleen continued, “I’d be just another face in the crowd.  Because of this company, I’m financially secure, I have the time and freedom to live my life, and the perks?  Oh, the perks! I get all the good parking spaces now. They let me onto airplanes early. I jump the lines at every amusement park.  I could go on.”

David picked up.  “Yes you could, Kathleen and everyone will have a chance to talk with Kathleen at our meet-and-greet a little bit later on, but I know what’s on everyone’s mind now.  Sure, this sounds great and all, but what is it really like to go through an actual workday? Let’s show you what a regular workday is like.”

A video played on the screen behind David showing an Action Director-type in sunglasses and a baseball cap choreographing a staged accident between two people in separate cars, with the scene accompanied by David’s live narration.  “Our world-renowned team of action directors and stunt coordinators will walk you through the staging process step by step. They know that the better you are at your job, the better we all do in the end.”  

GoPro footage taken from inside the car showed the two people facing off against each other on a long, straight desert road.  Each driver gripped their steering wheels and hung on for dear life as they gunned their engines, their faces anxious with anticipation and determination.  Standing on the double yellow line in the middle of the road between them, the director signaled the drivers with bright orange flags and the drivers punched their accelerators, their cars speeding toward each other, a confrontation that ends with a violent collision.  One of the drivers staggers out of their car and collapses on the street.

“So easy!”  David was overwhelmed.  “Twenty seconds of action and now these two won’t have to work for the next three years.  Sounds pretty sweet, doesn’t it?”

The video switched to footage of the outside of the personal injury clinics run by the company.  These were shoddy, storefront operations set up in dodgy strip malls and staffed by doctors with active drinking problems who looked like they were one more complaint away from having their medical licenses taken away for good.  The two drivers walk into the clinic where they are given stacks and stacks of paperwork to fill out. The name of one of the drivers shows up on the video; she’s twenty-seven year old Nicole Erskine, and all of this business is old hat to her.  She barely notices the Halo ring vest that encircles and is fixed to her head by screws to stabilize her cervical spine.

“What’s great about this company is that the amount of money that you can make is entirely up to you.”  There was footage of Nicole talking over her accident scene with the director on the scene as she continued.  “They allow you a lot of room for creativity. There is no set way to do things. The company needs to file insurance claims on us “victims” and I have personally found that it does pay to be creative.”  Post-accident footage shows Nicole being cut out of her car by EMT’s using the Jaws of Life.

David jumped back in as the video ended.  “This is a volume business. We just keep pumping them in.  Volume, volume, volume. The more claims the company does to insurance companies, the better we all do.  Truth is, a good number will get through, but some of them aren’t going to get through. That’s why we emphasize volume.  The more you put in the top of the funnel, the more that comes out the bottom and that’s how you get paid. This is about you making as much money as possible, and this company gives you that chance.  Does anyone have any questions that I can answer?”

Estella Betz looked around the room at the other attendees to this presentation.  She had considered saying something before but held off because she wanted to hear the rest of it before she made her conclusions.  Estella had seen, tried, and/or lost money to practically every “work-from-home” scam on the market. She had to be on the list for every multi-level marketing scheme that’s ever been invented if the daily spam-carpet-bombing of her inbox was any indication.  Over the years Estella has tried everything from stuffing envelopes to customer service to sales to hocking product starter kits and nearly every other home-based business idea that came her way. She has shelves in her basement filled with the leftovers of these starry-eyed ventures, with enough boxes of makeup to last an entire season of Broadway shows or at least one long weekend in Dallas, Texas.  Her husband Otto was an infinitely patient man, but there was no way he’d go for this.

“Excuse me,” Estella asked, standing up so that she could be better heard.  “Is this for real?”

David smiled, stepping forward to answer her.  “I know, it sounds too good to be true. Ma’am, you and everyone else in this room are about to make a whole lot of money.”

Estella looked to the people sitting around her.  “You know this is insurance fraud, right? These people are breaking the law.”

The idea began to make people uncomfortable, and some of the attendees started to squirm in their seats.  Others laid the stink eye on Estella. Who was this woman?  What is she talking about?  This is about us making money!

David asked Estella directly, “Ma’am, do you know what it is when a company takes hard-earned money out of your pocket month after month and never gives you anything in return?  That’s called stealing!”

“But it’s not.  It’s not stealing.  That’s not how insurance works,” Estella replied.

David held up his hands, giving up.  “Hey, look, I get it. Maybe this isn’t for you.  Maybe you’re someone who is content with getting everything that they’ve always gotten in life.  Maybe you don’t want any more. You might be perfectly happy in the life you have right now and that’s okay.  Congratulations. That’s the end goal for everyone, isn’t it? Folks, I’m not here to force this on anyone. Our goal is to help underserved communities by providing financial opportunities typically denied to those communities.  This might not be for everyone. But I want to thank you for coming.”

Estella gathered her things and started to leave, but the idea of what was going on here still bothered her.  “Are you all serious? You’re going to let this man put you into a car accident? You want to end up like Halo-head over there?  You’re okay with the fact that you might lose body parts? Or that you might have to wear a football helmet everywhere so that you don’t hurt yourself?  Is money this important to you?”

David said nothing, waiting for Estella to finish.  Estella waited in the aisle for someone, anyone, to agree with her.  She thought for a moment that they were thinking over the question, but it was soon apparent that everyone had already forgotten the question and now were only wondering why this woman was standing up in the aisle and blocking their view.  What was she talking about?

“Thank you,” Estella said as she left the room.  “We’re all doomed.”

David stood with his hands clasped in front of him as Estella walked out and the door slammed shut behind her.  “Okay,” he finally said. “Who here is ready to make some money?” The remaining attendees all perked up in their seats, ready to come on board.  David smiled.   

It was a great day to get hit by a car.

 

END.

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1 comments on “SHORT STORY / NEW FICTION: High Pay, No Skills Required”

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