My exposure to the company began with a description most people would be smart enough to avoid.
“Apply now at Elia NIC! NO Experience required. NO education required. Competitive pay earned off commissions. Training provided on site.“
“Why wait to kick-start your dreams?”
Losing employment is a curse I would not place on my worst enemy.
It makes you feel worthless. It makes you feel defeated. It makes you feel like that whole narrative put together in your head, the one where you remain loyal and work your way up the company ladder, was all some sort of sick joke shared by the big wigs at the top. Depression comes in like a stinky wave that leaves you glued to the couch with a bag of Cheetos and the latest round of up depressing Spotify songs and Netflix shows. Anxiety rules morning, noon, and night. Hopelessness fuels dreams.
You get the idea.
I fucking hated being laid off.
And so I did everything in my power to try and remedy the situation quickly. I left my resume on Monster, ZipRecruiter, Indeed, LinkedIn… all of the big names. Shit, I even tried Craigslist. I tried anywhere I thought could land me a decent position with decent pay and a hope of health insurance. And not a single one contacted me for six days.
The phone calls trickled in slowly after that. One guy asked me to sell knives. Another asked if I wanted to deliver pizza. The second sounded so much better than anything else I heard, that I almost took him up on it.
But, by the end of my fifteenth day of unemployment, I received one phone call that gave me hope. The woman’s name was Irene, and she seemed to be the real deal.
“Good morning, is this Mr. Richardsen?” she asked.
“I am calling from Elia NIC. I am actually just following up on the resume you submitted this morning. We would like to speak to you a little more about your fit for our company.“
I tried to conceal my excitement. Irene was the first one that didn’t ask right away about my lack of college degree, or the reason for my firing, or what hours I could work. She sounded genuinely interested in…. me. Without knowing anything other than what my application said. Maybe I over-exaggerated that.
“Yes ma’am, of course ma’am, where are you located? I have no problem dropping by at 2:00.“
“Great! We are looking forward to seeing you. The application fee will be refunded after two weeks employment. Please dress professionally, bring a resume, and expect that we may be traveling for some introductory training.“
I hesitated. I didn’t remember an application fee. But I definitely gave away my credit card to a couple places.
“Um, okay, sure.“
“Thank you Matt, have a good night!“
I wanted to ask about the traveling. I wanted to ask about healthcare, and commuting, and hours; but the quickness of the conversation left me in the dust staring stupidly. I made up my mind to go to the first interview, see how it felt, and judge the job from there. It was not like I had a thousand other prospects at the time. I needed to get off of my feet and out of the house.
That morning, I resumed the routine of my employment days. I woke up extra early, six AM, with a shower and shave. I made myself breakfast and coffee and carefully read the paper. It felt so good to be a human being again. I felt like I was waking myself from the dead by just doing the things that seemed ordinary before, but extraordinary then.
I felt motivated. I felt ready to make an impression. But the job interview did not start until two.
And so I drove around a bit. I stopped at a breakfast shop. I drank more coffee, and ate more donuts. I read the same newspaper again. That got me to about 12:00. After an hour of sitting awkwardly in my car, I decided to just drive to the office a little early.
I pulled into the lot of the office park at exactly 1:00. One hour before my interview.
I thought it would be weird to go up to the door and look around. If someone saw me, and asked who I was, it would be strange to say that I was there for an interview that did not begin for another hour. They might find me desperate, or creepy. So instead, I sat there like an even bigger creep, and watched the downtrodden ant people march in and around the office park.
They seemed normal enough. One man forgot his wallet in the car and ran outside to get it. He wore a blue suit with creased ends and black shoes. Another woman seemed to be taking a phone call while relaxing with a cigarette. Another gentleman enjoyed a sandwich on a bench.
But underneath the calm exterior, one sound sounded oddly out of place. Chanting. Someone, or a group of someones, was chanting inside.
I did my best to look inconspicuous with the same Goddamn newspaper spread out across my lap. About ten minutes later, a tap at my window shook my daydreaming out of focus. I rolled it down instinctively and squinted at the sharp dressed woman standing on the other side.
“Can I help you?” she asked. “Do you have an appointment with someone here?“
I stammered and quickly reached for the resume sitting on my passenger seat.
“Yes, yes ma’am, I have an interview with Elia NIC? Sorry about that, it’s at 2:00. I got here early and was just waiting in my car until it started.“
The woman’s expression immediately lightened up to review beautiful blue eyes behind a mess of blonde curls. She was young and beautiful. Thick layers of blush and eyeliner decorated and accentuated her taught cheekbones and delicate features. She wore clothing that looked to be freshly pulled from a dry cleaner. Everything about her appearance screamed excellent.
I like like a schlub.
“Oh you must be Matt!“
I immediately ejected myself from the car and stood up awkwardly in front of her. I stuck out my hand and fixed the lapels on my jacket neurotically.
“Oh! Nice to meet you! Sorry about that again! I’m Matt!“
She smiled a mouth full of perfect white teeth as she glanced over my resume quickly.
“Yeah I got that. Do you have your resume, Matt?”
I nodded, apologized a third time, and handed it over.
“Not a problem, not a problem…” she replied evenly while studying the paper. “We just returned from a field trip… this all looks good… what was the reason for your latest termination?“
“Well, ma’am, truthfully… I got to work late more than a few times. I had trouble with the commute, you see, there’s always traffic on that particular route. This office is much closer to my house so that will not be an issue here.“
“Understood. You do know that we travel?“
I hesitated again.
“Yea ma’am, about that…“
Irene looked up at me and smiled again. She looked very pretty when she smiled.
“Enough ma’am, kid, you know my name. We gotta go. You ready for training?“
Thinking she meant the interview, I jumped at her question.
“Right. On the bus. Justin and Peter will be joining us.”
Irene waved distractedly to two other men standing several feet away. I had not noticed them before, but they looked like an odd pair. One man was clearly not a great dresser, with a suit that appeared to be about three sizes to small riding up his arms and squeezing his burly frame. The other was short and calculating. He wore a pristine button down with a clearly fake Rolex watch strapped to his right wrist. His eyes appeared to be studying from abou twenty feet away.
Without another word, Irene took off down the street. The men followed. I stared at the shoddy little group and considered what this ‘opportunity’ could be. I have read about multi level marketing. I would like to think I am smart enough to avoid a clear scam. But something about the way that blonde looked over her shoulder and waved me onwards made her almost endearing. I trusted her, on gut and nothing else.
So I followed.
We took the D bus to a nearby town I knew surprisingly well. My sister had played soccer nearby for years before. Irene began her pitch to myself and the other two as soon as we exited the bus.
“Okay, fellas, first rule of Elia. We do not reveal our best sale until the end. Understood?“
The nerdy looking man, who I learned to be Justin, replied immediately.
“Yes, Irene, got it!“
“Okay boys. Today I am going to be posing as a Verizon salesman. We are going to tell some local businesses owners that their package is expiring, but we can help them renew it. This is a lucrative opportunity. We could earn upwards of a thousand dollars per deal. Do we understand?“
This time, Peter replied.
She smiled again. That same bright white smile that seemed to keep us all waiting around like puppy dogs. Then she took off towards the nearest laundromat. We followed eagerly. I heard her insistent and peppery voice drift out into the street before we all even made it inside.
“Good evening, ma’am, we are with Verizon and we would like to talk to you about renewing and lowering your current bill by up to FIFTY dollars a month!“
A crotchety elderly woman sat behind the counter with a soda in one hand and the TV remote in the other. She looked annoyed, and I could not blame her. I would be agitated by us too.
“Can you not read the sign? NO SOLICITORS.“
The lady screamed and spit out the last words like a threat. And yet it did nothing to break Irene’s confidence.
“I understand, ma’am. But this could save you so much money in such a short time…“
The elderly woman slapped the vinyl countertop angrily with the remote.
“Bitch, there ain’t no but, we don’t even have Verizon. We got Direct TV up in here. Get out.“
I had about enough. I exited the laundromat and lit a cigarette of my own on the quiet and lazy suburban street. Irene still argued persistently inside. Peter soon joined in the cacophony. After a moment, Justin joined me outside.
“What do you think so far? Great gig, right?“
I chuckled a bit. I didn’t want to appear rude. I can understand how desperation in the job market will make people do almost anything. But this was not for me. I hated door to door salesman. I had no idea this would be the job.
“It’s great, yeah, definitely interesting.“
Peter nodded back to me enthusiastically. Irene and Justin exited the building soon after in a huff.
“Okay, gentleman, that is what we call a hostile potential client. What did we learn here?“
She eyed the other two expectantly. I guess they had been trained more than me, because I was not expected to answer. Justin piped up first.
“Two exits: the one in the front, and the one in the back. Safe right there out in the open. Cash business, lots of cash on hand. The owner lives on Wallace Ave. She’s a mess and clearly incapacitated. Easy to overpower.” Justin flexed absentmindedly. “I could cut her up in my sleep.“
Irene smiled at him with proud blue eyes.
“Excellent. Excellent. Peter, anything else? Where do we bury the body?“
Peter studied the laundromat quietly. Then he pointed at me, ignoring Irene’s absurd question.
“He left early.“
Irene sighed and chuckled softly.
“Yes, yes he did. I did not want to point it out, but I’m glad you did. Matt, why did you leave early? Are you not excited for this opportunity?“
I stared at the three of them like the idiots they were. I wondered what the fuck I had just gotten myself into. Who does that? Who openly discusses committing crimes on a job interview, and then asks the interviewee for feedback? I looked around for any other cars and found the street deserted. They sensed my hesitation and Irene cleared her throat loudly. I finally replied.
“Look, I am not… I am looking for a graphic design position.“
Justin started to laugh first. Then Irene. Then, finally, even Peter joined the chorus of giggles with a half ashamed expression on his gullible little face. They laughed for what felt like an eternity. Then Irene finally allowed herself to speak, through tears, in a tone that suddenly sounded a lot more acidic than an hour before.
“Graphic design, huh. But you went to school for History?“
It took me a minute to realize that was on my resume.
“Two point two GPA, too. Such a shitty little GPA for such a shitty little school. And how about that drug related arrest?” Peter added.
I stared at them while my mouth sat open like a fish. How could they know that?
“Remember the background check?” Irene asked with another cold laugh. “And how about that tiny little bank account. Thirty years old and only 1k to your name?“
Impossible. How could she know that. I never…
“Remember the application fee?” Justin asked with a wicked smile. “Don’t beat yourself up, bud, you just gave away one too many fields.“
Irene quickly bridged the gap between us and whispered the next line into my ear.
“Do you think you’re just going to go back to that shithole on Sycamore Avenue and tell the police? The duplex above that fat old man with his barking dog? Is that your grandfather? I bet he is. Father fuckin Time himself. You went there for dinner last night. You talk a lot. I bet he falls a lot. Doesn’t he? We could make it look like an accident, couldn’t we? Don’t you want some *money, Matt?*”
I felt sweat pour down my forehead in the cold Jersey winter. All three of them surrounded me like a triangle. I could shout to someone if they were nearby. But not even the laundromat owner would hear me. She shut the window.
And on top of that… the sun was falling.
A car began to approach us. I saw Irene look towards it and gesture at Justin and Peter with her eyes. They nodded. I took the moment’s distraction to my advantage and reacted instinctively.
I delivered a swift kick to the big guy’s groin and a quick punch to the little guy’s glasses. They didn’t exactly fall over from my might. But their reaction allowed me enough space to run. I took off down the street and tried to hail down an approaching bus. Irene and her tinted SUV followed; heels clicking all the way.
I hopped on the bus just in time. The doors closed just in time for me to wave to the crazy little crew slowing down in the disappearing distance.
I never saw them again.
The moment I got home, I called the police and reported the incident. I told them everything I knew. I told them about the job application, the interview, the locations. Everything. Truthfully, I applied to hundreds of jobs the past week. I didn’t remember them all. The sketchier and more likely to call back the better. Elia NIC could have been any of them.
After that was done, I got my grandfather and got the fuck out of that town.
I closed my credit cards and bank accounts. I relocated to a different state. I asked the police to monitor any activity in the area this happened. But nothing came of it. Nobody ever contacted me again.
So consider this story my warning. A signal to any other poor unemployed sap like me. If you see the below ad, do not click it. Do not call or attempt to contact them in any way. Call the police instead.
I got one in the mail last night.
They found my new address.
Apply now at Elia NIC to kick-start your dreams! NO Experience required. NO education required. Competitive pay earned off commissions. Training provided on site.
Why wait to kick-start your dreams?