Jason called me last June. I owed him two thousand bucks — party favors for graduation bashes. I had too many friends when I was in school. Jason wasn’t calling to party. I could’ve kept avoiding him. But he called instead of showing up, so I figured I’d try reason. Jason’s big, but he isn’t stupid. When you go to his house, he’s at his computer and there’s stuff on his monitor that’s serious.
I went over there after work. “I can pay you with interest. That’s worth more than getting to break my jaw.”
“You work at Chili’s, right?” He pushed a little black box across the desk. “Bring it back every time you get a hundred numbers. We’ll be cool.”
At first, it was personal. I’d only do customers who were assholes. Then I went to a party, and the only person I talked to was a chick philosophy major. “Karma takes care of itself,” she said when she passed me the bowl. “People can’t control it at all.”
It didn’t matter after that. I did it when I wouldn’t get seen. But I got to thinking. Do the bad guys jumble up the numbers? Wouldn’t the FBI or whoever is in charge of that stuff figure it out? So I’ve gone back to not everyone. Just customers who order quesadillas.
Mark was so tall that when he sat across from me in the booth, he had to tilt his knees diagonally so that they didn’t bump into mine. We could have asked for a table with chairs, but he said he was used to it. His knees were on the outside, which didn’t seem right but I couldn’t explain why.
Mark worked in marketing. “I’ve heard all the jokes.”
His smile dropped a little when I didn’t understand right away.
“Mark. Marketing. MARKeting. Get it?”
I did. “Are there other jokes?”
The waiter stepped in with a chicken quesadilla and two plates before Mark could answer. “Careful,” he said, like waiters always do. “It’s really hot.”
So are you, I thought as he set everything down. I was way too old, though. For the waiter, for the Online Christian Dating Network, for all of this. For pretending.
Mark lowered his head, and I could see his scalp shining through his hair. “We thank you, Lord, for the meal before us. Bless this food and this date to the strength of our bodies. Amen.”
The strength of our bodies. Trapped under tables.
Taylor knows that I gotta do what I gotta do. So that she can have her iPhone and Dooney and Bourke bags and spray tans and a teacup poodle or whatever the hell Coco is. Taylor is still the best smelling thing that’s ever going to happen to me. Neither of us is going anywhere. But she’s pissed when she comes into my room tonight and I’m in front of the computer. “Jason, you said we’d leave for the show half an hour ago.”
“Gotta do these and send them to Siggi, sweetheart. So I can pay for the show.”
Taylor’s already left the room. She knows the deal, but that’s all she wants to know.
I order a three pack of pens, ship it to New Zealand, make a checkmark. Laminated bookmark with Jesus on it, Canada, checkmark. Clock radio, Florida, checkmark. These cards have to be proven to work before Siggi will buy them. Doesn’t matter what’s being ordered, or where it’s going.
Someday I’m going to fuck up and send something I actually want to myself.
MARK BROWNE_4210 CIRCADIA LA #5A_OLD MILLTOWN, CT 06844
XXXX XXXX XXXX 5613 EXP 04/14
08/29/07 $198.99 MCNEARY HONDA OLD MILLTOWN CT
Oil change, tuneup, detailing. Can’t get into all the little nooks and crannies, fingers are too big.
08/30/07 $78.33 CHILIS WATERBURY CT
Even before that online woman ordered an Irish coffee for dessert, it had been a waste of time. She was too worldly, somehow. Too angry.
08/30/07 $423.96 GOLFSMITH.COM
Callaway FT-9 Neutral Driver. A well-deserved treat after that Chili’s fiasco.
09/01/07 $25.00 AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY NEW HAVEN CT
Aunt Margaret died of stomach cancer, and Louise at work is doing a Fun Run.
09/03/07 $6.16 CATHEDRAL BOOKS
That sounds Catholic. What came from there?
Your headset is on. Stare at the leader board. Twelve customer service representatives are on calls. Four reps are waiting for calls. You are one of those four. Unlike the other three, you are hung over. You would have called in sick, but you’re putting a down payment on a TV tomorrow. You’ll need groceries by the time your paycheck hits.
Your phone beeps. Push the button, and thank the customer for calling Cathedral Books. A middle-aged guy will tell you he can’t figure out what he ordered from you. Do you sell things like rosaries, he asks, or things like Bibles? Tell him both. Don’t tell him that your call center serves ten religious item websites and you also sell incense burners, the Koran, and statues. Ask for his order number. He won’t have one. Ask for his name. Ask if Brown has an e. Ask if Mark has a k on the end, or a c. When you find the order, you’ll know what the problem is. The bill-to name and address is correct, the ship-to address is in Toronto. Someone stole this guy’s credit card. It is your sixth stolen credit card call today.
Read everything to the customer that you are allowed to read back, which is everything except the credit card number. He will be relieved that the item is a Jesus bookmark. He’ll get agitated when you tell him where it was shipped. He doesn’t know a Connor MacLeod. That’s another tip the order is fake — the ship-to name isn’t real. Connor MacLeod is the main character in the Highlander movies. Flag the order and account, and send an email to Order Processing. Tell Mark with a K, Browne with an E, to call his credit card company. Explain there’s nothing else you can do.
After he hangs up all pissy, show the order to Dave. You’ll both make Highlander jokes until break time.