Half a century ago, when I was a young adult who still had much to learn about the world and what was in it, I took a little pick-up job. The job was for a couple of days in a dingy little office located in the seamy side of downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota. It entailed copying and collating brochures touting financial products or maybe it was for promoting property investment opportunities. I read the brochures but they were incomprehensible to me. At the time I did not realize that I should know what I was actually doing, I probably thought that my job was simply to do whatever task was assigned to me. So when the two owners asked me to stay on and help hand out the brochures on street corners downtown, I agreed because I thought it would be interesting and I wanted a little extra money for that too. I had no idea that that was not how honest business is done. I enjoyed passing out the colorful brochures with the exciting sales hype on them, and I met a lot of people who seemed very interested in whatever the product was.
During the time that I worked there, my brother was not working and so after I told him about the job he worked for the owners for several weeks. He must have worked somewhere other than where I worked because I never saw him in the owners' small office. He did not tell me what he was doing. When the owners told me that they were returning to Florida, they teased me that they would take me with them as I had generated much more response to their product than anyone else ever had, there was no comparison they said. I said, “Tell me more.” but they said, “Oh, no, no.” and even seemed a little worried about the idea. So as the days went by and I got no paycheck in the mail, I myself began to worry and I went in to the office to pick up my paycheck in person. The office was empty except for one of the owners who tried to shrug me off without paying me. I insisted on being paid and he became coldly angry. He sat down behind his desk and slid open the center drawer. In it I saw only two things, a gun and a checkbook. It seemed he had a choice. He hesitated. I froze in place. Then he pulled out the checkbook and wrote me a short check but I took it, and I took it directly to his bank and cashed it. I told my brother right away about what had happened to me, and I warned him that he would probably have to pick up his check in person if he wanted to be paid. He did not comfort me in my distress at having seen the owner hesitate over the gun laying next to the checkbook in his desk drawer. Instead my brother became very angry with me, blaming me for telling him about the job and then for his wasting all that time for probably no pay. What he did not do is report the situation to anyone or deal with the cheating, gun-toting man. My brother’s response was par for the course as he had a life-long predilection for blaming me, his older sister, instead of facing life.
I was mortified to be the best (unintentional) shill those criminals had ever had, and I was not pleased about being paid off by criminals. What was worse, after experiencing an employer hesitating between a gun and a paycheck when I asked for my pay, I was forever uneasy about working in small offices. They had frightened me badly. What was worst, a year or so later, a nice-looking young man stopped me on the street and said, “Hey, you’re that girl! You sold me bogus stuff and I never got my money back.” He could not explain what the ‘stuff’ was, but he insisted that I owed him hundreds of dollars. I was embarrassed and frightened to be publicly accused. All I could say to him was that I did not know what the product was and I did not have his money. That added public humiliation into the mix. For a long time, I wondered who else was recognizing me in public as an apparent accomplice to those criminals.
Caption: Would I Get A Paycheck Or Gunned Down?
collage by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018