Monday, July 2, 2012

Ever wonder what poor looks like?

The following is an excerpt from Approaching Felonias Park, a novel by Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt, copyright 2011, Aberdeen Bay Publishers.
She groaned.  Thirty or more people a day at her door asking for money.  For a loan.  At least thirty times, she would have to explain the mission of the organization and their responsibility.  She mimicked herself saying it now: 
“Remember, In-a-Pinch is not a bank.  You are taking out a high interest loan to be repaid over a six-month period.  You will be responsible for the principal of the loan, monthly interest accrued at 27% and the initiation fee of $75.00.  If you miss one or more payments, we reserve the right to aggressively collect from you and/or the cosigners designated on your application form.  Do you have any questions?”
This was the part she could say in her sleep, and it was the part that she didn’t know how to manage on her resume.  How could she describe this on any resume?  It was ridiculous. 
“Hello.  My name is Jezabel.  I process high interest loans for the desperate.  How do we manage collections?  Well, I don’t really get involved in that part of the process.  I just take their applications and assess eligibility.  Do I know about my company’s reputation?  I am not sure what you mean by that, Sir.” 
This was the part that always got her.  Hey, it wasn’t her fault the way collections were handled.  She had a job to do, and collections was not it.  Besides, clients were always so happy to get their loans.  She wasn’t responsible for it.  She was making them happy, right?
Tonya stepped through the door and gestured to a woman with curly red hair and giant, purple-rimmed glasses.  The woman’s makeup looked spackled on.  Her lipstick was peeling, and the concealer barely covered the giant pock marks that looked to be left-overs from childhood chicken pox.  Jezabel sighed again.  Thank God she had been one of the lucky generations to receive the inoculation.  She had her problems, but giant pock marks were not included in them.
“This is…….” Tonya began.  Jezabel nodded and smiled the same way she might at a party where she didn’t know anyone. 
Jezabel tried to never pay attention to their names.  There were too many of them and, unless they forgot to sign something correctly, in which case they had to come back to see her, Jezabel never saw them more than once anyway.  Why waste mental energy memorizing names that meant nothing in the long run?  And did she want to think about them having names?  Wasn’t that like naming a fish, a no-no because when the fish died, you would miss it?
Social security numbers and filled out forms were what she looked for.  Sure, she couldn’t help but remember a name or two if the client went to collections, but it was never a surprise when a loan went to collections.  More than half of the clients went that route. 
So Jezabel got interested in looking at the woman’s polyester, paisley-print shirt.  Orange and teal mega-print and orange pants.  Purple boots.  Big, sprayed hair and a lopsided smile.  The woman was tall, and when she sat in the chair in front of Jezabel, she looked uncomfortable, like her big feet didn’t know where to put themselves.  The woman fidgeted and finally handed over her paperwork to Jezabel who scanned it to make sure all the fields were filled in.  The lady bounced her leg and peered through big lenses at Jezabel who read and pointed to a section on the form.
“So you are not working right now, is that correct?” Jezabel asked.  She had learned to ask this question right off, without hesitation and without apology. 
“That’s right,” said the woman.
“So how do you plan on paying this loan?” Jezabel asked, again, directly.
“I get some assistance and I do some work under the table,” the woman said, equally as directly.
Jezabel looked over the paper at the woman.  “What kind of work do you do?” she asked.
“I fix fans.”
“Oh,” said Jezabel, and moved closer to her computer.
“Don’t you want to know anything else?” the redhead asked, staring seriously at Jezabel.  “Like how many I can fix and why I haven’t fixed any in the last month and how I afford the parts and what I do?”
Jezabel shrugged.  It wasn’t her business to ask for details about the lady’s business.  She just wanted to know how the lady planned to pay the bill.  The lady continued anyway. 
“See, on trash day, I go through the neighborhoods.  It’s the weirdest thing.  You almost always see a fan in the trash.  I’ve been doing this for ten years now and you want to know what is even weirder?”  The lady bounced her leg faster, her face suddenly animated, the makeup cracking even more.  “Every year, if I go back to houses that threw out a fan, they have another one at that same house.  So you know what that means?”
Jezabel shrugged again, but this time found herself looking at the lady and wondering. 
“It means the same people buy cheap fans every year.  They use them for a season or two, and then they toss ‘em.  That’s right.  Just toss them out like junk!”  The woman frowned like she couldn’t believe the injustice of it.  “It’s like fans are disposable.  But what these people don’t know is…..”  Jezabel waited.  The woman leaned in closer and lowered her voice to a whisper.  “Fans can be restored.” 
“I see,” said Jezabel, who turned back to her computer, mentally slapping herself for being taken in by the story, as if something exciting was going to come of it. 
“So I collect all the fans and I take some apart to replace the broken parts of the other ones.  Then when people bring me their fans to fix, I have one to sell them or I have the part to replace theirs.  Pretty nice, huh?”
“Yes, sounds like a good kind of business you’ve got going there,” Jezabel said flatly, entering the information into the computer.
“Yup.  I get ten dollars usually for fixing a fan.  It takes me less than an hour and all my parts are free.  And I never have to buy tools because I have Daddy’s old tools and he had a lot of them.”  The leg was really bouncing now.  The lady was kicking the desk, distracting and Jezabel who wished the woman would just shut up.
“It will be just one more moment, Ma’am, and I will print up the agreement,” Jezabel said.  “Do you have any questions on the loan?”
“Nope.  I know I will have enough fans to fix in the next month or so because summer is right around the corner.  I will get really busy and make lots of money, enough to pay the taxes on the house and this little loan back.”
“You understand the terms of the agreement and the way the interest works, right?” Jezabel asked again.  She knew she didn’t have to, but she wanted to make sure the lady knew that even if she paid the loan back in a month, she would still owe the interest for longer than just the summer.
“I understand,” the woman said.  “I just have to get through this month, is all.  Running out of important things and I just haven’t had the money or the business, and the winter was so cold... 
"You know, your office is kind of stuffy,” the lady said, taking a pen out of the pen holder on Jezabel’s desk.  “You could use a fan in here."
Jezabel pointed to the places that required signatures.  “Sign here and here,” she interrupted.  “Then I sign as a witness, and I can get you a copy for your records.”
“So what do you think?” the lady asked.  “About the fan, I mean.”
This lady is relentless, Jezabel thought, but she was used to clients trying to sell her things.  After all, that’s what a good sales person did, and it put Jezabel a little at ease thinking the lady was ambitious and assertive. 
 “I think the owners won’t approve the expenditure,” Jezabel said.
“Well what about for your house?  You have a house, right?  You need a fan for your house?  I can get you a fan for your house.”
               “Um…I’m all set.  But thanks anyway."


WbtR member Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt grew up in a working class family and, as an adult, grappled with poverty while trying to afford a college education and care for her two young children.  She became what she calls “familiar with” food pantries, food stamps and programs such as WIC.  At one point, she says, she was pregnant, homeless and without transportation.  In 2002, she became a victim of a predatory university administering federally funded student loans; during that time, she says, she also realized she had been working for career schools targeting the poor.

Katherine is a freelance writer for the regional News and Messenger newspaper.  She teaches college English online and English as a second language at an adult detention center.  In 2011, Katherine founded Writers for a Cause, an organization made up of authors who donate to various charities and non-profits.  She published her first book, Poems from the Battlefield, a collection of original Civil War themed poetry, original and archival photos and period quotes, in 2009.  Katherine's children’s book, Furbily-Furld Takes on the World, was released in 2010.


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