Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A People Person - Part 1

I mentioned last week that in the mid-90s, while I was making the transition from extremely unsuccessful freelance writer to comparably unsuccessful graphic designer, I briefly worked in human trafficking. I remember my first job interview in the industry very vividly. It took place on the second story of an office building in the dismal Sunset district of San Francisco, where I lived at the time. The district had originally been an expanse of godforsaken sand dunes, and then an enclave of working class Irish Americans. By the time I moved there with Nancy, who liked its proximity to the San Francisco Zoo, where she looked after penguins at the time, and later koalas, it had pretty much been taken over by upwardly mobile Chinese. Houses, like the one we inhabited, that had been sold in the 1930s for $12,000 were fetching $280,000 — and the commercial streets were getting progressively uglier.

One of the best designers I’ve ever worked with was Taiwanese. I have no doubt that in mainland China, there must be brilliant artists and designers literally beyond counting. But I must tell you that in San Francisco, Chinese-owned businesses seem to be competing to come up with the most hideous exteriors and signage. There’s a block on the south side of Clement street, between 6th and 7th Avenues, in the Inner Richmond district, on which each storefront is more hideous than the one before it, and the first is quite inexpressibly monstrous in its own right.

The building in which I was interviewed for my first human trafficking job was less spectacularly ghastly, but the white plastic, back-lighted sign that hung above its entrance was more than enough to make me wonder if, instead of going through with the interview, I ought to just jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and be done with it.
The guy doing the interviewing, Gene Hsieu (I memorized the spelling off his business card), wasn’t like most of the Chinese in the Sunset, who tended to disdainful aloofness. He greeted me like a friend he hadn’t seen in years, and insisted I accept a garish ballpoint pen bearing the name of his company, Hsieu International Staffing and Restaurant Supply. He grinned at me ferociously and said he could tell straight away that I’m a real people person, which was exactly what he was looking for.

I wasn’t then, and am not now, any more a people person than I am a member of the North Korean Olympic fencing team. I like people very much in theory, but generally can’t stand them in practice. They talk too much about themselves, or imagine themselves wry for using catchphrases from television, or fail to get my jokes. Naturally, I didn’t say any of this to Gene. What I in fact said was, “People are awesome. What would society be without them?” He dutifully furrowed his brow for a second to suggest he might be savoring the wisdom in what I’d said.

He explained that my duties, if I accepted his job offer, would be to troll this new thing called the Worldwide Web for attractive virgins of both sexes. In “chatrooms,” whatever they were, I would make them think I was their age, and had much in common with them, and would arrange to meet them in person, whereupon I would hold bandanas soaked in chloroform over their faces until they lost consciousness. Then, via pager, I would alert “support staff” to come whisk them away to an undisclosed location.

Because the company firmly embraced the notion of dedication to family, its first choice was always to exact a ransom. Failing that, though, they would contact Arab or other billionaires who prided themselves on never having sex with anyone who’d had it before. “It wouldn’t work for me,” Gene said, winking fraternally. “I want a lover who’s been around the block a time or two.”

“You got that right,” I said, winking back at him, and lo, I had a new career!

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