Sob stories worked on me in the beginning. They really did. I'd shed tears with people over their stuff. I'd be like: "Here's an extra $20." They wouldn't have nothing — a bucket of rusty tools — and I'd say: "Here ya go." But doing this kind of hardens your heart after awhile. You get used to hearing all the sad stories. They don't want to listen to mine.
I've had folks try to sell and pawn all kinds of strange things over the years. One time, a woman pawned herself — come in and stripped down nekkid right there. She didn't say a word. My partner said, "That ought to be worth $5." She said, "Thank you," took the money and left. A woman come in the other day and offered to pull her gold tooth with a pair of pliers and sell it to me. One guy pawned his prosthetic arm — his right arm. He was in a pool tournament at the time. He pawned his arm and went back to the pool hall. Didn't place in the money, but he came back and got his arm two hours later. The other day, I got a call about pawning a prosthetic eye.
When people's houses get robbed, the police usually tell them to go look for their stuff in pawnshops, but that's the most ridiculous thing in the world. We get a lot of people who come in saying, "I got robbed, here's what they took," and they want to look around. But most of the thieves nowadays know that we work with the police with Leads Online. It's a national system, and if we put in a serial number for something that's stolen, it pops up and they come get it. Everything that comes in here gets put in the computer so the police can find it if it's stolen. But there's really nothing to keep a pawnbroker who wanted to from not putting it in the computer. We work all in cash. It's just our morals that make us do it.
If something comes up in Leads Online, we have to let the owner buy the item back for what we paid for it. We lose money, because we don't get the interest, but that's the law. What bugs me is that the law-abiding citizen doesn't realize that if they'll record all their serial numbers and then give them to the police when things get stolen, they can get their stuff back if we get it. When people come in looking, I always ask them: did you record the serial number of the $3,000 TV that got stolen? The answer most of the time is no.
I have pawned some things I believed to be stolen, sometimes just to get them off the street. A few years back, a couple of young men came in with some guns and they were covered in mud, like they'd been thrown in a ditch. I talked to my partner and he told me, "Get 'em as cheap as you can. They're hotter than hell." We ended up buying them and getting them back to their rightful owner because he'd recorded his serial numbers.
We turn away a lot of stuff we think is stolen. If a guy comes in with a laptop, turns it on, and doesn't know the password, that's a dead giveaway it's probably hot. When some crackhead comes in with a Gibson Les Paul guitar, you know that's probably not his. But there are times when a deal is just too good to pass up, even when you know. When a guy is asking $50 for an expensive amp or something, I'll think, "It's probably hotter than hell, but let's do it." It's either I buy it, or he'll go down the street and sell it to somebody else. When something like that goes through the system and doesn't come back hot, you're like: "YES!"
Sometimes people come in and they only need $30 bucks and they offer to pawn an ounce of gold jewelry. You've got to ask yourself, "Do I give them the $30 bucks on an ounce of gold?" Or do I just say, "You just need this one little ring for $30." Sometimes, you just say, "Here's 30 bucks for your ounce of gold." That happens.
Somebody said a long time ago that a pawnbroker with a heart is a broke pawnbroker, and I have often been a broke pawnbroker. I don't know. The morality thing is hard. But most people who've never been in a pawn shop just don't know how difficult it can be to get a little money. You can't go to the bank and borrow 50 bucks. So, we're offering a service to people: short-term collateral loans — 30 days to come get your stuff, with a 10-day grace period, at 20 percent interest. For a lot of people who come in here, that's their only option.
As told to David Koon.
I do waxing and all aesthetics — chemical peels, facials, microderms, the whole shebang. As for bikini waxes, they just don't bother me. I'm not very modest. The first lady I saw was in her 70s. My first thought was, "Oh, so that's what that looks like." Now I have several older clients, and they all say they're doing it for their boyfriends. There are a few people whose parts will make an impression on me, but if I saw them out, I wouldn't remember. Some of them, I'd recognize their parts before their faces. After a while, I think it's just like being a doctor or a nurse. You don't think about it because you see them all day long. Some people will try to keep underwear on, but really, you can't. And for Brazilians [a style], just no. It's hard when you have someone super conservative, because you can't move around like you need to. Because, you know, you have to move them around in different positions to get the best pull. You get the ones that keep trying to cover themselves up with their hands, and then you get the ones who don't care at all. They're like, "Oh, I've had four babies — whatever." I just try to keep it light and make everyone feel as comfortable as I can, because it's really not a big deal. If you want to get it done, you should be able to get it done, and it shouldn't be awkward.
Brazilian takes off everything. Then there are women who just want the thigh area done and some women go in a little bit more. We don't do dyes or jewels. We pretty much stick to the landing strip and triangles. I think a lot of people feel really young when they get everything taken off.
The youngest I've done are high school girls. One time, a girl's mother drove her. I don't do men. Some people do men and they don't mind it at all. But I figure if I have to deal with women all day, I'm not going to deal with men as well. I do back waxes and things like that for men. Not all men who get waxed are gay. I have regulars who aren't gay at all. Their women like it better, or they're going on vacation. I don't think people really make fun of straight guys for getting their brows waxed, and I don't think they'd care if people knew.
I ask everybody why they're here. Most people are going on vacation or getting married. Some people are just dating someone. A lot of women come in with friends. It's kind of awkward, because they're just sitting there, watching me work. And once, there was a man watching a girl get it done. It didn't feel like anything sexual, though. It just seemed like they were close friends, and she wanted him to come in for moral support.
If the hair is too long, I'll ask clients to reschedule and if it's too short, we'll tell them, don't expect perfect smoothness. I don't trim. Some people do. I have had to ask people to clean themselves, because they don't, apparently, down there, and it's stinky. I act like it's a standard part of the procedure. I've never seen STDs or hemorrhoids or anything like that. And I always wear gloves. Some women have unexpected hair, like hair on their butt cheeks. And some people have been doing it for so long that they have like, three hairs down there. I don't think your skin ever toughens up, though, because people will say, "It still hurts this time."
I've had a few screamers. People will ask for a towel and put it over their face. I had someone come in with a sunburn once. I said, "I can't do this," and she said, "Please just try." I tried with one strip, and then I wouldn't do the rest of it because she was in so much pain. You'll get kickers because your automatic reflex is to slam your legs shut and kick out. I've heard about things like the wax ripping the skin, but that's never happened where I work. That's when the wax is too hot, and the esthetician should know better. You can test it on your arm, or if you know your wax pot well enough, you just know. I have given somebody strawberries, just little peckers on the skin, if the skin isn't held taut or if they have a lot of skin and you can't hold it the correct way. But those go away in a couple of days. Some women just lay still and are very stoic about it. You can tell personality types by how people handle the pain.
All types of women come see me — skinny, overweight, young, old, different ethnicities. Hair grows differently on different ethnicities. Some are more prone to ingrown hairs, or the hair is thicker. Some Asian women get their full arms waxed. I only do two positions. I don't do all fours or anything like that. They're already being degraded enough. It takes me about 15 minutes to do a Brazilian. You'll have really good tippers, and then you'll have people that leave you $2 for a Brazilian.
As told to Cheree Franco.
In my line of work, drama generates income. I am a criminal defense lawyer.
When I was young, I thought that only really bad people could go to jail. That is what jail is, I thought: a place for bad people. Now, it amazes me how closely we all walk to that line. One misstep, and you find yourself charged with a crime. Then, you call me. For a price, I'll be on your side like a mother defending her wayward son. The more money you have to spend, the better your chances. In reality, jail is more a place for poor people than it is a place for bad people.
Well, like with any profession or product, I suppose, defense attorneys come in different levels of skill, ethics, ability, reputation, and professionalism. As one would expect, these different levels of quality come with a price. Do you want a Ford Pinto, or a Bentley? What can you afford?
At the bottom end — near the Pinto — there are the cheap guys. I am not one of the cheap guys, I am proud to say. But I know one. He is a seedy guy whose office is so jam-packed with dusty books he will never read, folders he will never open, old briefs he has forgotten about, and works-in-progress that he may never finish, that there is no place for anyone to sit but him (and that just barely).
My office and desk could not be defined as "neat" by any stretch of the imagination, but Seedy makes me look like a type-A, anal retentive neat freak. Seedy takes cases on the cheap. He will file some motions and bargain the best he can with the prosecuting attorney, but at the end of the day he is never taking a case to a jury. The prosecutor knows that, and that is why Seedy's clients will never get the best deal.
To really fight a criminal case, you have to be ready to do a jury trial. This scares the bejesus out of most lawyers, because it is high pressure sales, public speaking, critical analysis, and stage acting all rolled into one. I have tried a fair share of big cases, mostly rape and murder cases. Right before a big trial, I get this sick feeling down in my gut. If I were an artist (singer, stage actor, etc.), it would be called "stage fright." For me, it's just "sick in my gut." Not very many people who graduate from law school are ready to sign on for the high pressure that comes with being a true trial lawyer. That's not for Seedy. You have to move up the food chain, and spend a lot more money, for that.
That is why rich people go to court, and poor people go to jail.
I also do not belong to the top tier of defense lawyers, the Bentleys, although I tell myself that I am working my way there. Those guys are my heroes, but I never tell them that. To get on top, you have to add, in addition to my qualities, the ability to produce precision appellate briefs and be prepared to argue to the United States Supreme Court. You have to get important decisions reversed.
Not me, not yet. I fight hard, extra hard, so that I can win at the trial level and avoid the appellate stuff. I am a better stage actor than I am writer/researcher, and that keeps me down somewhere between Seedy and the Big Dogs. I like to think I am a Toyota Camry, or maybe even a GMC Denali. I work hard, and because of that, I make pretty good money. Sometimes, I make damn good money.
Most of my clients love me. Some of them hate me. But once I do a good job for them, love me or hate me, they will always call me. Sometimes I think they are superstitious, thinking that to call someone else after I got a good result the first time would "jinx" them somehow.
The best thing about my job, and the worst, is being the person to whom my clients tell their deepest, darkest secrets. What compelled them to take that gun, aim it at that guy's chest, and pull the trigger over and over? Why did having sex with a young boy seem like such a good idea at the time?
The strangest part of all is that I almost never hate the clients who have committed the most egregious crimes, like I thought I would when I began this career. Seeing inside their minds changes a person, and I often think, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Hating people becomes rare; standing beside the hated starts to feel normal. Occasionally I do detest a client, but I don't think it has ever been a client who really made headlines.
I fiercely believe in the right to a fair trial for everyone, and I fiercely fight for even the worst of my clients. Nevertheless, I can't help but think that some of my clients — even some of the ones I don't dislike that much — would be better off with a small caliber bullet to the base of their skull. Quick and painless. Sometimes I think everyone would be better off: them, their poor parents, their victims, society.
Everyone but me.
Written for the Times.
The family I work for has had nannies for about 10 years, and I'm nearly the one they've had the longest. I've been there over a year. Most of their nannies only last a few months, because the cameras freak people out. There are surveillance cameras all over the house, so I feel like I have to be working even when there's nothing to do. One time I sent a couple of text messages when the kids were at school, and I was asking for a raise, and the parents said, "We're not paying you to text." I do some cleaning, but they have cleaning ladies and workmen who come every week. One time the workmen came just to change light bulbs. And there's this room I'm not allowed to go in. It's supposed to be the dad's office, but I always wonder what's going on in there. There's lots of mystery with this family.
The parents don't believe in doctors, so the kids don't get immunizations. If one of them gets sick, they treat it with homeopathic and folk remedies. Once the mom was convinced that her daughter's headaches were from fluoridated water, so she spent a day going to different stores and buying up all the water filters. She bought about 10 of them, one for every sink in the house. And to keep them healthy, the kids are supposed to stand in the sun for a few minutes every hour, while I use a timer to keep up with how long.
I think the family dynamic has affected the oldest kid the most. He's a good teen-ager. He has goals. But whenever his mom loses it, she hurls insults at him. I guess he's just found a way to ignore it or to cope by telling himself that his mom doesn't mean it.
Once I got in trouble because the mom said the little girl's clothes were disappearing, and that she [the mom] shouldn't have to see or even think about laundry, that it should just happen. But they want me to make the kids do their own laundry, and the little one will just hide her dirty clothes, because she doesn't want to do it. So I looked around her room and found the missing clothes stuffed behind furniture, and the mom apologized. And when this aunt died that I was close to, the mom talked to me about when her brother died and the stages of grieving. I know that growing up, the mom's parents never told her that they love her, so she tells her kids that she loves them all the time. She'll even leave notes in their book bags. But she'll also do things like throw a tantrum and refuse to show up at a school play, because a kid complained about the costume that she made.
Every few months I'm supposed to go through the younger kids' clothes and choose stuff to give away. Then the mom goes through and puts half of it back. But they have so many clothes. The 5-year-old has a walk-in closet and two dressers. And every day the mom gets about three boxes in the mail, stuff she's ordered online. The kid would be happy in gym shorts and a T-shirt, but her mom wants her to look cute in public. Once I took her out in a tank top, and the mom said never to do that again, because she doesn't look good in tank tops. She's not fat, but maybe the mom thinks her arms are chubby?
It's most awkward to be at work when there are family arguments. I usually try to go to the furthest room possible. One of the worst arguments was over whether or not the kids could get a sand crab. Working there can be really uncomfortable, but I feel like I need to be there for the kids. I just want to encourage them and make some kind of impact on their lives.
As told to Cheree Franco.
I worked the floor for nine months before being promoted to assistant manager. On average, our turnover is about three months. Some people quit after a few weeks. Then there are people who hold on a little longer, just because they have to have a job. But around six months, they get fed up and quit.
On the floor you make just over minimum wage. And it's strange, because we are pretty upscale for a chain clothing store, but I know other places are paying their employees more. Most of our employees don't have health benefits. At six months and then at a year, you might get a raise, but there is a pay cap for salespeople. This is a second job for a lot of employees. Some are single moms or married with kids. We also have some college students and young singles, but there are no teen-agers. We don't work on commission, but we can get bonuses for selling store credit cards. I'm not really pushy because an extra fifty cents isn't a big deal to me. But as a manager, I have to at least look like I care.
We'll have customers who come out of the fitting room smelling like B.O. If the clothes are really bad, we put them somewhere to air out or spray them with perfume. And we have customers who will just walk around the store, picking up everything and throwing it back on the table. Yesterday I was putting something up, and this customer, moved some hangers right in front of me and something dropped to the floor. I had my hands full, and she just looked at it and walked away. She could have at least tossed it on the rack.
The most annoying thing is that everyone tries to bargain with you. They'll be like, "This isn't worth that much, do you have coupons or an extra sale?" And I'll say, "No, that's the price." If there's a hole or something, we could budge a little, but a perfectly fine piece of clothing? This generally tends to be people from another country, which makes more sense.
About once a week someone tries to return something that's obviously worn. And sometimes someone brings back something that's not worn, but it reeks of cigarette smoke just from hanging in their closet. One customer threw a sweater at an employee because she wouldn't take it back. The sweater was three years old, and they had no receipt. There were holes in it, and they weren't fashion holes.
We're supposed to greet people when they come in, but a lot of people act annoyed or they won't even respond, and you know that they heard you. You'll be like, "How's it going, can I help you find anything?" And they'll just walk past you. If I'm having a bad day, I'll hound them a little, like, "I'm sorry ma'am, did you say that you did need help or are you OK?" I mean, are you serious, are you that rude? You could just say, "Oh, I'm good." Most of those people have probably never worked retail or just a minimum-wage type job where you get treated like crap sometimes, and you don't realize that this person who is just asking if you need help isn't making that much money, and their boss is going to yell at them if they don't. It's also important that people get greeted because it helps you watch out for the merchandise. People who are going to steal stuff, they don't want to talk to you because they don't want to be noted. If people get really upset with you just for greeting them, if they acted offended, that's a big tip off.
Guys are probably the nicest customers, because they want help, especially if they don't have their girlfriend or wife with them. They'll just put on whatever you suggest. Gay guys come in, and they just want you to compliment them and to talk with you about fashion. Ladies tend to be either really needy, or they just ignore you. The needy ones want your opinion on everything, and I can't tell if it's that they have low self-esteem and just want compliments, or what. A lot of ladies think that they have a weight problem, and some of them don't at all. It's funny, it's so stereotypical. They'll be like, "My butt is so big," and you'll be like, "But you're a size zero." It's harder when someone is actually big. There are ladies that want to try on clothes that are way too small, and you don't want to insult them, but this one lady was trying on a $400 dress and she wanted me to keep zipping. It was obviously way too small, and I had to say, "I'm sorry ma'am, I don't think I'm going to be able to unzip it if I go up further." That was the nicest way I could think to say it. I didn't want to be like, oh the zipper's going to bust, you know. She wasn't that big, but we only carry up to 12, and she was probably just a 14 or 16 — just above what most of our clothes would fit.
I don't tell people things look great on them when they don't. If someone's wearing something that's too tight, I'll say, "We might be able to find something that will flatter your body a little more." And if they really look bad, like if it's a bad color or something, I'll just grab it in another color or grab something else and suggest it. I've actually had a lot of people be like, "Whoa, I can't believe you didn't just tell me you liked it because you wanted me to buy it." But if they buy it and you don't like it, they're either going to return it or just not come back. It's better to develop a relationship and gain a return customer.
Thankfully, I've never caught anyone having sex in the dressing room, but I've heard stories. Another manager caught a couple. She knew this couple had been in there too long, and they had gone in without many clothes to try on. So she knocked on the door and said, "You guys are going to need to get out of there." At least twice, small children have had bathroom accidents on the floor, and another manager had to clean it up. The second time, it was really bad, because it was in a carpeted area. And twice, the same man has asked me to watch his children while he shopped. I'm not sure, maybe he's used to people doing this in other stores. But I just said, "I'm not a babysitter, sorry."
As told to Cheree Franco.
Hands down, the best thing about teaching yoga is that you are helping people feel better. I have watched my students' baby step towards both mental and physical breakthroughs. I've listened to them whine and whine about not being able to do certain postures, and then one day, pow, not only are they doing a full wheel, but they're also able to stand in line at the grocery store without wanting to decapitate the person in front of them. I have actually had one student look me straight in the eyes and say, "You saved my life." Sometimes people share a bit too much info because they feel so open after class. Stuff like sex, addictions, health problems and bowel movements have been discussed plenty of times. People come to yoga to find balance in all areas of their lives — romantic, digestive, moral, emotional, spiritual, social, psychological, physical, what have you.
Sometimes students hit on teachers, which can be awkward. I have never dated a student. I have had more than one person quit after I said I felt uncomfortable with dating students. I have also had at least one person ask other students out after I said no. I have never been in a class where anyone farted loudly. But I have assisted large classes where body parts were just unexpectedly "out there." One girl's pants had fallen so far in the back, she was exposed way beyond plumber-style. And a warning for the boys: a side slit too close to the waistband reveals the full Monty from certain angles.
Sometimes people try to push past their limits in class, even though you plead that they cut it out in three different ways. Once, a yoga mat got too close to a "calming" candle and caught on fire.
The most surprising thing about yoga in Little Rock is the competitiveness between teachers and studios. Most studio owners won't go to a retreat or master class if it's hosted by a competing studio. Some studios pay teachers more if they promise only to teach at their place. I suppose this isn't surprising from a business point of view, but from a yogi-who-thought-everyone-was-totally-gonna-work-together-with-peace-and-love point of view, it was a bit of a shocker. When it comes down to it, yoga has become a multimillion-dollar business.
Written for the Times.
When people hear that you're a paramedic, they always say, "I bet you see some really crazy shit." But I'd say about 80 percent to 90 percent of our calls aren't immediate emergencies. We get a lot of calls to nursing homes, like when someone's white-blood-cell count goes too low. We also get a lot of stuff that makes you slap your head. I've had toothaches. I've had parents with babies crying because they're teething who want to go to the ER. Sometimes you'll get calls like that and there'll be three cars in the driveway, and you'll say, "No one can drive you?" Our rules are if someone wants to go, we'll take them. I've kind of gotten to the point, where I'm like, "I'm at work anyway, I've got to take somebody to the hospital eventually, why not you?" A lot of times you feel like you're providing a $500 taxi ride. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you'll see the 55-year-old guy who's sat at home for five hours with chest pains too proud to go to the ER before finally calling.
In the city, we do 12-hour shifts. I used to start at 5 p.m. and get off at 7 a.m. — a 14-hour shift — but they've since gotten rid of those. Farther out in the metro area, we have 24-hour stations. Theoretically they have lower call volume. I've worked a couple of 36-hour shifts at a 24-hour station. There's usually time for sleep on those. Some rural stations have 48-hour shifts. There's a joke that if you're on those shifts you're an EMS, someone who earns money while sleeping.
In the city, you could get as many as 10 to 12 calls in a night or as few as three to four. It always varies. iPhones have been pretty great for killing time. Before that, I read books and did crossword puzzles. Sometimes I go in the back of the ambulance and try to take a nap.
My favorite calls are psych patients. They're a trip. I had one guy who thought he was a werewolf. He was in the middle of Roosevelt. The police were there — they show up on the calls that could be construed as threatening towards paramedics and firefighters, any time there's a fight or shooting or a psych patient or anyone is suicidal — and it was a full moon. Even though this guy thought he was a werewolf, he knew where he was, he knew his name, and he didn't want to go to the ER. He just wanted to go to his brother's apartment, and the police were nice enough to give him a ride. Other times it doesn't work out as well for us. A lot of times when someone is drunk and we're on the scene, the police will say, "You can go with us to jail, or you can go with us to the emergency room." Of course they go to emergency room. That's annoying.
One of the worst things I've seen was around the holidays. Apparently the guy was robbed, the robber shot him in the shoulder and the bullet went up through his neck and paralyzed him while his foot was on the gas pedal. He crashed through a fence and into a tree. He was still conscious when we were tending to him. He couldn't feel his arms or his burns.
Another time I had a guy who'd been stabbed in his stomach two days previous. He was a Vietnam vet — a wiry guy. He was homeless. He didn't want to go to the hospital for the stab wound; he wanted to go to the VA to dry out. I called to report to the VA, and they didn't want to take him, they wanted us to divert him to the ER. I told the guy we were going to go to UAMS, and he flipped. We were a block away and the guy jumped up, and I put my hand on his shoulder and said, "Sit down!" and he gave me the crazy eyes. My partner saw what was going on and stopped and the guy jumped out. I wasn't going to put up a fight with someone with crazy eyes. I called our dispatch at the hospital and security went to look for him but couldn't find him. I was glad we weren't on I-630.
Wrecks happen all the time in ambulances. It hasn't happened with me, thankfully. We usually have to go lights and sirens even for toothaches. When we're driving lights and sirens on, I understand that because of the Doppler effect people some times don't hear sirens until we're right up on them — especially during the day when you can't see lights as well. But people are stupid. We've had a lot of people just stop in their tracks. All the time we'll run up on people and they won't move and then all of a sudden they'll swerve off and you'll see they were on their phone. If I'm ever driving, I like to pretty much come to a stop at intersections to make sure people aren't coming.
As told to Lindsey Millar.
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