I spent most of today as I've spent most of the rest of my days this summer - waking up mid-morning, making some coffee and breakfast, and sitting at the computer idly looking for entry-level engineering jobs (and mundane jobs more recently, as I really could use some $$$), while trying not to get too distracted by bigfoot sightings and e2 writeups. It was while I was perusing these mundane jobs on Craigslist that I found the following ad:

audio company need 5-7 driver/sales people over 21 (for our insurance). we need good drivers for our company vehicles. paid training, no weekends fun job! people skills a plus. $250 + bonuses starting pay. call Dave for interview 303-946-9141 or 303-940-3676
10600 west 50th ave. Wheatridge Co. 80033

I immediately began to imagine a smallish audio store stocked with speakers, amps, turntables, high-quality cable, and all the rest. I thought about hanging out in such a store, being surrounded by great audio equipment, getting to learn about it, and interact with other audiophiles and people who were into all types of music. I imagined getting paid to plug in my iTrip and drive around the company van, the back laden with speakers to be dropped off or picked up, maybe sparking the indulgent dooby on my way back. I gave them a call, and they told me to come by at 7 to fill out an application.

Six o'clock rolled around and I decided to shave off the scruff I'd let build up over the last month-and-a-half or so when I'd had no one to be clean shaven for. With restrained enthusiasm and a hint of optimism, I told my parents I was off to meet with Roger about a driving and sales position with an audio company. As I was walking out the door my mother jokingly said "I hope they don't want you to con highschoolers into buying shoddy speakers out of a va-" I cut her off with a roll of my eyes and a look of disgust. "Oh, I'm only teasing!" she said as the door swung shut behind me. As I started up the car, the memories came flooding back....

How I'd decided to stop by Barnes & Noble on my way home from school, enjoying the freedom my new driver's license and parent's teal Ford Explorer offered me... How the sky was a pale gray, and a cool wind was whipping up white caps on the pond in Clement Park... How damn hungry I was, so hungry I was feeling shaky and my head was spinning a little... How I thought I heard someone shouting as I sat at a red light waiting to make a left, and turning to my right seeing the driver of the van next to me hanging out his window, and he was shouting at me...

"Hey man! You wanna buy some speakers??"
"....What?" I replied.
"Our boss fucked up the order and we got twice as many as we needed, we gotta get rid of em before we take em back, we're on our way back to the store right now!"

And how he managed to so overwhelm me with rhetoric like this in the span of time of a red light that I found myself following him to the parking lot of the nearby mall... How him and his partner opened the back of their van to reveal a variety of audio equipment - loudspeakers, surround sound systems, anything you might be looking for... How eventually the "speakerman" got me to admit that, well, I guess a pair of really nice big speakers would be cool... How I could take them to college... Never have to buy another pair of speakers again... And I could always just sell them on eBay for a nice profit...

How crooked and yellow his teeth were, stained brown from years of dip spit...

How I eventually forked over $100 for a pair of "Paradyme" speakers, which were marked $1000 on the outside of each box... How I went to great lengths to hide them from my parents for a week while I tried to get my friend to help me sell them with his eBay account... Realizing that selling stolen merchandise on eBay was highly illegal... And eventually breaking down and telling my parents about the transaction... The drama and "parental disappointment" that ensued... How my father soon read about the Paradyme (not the reputable Paradigm) speakers online, finding stories from across the nation of others who had been duped into buying shoddy speakers by con men in an unmarked van... Relief that I wouldn't have to deal with telling the police I'd bought stolen speakers... Embarrassment that I'd fallen for such a stupid con...

I thought of the speakers briefly, still sitting in their boxes in our basement after some six years, as I backed down the driveway. But this was an ad for a job, a real job, from a real company, posted on Craigslist, and a job that I was well-qualified for. I put on Sonic Youth's EVOL and cranked the volume as I set off down the highway. I could almost smell the crisp paper on that first paycheck.

I got to the spot where MapQuest told me to go, and couldn't find the address. It was supposed to be on a street behind a Target on a row of shady-looking warehouses, but the addresses seem to jump right past the one I was looking for. Eventually I decided I had to give Roger a call. He explained that there were two 50th Avenues, and I wanted to take Miller to the right to find the one that went behind the Target. Knowing that I had already done this and he wasn't going to be of any further help I resigned myself to just looking around but at least asked

"Ok, what's it called?"

"Oh, it's in unit 12," Roger replied.

Well, not exactly the answer I was looking for, but at least it'd help me find the place. Eventually I decided to check out the extra-shady-looking warehouse with no address marked at all. I found unit 12 and was pretty satisfied I was in the right place. I walked into a small office with a hand-written sign that read "Don't ash on the carpet!" There were a couple of couches covered in dog hair, and the cozy aroma of stale cigarette smoke hung in the air. I was told to fill out an application and find "the tall goofy-lookin' guy in the hat," who was Roger. Roger came in and seemed like a nice enough guy. Our interview began...

"Do you know what we do here?"

"No..."

"We sell audio equipment, like these speakers you see in here. You'll go out as a sales rep in a company vehicle and make some sales."

"Alright, well that's cool, who do you sell these speakers to?"

"Anyone and everyone," he replied with a grin.

Alarm bells. He began describing the job a little bit, about how you usually went out with one other guy, how it was a lot of talking and people skills (you'd be great at that right?), how you'd tell stories about having to be somewhere soon, and how you get to keep anything you sell speakers for above a certain set price... Alarm bells. Ringing loud in my ears.

"So you wanna try it?"

Wow! A real job offer!... Butterflies in my stomach, I began to explain my story to him. When I came to the punchline he asked

"Do you still have the speakers?"

"Yes..."

"Do they work?"

"Yes..."

"Do you use them?"

"No, as I explained, they're junk, not what they claim to be. I just want to be sure that's not what you're up to."

"Well, you know, some people call claiming their speakers aren't good enough and all that and I just don't know what they're talking about"

He continued to dance around my questions like this, and had the same fast-paced, quick-to-compromise attitude that the "speakermen" from so long ago had. He even eventually changed his earlier "anyone and everyone" tune to "mostly bars and restaurants." He listed off several brands of speakers they sold, one of which was Sony (or could it have been Sonie?). The craziest part was, when he asked again

"So you wanna try it?"

I responded "...Yeah, alright."

Despite my personal experience with this precise scam, and my obvious reservations about his company, he had somehow convinced me that I should at least try it out and see if they were legitimate. He said they'd be reviewing all the applicants (I was probably the only one) and let me know in about a week.

As soon as I stepped out of that door, though, that number 12 stared at me. The number 12... and nothing else. An audio company with no company name? Really? I thought for a moment about the encounter and it suddenly became incredibly obvious that my fears were true - this was the very White Van Speaker Scam that had duped me out of $100 years ago, and they'd almost done it again.

It's remarkable to me how good these people are at manipulating the conversation and taking advantage of any psychological weakness they can find in you. Maybe I'm particularly susceptible because of the way I converse - I usually take a passive role, and rarely take command of the conversation myself. These people can really talk circles around you and make a bad deal seem like a really great deal, as hard as it may be to believe when only presented with the facts themselves.

So let this be a lesson to you: Don't buy speakers from a couple of skeezy dudes in a van!

I turned towards home, heart sunk, hopes dashed. But as I started to write about it, I immediately felt better, and even began to laugh about it. I'll wake up mid-morning again tomorrow and have another dull day at the computer searching around, bored and penniless... but I'd rather be bored and penniless than working over gullible teens as a con man selling shoddy speakers out of a van.

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