Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

There was a time in America when we knew the butcher who cut our meat not just as the butcher, but as Jerry from the neighborhood. Sally from around the corner owned the store where we bought our books. Fred delivered our milk. And Tom, the kid that came home from the war and was always sad and wore the same Mike’s Doughnuts shirt seven days a week, was the closest thing we knew to that creepy guy on the corner. “Yes, ma’am,” was the business man’s mantra. “I’d be happy to help you with that.”

But that’s all changed. Jerry has been laid off and is happier at home playing video games and living off the government cheese. Sally is really an Indian man in a large call center in Bangalore. Fred is an ipod app that just processed your grocery delivery order. And Tom is still creepy, but in a I-know-your-daughter-from-Craigslist kind of way.

This is the new norm. And with it comes a lower level of depravity than ever. I remember as a teenager, surely after doing something unseemly that my parents found out about, my father sat me down and gave me the line that we’ve all heard a thousand times: “Character is what you do when no one is looking.” But with all the kiddy-porn-cleaning software and car window tinting and internet anonymity, everything these days seems to be about all the things we can do when no one is looking.

That’s exactly what I found to be true in the mortgage business. And as a borrower, the less you knew, the better off you probably were. Here is the first of a few examples of your friendly neighborhood mortgage brokers. These are actual people I worked with in the chop shop when I first started years ago. Names are changed, not that it matters. Half those guys couldn’t even read.

Billy The Vet

Pros: Billy is in the Marine Reserves. That he got his doctor/father-in-law to get him out of deployment for a BS medical reason one week before his platoon-mates shipped out is almost beside the point. It didn’t stop him from getting a huge Semper Fidelis tattoo across his back. Real loyal guy. Now for the cons: As an Italian, he’s a bit of a characterization of himself. Nothing against Italians. I love their salad dressing. And as a Jew, I’m no one to talk about stereotypes (because, of course, I’m cheap, my nose is four times the size of the rest of my head, and I’m systematically destroying the world with my fiendish love of money). From my experience, most Italians are nothing like this guy. He practically sleeps in a tanning bed, wears only shiny Regis Philbin clothing, wears enough hair gel to save New Orleans from the next “big one”, drives fast sports cars (but only buys 5-year-old models), and cheats on his pregnant wife. That sort of guy.

I had the pleasure of sharing an office with Billy for about a year. We became friends, kind of in the same way you might befriend the guy in your prison cell simply for the companionship over a long period of time even though you’d cross the street to avoid him on the outside. You tell yourself: Yeah, he’s a rapist, but he was always nice to me. Whatever it takes to get by.

Billy kept a rack of neckties, maybe twenty, beside his desk. We were required to wear one every day. He’d come in, sweaty and pimply with muscles nearly busting out of his purple Regis dress shirt. Then he’d grab a tie off the rack and swing it around his neck. It was all a façade. It always was with Billy.

He took steroids. In the office. Our office. He’d close the door, unzip his pants, stick his butt out in my direction, and shove a needle into his cheek. Every so often, the stuff he’d use would come from a different container. “Oh this,” I clearly remember him saying one day, “it’s so my balls grow back to their regular size.”

He’d do this while clients were holding on the phone. He’d be talking to a single mom about the $8,000 it would cost her if she wants him to help her save her home, and he’d put her on hold to shoot himself with steroids. Then he’d zip back up, sit down, and go back to making the world a better place.

But my favorite activity of his was his insatiable appetite for porn. I don’t know where he got so much of it. Keep in mind, this was before internet porn became what it is today. If you wanted the good stuff, you had to buy the DVD. And he did. Hundreds of them. He’d watch them on his laptop with his feet up on his desk and motion to me with his hands as if he was pushing an imaginary girl’s head into his lap. He loved it. He’d be robbing people blind over the phone and watching porn the entire time, barely paying attention to what it was they actually needed. Every so often, he’d start one up and forget to turn down the volume. Sitting a few feet away, trying to focus on my work, I’d hear one of the actors give her line. It would be a naked housewife greeting a plumber at the door. She’d say something like: “Are you here to clean my pipes?” I’d turn around to see Billy turning down the volume. He’d wink at me, go back to his phone call, and repeat his mantra: “Yes ma’am. I’d be happy to help you with that.”

One Comment on “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

  1. Gayle says:

    Great piece. Very colorful. Bunch of snakes.

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