Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Working for the Man: 99 Homes & 99 Problems

Recently I watched 99 Homes, which stars former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield as a construction worker in Florida in 2010 who loses his family home to eviction.  In order to make money, he goes to work for the guy who evicted him, a sleazy real estate agent played by former General Zod Michael Shannon.  Soon Andrew Garfield is evicting people himself, along with stealing air conditioners and pool pumps from abandoned homes so his boss can file claims for them to Fannie Mae, who then pays him to essentially reinstall the stolen property.  Things start to escalate as his boss prepares to make a deal worth millions in foreclosed homes, but when his family finds out what he's been doing, Andrew Garfield starts to get cold feet.  It all culminates in a standoff at a former neighbor's house.

I found this movie really relevant for a few reasons.  First off, it displays the massive corruption between the banks, real estate brokers, courts, and cops.  At one point Andrew Garfield has to deliver forged papers to the city clerk in order to prevent a guy from keeping his home and spoiling the big deal.  The sheriff's department is pretty much on the real estate agent's payroll and act like they're doing evicted families a big favor by giving them a couple of minutes to gather things to take with them.  The deck is completely stacked against homeowners trying to keep their homes:  besides dirty tricks by the banks and real estate brokers, the judge barely glances at the files before ruling in favor of the bank.  And of course being in foreclosure, these people can't afford decent lawyers to fight back.

What was more relevant to me is the idea of working for an industry that is not really in a good business.  After almost 18 months of unemployment I finally found a job in a legal office processing debt payments.  The legal office I work for specializes in what's often called "zombie debt" because it's often old debts that people think are gone before coming back to haunt them.  There was a story on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver that actually mentioned one of the big debt debt firms my office collects for.

Most of my job is processing the payments of people in debt.  It's kind of a bummer, especially the people who owe tens of thousands of dollars.  Sometimes people send in nasty letter or write snarky things on their checks or payment coupons.  Which always is kind of annoying because I'm just a part-time employee who has nothing to do with their situation.  Don't shoot the messenger--or the accounts receivable clerk in this case.  But saying that makes me feel like one of those Nazis at Nuremburg saying "I was just following orders."

My dilemma is the same for Andrew Garfield in this movie:  sometimes you get so desperate that you have to do things you're not proud of.  Not just writing erotica books, but also working for an industry that isn't exactly doing the public good.  Because let's face it, the world revolves around money and to make money you need a job.  And hey I applied to jobs all over the place and that's the only place that would hire me.  Which is actually a difference between me and the guy in the movie:  he pretty much the next day starting (literally) shoveling shit for Michael Shannon while it took me a lot longer to reach that point.  But then I don't have a kid and mom to support.  Though if I'd been offered that job from the start I'd have still taken it.  Money is money.

Something to remember when a debt collector or telemarketer calls:  these people are just doing a job.  There's a 99.9% chance that they didn't really choose this work and they sure as hell never dreamed of doing it for a living any more than 99.9% of clerks at Wal-Mart or McDonald's or baristas at Starbucks.  We like to talk about "careers" but for so many of us it's simply a J-O-B to pay the bills.  It's a sad fact of life.

You can say you wouldn't do something like that but when your bank account balance is near 0 and you're losing your home, you'll probably start singing a different tune.

Now of course the movie being a movie Andrew Garfield's family moves out on him when they find out what he does and tries to buy a new house for them.  And then he pretty much confesses to a crime to probably end up in jail, though it's never said for sure.  I don't think many families would be quite that melodramatic about it.  Though they might be sentimentally attached to their old home, I don't think they'd run off to Tampa just because the dude works for the guy who evicted them.  Because I'm sure that like Andrew Garfield, they'd do what they had to to survive and thrive.  That's what people do, which is how we've managed to make a go of it for so long, even in places like burning deserts where no sane human should live.  It ain't always fun or pretty, but it's what we do because what other choice is there?


  1. I was briefly working for a telemarketing scam earlier this year because we needed money and they were the only ones who would hire me. no one more reputable, despite all my years of experience, would hire me...always some song and dance bullshit. I hated working there every second of the day. it's a total scam but they take their shit so super serious. but i had to quit once school started and melissa got sick and now my job is to take people places and pick them up and wash the dishes and do the laundry... :(

    as a note: NEVER fill out an entry form when you see those trucks or cars in the mall offering a vehicle or cash if your name is's all a big scam.

  2. I don't blame you one bit. You've got great survival instincts, and one has to do what one has to do in order to survive. I would like America to change, for there to be more options for people in general and not just at the top. But America keeps electing these plutocrats...the latest being Trump. So many people seem to think that he's going to usher in some kind of economy that will help out the middle income worker. My feelings are that he's going to usher in a kleptocracy, where he and his buddies (like Putin) rape the country and become even wealthier than they already are, essentially leaving it in shambles for some unfortunate democrat to try and pick up the pieces. And at that point, the alt-right will go to war against the democrat brave enough to do so and point out everything they're doing wrong, do obstruction politics, spread fake news and lies, etc. It's a vicious cycle of terribleness because a lot of people in this country are terrible.

  3. People who blame the messenger aren't really thinking rationally. The only thing you can do is keep trying. I would keep searching and trying for a better job. It only takes one moment of luck.



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