Money vs. Morality

“Let Me Smoke A Kool So I Can Calm My Nerves.”

I love money. Not in the “I’ll rob, kill and steal” way, but I do love money. Me having atleast two jobs the majority of the time isn’t so much a reflection of my work ethic (though it’s strong), as it is the want to get money. That’s honesty for your ass.

While I’ve never done anything that would defame my character or bring heavy guilt or shame, I have had a job that I wasn’t so proud of.

I was a Kool Girl.

As in Kool cigarettes. The proper term was marketing representative, but to the guys in the pool halls and bars, I was “The Kool Girl.” For 10-20 hours a week, I pushed nicotine, the silent killer, on hundreds of men and women. I was “slangin’ squares” for $13 an hour. I couldn’t pass up that easy money.

I got into it around 21 during the summer after a friend recruited me. It was oh, so fun, working events for free that I would normally pay to attend—concerts, live music sets and parties. The only difference was instead of cute dress, I wore my Kool uniform (black fitted pants and an off-the-shoulder shirt with the Kool logo on it).

My job duty: If you had a valid ID and could complete a demographic card, I gave you two FREE packs of cigarettes (filter of your choice). Easy breezy. In fact, I did everything a rep isn’t supposed to do on the job: eat, drink, dance and socialize. Good times for a poor college student.

Five years later while working my full-time job, I ran into an old Kool co-worker at an event. She was still on that same gig? Tsk tsk. She informed me that the pay had increased to $17/hr. I asked where do I sign up.

Two weeks later, I had on that same all-black get-up, tugging a bag full of cigarettes up and down Beale Street. We’d have a list of venues to visit every night for prospective customers. If the weather was decent and people were out–forget it. We wouldn’t make it to the first venue without being ransacked for the cigarettes. Cooks, waiters and hostesses from bars would actually leave their IDs with us, and come back on break to get cartons of cigarettes. We could have been criminals, just waiting to commit identity theft (Mississippi ID number was the person’s social security number). But what’s identity theft compared to two free packs?

I guess I should have prefaced this post by saying that I despise cigarettes. I remember as a kid coughing, rolling the window down in the car for ventilation because Mama smoked–a lot. Both parents and my grandmother smoked, but stopped cold-turkey over 15 years ago.  It’s bad for your health and the smell makes me want to puke. It’s inescapable.

But there I was, in a smoke-filled pool hall every night where either the white boys were fighting over a game, the bartender was trying to holler or some random without an ID was asking if he could “see” my bag. There was never a dull moment. I washed my hair more than usual and kept Febreze in my car at all times.

My turning point came at our “central location” on Beale. It was freezing cold and a few homeless people came by asking for cigarettes. One man said he’d “been waiting all week” for us to come. He’d even passed up staying at a shelter to catch us. I couldn’t believe it. It occurred to me then just how serious this addiction is. For some, it’s like crack. I was making easy money, but at the expense of others’ and their health.

The next week, I turned my bag and equipment in. They were low on hours anyway. I decided that being against smoking and handing cigarettes out for free just didn’t add up. I febrezed my car seats for the last time.

I could have gone a totally different way based on the title, but I didn’t. Any other jobs that go against your morals? And lastly, did anyone catch that opening line?

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2 thoughts on “Money vs. Morality

  1. Lol…I remember the Kool girl stories!! The only experience that comes to mind is Casino Rouge! I was a cashier…. I had to listen to Kanye West..Slaveship before I could get out of the car. The lowest points were seeing people on fixed incomes cash their checks and blow it all away in a matter of hours! The absolute worst moment was denying an elderly woman a cash advance and she cried at the window :(. The last straw was when a man cussed me out because he lost HIS ticket..I took my clear bag and walked out!

  2. We’ve all been there. Whether its taking a job that you would classify as beneath you or in your case, it was a job that you weren’t proud of. For good reason, of course. But at the same time, we got to live. And when you have a job like that, everybody reaches their breaking point. When it comes to work, I’ve always tried to live by the phrase “Money is my bitch. It is not my God.” We all love having it, we all want more of it, but is it worth selling your principles for?

    As always, thank you for letting us share, Alisha.

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