“You’re a great disappointment to me.”
Jay’s father’s words hit him harder than when his boss fired him, or when he’d been expelled from his high school. He was still a teenager, and already he was practically unemployable. It wasn’t that he was stupid. He simply had a serious problem with the truth.
He sat around the house for a few days, avoiding his father, who no longer tried to tell him to find a job. Where would he find one anyhow? He wondered when his father might tell him he was no longer welcome. The man did believe in the maxim, “He who does not work should not eat.”
Then the impossible happened. Out of the blue he got a call. One of his friends had mentioned his name for a construction job. He was a little bit young for the job, but the contractor told him there were ways around that. That concerned him a little. How did one get past regulations on what a 17 year old could do on a construction site?
The first day of work he was met by the contractor himself. “Just tell everyone you’re 20,” he said as he presented some job forms that had already been filled out. “Just sign where the arrows are.”
Jay knew better, but he could sense that he wasn’t supposed to actually read the forms. He’d tried to slip something by his teachers too many times to miss the look the boss was giving him. So he signed the forms.
He expected that he’d be out doing the hard work of hauling cinder blocks or something like that. He had no building skills at all. In fact, it was very strange that he’d been called for this job in the first place. But Jay was used to suppressing thoughts like that. They got in the way of getting what he wanted.
But instead of the hard manual labor he’d expected, he was sent to ride with one of the truck drivers who picked up supplies and delivered them to job sites. The work was hard, but not nearly as hard as he’d expected. The driver told him to pay attention and learn where the various job sites were and where the suppliers were located.
“Before long you’ll be driving,” he said.
Jay knew that at 17 he could not get the sort of commercial license required to drive the sort of truck used for those deliveries. But he decided that he’d better not ask, because he’d been told to say he was 20.
He soon noticed something odd about those deliveries. Somewhere along the way the driver was swapping forms. He’d only got a glance, but he was pretty sure that what was on the purchase orders was not what was delivered to the job sites. Then there were extra stops at some warehouses. It was clear they were buying more materials than they were delivering to the job sites, and then delivering the rest to those warehouses.
After a couple of weeks, the contractor told him it was time for him to take the delivery route himself. He handed him a fake driver’s license. “You’ll need this to identify yourself when you pick up the supplies,” he said.
“What do I do if I’m stopped by the police and they check the computer?” asked Jay.
“You drive carefully and don’t get stopped by the police,” said the boss.
He handed Jay the paperwork. Jay leafed through it. He could see the two copies of each of the purchase orders and the list of sites and deliveries. The boss watched him carefully.
“I think you know what to do with those,” said the boss. “I think you’re an observant young man.”
Jay nodded. He wanted to feel proud as the contractor called him “observant,” but hard as he tried he couldn’t shake the feeling that the look the boss was giving him was one of contempt and not congratulation.
He’d never been worried about lying before, but now he had a job and was making his own money. He’d felt pride that he could get the job, even through the slight discomfort he had about the lie regarding his age. He had told himself that was just concern over getting caught, but this was something more.
The deliveries were not that hard. He didn’t find it difficult to keep the paperwork straight so that each job site received what their paperwork said they should, while there were always materials left over.
But each day he couldn’t shake the feeling that the boss looked at him with contempt. He’d never caught on to the problem of lying when he did it at school or at home, but now each time he told someone what his job was he felt guilt rather than pleasure. In school or at home, the only reason he’d seen to tell the truth was what might happen if he got caught. Now it was his life. And he found he wasn’t comfortable with his whole life being a lie.
He spent a little time on the internet and located the contractor licensing and fraud unit of the Sheriff’s office. But for a couple more weeks he couldn’t bring himself to take any action. He realized that there would be no way he could prove the contractor had told him to lie about his age. Those forms in the employment office probably lied about his background, and he’d signed them without thinking. It was just another little lie, but now it was a weight around his neck—his life, in fact! He probably couldn’t even prove that the contractor had provided his fake ID.
Each day that his boss looked at him with that look of contempt made it harder to continue the next day. How could his boss, who was ordering him to cheat, have contempt for him because he did it? Then one day he realized that the boss had contempt for himself as well.
So late one afternoon after he left work he got together with the fraud investigator. “I can’t prove the contractor is involved in any of this,” he admitted. I have a history of lying and cheating. I signed the employment documents. I’ve been using this false ID. But I’m done.”
The investigator didn’t go easy in questioning him about every detail. But when he was done he said that most people would have shown up with an attorney and demanded immunity in exchange for their testimony. “We were already watching your boss,” he said. “What you can’t prove, we can, and you’ve given us the last piece. I don’t know what will happen to you, but you can be sure I’ll put in a good word. Keep working and we’ll take care of the rest.”
It was a week later when the deputy showed up as he started his route. He confiscated the papers and arrested the contractor and several others. But he didn’t arrest Jay. “You’ll have to testify,” the deputy said.
“OK,” said Jay.
As the contractor was being led to the waiting cruiser, he turned to Jay. “You’re a great disappointment to me,” he said.
But this time what the boss said about him made him feel proud.
(This story was written for the One Word at a Time Blog Carnival – Disappoint.)