Just a couple months before I quit my office job, I started looking on Craigslist for copy-writing jobs I could do remotely, as a safety net for the transition to Austin, where I will have no job and no connections.
I answered an ad from a man named Avi looking for someone to write descriptions of baby products. He and his wife had a large quantity of baby products they wanted to sell on their very own website, having grown tired of giving a cut of the profit to Amazon and Ebay.
I wrote them a sample and they offered me an assignment. I agreed, but eventually found that the amount of time and effort I was spending on the work wasn’t worth the pay they had offered, so I tendered my resignation.
To my surprise, Avi informed me he would like me to keep working, and invited me to meet him for lunch so we could negotiate. We met at Pita Hut, a kosher restaurant in downtown Rockville. Avi is an Orthodox Jew, and Pita Hut comprised about one-fourth of the kosher restaurants he could go to in the Washington D.C. area.
Once he bought me a shawarma sandwich, he gained my trust. A man is only as good as the sandwich he buys me, I always say. As we discussed an hourly rate, a fat man wearing a purple yarmulke with the Baltimore Raven’s logo came up to our table and greeted Avi. Avi manfully pumped the Ravens fan’s fat hand. “Molly, this is Allen. He’s a big fish.” Allen shrugged his massive shoulders. “I’m not a big fish. I’m a little fish.” Allen turned and swaggered out of the restaurant. I briefly wondered if I had accidentally joined the mob.
Avi explained further his goals for the baby product website. How is it, exactly, he came to have a warehouse full of baby products? “It’s a family business. Luna’s father owns it.”
Just before I quit my job Avi invited me over to his house so I could meet Luna and their two babies.
Almost every door in Avi’s building has a mezuzah, a tiny hollow tube that contains a rolled up bit of scripture, a traditional fixture of Jewish doorways. As we sipped kosher wine Avi told me at some length about his many previous jobs, including a stint as a door-to-door oil painting salesman. In addition to owning a restaurant and getting his baby product website ready to launch, Avi operated a moving business with Luna’s help. “Israelis are all like this,” Luna informed me. “They all always have a bunch of different businesses going at the same time.” Luna is my age, also from the D.C. area. She asked me after dinner if I ever planned on having kids. I responded vaguely. “You’re still young for you all. For us, twenty-four is pretty old.”
One fine morning in May, shortly following my last day at my regular 9 to 5 job, Avi called me before 8 am. He wanted to know if I could go to the warehouse. I asked if there was some time later in the week when I could come, a time when I could get someone else to go with me. There’s a lot to learn, he insisted. So I agreed.
The warehouse is located in Anacostia, a run-down area impervious to the gentrification that seeped into much of D.C. since the ’80s. Avi told me the name of the warehouse shopping center and I drove past it twice, his powers of description marred by a refusal to mention any landmarks or names of streets.
Nothing in the shopping center parking lot looked like it could be a warehouse. “Just park, I’ll come meet you,” Avi instructed. I parked outside of the largest store, a wig store called SuperBeauty. Avi emerged from within and beckoned me to follow him inside.
We walked to the back wall of the store, behind the cash register. A couple of employees pretended not to see us. Avi pulled back a wall-hanging to reveal a hidden door. It opened into an unlit staircase.
Who knows where I am? I thought, panicking slightly. No one. It’s just me and a man I met on Craigslist and a dark set of stairs. He lit the way into the basement with his smart phone. I followed, filled with regret that I didn’t bring anyone with me.
We emerged into a humid series of rooms that looked much larger than the store above. Avi introduced me to a burly man packing up the Amazon and Ebay orders, and another, burlier man named Eugene. I was the least burly person as far as the eye could see.
“This one is Luna’s brother,” Avi said, introducing the first burly man. “He is the biggest pothead you’ll ever meet.” “Smells like pot outside!” I said, because I am the type of person who feels they need to contribute. I was out of my element.
I also met Avi’s business partner, Bobby, in D.C. temporarily while he and Avi get the website ready to launch. Bobby is usually in Nicaragua, where his husband is stationed in the military.
Shortly after I arrived, Bobby told Avi that he was not far along enough in his preparation of the website for him to train me, as was the original plan. So Avi sets me to work at one of the two computers tucked on the corner of the warehouse, doing something online I could have easily done from home. Bobby set about cleaning his work station. Dust and mouse turds lay thickly on all surfaces.
As the hours ticked by, the strangest thing about the whole scenario to me was that nothing untoward had happened. I was just typing away, in a hidden warehouse in a terrible neighborhood.
Avi left at around 1 pm to get kosher food for lunch. He returned over an hour later with Styrofoam boxes that contained, mysteriously, Chinese take-out. He put the boxes down on the dusty floor, and indicated he was leaving for an unspecified amount of time to go do something for his moving business. Not wanting to eat off of the floor in a filthy warehouse, I told Avi I could finish my work from home. Mostly I felt desperate to leave well before the sun went down. He agreed but looked disappointed. I ran to my car, prissily terrified it had been stolen.
Since then I’ve worked painstakingly on descriptions of strollers, stroller accessories, car seats, et cetera. I have lots more to get through, but once I get to Austin, I’ll need to start making more money if I’m going to do anything besides eat beans and stay inside as my clothes wear to rags. I’m hoping to find more freelance writing or editing work.
My friend recently posted an add on Craigslist advertising a bag full of period-stained underwear for 20 bucks a pop. She never planned on going through with the sale, she was just conducting some sociological research. Within a week she had several serious responses. “If I buy the whole bag, will you give me a picture to jack off to?” one interested party inquired. I’m not saying I’m up for mild prostitution, but when venturing off into the unknown it is important to remind yourself that the world is full of opportunities.