The invitation came on nice paper. That thick kind of rich-people paper where the weird watermark is half visible all through it. It was addressed simply to "The Washington (ST) Man". It said simply, "Vocational Conference - Expenses Paid". It contained $335.56 - his entire, exact, salary for one week of his new job - and a round trip plane ticket, arriving in Des Moines, Iowa, on a Monday, leaving on the following Sunday.
He didn't know what to make of it.
The obvious thing was not to go.
But he'd never been much, except in Washington, so he went.
A cabdriver with a sign that had his name picked him up at the airport. It reminded him of a movie, the kind he'd hid in during his rather disjointed childhood.
The cab took him to a dismayingly ugly hotel. It looked to be made from some sort of large-scale cardboard, but was, in fact, 'modern'. He showed the tiny, doe-eyed girl working at the front desk his invitation, and she gave him a room key. She didn't meet his eyes or smile, because he was ugly. He signed in as Mr. Washington.
A pamphlet in the room told him he had one hundred dollars per day to put on room service, if he didn't want to go anywhere or talk to anyone. He was glad they understood.
There was a print on the wall that had also been hanging in the lobby.
The conference started the next day. The first talk was called "Moving on". The man giving the talk had been the man from Kentucky. That had been a good, robust state. He talked for a while about how most of them were hired for their nerve and couldn't make it as regular guards. He asked them all what they did now.
No one was a regular guard anymore.
The man from Alaska was the best. He was a banker. He made $35,000.
The man from Iowa was in bad shape. He was a part time janitor at a porn theatre. That was a bad job. It made them feel better about their jobs.
Washington got up in turn, told them that me made submarine sandwiches in a franchise store in a mall. He told them that the customers didn't respect him, because he was ugly and he stuttered. He said that they laughed at him, especially the high-school aged girls, who made him almost cry just by coming in the door with the way they would talk quietly while looking at him and then laugh loudly while looking away. He said it was like going from being the principal of a junior high to being the most unpopular student.
They started actually talking about what he had said.
They started talking about how people should respect them.
After all, they'd done all that dirty work for everyone.
On the way out of the talk, a few of them shook Washington's hand, and slapped his back, and said things like "Right on". Washington felt like a person. That, to say the least, was new.
He spent the second half of the first day talking quietly with the man from Kentucky. Kentucky had liked what he said, and told him part of the big plan. He hinted that something was in the works.
The second day's talk was by the man from Hawaii. The man from Hawaii was actually a woman, one of only five in their ranks.
Her talk was on self-defense.
They talked about alarm systems, cameras, being aware of your surrounds.
They talked about how people, people's families, found out who you were, and tried to get at you, now that you had so little protection.
It had happened to Washington once. He told about it. A man's wife tried to shoot him outside of his walk-up. Her hands had shaken and she missed. After that she gave up. Washington said he never understood why her hands had shaken on 'the switch', but then, he wouldn't.
When he said that, they laughed. At his joke.
This was also new.