PLA Book Project: Chapter 2

The PLA Book

Chapter 2 – Jobless

Before I left, I had worked at a local movie theater in East Alton, Illinois. It was a small theater that didn’t get a lot of business during the week, and there wasn’t much to keep us busy. The other employees and I would sometimes pass the time away by prank calling the pay phones in the shopping center across the street from us. We would talk anybody who picked up the phone, trying to creep them out by telling them what they were doing or what they were wearing, or sometimes we’d end up staying on the phone with them for hours, just killing time and chatting with them about nothing in particular. A few times the random strangers would figure out who we were and they’d come over to visit with us.

One afternoon, while sitting at the ticket window, I saw a lady pull up to one of the phone-from-car pay phones in the parking lot. As soon as she rolled her window down, I dialed the pay phone to make it ring and she picked it up.

“Hello, ma’am,” I said to her. “This is the Illinois Bell operator. I need you to deposit the remaining twenty-five cents for the phone call you just made.”

“I didn’t make a phone call. I just pulled up.”

“I know it was you that made the phone call. There’s no use in denying it. Just put the quarter in the phone or I’m not going to let you use this phone.”

I can only assume that I won this argument with the lady, because she finally gave in and deposited a quarter into the phone, just to shut me up. That’s when I heard the tone for the first time.

As I watched her stick a quarter into the phone from the movie theater, I heard a strange chirping noise come out of my phone. I’d never heard it but I immediately knew that it must be the sound that a pay phone makes when you deposit a quarter into it.

At the time I didn’t know it, but those tones were referred to as “red box tones” by phone phreaks, and they were used to signal the phone company’s equipment that a quarter had been deposited. By simply using a tape recorder to record those tones as quarters were deposited, I could later replay them back into a pay phone to get free calls.

It was just a few months later on a computer bulletin board system that I read an article telling me what I’d heard. So I started asking around about red boxing in the message boards on hacker boards. Everyone I encountered about it told me that red boxing was really big in the 70’s but the phone company had fixed their system nearly a decade ago to make red boxing impossible. Trying to build a red box would be pointless, they told me.

I didn’t listen to them and decided to try it anyway. I’m in a small town and it might still work here, I reasoned. In the end, I managed to make a red box out of an old Panasonic tape recorder by getting on one pay phone, calling the phone next to it and recording the tones as I deposited about $5.00 in quarters. After that I just had to dial a long distance number and when it asked me to deposit $2.75 to complete the call I held up the tape recorder and played the tones into the mouthpiece. After a half dozen screw-ups, it finally worked and my call went through.

I was beside myself with excitement when it finally worked. I thought it must be the pay phones I was using, they must be really old and outdated so that’s the only reason it was working. So I started trying different phones all over town. Every single phone I tried worked; even the phones across the river, in Saint Louis. Within a few weeks I’d perfected my recording of the tones and I could make them work flawlessly every time I wanted to make a call.

Since I didn’t know a lot of people who lived in other states, I would just dial random numbers and talk to anybody that would talk back to me. I would explain to them how I was calling by tricking the pay phones. Some of them would lecture me about being honest, but almost everybody else I talked to thought it was impressive, even if they were a little weirded out by me. One of them even asked me if I could send them copies of my tape and teach them how to do it.

So when I arrived in Galveston I managed to keep myself occupied on the pay phones by red boxing calls to old friends and random people. I had a notebook full of cool numbers to call like various phone company news hotlines and test lines. Then there were all the overseas numbers; just calling to hear their old recordings and trying to talk to foreigners was entertaining for me. I also tried my hand at selling long distance phone calls to tourists, but never got very far with that. I began to spend entire days sitting at the pay phone, making free calls just to pass the time.

What little money I had brought with me quickly began to drain away. My cost of living wasn’t very much. I paid $3.00 every couple days to a campground to use their showers and laundry room. I survived mostly on junk food which wasn’t too expensive. And since the island wasn’t too big, I did a lot of walking around instead of driving my car all day so I didn’t waste too much on gas. But with less than $100 left, it wouldn’t take me too long to start going hungry.

What I really wanted was a cash register job inside one of the many Circle K convenience stores that were spread all over the island. I’d seen the amount of work those clerks got away with not doing and I knew that their jobs paid quite a bit more than a fast food job. I wanted a piece of that.

Scott and I had pulled enough phone scams with convenience stores to know that having a job there would be very rewarding for the type of things I was into. In the past, we’d used to use convenience store phones and employees like they were our own. We could convince any employee to do just about anything over the phone. Sometimes we would order call forwarding onto their lines and then convince the employees to dial the sequence of numbers needed to forward their line to an overseas number that we wanted to call. Once it was done, we only had to dial the local convenience store number to be connected overseas, completely free of charge.

We also discovered a completely new approach to shoplifting at many of the convenience stores in our town. Instead of stealing from the shelves, we slipped into the back room and cooler, where there were no security cameras, taking our time with finding the best things to steal. We could hang out in the cooler for hours, completely unnoticed, drinking as much soda and beer as we wanted. And if an employee caught us in the off limits areas, we simply said that we were looking for the restroom. Employees knew how to deal with shoplifters, but not how to deal with kids sneaking into the wrong areas of the store.

The ideal Circle K for me to work at was located at 39th Street and Seawall. I liked its central location, its view of the ocean, and I especially liked that there were no security cameras inside the store to keep an eye on me. Unfortunately, that particular Circle K wasn’t hiring and they seemed to have a full staff.

I’d filled out an application and I’d talked to the manager a few times and he seemed to like me well enough. I’d modified the birth date on my driver’s license to make myself a couple of years older so I could claim to have more work experience. Using some of the free voicemail boxes that Scott and I had pilfered in Illinois, I was able to set up fake references for myself that would check out if the manager called.

I claimed that I had moved to Galveston to be near family and to attend Galveston’s community college, hoping to transfer to the university in a few years. Again, just to make myself appear more responsible since I had no intentions of going back to school.

I claimed to already have a year of college from Illinois and more than a year of experience at another convenience store which had recently gone out of business. The manager was impressed with my work history and my goals in college and said that I would definitely be considered for the job once a position opened up. This is when I decided that I would make a position open up so I wouldn’t have to wait so long.

After a little research, I found that this particular Circle K had a total of 9 employees. I began writing down their names, types of cars, other stores they worked at and any other information I could find on them. I’d managed to get the home phone numbers of most of them by calling the store and asking other employees for them. All it took was an impersonation of another employee or Circle K’s regional manager. My plan was to either get them all fired or make them quit, one at a time.

Joe was first on my list. I suspected he would be the easiest since he was slow, kind of rude, unkempt and often showed up late for work. I already had his home phone number which the manager, Sonny, had provided with me when I called and impersonated the personnel department from the corporate office. I knew that Joe was supposed to come to work that day at 4pm, so about an hour before that I called his home and did my best to impersonate his manager.

“Joe, this is Sonny. It looks like there was a mistake in scheduling and you don’t have to come in today. You have to be here tomorrow instead. Is that okay?”

Even though my impression of Sonny was awful, it worked beautifully. Joe bought every word of it and he even seemed happy that he was getting the evening off. I tried to come up with a way to make Joe leave his house so that Sonny couldn’t call him and ask why he hadn’t shown up for work. But everything I could think of involved me calling his house and impersonating somebody to get him to leave. I was afraid he would recognize my voice from the previous call so I decided against it. I didn’t want him figuring things out and calling Circle K back.

At 4:15 I went to the Circle K to get something to eat and to see if my plan worked. I slowly walked the store, looking for food and listening to the irritated employee and manager. The employee was upset because she couldn’t go home until Joe showed up. And Sonny was upset because Joe was late again. Just as I was paying for my burrito and drink, Sonny was trying to reach Joe at home. Apparently he wasn’t there because nobody was answering. I stalled a little longer by reading the newspaper on the stand. I thought about asking Sonny if he was hiring any new employees yet, but he was in such a foul mood that I decided against it.

It looked like the daytime employee, Amy, was stuck working a double-shift because of Joe’s absence. Hopefully Joe wouldn’t decide to stop by Circle K for anything during his evening off. I laughed, imagining Joe’s excuse for not being there. “You told me I didn’t have to come in, Sonny!” I hoped that excuse alone would get him fired.

The next day I was somewhat disappointed to see Joe working the evening shift again, but not entirely surprised. It looked like I would need to try even harder. I wished that I had come in around 4pm so that I could witness the confrontation between Joe and Sonny. Since it was fairly busy in the store, Joe didn’t notice me wandering into the back room. Taped to the office door was the week’s schedule for the employees. I ripped it down and put it in my pocket.

On the wall was a time sheet for employees to sign as they arrived to work each day. Joe’s entry for yesterday was empty, since he had missed work. Doing my best to imitate his handwriting, I signed his name for his missed day. I wrote his incoming time as 3:58pm and his outgoing time as 12:09am. My hope was that Sonny would now suspect Joe of trying to get paid for the day that he didn’t show up. I said nothing to Joe as I paid for my drink and left. I decided that I needed to find out where Joe lived.

It wasn’t hard to do. I called Domino’s Pizza and told them I needed to order a pizza. I gave them Joe’s phone number and they read his address to me for confirmation. I wrote it down and hung up the pay phone. Looking in the front phone book, I found the map of the island and located Joe’s house, which was about 30 blocks away.

Ten minutes later, my car was parked in front of his house. Joe worked tomorrow and I needed to make him miss work. The best idea I could come up with was to flatten the tires on his car before he left for work. It didn’t seem like a very good idea since it would be easy for me to be spotted in his driveway. But it was the best that I could come up with.

The next day I went to a hardware store and purchased a few 4” nails. At 2:30pm, I pulled onto Joe’s street. I noted that his car was in the driveway and I parked my car on the other side of the block and started walking. There was an alley so I was able to enter Joe’s yard from the back. It turned out to be much easier than I expected. I simply walked up to Joe’s car, quickly wedged a nail under the back of each of his tires and then walked away. My biggest fear was that Joe might be looking out a window and might recognize me as a regular customer. But, as far as I could tell, I wasn’t spotted by Joe or any other neighbors.

At 4:00, I started driving towards Joe’s house again just to see if his car was there or not. On my way there, I spotted Joe pulled to the side of the road, cursing loudly at his flattened tires. He was about 8 blocks from his home, so I knew it wouldn’t be very long before he decided to walk back home and call work.

After two days of not seeing Joe at Circle K, I finally confirmed that he was no longer employed there. A new girl was at the counter and after some friendly chatting, I found that she had been transferred from a different Circle K on the island and was there to replace Joe. She wasn’t sure if she was there to stay or not, but I knew it was time to start on a new employee. I decided to focus my efforts on Tia, the daytime employee. I’d already noticed that she didn’t deal with stress very well. So I’d give her some stress.

I started spending my mornings on the beach across the street from the store, reading a book and keeping an eye on the store. Every time it started to get really busy, I walked across the street and slipped inside, completely unnoticed by Tia. And I made messes. Not just little messes, but huge messes that I hoped would take Tia hours to clean up, stressing her out to the point of desperately searching for a new place to work.

Not only did I start all the coffee makers at once when they already had full pots of coffee under them, I filled the filters with Pepsi to ensure an extra sticky mess would overflow all the pots. I stuffed the drains on the fountain drink machine full of paper and jammed a few of the spouts on so they overflowed. I even jammed the handle on the slushie machine so the ice cold mush began to pile up and overflow onto the floor.

I would only spend a few minutes in the store at a time but each time I would manage to start several messes. Then I’d walk back to the beach and plan my next attack as I waited for the next rush of customers who would camouflage my vandalism. Within a day, I had just about every surface of the store covered with sticky Pepsi. I’d fill up their 64 ounce cup with Pepsi and walk all over the store, dripping it all over merchandise, food, machines, the magazine display rack, windows and counters.

And I didn’t limit myself to just Pepsi-related messes either. I opened a pack of razor blades from the shelf and used them to cut slits in all of the plastic and cardboard milk containers in the cooler. Not huge slits, but maybe just a few inches long. This would cause a small leak inside the cooler, eventually making a huge mess on the floor. That is, until a customer picked up the container. That’s when the slit buckled and sometimes turned into a small hole. Milk would suddenly be pouring out all over the floor in front of the helpless customer. Mopping that store must have been hell after my visits.

The condiments bar was a wreck once I finished with it. I’d lift the containers out of their holders and pour them all over each other. Then I’d repeat with another. Sometimes I’d get really artistic with it, adding ketchup and mustard drawings on top of it all. And, of course, I’d usually spill a little Pepsi into it too. You know the containers that hold the little packets of salt, pepper, BBQ sauce, etc? Those packets were all floating in Pepsi by the time I left.

During one visit, I noticed Sonny getting into his car to leave right as I arrived. I wasn’t sure where he was going or how long he’d be gone, but I knew that having only one employee in the store guaranteed that I could safely wander around the unauthorized areas of the store. That day I chose the walk-in cooler.

I began by stocking the Pepsi bottles into the racks so that there would be plenty for the customers. Once the Pepsi was fully stocked, I took the glass bottles of Lipton iced tea and put one on the very end of each of the 12 racks for Pepsi. Each glass bottle was right on the edge of the shelf, sure to fall and shatter on the floor the moment that somebody jostled the corresponding rack of Pepsi. Before exiting the cooler, I opened up a couple gallons of chocolate milk and turned them upside down in their crates. Outside of the cooler, I noticed the new employee schedule was up. I took it with me as I left the store.

An hour before Tia’s shift ended, I stopped in the store to buy a newspaper. Sonny was working at the counter and I noticed Tia was on the floor next to a shelf, individually wiping off packages of cookies with a washcloth. Tia did not look like a happy employee.

Sure, she seemed a little stressed out, probably from the sudden surge in messes that she was constantly having to clean up. But I noticed that her bad day was all happening inside of this nice, climate-controlled store. It was then that I realized that I needed to disable the air conditioning. The only thing that could make her day any worse would be repeating it with no air conditioning. Walking out of the store, I smiled as I looked at tomorrow’s weather forecast in the paper.

Destroying the air conditioning unit on the roof wasn’t a very hard task. The only real challenge was getting on the roof, which I accomplished by stacking milk crates along the back of the building to form a staircase to the top. I tiptoed over to the large, gray air conditioning cube and simply flipped the power switch into the “off” position, and then applied a padlock, which I’d stolen from the store earlier in the day, to the switch to make sure it stayed off.

I wanted to actually break the air conditioner, though, so I’d brought some tools with me and began removing all the protective panels. I spent nearly 3 hours on the roof that night, completely taking the air conditioner apart. I sawed off the pipes that came up from the roof, which sprayed Freon all over my pants. I cut all the electrical wiring inside the unit into tiny pieces and I took all the important looking parts with me, such as the fan blade and the giant compressor that actually produces the cold air. I threw those in a dumpster on the way home. The temperature that night was in the mid 80’s. The next day was expected to get into the upper 90’s.

I didn’t get to the store the next day until noon, still worn out from my late-night activities on the roof the night before. The temperature was already in the 90’s and the store felt like a furnace. Tia and the manager were dripping with sweat and both looked miserable. The doors were propped open but it seemed to do little good. They didn’t even have a fan in the store.

“Hey, Sonny, something wrong with the air?” I asked.

“Yeah, we’re not sure what. They’re coming to look at it in a few hours.”

Perfect. Tia’s shift would end at 4pm and there’s no way the air conditioner would be fixed by then. It might even be another day before it could be repaired since the entire unit would probably need to be replaced. And I could just keep breaking them until they hired me. I spent the rest of the afternoon, slipping in unnoticed occasionally and performing my usual acts of vandalism around the store.

While still spending my mornings making things miserable for Tia, I began making harassing phone calls from a pay phone to one of the other evening and weekend guys. His name was Keith and he had a temper. It didn’t take much effort to get him to yell at me on the phone. One of our conversations went a little like this.

“Circle K, can I help you?”

“Hey, who is this?” I asked him.

“This is Keith.” He responded.

“Keith Parker?”

“No, this is Keith Hierman.”

“Oh. Well, which Circle K is this?” I asked.

“We’re on 39th Street.”

“What’s your district manager’s name?”

“Clyde Conyers. Why?”

“Well, Keith Hierman, I think you should know something. I hate you and your store. You’re a piece of shit and I hope you die.”

“Who the fuck is this?”

“Don’t worry about who I am!” I yelled. “Mind your own business and get back to fucking work!”

“Fuck you!” he yelled and hung up on me.

I used my tape recorder to record every second of our conversations. And before long, I had more than an hour of my conversations with Keith on a cassette tape. My goal was to put together a conversation on tape, using only his voice, of him yelling at Circle K’s district manager. All I had to do was arrange the various sound bytes I had on the tape, call up the district manager, and hope for the best. After a few hours of editing a one-sided tape of a conversation together, I called up the district manager at his home, late in the evening and on a day that Keith wasn’t working.

“Hello?” the district manager answered.

“Clyde Conyers.” my tape recorded voice said to him.


“This is Keith Hierman. Circle K. On 39th Street.”

“Oh, hello, Keith.” Clyde said.

“Fuck you!” Keith’s voice yelled at Clyde.

“What?” Clyde asked, seeming to be a little taken aback by an employee calling him at home and cursing at him. I rewound the tape and Keith repeated himself.

“Fuck you!”

“What’s wrong, Keith?”

From this point, Keith’s voice just ranted randomly and yelled all kinds of expletives at Clyde. Every time Clyde tried to reason with Keith, I would press the play button again and Keith would go into his rant against Clyde again. This went on for nearly a minute before ending with Keith yelling, “Fuck you, my job is better than anything you’ve ever done!” This line came from a conversation where I was telling Keith how useless he was and how he couldn’t find a better job than Circle K. I hung up on Clyde, and then exploded into laughter.

After taking a few minutes to recover, I put in another cassette tape, labeled “Sonny.” Then I called up Sonny’s home so that Keith could yell at him too. The conversation my tape recorded Keith had with Sonny was nearly identical to the conversation with Clyde. Only with Sonny, I was sure he’d be more likely to recognize Keith’s voice and would have no doubt it was Keith who called him. I’d give anything to have heard the conversations between Sonny and Clyde regarding the bizarre phone calls they received from Keith.

I never gave up on wrecking the workdays of all the employees, though. I continued with my campaign of terror for weeks against that helpless store. I constantly snuck into the back room, causing as much damage and confusion as I possibly could. I disconnected the hoses to the soda tanks, causing the soda machine to dispense nothing but carbonated water. I cut the phone lines and hid the excess wire above the ceiling tiles, ensuring that the credit card and lottery machines wouldn’t work for the rest of the day. Since the phone lines were down they couldn’t even call anyone for help without leaving the store.

I turned off their main water valve, then unscrewed the knob and threw it in the trash. I constantly turned off the power to the gas pumps and the hot water heater. Once I even opened the emergency valve on the hot water heater, causing it to unload a full tank of scalding hot water into the back room’s floor.

All of these actions created a constant stream of stress and confusion for the employees. And it cost the store probably thousands of dollars in cleanup, repairs, and lost sales. All because I wanted a job there.

One morning, I was sitting on some stairs leading to the beach, keeping an eye on the store, when I noticed Sonny walk out the store with a bank deposit bag. He got into his car and drove away and I knew it’d have to be at least 15 minutes before he would come back. I walked into the store, unnoticed by Tia who was busy with a line of customers, and walked into the back room and into Sonny’s open office door. I searched through his desk until I found a thick stack of job applications.

Flipping through them all, I found mine. I quickly searched through the rest of them, trying to pick out the most unlikely people to be hired. I based my judgment mostly on illegible handwriting and very little previous job experience. I put my application back in the drawer with about ten others that I picked. And I took the rest with me, probably 50 of them in all. I shoved them inside a newspaper, paid Tia for the paper, and then left the store. I tossed them all into a trash can several blocks away. Most of my competition was eliminated.

I can only assume that Keith lost his job that day, because the next morning a NOW HIRING sign was in the window. My heart sank at this, knowing that they were probably looking for somebody else and still weren’t interested in hiring me. Maybe my fake references weren’t as good as I thought they were. Or maybe they just didn’t like me. At that point it almost seemed like I should just give up. I walked in and Sonny was at the counter.

“Sonny!” I said smiling. “You’re hiring again! That is so perfect because I cannot seem to find a job on this island and I’ve been looking for weeks now.”

And just like that, I got the job that I’d been shooting for. Sonny and I had another small interview that morning. The next day I had an interview with Clyde, the district manager, who confided in me that their previous employee had gone nuts and began pranking him at home. Shortly after this, I was hired. They started me out in a part time position to replace Keith, but promised me that a daytime position was opening up soon since Tia had put in her two weeks notice.

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4 thoughts on “PLA Book Project: Chapter 2

  • November 2, 2008 at 7:23 pm

    Aye, another fine job all together RBCP. Maybe I’m just a malicious bastard, but I loved it on a whole knowing that I probably would have done something along the same lines just to land a job that would take me no where and I’d use only for a few months.

    As per my request, nay, demand; you should keep posting more and more on the regular until you get to the point of actually having enough to get a book published.

  • November 3, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    The link in the email you sent out for this article is wrong. It should be /chapter02/, you put pla-book-project-chapter-2/.

    I’m intelligent and saw that in the first email for chapter one the url contained “/chapter01/” so I changed it to “02”. Marvel at my leet h4x0ring skillzz.

    Oh and great read by the way :P.

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