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Borrowed trouble: My 30 days inside a payday loan office

The cursor blinks and a man hovers over my computer. American flag t-shirt, sleeves off — he coughs into his hands and rubs them together. He’s nervous. On my desk lies his bank statement, three pay stubs and a driver’s license. They are the only items he has in the world.

“You can do $200?” he asks. “All I need is $200.”

“I can do $200,” I say, but I’m falsely distracted: I’m typing — clicks and clacks without regard to timing or rhythm. The store is stuffy today. I’m thinking about going home. Or crawling under my desk, holding my knees and rocking. I’m feeling loansome: i.e., the mental weight from a month’s work of digging irresponsible borrowers under insurmountable debt.

“Yeah,” he says, “that all?”

Sam, who sits next to me, swivels over. She reaches to tap my computer screen, making the monitor shake, her chubby finger with a fat force. Where she taps it reads,

TOTAL LOAN AMOUNT APPROVED: ………………. $750.00

Sam turns her head, smiling at me, nodding, as if to say, “Go ahead, Kevin, you got this. I believe in you.” So I swallow. I have to find my voice again, like a shy 12 year old being forced to sing the National Anthem in front of his friends; it’s in there, but it doesn’t want to come out.

Below my computer screen is a motivational sign:

GOAL: 100% of TLA

Next to the letters is a picture of a steaming coffee cup with a pastry.

The man, waiting, now growing impatient to my silence, stretches. He looks to his right, at the signage hanging on the wall. Big, beautiful green letters,

BE A RESPONSIBLE BORROWER, TAKE ONLY WHAT YOU NEED.

“You’re approved for $750,” I say.

He pretends to think about it: “Yeah,” he says. “I’ll take it. All of it.” (more…)

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