The ranks of sign-carrying protesters arrayed outside "The Suasive Experience' had grown quickly in the hour since a dozen or so grey-haired mall-walkers streamed through the just-opened glass doors. Photojournalist Margot GÃ¼ernsbach had been on hand, because she wanted to provide her readers at the crowd-sourced news site she reported through with the sense of purpose the activists expressed, even when they were idly chatting with the elderly indoor exercise enthusiasts.
She smiled, and raised her hand to catch the attention of a happy-looking couple in matching blue-and-white striped jogging suits. They had walked briskly past two of the mall's security guards, and were now warily approaching the protest. "Good morning," she said brightly, and introduced herself. "Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?"
The woman, who was a few inches shorter than Margot, nodded, and peered uncomfortably at the gathering. One of the protesters, a burly young man whose sign read, "Retirees are not Fair Game', grinned back at her. She started, then shrunk a bit and pointed tentatively at him. "What does that mean? What's going on here?"
Her mall-walking companion, a lanky gentleman with a fringe of white hair, who identified himself as Arthur Fischer, gestured at the store's faÃ§ade. "I'd heard there was some big financial-services company behind the mall's new gaming center. They say it's a recruitment tool, kind of like that video game in the movie, "The Last Starfighter'. So what's wrong with that?"
"Those are exactly the sorts of questions I want to answer for my readers. You're right, sir. It is a recruitment tool. But unlike the "The Army Experience', which lured kids into volunteering for a far more dangerous job than what they were shown in the game, this one's supposed to entice shrewd twenty-somethings into taking call-center jobs convincing seniors to invest their nest-eggs in high-risk securities."
After Margot got permission to quote them in her report, Mrs. Fischer complained about the incessant telemarketing calls they got, despite being on the no-call list, and asked if it had become so hard to find what she called "script kiddies' to fill corporate call centers. Margot chuckled at the new use for the derisive term for malware tinkerers, and reminded herself to use it in her report. "I think," she said, "we can both benefit by speaking with a few of the protesters about that."
The young man who had grinned at Mrs. Fischer lowered his sign when he saw them approaching and extended his free hand to her husband. "Hi," he said, "have you come to join the protest?"
Fischer glanced at the callused hand but did not accept it. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and grimaced. "You protesters make me sick," he said tightly. "You'd think that in a bad economy like this, you'd have the decency to let a law-abiding company go about its business, and not stick your nose into their hiring practices."
Fearful of letting the exchange turn ugly, Margot quickly asked the young man, a specialty welder named Stan, to explain why he'd come to the protest, and whether it was a personal or a principled matter for him.
He eyed Fischer's expensive walking shoes for a moment before answering. "I'm blue-collar," he said, "so I actually work for my pay. So was my father. But during the bubble, he made the mistake of believing all the hype and lost his retirement fund to one of those "law-abiding' con artists this company hires. Just because something is legal doesn't make it moral."
A news crew from one of the local TV stations had just arrived, and the reporter immediately launched into a hasty standup in front of the still-growing crowd of protesters that Margot could see behind Stan. She excused herself for a moment to get some reaction shots of the protesters, but before she'd had a chance to resume the conversation, three black-suited men emerged from the storefront and accosted the TV reporter.
"I just spoke with the General Manager of your station," one of them said with an air of superiority, "and was assured that you were here expressly to do a puff piece on the gaming center."
"You can't --," the TV reporter trailed off, his mike wavering unsteadily, which Margot interpreted to mean their assertion was news to him. He snorted, tightening his grip on the mike. "You can't give me orders. I'm here to report on the protest."
Another of the men thrust a cell phone towards his face. "Here. He's on the phone. Ask him yourself."
Margot got a series of shots, including two zoomed close-ups of the stand-up, the first when he was enraged by the corporate goon's claim, and the second when he was on the phone with his boss. The TV reporter reddened as he handed the phone back. Then, after closing his eyes briefly, he feigned a smile and followed the three into the storefront, where a very satisfied-looking and overdressed woman waited.
Stan came up beside her and gestured towards the woman, who was clearly preparing for her close-up. "What I wouldn't give for the chance to get her away from her publicist," he whispered.