So I was looking through my Documents folder earlier trying to find something (unfortuantely, I think I accidentally deleted it, which really fucking sucks), and I noticed an old short essay I wrote from back when I was living in Tallahassee. For a period of time, I worked as a Phone Surveyor at this hole-in-the-wall office right around Downtown (if Tallahassee even has a Downtown). Anyone who knows me knows that I consider that job to be the low point of my time in Tally, if not my life. It really did suck the soul right out of my body. In any case, I thought it'd be fun to share - this was back when my writing was tinged with overbearing cynicism and a tendency to get kind of vulgar. If that's not your kind of thing, you should probably just avoid it.
A Matter-o-Fact Confessional by Karl Castaneda
It’s about half-past 3 P.M. when I walk in the door and say hello to the awkwardly kind middle-aged woman who’s always there before me, no matter how ridiculously early I show up. I think she might have the shift before me in addition to the one I work. I’d ask her, but I think we talk enough as is. She’s one of those “Hi there, baby, how’s your day been? That bad, huh? Well, you tell me all about it so I can give you a lecture, because even though we’re at the same station in life, my several extra decades of existence has granted me near-infinite wisdom” types. I wish there was a shorter way of saying that.
I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself, though. I work as a telemarketer. Well, no. I’m not a telemarketer, per se. I’m a phone surveyor, a job much like a telemarketer, only one in which there’s no actual product to sell. Instead I – you guessed it – skillfully fool people into completing mundane and often confusingly irrelevant surveys. Though when we complete one, we’ve got to log it in as a “sale,” so I don’t know whom it is they’re trying to fool.
I’m pretty sure we’re classified as phone surveyors to bypass the National Do Not Call List. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s that giant list of people who’ve gotten fed up with being interrupted during dinner / bathing time / depression-filled masturbation, and have filed to be taken off the call list for timeshare salesmen and such. That list doesn’t apply to us, though, since we, again, “aren’t actually selling anything and, therefore, aren’t actually telemarketers, ma’am, so if you’d kindly shut your dumb fucking mouth for a second, I’d like to ask you how you’d rate your current cable provider. Oh, and let me remind you how much we appreciate your time today.”
Jumping back to the present, my shift doesn’t actually start until half-past 4 P.M. I’ve really got no reason to be there, but my rides to work are often ruled by my car-owning roommate, and thus, sometimes my ETAs are a little off. Sure, I could take the bus, and sometimes I do, but I also occasionally browse Craigslist’s local prostitute gallery to amuse myself with maliciously groomed vaginas, so I’d say my quota for bad habits is about full.
In the intervening time between the minute I punch in for the afternoon (So what if I’m not working for another two hours? I’m still stuck there, aren’t I? Let’s see if I can fool them into giving me more money) and the moment I lethargically drag myself over to my desk to start making calls, I fill my time with a healthy blend of jack shit and fuck-all. Sometimes I sleep, as well. There’s a lot to be said for actively interrupting the flow of the office with your thunderous snoring coming from the break room. It’s a merit I’m quite proud of.
When it’s finally time to get to business, I strap on the Dollar Store-grade headset they’ve set aside for me at my assigned desk for the day, type in my employee info at the computer terminal, sit back, get reasonably un-comfy, and let the magic roll. And by magic, I of course mean dozens of hang-ups, usually in quick succession of the ones preceding it.
Before taking this job, I can confidently say I wasn’t a huge fan of telemarketers / phone surveyors / what have you. I wasn’t actively against them, it’s just that I, like most of the population, never saw the point in wasting up to a half-hour of your life on answering questions that are just going to be compiled into a giant data report that, ultimately, will only help corporations screw you over with more subtlety. Having worked as “one of them,” though, that mild dislike has morphed into mild sympathy with a hint of sadness and a side of wistfulness. Likely with an appetizer consisting of those breadsticks with melted cheddar poured over them, but that has more to do with me than them, if you want to get right down to it.
You see, there are three types of telemarketers / phone surveyors / career-challenged folk:
- The Robot: Having been worn down by multiple hours of working as a headset-jockey, their soul has been totally eroded, leaving only the paper-thin husk of a monotone voice, slightly irritated inflection, and an overall hopeless demeanor. Most of the callers you encounter are these types. Do not fear for them. They are already dead.
- The Uppity Bitch: These guys and gals are the douchebags and cunts, respectively, who just couldn’t be more psyched to find out whether your dental floss is green, blue, or Do Not Know / No Answer. Constantly surrounded by Robots, they’ve decided to hold onto their sanity by fooling themselves into loving this colossal waste of time. These are the people you have to worry about. It’s only a matter of time before their miserable hope-bubble bursts and they unload a lead factory on the dude at McDonalds who gives them incorrect change.
- People Like Me / The Normals / New Hires: As the multiple titles might suggest, these are the people who’re only working this gig until they can find a proper job. Or the people who haven’t caught wise to the fact that just because the job is easy doesn’t mean it isn’t damaging to your psyche. These are the people applying at that bookstore or comic shop you run. Please hire them.
On most days I’m surrounded by Robots, but on this day, I’m lucky enough to be placed in a cluster of Uppity Bitches. Today’s UB newbie (Ew-bie?) looks about 16, a hundred or so pounds overweight, and a fan of comics, apparently. I look over his shoulder to see that he’s reading a trade paperback of Preacher (Also known in some circles as The Only Thing Texas Ever Contributed To Society). The dude’s automatically up a couple notches in my book, because that’s a damn quality series. I consider complimenting him on his purchase, but I’m interrupted by an incoming call.
Well, it’s actually an outgoing call. Nobody actually calls us, but the system we log into automatically queues up several numbers, which we then take care of in the order they’re dialed out. In any case, this incoming-outgoing is afoot, so I launch into my spiel:
“Hi, this is Karl, calling on behalf of [Company Name Withheld], how’re you today?”
Once they awkwardly sigh out a “Fine,” the game is afoot:
“Well, we’re conducting a VERY BRIEF survey about TV among consumers in your area, and I’d love to get your opinion, if that’s alright.”
A couple notes, to begin. First of all, every caller you’ve ever spoken to has a long-ass script that tells him or her exactly what to say. The script in question tells me that once I hear “Hello” on the other end, I’m supposed to launch into a two-paragraph diatribe on how I’m not trying to sell anything, that the survey is oh-so-short, that we’d very much appreciate their opinion, that I’m really not trying to sell them anything, that they’re being given a great opportunity to voice concern and praise, and I SWEAR TO THE LORD IN HEAVEN THAT I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING PLEASE DON’T HANG UP ON ME. Oddly enough, I think keeping people on the line and Republican National Convention-style speeches are often at odds with each other, so I keep things short.
Also take notice that I’m very aloof as to getting them to take the survey. I mean, I’d totally like to hear what they have to say. But only, like, if they’re into that kind of thing or whatever. I could go either way, to be honest. I’ve got tons of people to call, so it’s not like I need them to say yes. If they happened to say yes, though, that would be fuck-awesome. Please say yes.
This song and dance has been mildly effective, and as such, it’s a staple among my call tactics, among my other faves, “I’m telling you, ma’am, there are only a few more questions, so if you’ll just stay on the line for a few more moments, I’ll have you on your way in no time at all,” and the ever-classic, “No, sir, I didn’t realize that I’m a total pain in the ass. Would you care to rate your internet speed on a scale of 1 to 10?”
To be perfectly honest, though, 95% of the people I talk to every day give me some variation of “No thanks, “ “I want you to literally fuck your own ass,” “I want to light you on fire in the worst way,” or the ever-present hang-up. Which is fine. That’s how this call ends. If you want to get specific, the lady was on her way “out the door.” I hear that one a lot, too, and a certain naïve part of me actually believes it. Maybe I’m not all grown up yet, after all.
It’s at this point that I turn back around to see how my fellow Preacher appreciator is doing. You see, in between calls, our stats are displayed on-screen. I see that he’s already completed three surveys, and we’re only in our first hour of the shift. My next set of calls seems to be taking a while, so I decide to listen in on his next pitch. It goes as follows:
“Well hello there, ma’am! My name is Joseph, and I hope you’re doing just fantastic today. You are? Swell! Well, you see, I’ve got this survey about television, and I’d be ever-so thrilled if you’d spare a few minutes to complete it. You will? Gee golly!”
The fucker falls a few notches back toward The Ever-So Crowded Province of Fuckwadsville, Population: Too Many to Count. Maybe it’s his sunny disposition, or maybe it’s that he’s so far ahead of me, but for some reason, I now hate this asshole’s guts. Take your pick.
Fate is not kind and returns me to my “work.” An Indian man answers the phone, and I launch into my usual. Every once in a while, I’ve got to admit, I get to have a little fun. This is one of those select times. The following exchange takes place:
“Hello there, this is Karl calling on behalf of [Company Name Withheld, henceforth shortened to CNW]. How are you today?”
“Yes? Hello? Who are you?”
“Well, again, sir, my name is Karl and I’m calling on behalf of [CNW]. How are you today?”
“What is it that you want with me?”
“Well, sir, we’re conducting a VERY BRIEF survey about TV among consumers in your area, and I’d love to get your opinion if that’s alright.”
“Give me your fucking phone number.”
“What’s your phone number?”
“Heh, well, I’m not actually allowed to give that out, sir. Getting back to the survey-“
“No, fuck you and fuck that. What’s your fucking phone number?”
“Well, like I said, I’m not allowed to give that out.”
“Oh for – are you – are you a male?”
“You. Are you a male or a female.”
“I’m a male, sir.”
“Then where the fuck are your balls?”
“Would you like to take the survey, sir?”
“Did I – did you not hear anything I said?”
“I heard you, sir. I’m just wondering if you’d like to take the survey…”
I’m enjoying this. Fucking sue me. I understand where the guy’s coming from. I mean, it’s not really me that he’s mad at. It’s the collective persona that is all telemarketers everywhere from any time period that he’s got a bone to pick with. I’m just that persona’s avatar. You might think that getting screamed at when I can’t raise my voice even an iota would drive me nuts, but it’s more amusing than anything else. Of course he doesn’t want to take the survey – I just want to see how deep this nut’s gonna crack:
“Take the survey? Are you out of your head?!”
“So… would you like to take it?”
“I’m so tired of – I can’t believe you!”
“Sir, if you’d just like to spare a moment of your time, I’d greatly appreciate it.”
There’s that saying, “Kill ‘em with kindness.” In reality, all you really do is annoyingly poke them with kindness, and luckily, the latter is a lot more entertaining:
“Listen to me now! I will never hear from you again! Do you hear me?”
“The survey is actually very brief, sir…”
“Never again! Fuck this and fuck you!”
When I hear the phone hang up, I realize that I’ve finally crossed the line I’d been straddling for days between completely unobtrusive empathic and the asshole who’s more worried about getting you to admit your favorite color than the dying relative you’re on your way out to visit. I won’t lie. The dark side feels good in ways that I hadn’t imagined before. I decide it’s time for a bathroom break.
We’re allowed two 5-minute bathroom breaks a day, with an additional 30-minute break for “lunch,” which in reality is at 7 P.M. For my first fiver of the day, I decide to quench my thirst at the water fountain, and then stroll on back to my desk to emotionlessly stare at the counter on my screen displaying how much time I have left before I’m considered late by my supervisor, God forbid a shit takes longer than the allotted period. I wouldn’t want to miss out on those precious hang-ups. I might learn some new curse words or something.
When the counter is displaying 0:0:05 remaining, I hit Esc and I’m back to taking the incoming-outgoings. While I sneak a peak at Station 33’s well-prepared cleavage, I hear a beep through my headset, and I’m back to slowly killing myself inside. All is right in the world.
Sometime later, I wake up from my zombie-like trance when I know it’s time for lunch break. I know this because the supervisor has sent out an instant message to everyone’s computer that shows up over our stat sheet. So everyone hits Esc, puts themselves on 30 MINUTE BREAK, and goes outside to chain-smoke several packs of cigarettes. Not being much of a smoker, I usually give a call to my brother or a friend and tell them about how people treat my telephone greetings like a harbinger of pestilence. It usually gets a laugh, though I’m still not quite sure why it’s funny. I guess it’s one of those things you have you see from the outside to enjoy.