Oct 3, 2007

My First Day

I was talking about first jobs with a friend a few days ago, and it woke up a lot of long-dormant memories. Memories that, in retrospect, might have been better left right where they were. Which is to say in the corner of the attic of my brain, under big dusty boxes of old National Geographic magazines. But, that's the drawback of remembering things, isn't it? Sometimes not even pages of naked aboriginal people can keep them down.

My first job. I was seventeen, and needed money. I tried prostitution, selling myself for fifty cents a go on the street corner with the rest of the working girls but some jackass brought a roll of quarters and I decided I needed to change career paths. So, I became a telemarketer.

Yeah, I know, I should have stayed with the working girls (down in county jail...)

See, I was naive. VERY naive. I hadn't a clue about how the world worked, and my parents weren't a whole lot better. And so here I was, seventeen years old, driving an '81 Camaro around like I had a clue, and I knew I didn't want to work in fast food of any kind. I hadn't discovered the Evil That Is Retail, that particular beast still lay in my future, and there was a place that was hiring. Larry Robinson Photo Studios. Minimum wage, with the added incentive of making Big Money! Video arcade, here I come!

This particular company was hiring anyone with a voice and a willingness to sit in an office and talk that summer. Thirty hours a week and all the phones you could gnaw on. I don't even recall there being a job application; I showed up, shook the boss' hand and was given a folding chair, a telephone and a stack of telephone book pages. More fool me, I didn't know that to pass the interview I simply had to resist fleeing instantly.

So all that summer at 9 in the morning I'd drive down to a block of office buildings with the genteel name of "The Fireside Plaza" and park across the street from office "B." "B" was empty but for a tiny desk in the corner for the twenty-something, low personal goals boss, a paper chart tacked on the wall with our names and a tally of how many 'hits' we'd had that week (bonuses for impossibly high numbers!) and six long folding tables and chairs. And phones. Our office supplies went so far as to include pencils and piles and piles of pages torn out of local phone books. We were a class operation to be sure. Oh, and we had a window. I spent a lot of time staring out that window, watching my life pass me by.

I was the only guy in the office other than our boss, and we were surrounded by around twenty women who would come and go like the tide. New faces always appeared while old ones wore out fast. You didn't bother learning names because most of them wouldn't be there long enough to matter. It was that kind of a job.

It wasn't hard work, not by any means. You sat there and you called people and you got them to answer a painfully easy question and you'd gleefully tell them they'd won a prize (if you lasted that long) and about one in every hundred people would stay on the line with you long enough that you could get their name and address. And if they were that foolish or desperate for company we'd send a runner around with the free camera they'd won (Made In Korea!) and a special discounted price on a photography session at the studio. I should have bucked for a promotion to runner.

I don't recall a lot of people yelling or being abusive at the time, as telemarketing wasn't yet that popular. Looking at our success rates I'm surprised it EVER became so widely used. Ten 'hits' in an eight hour day out of twenty people was a banner event. Hangups were wildly common, naturally. We'd just mark the name to call again later and dial again. This was long before Do Not Call lists and such. And as naive as I was, I didn't think about the people I was bothering in the middle of their weekend, eating their lunch or making love or doing whatever it was they were doing. I was drawing a paycheck (the minimum wage at the time was a whopping $3.35 an hour) and it was enough to get me by, a guy of simple needs and weak mind.

I do recall that the highlight of my three month summer tour of duty there was the time I got paid my regular eight hours wage plus $30 cash to spend the day putting limousine tint on the windows of my boss' Cutlass. I should have gone into window tinting, looking back. Hell, I should have been renting myself out as a guinea pig for medical testing, or selling plasma. It was a crap job and I knew it, but I had zero skills and I needed to work.

I will say this--that job gave me a somewhat unique viewpoint. Any time a telemarketer calls now, I can see me as that seventeen year old kid, desperately trying to inject some tiny bit of excitement into my voice while I told you about the free camera you just won for knowing that Richard M. Nixon was the only US president to ever be impeached (to date.) And I feel a little sorry now for that person on the other phone, trying to sound excited, staring out the window at their life passing by. Thanks to that time in a small hell I'm a little bit more understanding, a shade less indifferent to the thousands of people who do telemarketing fundraisers, surveys, or political campaigns. I know what it's like to have that job.

So if you're telemarketing me, rest assured that I'm keeping all that in mind when I tell you that you're a mother honking piece of honk and that you need to go honk yourself just before I hang up on you.

11 comments:

Scott from Oregon said...

telemarketing and an 81 Camaro.

My heart bleeds tar...

Mona Buonanotte said...

Bonus points for your excellent use of the word "honk"!

We bypass most telemarketing by never answering our phone unless the caller id reveals it's someone we want to talk to. And they call...constantly...hey, it keeps them employed, right??

Irrelephant said...

Scott, tar? You might wanna get that looked at, I think you've been inhaling too much.

Mona, I need to get caller ID back, but yes, it is keeping them working. Otherwise they'd all be out on the streets selling crack or themselves. And thank you! I've found myself really enjoying the rather visceral joy of that word, in place of more mundane profanity. It's got the same impact when said properly, with none of the backlash from sensitive or delicate employees.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Too, too funny.

I managed one of those briefly, a million years ago, just after the invention of the telephone.
We were selling satin and glue.
Bit humbling, that line of work.
Thankfully, I retired early.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

meno said...

Caller ID. It's the law. Or it should be.

Jay said...

Clearly your early experiences have made you a stunningly sympathetic individual. Kudos.

Rayne said...

I can honestly say I never really thought about it from the telemarketers point of view.

Nancy Dancehall said...

I was briefly employed as a telemarketer for my college. But I quit the night I got called 'a whore for (insert college name here).' If I'm gonna get called THAT, I might as well be with the working girls down in the county jail. (You Steely Dan fan man you!)

Irrelephant said...

Scarlet, it IS rather humbling, isn't it? Kind of like working retail--it's something that everyone ought to do once. Once.

Meno, I already pay Ma Bell more than her fair share, but there are days when I'm tempted. LA has a "Do Not Call" list that helps block almost all the crap, though.

Jay, do you serve that excellent sarcasm up fresh EVERY day? You need to be in business!

Rayne, I've held my fair share of odd little jobs that have given me, well, a "warped" view is I guess the best way to phrase it.

Nancy, I don't recall ever being called that, but then again this is so far back in the dim mists of time that telemarketing was a new thing. Heck, I still remember the big "plug and socket" switchboard up in front of our little office. We had to each bring a lump of coal for the fire pit on cold mornings.

Batgirl said...

LOL...for a moment I thought you were going to write something reassuring to anyone that may be a telemarketer...I should have known better...

Irrelephant said...

BG, reassuring? You must be kidding, sweet girl!