DREAD AND DISDAIN AT A CALL CENTER
By Ewen Stanley, Contributing Writer
There are times throughout our lives when many of us will find ourselves needing a “between job job.” One of those jobs outside our normal profession that we take in order to keep the bills somewhat paid. On one such vocational drift, I found myself going to work at a call center as a customer service rep.
After fighting my way through the grueling three minute interview, I was on my way to a local lab for my “pre-employment” drug screen. I hate those moments primarily because I am not very good at math, and I inevitably find myself trapped in an algebra problem attempting to determine the odds of whether I will pass or fail the test, based on my last illicit drug usage. This time I passed.
The first two weeks of my employment were spent in a training class learning very little that would end up helping me once I hit “The Floor.” Most of the time was spent watching a parade of self important “Call Center Demigods” extolling on how fortunate we were to be selected for our position. That they had “ripped and clawed their way through a colossal stack of applications to select only the best and brightest” to be blessed with their position.
As I try to absorb this rhetoric, I consider the “best and brightest” sitting before the computers to my left, right, front and back. There’s Timmy over there who is obsessed with rap, rodeos, racing and being a gangsta-redneck. His ideal of business casual dress is a pair of Dickies and a white T-shirt.
Then there is Will. Evidently, Will use to be a pro-wrestler of some sort. According to him, he once wrestled Hulk Hogan. I’m thinking they must have wrestled over a dozen donuts.
Speaking of donuts, Carl is a former police officer. He resigned after allegations arose that he was sleeping on the job, leaving the town he was sworn to protect with just one other officer, who only worked part-time. Oh, and Carl was also a chiropractor at one time.
This is the fourth call center job for Carolyn. She has worked her way to near the top at every one she has worked for and, “This one will be no different.” She has already made it clear that she will hack you alive and bury you in a mine hole if you try to stand in her way.
So this is a sampling of the crème of the crop from the stacks of applicants. The Call Center Director stopped by on the final day of training and pretty much summed up how special we all were by stating that he, “Is so jazzed to have this addition to his team that he would gladly give up one of his children if he could be assured of the hiring of such winners every time they have a hiring fair. That if any of us need ANYTHING at all, his door is always open. Even if we need something after hours, give him a call. He will gladly walk away from his wife’s open heart surgery to take our call. He will sell his house, his car, even his children, if it means keeping us happy.” He ended his speech by stripping naked for us.
I never saw him again after that.
As horrific as training was, it did accomplish one thing. It kept us from actually having to do the mind numbing work. But alas, we all ended up being sent to “The Floor.” Well with the exception of Shelly, who ended up getting knocked up by Timmy. She walked out after Timmy described their exploits in his Silverado during lunch on our second day of training.
On our final day of training, they informed us that they are going to take us on a tour of “The Floor” so we will know where to go on our first day. As we walk in our little group down the cavernous hallway that separates “The Floor” from the Training Room, I see a fiery glow coming from the end, and I find myself suddenly thinking about Dante’s Inferno. As we grow nearer, I begin to hear what sounds like the spastic buzzing of bees. I find a sense of false relief when I look to my left and discover that the sound is actually coming from two bees that are mating in one of the many wigs worn throughout the week by Betty, a grandmother of “thirty amazing grandchildren.”
As we tour “The Floor” the eyes of the severely depressed follow us. Murmurings of “fresh meat”, “fish” and “I’m gonna be your new best friend” flow from lips that seem to never really move. Glancing up and down the endless rows of cubicles, I see people who were once productive members of society attempting to slice their wrists open with plastic water bottles that they have chewed apart.
I start my first official day 18 hours later.
After an unsuccessful evening of trying to borrow enough money to pay my bills so I don’t have to go back to the call center, I finally pass out. The Jack Daniels may have helped.
The following day, I arrive to work with a pocket full of Valium, just in case. Having a few minutes to kill before my shift begins; I find my way through the maze to the employee break-room. There are people staring at a big screen TV watching an episode of “Bones” that they will never get to finish. There is an area for smokers that looks like it had been disassembled at Auschwitz, and the reassembled for our smoking pleasure. The ashes covering the floor take on a whole new meaning.
As my clock-in time swiftly approaches, I finally hit the Green Mile which will take me to “The Floor.” Just as I am about to step into the arena, my vision is assaulted by a sign informing me that the possession of a cell phone, pen, pencil or any other device that can record information will lead to me being summarily executed in the “Employee Death Chamber.” I instinctively touch my pants pocket and pray that my phone is on vibrate.
As I move from cubicle to cubicle, I am informed that “This seat is taken” and I suddenly feel like Forrest Gump searching for my Jenny. Finally, I locate an empty seat and after 10 minutes finally discover that the computer has no keyboard. So I continue my search. After another 5 minutes or so, a man who vaguely resembles Hannibal Lecter informs me that the seat next to him is vacant. He smiles a toothless grin as he gestures towards the one-armed office chair to his right. He is certainly no Robin Wright-Penn, but I need to sit somewhere.
After inserting all but one of the dozen or so passwords they told us we would need after training, I manage to open the computer up to a plethora of screens and systems that do not look at all familiar. Just as I finally negotiate to the screen where I will take calls, an elfish looking guy climbs out of a nearby trash can to inform me that I am late, and that it will cost me “half a point.” If my memory serves me, points are not good here.
As he crawls away, pausing just long enough to take a bite out of a Hispanic woman’s ass, he turns and winks at me, gluteus maximus stuck between his teeth. I turn and gaze at the monitor before me and prepare to take my first call. The screen flashes, and suddenly the name and other various stats of a stranger from Utah flashes before my eyes. I immediately launch into my script, “Thank you for calling “Best Bargains”, how may I help you?”
I hear nothing. This can’t be right. I repeat myself. Still…nothing. Per our instructions during training, I raise my hand, indicating that I need assistance on the call from one of the “Floor Expert Team” members. Waiting has been part of every job I have ever had, especially in journalism. I have developed a technique that has helped me many times to pass the time while entertaining myself. I run one of my favorite movies through my mind. On this day, I chose the “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” I had just got to the part where Riff Raff is about to blast Tim Curry with the forked ray-gun, when out of the corner of my eye, I see what I can only describe as the sparkly stuff that appeared on the Transporter Dock in the original Star Trek series as someone was beaming either up or down.
After the sparkly stuff dissipates, I see standing before me a person who looks a lot like a female version of the elf from earlier, although she is wearing an orange vest, like a road crew member. I quickly tell her of my inability to hear my customer as she toys with a billy-club attached to her side. She takes charge of the situation by immediately informing me that the device lying next to the keyboard is a headset and that I should be wearing it. Then, with a sneer, she quickly transforms into a black and white VW and speeds away.
After about an hour and a half, it’s time for my first break. After I finally manage to log myself out of everything, I now have four minutes left on my break. I mustn’t be late, or I will “earn” myself another half a point. I rush as quickly as possible to the smoking asylum and hot-box a Marlboro as fast as my lungs can handle it. Then I pop another Valium and head back to “The Floor.” As luck would have it, I find myself walking behind a man that has a walker. Sensing that time is not on my side, I shout, “Look! A suppository!” The old geezer pauses just long enough for me to shimmy by and run the remaining distance to my cubicle.
After two more hours of, “I can’t change the channel on my TV. Can you change it from there?” It is finally lunch time. Since we are allowed to leave the building during this thirty minute break, I make my way to the parking lot to smoke a fatty. I took a risk smuggling in the Valium, since all employees are subject to a strip-search while arriving and departing the compound.
When I arrive back to my cubicle, I discover a 300 pound dude with enough tackle attached to the exposed parts of his body to land a Great White. I have to admit though; they did fill in the inkless spaces on his body rather nicely. As gently, yet manly as I can, I say, “Excuse me, but I think you are in my seat.” He doesn’t say a word. Instead he rises up to his full 6’9”, grabs me around the throat, and tosses me like a rag doll down the aisle. I land next to a vacant cubicle and manage to log back in, fifteen minutes late.
After another hour or so of, “Will my RF modulator synch up with my model UN5Z600RLG00009 unit,” I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it. It may very well be the four Valium rolling around my brain, but either way, I may return tomorrow. I had just answered my 2000th call of the day, when from behind me I hear, “Well Mr. Crenshaw…COC&…S#IT…M@TH3R F3C4ER!!!!” I turn to see a guy who strongly resembles Jerry Mathers from Leave it to Beaver, spastically attempting to remain in his chair as he spouts profanity into the cosmos. Turns out, I find out later from one of the call center carrier pigeons, that the dude has Tourettes and has worn out sixteen mute buttons since working here.
About 30 days in, I arrive at work and while in the process of logging on to my computer, I notice 3 guys dressed like “agents” from the Matrix approaching my cubicle. One of them says, “Ewen Stanley.” Since it’s difficult to tell whether this is a statement or a question, I remain silent and simply nod. Apparently they decoded this as some form of aggression because they quickly tackled me and hauled me into a room at the far end of “The Floor.” As I sat manacled to an office chair, I can’t help but notice that it has only a few claw marks, and very few blood stains. My admiration of the chair is broken by the voice of one of the Agent Smiths informing me that I have been called in to be “coached out” for “Aux Abuse.”
I am confused to say the least. It had been years since I was anywhere near a farm of any sort, and don’t recall EVER seeing an actual ox. Yes there were plenty of regular cows and chickens, but not an ox or bison in the bunch. And although I did, on occasion toss candy corn to the chickens to see their reaction, I hardly believe it could be construed as abuse. After explaining that I had indeed been found guilty of abusing auxiliary codes, i.e. taking longer breaks than I deserved, I would now be punished by having to “Y jack” with “Smelly Ken”, who had a constant green fog about his body.
Just shy of my 40th day, I received “the call.” The person on the other end of the line started out needing a new Quarkrod Sensor, but before long, I realized I was actually talking to an editor of a magazine of which I had lusted to be a writer at for years. Not wanting to blow my chance, I shouted into the mouth-piece, “Mr. Manning…PLEASE…SAVE ME! I am being held prisoner by agents of the Illuminati who are hiding behind this fake call center that pretends to ship out new model UN5Z600RLG00009 units, WHEN IN FACT…there is only one busted one that they keep re-shipping to unsuspecting customers such as yourself!!!” The caller responds, “Are you certain of this son?” I reply, “Well…no. But if it were true, wouldn’t you be happy that I warned you?”
I started working for Mr. Manning one week later.
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