Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Lowered Expectations" : Part VI

By the end of Summer 1994 I was still jobless and redder than Lady Gaga's prom dress.

The complete nadir occurred towards the middle of the summer when I was rocked by a trifecta of glorious humiliations. By this time I'd discarded any pretense of getting a job suited to my skills or anywhere close to my area of interest, so I took to trolling through shopping malls wearing a sandwich board with my resume on it.

Opportunities came and went in quick succession. I failed to get a job with a shoe store in Halifax Shopping Center because I made the critical mistake of telling the manager that I was still considering going back to school at the time. I still remember his lecture to me at the end of the interview, delivered as if I'd completely wasted his time:

"Well, we here at (insert name of crusty, douchebag shoe outfit) really value our employees. We train and invest in our people so I'm afraid we need more of a career commitment from you than seeing us merely a summer job for a few months."

A career? Really?! Does anybody really want to spend a lifetime hearing customers say things like:


Hmmmm, wait a minute. Value? Train? Invest? Crap, I shouldn't have said "crusty". Or "Douchebag". IDIOT! I wonder if they're hiring, I mean, let's move on, shall we?

Listen, folks, if a scientist gave any of us a Time Machine to use as we saw fit, I'm sure we'd all have a few choice ideas. And although I'm tempted by Patton Oswalt's scheme to go back to 1997 to kill George Lucas with a shovel, I would still be more responsible.

I would beam back to this time, abduct myself and conduct an "employment intervention". I would have done my best to deprogram this crazed obsession I had at the time to avoid more exams and validate the prodigious investment of both time and money I'd already sunk into making myself a viable drone open to random abuse.

My best sagely advice to L'il Dave would have been:

"Dude, go the f#@&$ back to school because it ain't gonna get any better than this. Just get $850,000 worth of student loans and never come out again."

Now I know hindsight is 20/20 but at the time I was bound and determined to make a go of it.

Not long after this I interviewed for a major-chain bookstore in the same mall. The interview, I thought, went swimmingly well. I had customer service experience from working at Zellers a few years back plus I was a friggin' English Major , yo! And, yes, I'm aware of the irony inherent in that last statement, so no snippy emails, please.

Nevertheless, a few days later I got a call from the manager of the bookstore telling me that they'd hired a candidate that someone who already worked in the store knew personally. Ah, cruelty thy name is nepotism. I remembered crying like a little girl over this one since I knew what would come next.

So, it was back to considering want ads in the paper again and I soon answered a call for a commission phone sales job downtown. For some reason I clung to this misconception that if the business was downtown somewhere it had to be legitimate. I think my hazy logic was that if these outfits would be paying a fortune in rent on Barrington Street they had to be doing well enough to support themselves and their staff. By this same twisted reasoning, I guess it'd be okay to say that Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza, has to be an awesome guys just because he's rich. This despite old Tommy Boy uttering such helpful chestnuts as:

"To me one of the most exciting things in the world is being poor. Survival is such an exciting challenge."

Just to drive home how catastrophically desperate I was at the time, even when I was told about the nature of this particular phone sales job I still agreed to do it. How many times have you been draining spaghetti, frantically trying to get dinner ready and the phone rings and you pick it up without looking at the call display because you're sister is supposed to call and let you know when she can drop off the tax software because you've been putting it off and putting it off for three months and you're afraid if you don't it over the next few days you're going to miss the deadline and then the government is going to send over a posse of large, neckless gentlemen to your door to beat your T4's out of you? Okay, likely never, but I'm willing to bet you've been busy around dinner time, picked up the phone without thinking and was promptly trampled by the sales equivalent of an amorous bull moose crashing through the woods.

My task was to sell newspaper subscriptions over the phone. Remember the Encyclopedia story? Well, this was a single notch up on the Crapometer but still pretty heinous.

It was the method of selling these subscriptions that completely blew me away. Even as a totally inexperienced twenty-four-year old kid I was stunned when I walked in the first day and the supervisor physically ripped a random page out of the phone book, handed it to me and then told me to grab a seat and start dialing.

Just let that sink in a bit. If you're handed a random page out of a phone book you could be just as likely to call downtown HRM as someone's lakeside cabin in Shag Harbor. I.E.: your success at the end of the day was entirely based on factors outside of your control.

Regardless, I gamely took my sheet and sat down in a folding chair at one of six cheap wooden tables propped up against the wall. When I say the tables were cheap I mean really cheap, the sort of chip-board style constructs that you used to sit at during Cubs or Brownies meetings. The sort of tables that would hook threads out of your uniform and give you about sixty-eight splinters to the upper extremities if you so much as looked at them the wrong way.

A constantly fluctuating count of anywhere between twenty to thirty young people were crammed in elbow-to-elbow next to each other, packed in like hormonal sardines and smelling just as spring-time fresh. I seem to recall being one of the oldest people there and many of the kids I'd been incarcerated with weren't even of legal working age. These poor, Twistian souls all looked cowed by fear, heads down, dialing frantically and making an unholy din of amorphous conversation. Despite the pall of terror, during the infrequent allotted smoke breaks out in THE YARD a handful of the more willful urchins would vanish, having fled over the fence when THE WARDEN had her back turned to us.

A word needs to be said about THE WARDEN. The charming individual in charge of this little enterprise was a short, rotund troll who looked like Liza Manelli sustained by a diet of lard n' bacon sandwiches. She was strict, curt and her managerial style consisted of screaming a homily of "DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE !#@%&*^ SCRIPT!!!" over and over again. Basically, she was the sort of woman you could trust to split a junk of cord wood in under ten minutes flat.

On the table in front of you was a phone, the receiver of which was so filthy you risked head cancer every time you put it up to your ear. You were also equipped with the aforementioned catch-all script and objection/rebuttal cheat sheet. Some of the objections made sense, here's an example:

If your, potential client tells you "I get the paper free from work" you might counter with "Yes, well, often when you get the paper at work pieces are missing. We'll deliver it right to your door intact with all your exclusive, money-saving fliers included."

That's all well and good but my personal favorite rebuttal of the bunch was:

"Oh, you say you don't read the paper because you're blind? Well, surely you must have someone who can read it for you?"

You can't make this up, Gentle Reader.

Anyway, you were ordered to start dialing from the top of your allotted phone book page and systematically go down the list, crossing it off as you went until you had to get another sheet. If you actually got a live body on the line for longer than six seconds you were asked to blast through a predeterminded script as quickly as you could, using your objection/rebuttal sheet to counter any opposition.

If the heaven's aligned and you actually scored a sale, you'd bring your filled-out info sheet up to THE WARDEN who would ring a bell on her desk (?) and grant you a $7.00 commission.

On my first day this only happened about five times and I felt an inordinate sense of guilt railroading my victims every time I did it. I spoke to THE WARDEN at one point to address my concerns:

"Look, some parts of this script are pretty pushy if not downright rude. I think I'd have better luck if I could just change this to..."

I stopped talking when I felt the eyes of THE WARDEN burrow into the fiber of my very soul. I was struck speechless as she launched into her OWN rebuttal.

"Listen, this script isn't something we just cobbled together in a day. It's a proven sales tool designed to maximize your opportunities on every call. So, read my lips: DON'T DEVIATE FROM THE !#@%&*^ SCRIPT!!!"

Splattered by such blind conviction (not to mention a considerable amount of wayward spittle) I made my way back to my seat to resume my role as a marginally more interactive auto-dialer.

Against my better judgment I returned for my second day of work Friday morning, got my new phone book page and hit the ground running. Try as I might I could only get one sale that morning and when the afternoon rolled around (Friday afternoon, remember?) it collectively got worse for all of us. At one point, clearly frustrated by her inability to indulge in the favorite part of her job (the bell-ringage) THE WARDEN stood up at 2:30 that afternoon and announced:

"Alright! If sales don't pick up over the next hour or so I'm sending everyone home without pay!"

Now, at the time, I was still pretty shy and retiring. But sitting there, mercilessly pounding those phone buttons, getting no answers, getting cursed at or hung up on when I was fortunate enough to drag some poor bastard off his balcony while barbecuing I was seized by a madness I didn't know I was capable of.

I slowly stood up and stalked over THE WARDEN'S perch.

"Can I talk to you in private?" I asked through clenched teeth.

As if anticipating my rebellion based on the single question I'd asked yesterday she smiled knowingly and took me into her inner sanctum.

Just as soon as the door was shut I launched into a tirade that would make Kanye West reach for his camera phone.

"Listen, lady, I was just going to quit and leave but I couldn't walk out of here without getting a few things off my chest. First off, I'm just stunned by how clueless you are."

As much as she was expecting my departure she wasn't expecting this. She huffed and puffed as if the baker's dozen pork rinds lodged in her throat had finally dropped into a lung.

"Calling people randomly out of a &#@%ing phone book is perhaps the most brain-dead thing I've ever seen. I just got off the phone with someone who lives in the $#@%ing woods four months out of the year!"

She kept blustering and spitting during all of this like a bad impression of Chris Kattan's "Mr.Peepers".

"Also you might be okay with abusing those poor kids out there but I'm done with your borderline illegal chickenshit outfit. In fact, I've got half a mind to report this racket to the police."

"You think your so smart, you little punk!" she finally rallied. "You don't know the first thing about sales!"

"I know more than you and I've only done this for two days. As far as I'm concerned you can cram it with walnuts, you loopy (insert any random insult from the motion picture "Kick-Ass" here)."

I remember the feeling I had busting out of that place, floating across the Commons back to the Hostile Hostel on such a high. I'd never felt so alive, telling off that that harpy, breaking out of that dank, horrible sweatshop awash with the most criminally toxic karma I'd ever had the misfortune to marinate in. I cried tears of joy this time, knowing I'd never have to go back to a place that awful ever again.

But if only that was the case for this Humble Narrator. Remember my analogy that if you take a German Shepherd turd, spray paint it gold and stick a daisy in it, it's still at it's heart a piece of poo?

Words to remember, Gentle Reader. Words that would prove to be all-too-painfully true...




Brodie said...

Heather and I both worked for a day selling papers over the phone as well. I left because the bus down town was too slow, but sounds like something made my life a whole lot easier :)

Flava Dave said...

Hee, hee.

That's too funny. Did you last longer than two days like I did?