Jill liked the atmosphere at Telecomp. She liked the family environment, the friendliness and joviality of her co-workers, the fairness of the supervisors, and the flexibility of her work schedule. She was always glad to see that bonus in her paycheck each month. The company generally cared about its employees. Jill liked everything about Telecomp except the work itself.
"Can I have your date of birth?" Jill shouted into the phone.
The old lady, having said yes to the credit card, was now having trouble understanding.
"Your birthday! Your date of birth! When
were you you born?"
"…You want my birthday?" she finally responded.
"Ohh… I'm not feeling well, I'm laid up with a broken hip, I gotta go lie down," the old woman said.
There were so many elderly people, sick, widowed, alone… and nothing lay ahead but death. She was only twenty-four, a college graduate, and saw her life passing by at Telecomp. Some of the employees had worked there twenty years… What lay ahead for Jill? Would she still be at Telecomp ten years from now? She disguised her frustration in a cheerful, "Thank you! Goodbye!" and abandoned her depressing thoughts.
Jill was familiar with deafness in the aged - waiting on the phone for eternity while they rose to turn down the TV, always denying their ailment, even accusing her of not speaking clearly or loudly enough. It was a typical call.
The computer chirped; it had succeeded in its dialing, and Jill had to speak quickly. She glanced at the name and address on the screen. "This is Jill calling on behalf of Sander's Department Store. Because you're such a valued customer, we'd like to offer you our own store charge card, at no cost, no annual fee, there's no obligation whatso - "
"Ah don't wan' it," a man said in a southern drawl.
"Well, there is no cost or fee - "
"Ah don't wan' it," he said again, in a matter-of-fact tone.
"Thanks for your time, Sir. Our customer service number, for your information, is 1-800-555-1218. You have a nice night."
"Do you want the card?" Jill asked.
"No, I don't!" the woman raged. "This is the third telemarketing call I've gotten today, and if you call here again, I'll consider this harassment! Take me off your calling list. You have to do it by law." She began reciting what she knew of the law to Jill, who was already aware of this from her training, and heard it repeated many times daily by customers.
"I'll do that right now," Jill said politely. "But please be aware that it can take up to two weeks for you to be removed from our system, so there's a possibility you might be called again."
"Thank you," the woman said, with all the sarcasm she could summon, and hung up.
The computer beeped again immediately. The clock showed that one minute had passed. It was another elderly woman.
"Whosis! Whosis on the phone!" This one was deafer than the last.
Jill tried communicating with her; whenever she said "department store," the lady interpreted it as "police department." As a last resort, she repeated the woman's name - something she'd be sure to recognize.
"Are you Mrs. Johnson?"
"Are you Mary?"
"What? What? I can't understand you!"
"Are you Mary Johnson?"
"Are you Mary?"
"Yes, of course I'm married, I'm seventy-five years old!"
"You have a good evening," Jill sighed, and hung up.
On to the next. Another minute had passed. Jill felt a sense of urgency; it was approaching eight o'clock, and she needed four more "completed apps" to make her quota of eight an hour. Sander's was always a tough account.
"Because you're such a valued customer, you've been pre-approved for our store credit card - "
"What would I want it for!" a young man taunted. "I get better clothes out of a Salvation Army box than I could at Sander's!" Jill heard laughter in the background. It sounded like there was a party in progress.
"Shi-i-t, for the price of clothes at Sander's, I could have my fucking car fixed - "
Jill hung up. The call affected her, even though she knew it made no sense to take it personally. Telemarketers took a lot of undeserved abuse.
The next one was an answering machine. Jill breathed a sigh of relief. She often listened to the messages, although she'd been instructed to hang up on machines immediately. Sometimes they amused her, and it was a way to pass the time. "We screen all calls," a man's voice said. "If you leave a message after the tone, we'll call you back if we deem it appropriate." Jill smiled. "If we deem it appropriate," she said. "That's a new one."
"It's scary, I'm tellin' ya," Fran said to her co-workers in the seats nearby. Jill always found this comment amusing, even though she heard it many times before.
"It's scary," Fran emphasized. "A woman just told me that she can't take the card because her daughter's sick, and 'may not recover.'"
"Oh, I know, I know," Alice said, in a serious tone. "And so many of these people are livin' on Social Security, they're not gonna shop. How are these elderberries gonna get to the store?"
That high-pitched tone eliciting anxiety sounded again; Jill went through her entire speech, after which there was silence.
"Would you like the card?" Jill asked again.
Jill was about to hang up, when the woman began singing.
"Mary had a little lamb, little lamb, little lamb…" The woman had a grating, out-of-tune voice. Jill had never encountered anything like that before. Was the woman crazy? She didn't know whether or not to interrupt, or what to say if she did.
"…Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow."
After an uncomfortable pause, Jill said, "…Yes?"
"I've had to listen to you," the woman said resolutely, "And now you've had to listen to me."
"I just had a really nasty customer!" Jill said to Fran. "Oooh, these people!"
"Don't let it get you down," her co-worker sympathized. "Earlier today I waited for five minutes for an old lady to come back on the phone. She never did."
Jill smiled. It was a familiar scenario.
"And all the wrong numbers ya get!" Ruthie belted out from two cubicles down. "I got a pizzeria, two nursing homes, and a correctional facility in Carolina!" She turned and went back on the phone.
Jill chuckled. "These lists are older than dirt."
"So are a lot of these people," Fran added. "Older than God."
"And a lot of them don't understand," Alice said. "They can be so rude! We're only doin' a job like everyone else. And after all, there really is no cost - "
" - I know."
" - Yeah. They don't wanna listen."
Ruthie was just finishing another completed app.
The computer chirped again mercilessly. Jill hurried to read the name on the screen.
"Mrs. Greenfield? You've been pre-approved to receive our own Sander's Department Store card, there's never an annual fee - "
"You've gotta be kidding me!" she retorted.
"No, not at all," Jill responded. "No annual fee ever, no cost - "
"This is no telemarketer!"
"Well, we call ourselves teleservices reps - "
"Bullshit!" the woman screamed. "This is my husband's girlfriend! You don't fool me with this crap! You're just calling me to find out what I'm like, and you don't wanna know what I'm like!"
Jill tried to determine whether the woman was serious or playing games with her. "I don't know your husband," she said weakly. "I'm in Erie, Pennsylvania - "
"Like hell you are!" she shouted. "You're pretending to be a telemarketer to find out what I'm like. You wanna know what I'm like? I'll tell ya what I'm like! Believe me, I am a real bitch!"
'That much is true ,' Jill though to herself, beginning to realize that the woman meant everything she said. "But I'm not your husband's girlfriend - "
The woman ignored her and continued to rage and accuse. Jill didn't hang up. She glimpsed the supervisor watching from her desk. She had to think of something to say.
"You think you can get away with it, but you're not! You little whore, I'll get even with both of you, just wait! You little shit whore! You think you're - "
"Have a nice night," Jill said loudly. She recited Sander's reference phone number to the screaming voice, and hung up.
Look at that, will ya? Ruthie's past her quota for the night already."
"She's good," Jill said.
"It's scary," Fran said again.
"How do you do it, Ruthie?" Alice asked.
Ruthie was in the middle of a call.
"That Ruthie sure gets more than her share of luck! Scary is right!" Alice resolved, shaking her head.
"I've got twelve apps this hour," Ruthie announced. "Whaddaya talking about luck, Alice? Hard work!"
"You're a star, Ruthie!" the supervisor praised loudly, walking over to them. "C'mon, I want five more apps apiece!" She glanced around the room, attempting to motivate others. "Ruthie's got twelve apps, I know the rest of you can do it! Let's get going, ladies! Let's see who can top Ruthie!" No one responded. Done coaching, she returned to her desk to check the stats on the monitor.
"I think she'll have to settle for two," Fran said.
"If we're lucky," Alice added.
Six months on the job, and Jill logged off the computer, picked up her coat and gloves, and exited the building. The supervisor watched her leave, and simply shook her head.