I have a confession.
A pretty big one, too, and it may change how some people feel about me.
It has to do with a job I had when I was younger, one that I took out of desperation.
I was young, taking a gap year in college, and trying to make some money because my Mama, in her hatred of the ex, who I was then dating, refused to pay my long-distance phone bill that was normally around $200 a month.
So I took a job — a dirty, seedy, job — in order to pay my bill.
It wasn’t a job I was proud of; in fact, I was ashamed, and after doing it for a few hours, felt even more shameful.
I was a telemarketer.
Something I now detest and probably why I loathe talking on the phone.
The place was on the top floor of a big office building in Athens, lending some credibility to it. I felt like I was going to a professional place to work.
The ex’s dad said it seemed like a perfect job for me, as I liked talking on the phone and was going to be paid to do just that.
It did seem like an ideal job for me. I was always on the phone and the fact that I was going to be paid to talk on the phone — especially when it was to pay my phone bill — seemed a bit poetic. However, when talking on the phone became my job it took all the joy out of it.
Training was not exactly extensive. You were given a stack of papers with the person’s number and name on it and you had to call them. The main thing was the company wanted to see those numbers go up on the board.
“Dialing and smiling!” the manager, or hype-person, would shout repeatedly from the front of the room.
Let me tell you something: if you weren’t dialing and smiling, they singled you out like you were a pariah.
“I don’t see you smiling, Sudie!” the woman on duty yelled at me one morning.
I flashed a smile that was more of a grimace. I probably looked like a possum cornered in a garage that had just encountered a human.
“You don’t look like you’re loving it! Are you not loving it?”
“Not really,” I said truthfully.
“You’ve got to love it to see results!”
I’ve never been a fan of the whole ‘fake it until you make it’ theory, not even when I was 19. This seemed like some kind of weird calling cult and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into. Surely once I got my paycheck, I’d have a change of heart.
But alas, when I got that paycheck, I was disappointed.
“You didn’t meet your bonus,” I was told when the hype girl handed me my check.
“So what does that mean?”
They never once explained how the pay worked, other than the fact that if I wanted to make more, I was in charge of my destiny and needed to sell more.
During my brief time working there, I started seeing the heartlessness that was behind the calls.
We had one campaign to call people who had previously ordered children’s books; one lady told me her daughter had recently passed away from leukemia. “She would have loved those books, but please, remove me from your calling list. It’s too painful to even think about,” the mother said.
I teared up as I told her I was so sorry for her loss and would mark through her name.
“Why did you do that?” the hype girl hissed over my shoulder. “You should have asked her if she had any other kids or relatives that she could buy them for!”
Even though I was young and fairly self-focused, I was appalled at the suggestion.
“She was grieving,” I said. “I’m not going to act like a ding dang vulture!”
Then a call was made to a lady who told me she was in the middle of a hurricane. “Why did you answer the phone?” I asked curious. “I was hoping it was my husband to say he was safe.”
“Oh. Then let’s get off this line!”
Again, I was chastised for not pushing a sale when I had a live, breathing person on the line who had access to a credit card, even though it may have been hard to reach considering her windows were about to be blasted out by gale force winds.
It was a heartless, despicable job. I felt horrible when my shift ended.
I was called every name in the book and a few I hadn’t heard before.
Chock it up to having a moral compass and maybe too much empathy, but I didn’t have that high-pressure desire to coerce people into buying stuff they didn’t want or need.
The day I was fired was a relief.
“You’re not going to make it in this business,” the Dialing and Smiling girl told me when I picked up my last paltry, bonus-free check.
I laughed. “I am more than OK with that.”
Sudie Crouch is an award-winning humor columnist residing in the North Georgia Mountains among the bears, deer, and possibly Sasquatch. You can connect with her on Facebook at Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Humor, and Deep-Fried Wisdom. Her recently published book, ‘Mama Said: A Collection of Wit, Wisdom, and Deep-Fried Humor’ is available in paperback and Kindle download on Amazon.