I once worked at a call center here in town. I won’t give you the name, but it rhymes with, “soul-crushing fuckfest.” I managed to craft something of a short story out of my notes and experiences there. If you live in Nanaimo, chances are you can identify with this.
It ran a little long, so I’ve split it into two parts, with the second half being posted tomorrow.
I was out of work and needed money. Rent was approaching with its usual fury, and my bank account looked beyond unable to take the hit. Even if I did have enough money to pay the rent, it was still going to be one of “those” months: ramen noodles, no coffee, and couch cushions picked clean of all their dimes and nickels. The kind of month where finding a bus transfer in the gutter constitutes a reason to rejoice; at least if that happened you’d be able to get home quicker, with more time to stare at the walls, bemoan the situation you were in, and think about how quickly the end of the month was coming.
I’d had months like this before. But I’d made it through all of them with a roof over my head. This time it was looking like I wouldn’t even have a place to slowly starve to death in. The financial vice-grips had clamped down on my throat, drank all the beer in the fridge, and left me high and dry and desperate.
Desperation. It had been awhile since that feeling had crept into my spine and danced against the vertebrae. I was desperate to find a job, desperate to get some money into the bank, and extremely desperate to not lose my place. Losing my place meant shit times: moving back in with the parents and exiled to some corner of suburbia. I’d be starting anew again, instead of out on my own trying to gnaw my life into something I didn’t think was a complete waste of time.
That gnawing took teeth, and those teeth were forged and formed by cash. Nobody liked to admit that, but it was as true as anything could be. You couldn’t live without money, no matter how fucking great your art felt, how good your life felt, or how strong you thought you were.
With all of that kicking around in my head, I hit the pavement with a fresh stack of resumes. I wasn’t looking for anything specific, and I certainly wasn’t looking for a career. Hell, I was going to be a famous writer! That was my career. Why did I need this bullshit? I didn’t want to be a barista or a stock clerk when I could be hammering out the next great Canadian novel. But that was the way shit happened, you just had to suffer.
Suffering is easy though, I thought to myself. If it’s self-inflicted and you constantly think that it’s going to be short lived.
There was one joint in town that everyone knew you could get a job at; a call center for some big telecommunications fuckfest. Everyone had worked there at some point, and everyone had fucking hated it. There were endless horror stories, and all anyone could say of the place was, “the money is good, but it’ll crush your soul.”
The only thing that kept people coming back with applications in hand was that good money wage and the fact that training lasted a whole month and was guaranteed to be 40 hours a week. That would pay my rent, leave me enough money to chip away at some bills, snag a bottle of top shelf whiskey, and get a decent meal into me now and then. Sure, people said I’d desire to crush my skull against the nearest wall with boredom and disdain, but when was that feeling not normal?
I dropped off a resume. The interview came fast and was over quick. It was with one of those men you can tell doesn’t give a shit about you or your answers as long as you say the following key phrases:
-I believe product knowledge is the most important part of sales.
-I’m very hard working both alone and in a team.
-I like the idea of selling people stupid stuff they don’t need so your employer can stay at the top of the shit heap.
I said all the right things. He acted like he cared and told me I’d hear from them in a few days to tell me when my training would begin. Start time was 5 am every day of the week, weekends off. I got home, jerked off, made a tin of beans, drank some cheap scotch someone had left behind, and didn’t feel better.
A friend of mine gave me a lift on my first day. I would need to either find a steady ride with someone, or walk the 10 kilometers to work every morning. That meant getting up around 2 a.m., and I was going to lose it if I needed to get up any earlier than I already was.
Everyone in my class had kids, or was a kid. Nobody talked; they just sat there in silence while the instructors, our bosses, introduced themselves. I carried a small notebook with me at the time, and made some notes to myself during the day:
Holy cunt-nuggets it’s early.
Seattle’s Best Coffee sucks, it has always sucked, and will always suck.
I don’t think I learned much the first day. We were selling stuff to people who wanted to end their relationship with the company we were going to end up representing. They called it Retention. That’s what I got from the first eight hours.
I walked to work the second day, in the dark and the rain, and pissed off the whole time that not a single person in my class lived anywhere near downtown. On that second day I learned the same as the first, and made more notes:
2 hours down, 5 hours, 43 minutes to go.
Day going a little fucking slow.
2 hours to next cup of coffee.
1 hour till coffee.
Some of the bullshit being shoveled forth at this job is unbearable.
Offers! Packages! Bullshit! It baffles the fucking mind.
So does not having a working mouse two days in a row, someone should skull-fuck the IT guy.
The IT guy who was supposed to be servicing the computers in the classroom became a constant point of abuse for me. He never showed up, never fixed anything, and when he did show up, he acted like he was doing us some massive favor by doing his simple, easy, and probably undeservedly too high-paying job.
40 minutes to coffee.
4 hours left.
Oh fuck my pen is dying.
Mother of god.
2 cigarettes today.
It was at this point in the day that I decided to start writing poetry. I had become that desperate. In this nightmare realm, I began scrawling down something called Call Center Blues. It killed time.
Call Center Blues
Long walks and early mornings.
That one try hard girl.
She annoys me.
Thinks she has everyone fooled.
Not me though.
I’m too old for that now.
2 hours left.
I would explain the try hard girl. But she isn’t worth writing about.
Day three was the day after the US election. I was excited Obama had snagged another term. I didn’t like the thought of a southern neighbor with Mitt Romney at the wheel.
We took our first break around 7 am. At that time, the only place you could go to get a cup of coffee was a gas station about a block from the call center. The only coffee they served was Seattle’s Best. It wasn’t the best of anything; it was sludge; bitter, shitty, god-awful holocaust of shit sludge from which there was no fucking escape at 7 o’clock in the morning.
I had to drink it. Without coffee, I would have been a corpse in that classroom, and at some point they would have just picked up my fatigued, un-caffeinated corpse and tossed it into a nearby dumpster. I wished to avoid that. I had to endure, not matter how difficult that was with a body full of bad coffee, no sleep, and a nightmare foot commute.
But alas, the rent.
Over the next few days, I wrote more poems.
Call Center Blues II
Its only 6:44 in the morning.
Time crawls painfully
like a knife across an infected wound.
This coffee sucks.
Need a break.
But at least I’m working.
Call Center Blues III
The last chunk always goes so slow.
Time turns to sludge and the classroom
becomes a cacophony of yawns.
No retention of knowledge
All thought has turned to dreck and bullshit.
But we all kind of trudge on through the sludge.
Even if it sucks like a cheap whore with a great set of lungs.
Call Center Blues IV
Son of a bitch.
Son of a fucking bitch.
I can’t scream out loud at the people in here.
So I’ll do it here instead.
I slept through my entire first weekend off. I was too broke to drink, but I bought milk and toothpaste. Look at me, I thought, being all responsible with my 5 day a week job and my errands. I even bought a newspaper like some kind of adult. My horoscope told me that as of December 5th, all of my problems would be solved and I’d be on my way to fame and fortune.
Hopefully I could make it to then without falling off into the deep end of call center misery.