Monday, April 19, 2010

The Telemarketer Blues

* I just found this 2006 Toronto Star piece about my short stint as a telemarketer. Reminds me to appreciate my life now.

George tells me to call him at his phone on the other side of the
table and run through the script. It's a sink or swim exercise, he
"Hello my name is…I'm calling on behalf of…can I count on your support
of $250 tonight?" I blubber into the phone.
When I'm done, George walks over and says, "That was the best cold
read I've ever heard. Congratulations, you're going to do well in this
This is how, at 27-years-old and six weeks shy of graduating with a
second university degree, I became a telemarketer.
Working for minimum wage six nights a week at a crap job after a full
day of school or work is an act of survival.
I'd managed fine in the land of the privileged through student loans,
scholarships and bursaries. But a clerical mix-up on my loan documents
in the fall delayed the cash a few months and before I realized it I'd
racked up nearly $7, 000 on my credit card, had no income and less
than a hundred bucks in the bank. I completely freaked and hit the job
I found the telemarketing job advertised on craigslist as "a chance to
support valuable arts institutions." Essentially, it was a call centre
asking for donations for museums and galleries across the country. Not
a bad gig in the telemarketing world.
I have a friend who sold cell phone minutes from a call centre on the
outskirts of Ottawa. He couldn't leave his desk or even pee without
asking someone for permission. He said everyone he worked with spent
their time trying figure out ways to screw the company– stealing pens,
faking calls and getting high – in sheer revenge for the thankless
monotony of the job.
My first night of telemarketing went better than expected. No one I
called yelled at me. Only two hung up. I brought in $250!
Even better, the people I worked with were really nice. They
high-fived each other when a donation came in and gave thumbs-ups.
Mark, an out-of-work photographer delivered a heartfelt speech about
how his co-workers helped him overcome the recent death of his dog.
Sue, a retired grandmotherly-type, left lozenges at every body's
station in case our voices went hoarse.
I sat beside Teresa, a friendly Filipino woman who was always late
because she worked at a coffee shop all day.
The worst part was the walk home up Parliament to my apartment at
Dundas past the druggies, prostitutes and leering perverts. I'd just
read in the newspaper a woman my age was grabbed by a stranger along
the same route, raped and beaten badly. At least I had my pepper
spray. Damned if was going to spend an hour's earnings on public
transit or a cab.
It didn't take long for the sub-human tag of being a telemarketer to
sink in. I was calling people who'd willingly given their phone
numbers to the gallery we were fundraising for, but many still
insisted on being jerks – slamming down the phone, interrupting
mid-script or going on about how dare I disturb them at home.
Excuse me. I'm sorry I took two minutes from your Pilates workout or
beer on the patio to ask for a charitable donation. Go ahead. Take out
all your frustrations on the starving student making less than eight
bucks an hour doing this.
For the most part, people were gracious and generous. Thus proving my
theory there are two kinds of people in this world: the good
(inherently kind enough to be nice to telemarketers) and evil (those
who are not).
I'll admit, knowing I'd eventually get my loan and bursary money, land
a salary-paying job after graduation and be done with telemarketing
didn't make me a poster girl for poverty-line living.
I was a visitor to this world. Not like Teresa. She got fired for not
bringing in enough money. I felt sorry for her coming in to work
already exhausted every night, having the people she called always ask
where her accent was from and if she was calling from India or some
place that took jobs away from hard-working Canadians.
I lasted eight weeks as a telemarketer, long enough to pay for food
and rent. I quit the day I received a bursary cheque from my school.
In the end the only thing I stole was the address of a very depressed
elderly woman I'd spent at least half an hour with on the phone. She
told me she was broke, lonely and felt invisible at her senior's home.
I was the first person who'd called her in months. A few days ago I
popped a gift for her in the mail – a colourful book by crazy-haired
hippie lady called Wild Succulent Woman. I hope she likes it.

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