The following piece was read on 6/30/2010 at Uncommon Ground as part of “The First Time” reading series put on by CHIRP Radio.
It is 2002. I am 19 years old. I have just completed my first year of college and am home for summer vacation. Incidentally, this is the last summer I will ever spend at home, savoring my summers in Iowa City, where I will spend the next few years, taking summer classes, working at the library, and forging the closest friendships I will ever know.
But this summer, the summer of 2002, is an important one. It is the summer of my first car, my first job, and my first taste of an imagined freedom.
I write about it diligently in my online diary.
“May 22, 2002, dad keeps hassling me about a job so i went into this telemarketing place in town, Frank n Magid. It’s like a research place, I call people and ask them their opinions, so it’s not like I’m trying to sell anything.” The office is as you imagine it, rows of tables with dividers to create the semblance of cubicles. People wearing dead faces and headsets all talking at once.
On my first day I write “It was awfully boring, and I sat next to this guy Vick Davis, that looked like Willie Nelson, who decorated his cubicle with rolled up pieces of paper. I mean, every inch was covered like a white bamboo hut. And it was funny because they told us to end all of our conversations, good or bad, with “Thank You For Your Time.” I wrote it over and over on my notebook. It will become my new mantra. “thankyouforyourtime. thankyouforyourtime. thankyouforyourtime.”
“Also… in the guidebook… Frank N Magid will frequently refer to itself as the company. “Frank N Magid Associates, (herein known as the company) has the authorization to fire you if you do not meet the requirements of the company. The company appreciates your time as an employee and the company trusts you can meet up to the company’s standards.” I wonder if “Company” is the name of some god that has its own set of dogmatic principles and if violated, “termination” will occur.”
The way my summer unfolds is as follows: wake up around 11, make a frozen pizza, drive to work, buy a gallon of apple juice, go into work around 1, make phone calls asking people their preferences on various media outlets all the while drinking the apple juice, around 5 eat brownbag bologna sandwiches. Get off work around 9, drive to my friend Tanya and Melanie’s house, stay up really late listening to Sleater-Kinney and The Alkaline Trio and play Egyptian Rat Screw and pray for some kind of summer fling with someone. Anyone. Anyone at all. I sleep on their couch a lot. At home I’ve become something of a ghost, only stopping to eat, shower, change my clothes, and use the internet. I never see them and when I do we fight.
Some days they let us out of work early. Some days the server goes down and we stand in the dark. I like those days.
On May 31st I write “Today was almost a full day of work.
It isn’t nearly as horrible as Betsy made it sound. I just feel kind of winded sometimes because I do nothing all day long. I push buttons and talk to people. It’s just a matter of saying the right thing and pushing the right button.”
With a job like this, though, the only part worth mentioning is the completely deranged people that I talk to. “One lady said to me after I asked her if the oldest male were available, “Why did you ask me that? You have put us in a very awful position, because you have inquired as to who lives here.”
And one old lady told me exactly where she lived after I asked what county she was in. She told me her apartment number, the name of her apartment, what floor she lived on, and what building to look out for, and where it was in relation to that building. I thanked her for her time and ended it right away. If I had asked, for example, if she would subscribe to the paper if it were $20 instead of $40 she probably would have given me her social security and credit card numbers.
On June 13 I write: “today I started a survey and asked this lady “We are asking opinions of your every day activities. Are you speaking from your residence?” Her exact words were:
“Let me tell you about my opinions of one activity. It’s about talking to people… that ask a lot of questions… i don’t want to answer. But you have a wonderful voice. Get a good job. Have a good night.”
It isn’t always funny, however. Since we are calling during the day we reach a lot of people who are out of work for reasons that run the gamut of ones expectations. Usually kids on summer break, housewives, or in this case, elderly or disabled people.
On June 28 I write “At work today we had a survey for a medical service out of Alaska called carewise. i guess basically you get shit in the mail and then you can call this nurse and she will help you or something.”
(I guess I should also explain here, that the reason I am so ignorant about what I am actually doing is because that is how they keep us. We are just given scripts to read, we know nothing about what the actual service is. So people will sometimes have questions about other things relating to the service and we have no idea what they are talking about, because it is literally just a different script every week. We know nothing about our actual clients. They keep us in the dark)
“So basically…we called a lot of old people. One man told me his wife had been using carewise because she had MS. But he lost her on april 15. I wonder how she would have answered this question: “How would you rate your satisfaction with the carewise service?
DO NOT READ THIS FOIL
A lot of times I’d get places that the people didn’t even live there anymore. But this wasn’t random-dialing. the list of people we had was specific because it was given to us directly from the company so we had to ask for specific names. After i asked one guy when a good time to call Enid back would be, he told me
“Well she just suffered a very terrible stroke, so i’m not sure when she’ll be out of the hospital.”
There is an entire week of this.”
On July Third I write about one of my more pretentious interviews. “The strangest thing happened to me at work today. i was on the phone with this woman and she was all about taking the survey. all this fucking media shit that took literally a half hour to get through, but she seemed quite interested. she told me she had two kids and that including herself there were two adults. And I had to ask her “How often do you watch Comedy Shows such as Friends or Everybody loves Raymond.”
She said she didn’t watch them as much these days because they seem to be going downhill.
I told her I agreed with her, that their writing seems really weak these days.
And she said, “Yes, and this is just between you and me, but i wrote them a letter.”
“I did, it said that Hollywood has plenty of talent, but they are starving for good writing”
And I said “Its funny you mention that because I am hoping to one day be a writer, to write scripts, probably not for sitcoms, but perhaps for films”
(Also I’d like to note, who is it that she wrote this letter to? She just says I wrote them a letter. WHO??)
“She told me that she is in “the business” and that she could probably show some of my stuff to people she knows. And that she knows a scout that goes through the country and she could let me know when they come through my area.
She gave me her address. That is against the law. She told me to send her my stuff. She was going to see what she could do.
She told me that she was lying when she said she had two children. She was actually talking about her cat and dog. and she told me she wasn’t actually married and hoped i could forgive her for fibbing about the children, but that she was being stalked on the phone and just had to make sure but i sounded so honest, so innocent, so genuine that she knew for sure she could trust me with this information. and she wanted more information about me, like she made me repeat my name . and she told me there was a famous actor named jason evers from a few years back that I wouldn’t remember because I’m too young.
She had that same kind of sound in her voice I’ve heard in people who actually know me and believe in my talent and my abilities as a human that wants to create. And when I told her that was all the questions I had, she said, “God Bless you Bobby Evers!!!” and that was that.
And I had to give more surveys after that and none of them were as good and none of them made me feel as uplifted as she had. she had made me feel like when I said my own name to people I gave surveys to that they should sound impressed “OH! ! How ARE you?”
The truth is I will never write this person, I will never think of this person again, and I will not save this person’s contact information. I will not network. I will not meet with a scout. I will not write for television. I will leave work tonight and I will go to tanya’s and melanie’s and play cards and listen to the Misfits. And laugh. I will laugh the deep belly laughs of summer and get lost in lingering gazes that linger in seconds of twos and threes. I will want more. I will quit this job and go back to college. My car will die within six months and I will get another car. And I will lose touch with all the friends I see this summer. And when I think of this time in the future I will remember it as not the greatest time but as a time that is so specific and different from every other time in my life that it deserves it’s own file folder in the annals of my history. A summer I could not repeat. A summer I wish I could repeat. Thank you for your time.