At the same moment that I hear the woman’s voice on my headset, a name pops up on the screen.
“Mrs… er…” I pause. “Rape?”
“RAPPE!” she says sharply. This is not a good start.
“Mrs. Rappe!” I say warmly. “Good evening!” Without waiting for an answer, I begin reading the words that spill down my computer screen.
“I’m calling to let you know about a very special offer Cookem & Broyle is making available to its most treasured customers. Twelve beautiful, hardbound cookbooks can be yours for the low price of just $9.99 per month!”
“I don’t think so,” the woman says politely. I click on the ‘no’ button on my computer screen. Another script pops up.
“Well, Cookem & Broyle knows times are tough and smart consumers want the most for their money,” I say. “That’s why they’re including a set of durable measuring spoons if you order now.”
“No thank you,” Mrs. Rappe says.
I click ‘no’ again. “You’ll also receive a special set of recipe cards,” I read, “containing some of Cookem & Broyle’s best-loved recipes!”
“I said no, all right?” Mrs. Rappe says testily. “Can’t you hear?”
Undaunted, I continue reading. “You’ll simply love the blueberry cobbler and Chicken Div-“
I sigh, disconnect and within seconds hear another phone ring in my headset. A name pops up. Gertrude Shid. Greaaaaat.
It is time for me to admit that the rumors you’ve never heard are true: I was a teenage telemarketer.
As was, at one time or another, practically everyone who was enrolled at the university I attended in the ’90s, with a local telemarketing center offering the best-paying jobs in town. Working on commission, I could make anywhere from $8 to $12 dollars an hour.
And I earned every penny of it.
“Hello, Mr. Horner? I’m calling on behalf of Harvey’s Do-It-Yourself Products.”
“You f*@!ing people call me day and night. When are you going to give me a f%*!ing break?! F*#!ing f#$!ers”
I was grateful when the f-word came out right off the bat. Profanity was about the only reason we were allowed to disconnect a call before completing our pitch.
Every couple of hours, we’d take a 15-minute break outside. College students, senior citizens and moonlighting teachers would stand around exchanging horror stories from the previous hours.
“Some dude acted like he was going to buy the entire set of auto repair manuals,” said one guy with dreadlocks. “And he went on and on and at the very end of the phone call, he said he’d changed his mind and he hung up. Bastard.”
We all nodded sympathetically. It was a common ploy.
“Well, I got cussed up a rug by some woman who sounded like she didn’t have any teeth,” said a mom standing beside me. She paused and inhaled deeply on her cigarette. “Man, I hate this job.”
We all came up with personal survival techniques to help make our shifts bearable. My own was pretty simple.
“Hello, is Richard home?” I said pleasantly into my headset on a night when I was pitching a set of leatherbound books on hunting and fishing.
“Naw he ain’t,” the woman replied angrily. “Who the hell is this?”
I frowned. “I’m… nobody,” I answered in my breathiest voice. “I’ll try back later.”
“I said, who IS this?” the woman demanded.
“I’d rather not say,” I told her. “I’ll just… connect… with Rich some other time.”
But the most difficult calls I had to make were the ones involving the elderly.
“Mrs. Tarbuckle, I’m pleased to tell you that Feeder’s Digest can offer you a membership to the Chuckle Bear and Friends book collection for the low price of just $7.99 per month.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful,” Mrs. Tarbuckle replied.
“Okay!” I said, clicking on my ‘Yes’ button. “And are these books going to be for your grandchildren?”
“Oh Lord no! My grandchildren are all grown up,” she said. “I’m 93 years old.”
“93?” I said. “Wow! Well, who are you going to be giving the books to?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” she said. “I buy everything Feeder’s Digest sells me. I have boxes and boxes all over this house. It helps my sweepstakes chances, doesn’t it?”
“No,” I said. “It doesn’t, Mrs. Tarbuckle. This call was a mistake, I’m so sorry to bother you.” I hung up and slumped in my seat. My manager walked briskly toward me.
“I listened to that call,” he said, leaning in over my cubicle. “You could have sold her those books. Why didn’t you?”
I stared at him. “Are you kidding me?” I asked. “She’s 93. She doesn’t even know any kids.”
“She wanted to buy the books,” he insisted. “You could have made that sale.”
I took off my headset. “Can I take a break?” I asked. He nodded.
I walked out to my car, got inside and drove away.
It was the easiest call I’d ever had to make.
Read more of Lindsay’s columns at www.suburbanturmoil.com