Sucky Summer Jobs
If it's Saturday, it must be a repeat. Sue me.
sucky summer jobs series: 1983
I tired of my job at the deli and wanted to move on to something more challenging. I needed to do something more worthwhile than slicing salami as a way to pay for my night clubbing and drinking. Something that wouldn't leave me smelling like head cheese at the end of the day.
A friend of a friend of a cousin told me about this place that was hiring. It sounded an awful lot like a telemarketer job, which I would never do, but it was for a charity, and therefore didn't count as telemarketing. Right?
The first day of the training seminar proved that point. Our team leader stood up in front of us and told us we were not to call ourselves telemarketers. We were activists. We were paving the way for change. We were catalysts in the fight against drunk driving. We were the few, the proud, the people begging for money for a cause. I left the seminar feeling like I was doing something useful with my life. My naive ideals were soaring.
The second day, the altruism took a back seat to the sales pitch. Sales? I thought we were activists! Our team leader spoke in basketball metaphors for two hours; driving to the basket, blocking the shots, finally hitting the three-pointer with just seconds to go. When I left the seminar, I felt less like an activist and more like Dr. J.
The third and final day should have clued me in on what I was in for. Our fearless leader drilled us on the fine points of clinching the donation. Cite statistics. Make them feel bad. Tell them stories. She then handed out photocopied news clippings of horrid, tragic car accidents resulting from drunk driving. We were to tell our potential donors some of these stories if all else failed. If we had them in tears by the end of the call, we would be the superstars of the office. My stinging conscience was kicking my naive ideals in the head.
I figured I would give it two days tops. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe, because this was a worthy cause and one people were very concerned about, I wouldn't have to make the hard sell. Sure! People would just give willingly! I would never have to utter a harsh word or tell a tragic story or make anyone cry. This would be a piece of cake, and my conscience would be left intact.
I was directed to a tiny room in the basement, where the walls were lined with little wooden cubicles. I was directed to my very own cubicle. On the desk was a phone and a kitchen timer. The wall I faced was lined with the same newspaper clippings that were passed out at the seminar. Those people in those stories, I was told, they are counting on you. They are watching you. I was told to set the timer at the beginning of each call, and that I was to keep each caller on the line for a minimum of one minute of soft selling. After one minute, I should start the hard sell. I was given a list of 100 numbers to start out with.
I noticed that the neighborhood I was given was a wealthy one. This made me feel a little better. At least these people had money to spare. Maybe I wouldn't have to reduce anyone to tears.
After a half hour, I didn't have any donations. Apparently, all the people on my list had housekeepers. And none of them spoke English. At least not to telemarketers. The team leader came over and looked at my tally sheet. She was not pleased. I explained the situation. I can't reach anyone who speaks English, I told her. And even if they did speak English, they would say that they are just the housekeepers, that I should call back.
"They're lying to you," she said.
"The housekeepers are lying?"
"They're not really the housekeepers, you idiot!" Her breath stunk like garlic pickles. I tried to move my head back from hers, but she leaned in on me until our foreheads were touching.
"Are you going to believe every inconsiderate person who comes on the line and tells you a reason why they can't give? Are you a sucker? Are you that naive? Let them know you know they're lying.! These people depend on you!"She pointed to the tragic news stories on the wall.
"No buts. Tell them. Tell them if they don't give money, they will feel horrible next time something like this appears on the evening news. They will understand that. They will understand guilt. And trust me, they understand English."
I weighed my options. What was this job going to pay me anyhow? If I couldn't make a sale I would be bringing home less than minimum wage. It would barely pay for one night's admission to the club. I could go back to the deli. It wasn't so bad. The people were nice. I didn't have to make anyone cry in order to sell a pound of liverwurst.
I stood up and faced my leader. I told her I was done. This wasn't the job for me. Told her I'd rather smell like head cheese than spend another day with her poking and prodding my conscience. She didn't get the part about the head cheese. She probably didn't get the part about having a conscience, either.