After endless hours, the grape greens and sky blues swirl with the apple reds across an immense sea of the blackest black till it’s all a twisted Technicolor tangle of partially parsed pixels. The tone sounds in your ear again and again. Three rings, no-ten. Honestly, I dunno how many rings today as please hang up and try your call again drones in that tinny all-business monotone. I push the headset off my head, shrugging the shocking coldness of the steel band off my neck.
The red LEDs of the call board flash in rhythm around the center … 10/10/07 … 17:30 … Calls in Queue 4 … Open the window and jump you poor, poor bastard-the only way out is down. I blink my stinging eyes.
I think I might have imagined that last part. It’s a documented fact that people under extreme stress can be prone to hallucinations. Stress such as being trapped, and I am trapped. Trapped in this call-center hell, shackled to my desk by a mountain of debt, a minor Atlas bearing the sub-zero twin moons of student loans and a poorly conceived and terribly executed marriage.
“Take a deep breath” has grown to be one of my mantras. I have to maintain a long list of them to move forward. I mutter a few of them and roll my head from side to side, taking in the seldom changing landscape around me. It seems as though perhaps it did change today because I see my supervisor’s cubic-office seems to have sprouted a growth. Half a head has risen above the wall and now, two beady eyes are fixed intently on me beneath a dark pale pad of forehead that appear to be winning a savage battle against a tiring army of depleted follicles. His eyes are alive with meaning. Intense purpose creases his moist forehead. His message reaches out, needing no vocalization. I’m slacking. He needs me to open up and take a call. Another ten. Another twenty. Another thousand because our invaluable products and services won’t sell themselves, no matter how much the marketing moles try to convince us they will. There is one obstacle to me complying.
I look away. A few moments later, I steal a clandestine peek and another two inches of my supervisor’s face has appeared, revealing two thin lips pressed even more-so out of frustration. I assume it’s frustration with my unwillingness to comply.
I take a moment to contemplate my status. All of my sales numbers are fantastic. I have perfect attendance for at least two years running. I’m pretty much a model employee all except for one little flaw. I’m incapable of playing the game. I find it impossible, no matter how much I try, to keep my mouth shut. Maybe I have an invisible defect. The little filter that most people have between their brain and mouth seems to be broken in me. I look back.
He’s still staring, his face having gone, during my lack of attention, from pale to a splotchy pink swirled with Valentine ‘s rouge. His neck is beginning to mute to a very flattering venous purple. My coworkers have begun to notice my silent battle of wills and look at me with wide-eyed looks of dread. They are all willing me to put my headset on and get back to work. Their frightened eyes flit from my face to my headset to my screen, willing me detailed directions and hoping that, perhaps by sheer combined force of thought, I’ll put that headset back on and press that button.
The dreaded button. My nemesis. The button that releases calls to my station. A mass of whining, irritable people who want me to give them what they want right away and are willing to plead and threaten in order to get it. It’s asking for trouble and everyone wants me to let it flow like rancid grain into a silo. This silo is almost full. Full to the ears of the fake sympathy and fake excitement. The fake care. Congratulations on your wedding or I’m sorry for your loss, but if you could just stop shrieking with joy or howling in pain for just one moment. I know it hurts, but I’m sure dearly departed Gramma Mae would want you to take advantage of this great deal we’re offering right now. Imagine how much easier it would be to plan the funeral with our new conference calling!
Are you very satisfied with the service I’ve provided for you today? Do you really think I give a blue fuck after you’ve cursed me scarlet for twenty minutes?
It’s the reason we don’t have video phones. You’d see us, I mean-really SEE us. Us and our synthetic sympathy and impatiently nodding heads. You’d see our nail files and our novels. You’d catch us rolling our eyes up to heaven and maybe even realize that we’re asking God why? Why he cursed us with this dead-end job. Why he cursed us with you? You whiny, ungrateful bastards.
When we were having an issue, you’d see our bosses doughy mid-sections slide into frame behind us the way my boss just edged into my bubble. You’d probably smirk evilly before hanging up thinking I deserve the sack for the way I’d just looked at you.
“Is there something wrong, Mr. Moore?” my boss leans in to whisper harshly near my ear, his hot bitter breath envelops my head, choking me in a fallout cloud. Hiss graying, movie bad-guy teeth click clack inches from my face.
“No Don,” I reply, refusing to use any sort of honorific with the irritating son of a bitch. “Just needed a couple of minutes after that last call.”
“Well, I think you’ve had your couple of minutes. We pay you to take calls for seven and one half hours a day, not to daydream,” he says in a breathy whisper, puffing out a toxic cigarette and coffee halo, which clings persistently to my nose hairs.
“I understand Don. Like I said-I just needed…” against my better judgment, I turn to face him. His crimson head is startlingly close to my face. I can feel the humidity from his evaporating sweat clinging to my forehead. I involuntarily recoil. My next-pod-neighbor stifles his spontaneous snicker.
Don’s already-radiating anger intensifies, and I hear a low rumbling in his throat which sounds dangerously close to a growl. He peers at me with sharp and unblinking eyes, daring me to say another word.
Defeated, I pull the headset back over my ears and press that damned button, and he stands and stalks away, victorious. For all of his bluster and urgency, when I open the line, no calls come through. My eyes flick toward the call board. It’s winking at me … 27 agents … 0 Calls in queue.