Do Not Judge A Book by Its Cover
“Beware of judging [people] by their outward appearance.” Jean de La Fontaine
When I worked in the phone room, I often misjudged people, assuming they were something they were not. I found out that many were very different from what I thought them to be at first, and vice-versa, others wondered what someone like me was doing there. Below is an excerpt from “Don’t Hang Up!”
“You Never Know Who You Will Meet in the Phone Room”
“Don’t you people have anything better to do on the Sabbath?” the man on the other end of the phone asks. “Today is the Lord’s Day. To be kept holy. Not for material gains.”
He hangs up before I can give him an answer as to what “material gains” represent to people in low-paid jobs. Things like a week’s groceries.
Why should I give a damn? I’ve had a good day. Not like the young man next to me who is struggling to get surveys. Perhaps it’s the slow, hesitant way he reads the opening statement. From his appearance, he doesn’t seem to be “one of us” phone room people. More like an executive doing a weekend stint here. Too well groomed. Trimmed dark hair and beard, suede jacket. Mid-thirties. Attractive.
It sounds like he got a survey until, throwing up his arms, he stands and shouts, “That f… computer just cut me off.”
Hope he’s not freaking out. I’ve seen interviewers break down over surveys gone wrong – bursting into tears, shrieking, or wrecking a phone. Crazies smash computers and one assaulted a supervisor.
“Don’t worry, that happens to everyone.” I try to keep my voice calm.
Anger recedes from his face. He nods and sits again. “What did I do wrong? I was half way through the survey and it went blank.”
“Sometimes it cuts you off for no apparent reason,” I tell him. “Ask the supervisor.”
He returns with a dispirited expression. “She gave me some half-assed excuse about how this happens when a quota’s full. Let me see if I got it right. First, to qualify, the respondent has to be between forty-five and sixty. Second, he/she ate dinner – no lunch or takeout – at this Chinese restaurant chain at least once in the last three months. Third, only week nights, but not Fridays. Come on. Talk about looking for the proverbial needle.”
In the next two hours, I dial over a hundred times, twenty people answer, four agree to do the survey, and only one qualifies.
Would it really affect results if a respondent went to that restaurant on a Friday? Or had lunch instead of dinner? Or is sixty-one instead of sixty?
By this point, I’m sure many interviewers, desperate to get surveys, are twisting answers. It’s tempting.
Every so often I glance at my neighbor to see how he’s doing. Only two surveys vs. my ten. The supervisor is sure to send him home yet, when she checks, all she says is, “Pick up the pace.”
Another sign he’s special? Lucky man. It’s not as if his livelihood depended on this. Tomorrow, he’ll be back upstairs thanking God he doesn’t have to work down here for a living.
Great. I get another survey.
I feel his eyes on me. Probably feeling exactly what I felt not so long ago. “You really know how to get them,” he says.
Why should it matter if he’s an executive posing as an interviewer? I say, “Let me give you a tip,” and tell him what I learned from Lucky León, our Star Performer, how to tweak the opening statement. “And put a smile in your voice.”
“Hey, thanks, I really owe you.”
Talk about coincidence. On his very next call, he gets a survey.
But with the quota filling, every interviewer is struggling with the almost impossible task of finding someone who fits the profile – and agrees to do a survey. My neighbor is literally begging people, a tactic that rarely works.
I hear him slam down the receiver. “Why can’t those high-and-mighty bible thumpers understand that people like us need to work on Sundays?”
“People like us?”
“Working poor, who else?” He gestures at other interviewers.
“Is that what you consider us to be?”
“What they pay here is just one step above poverty level.”
“How would you know?”
“My paycheck, for one. I’m almost embarrassed to cash it.”
“So you are working here?”
“As far as I can tell, though who knows about tomorrow?”
“Why this job?”
“Because it’s all I could find, and it’s work, and a lot better than being homeless.”
“Yes, homeless – as in people who live on the street. I’m sure you’ve seen them around, kind of a blot on the landscape of America’s finest city.” Sarcasm shades his voice. “Last month, I was one of them. Not that a lady like you would know anything about that lifestyle.”
“I can’t imagine you sleeping in a doorway next to filthy drunks and bag ladies.”
“I couldn’t imagine it either”
“Why the streets? Why not a shelter?”
“Ever tried to get into one of those places? Let me tell you, I did and on cold nights they’re stuffed to overflowing. I was afraid to sleep – they steal your shoes right off your feet – and there’re guys crying out from booze or drug withdrawal, or honking away because their noses are clogged up with shit. You get used to the smell but it sticks to your clothes even after you go outside. So I found a couple of homeless, interesting guys – one plays chess in the park and the other reads anything he can lay his fingers on – and hung out with them a few days.”
I shiver. Being homeless seems only a couple of steps from the phone room. “Dressed like you are today?”
“Course not. Hocked my watch, left my bag in the Greyhound terminal, except for an old army jacket and sleeping bag. You’d never tell the difference between me and the real thing, though people don’t look at the homeless – not if they can help it. Finally, I got hold of some cash and rented a room in a downtown hotel. Not the swankiest in town, but it’s heaven after that.”
As the day wears on, the room becomes silent. Surveys have tapered off. It’s hard to be cooped up in here while the California sunlight beams through the front windows. Three hours before our scheduled leaving time, the supervisor tells us, “Everyone, clock out for the day.”
I step into the bright, semi-deserted downtown. After the refrigerated phone room, the March sun on our side of the street is warm and welcoming.
“Isn’t this great?” My neighbor smiles as if we were old friends. “Days like this, who cares about leaving early?”
“$24 less on my paycheck.”
“Didn’t think of that.” He shrugs. “Hey, wanna go for coffee?”
“This your regular work?” he asks. “You don’t sound like you belong in a phone room. More like you should be upstairs with the executives. Sure you’re not just posing as an interviewer?”
“Funny, I thought the same about you,” I say and we both laugh at how misleading appearances can be.
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” Wayne Dyer
Tags: America of the underdog, Downtown San Diego, economic sinkhole, Life challenges and motivations, Nothing is the truth, Overcoming Obstacles, Phone room experiences, Phone room worker, Phone surveys, San Diego, Self-discovery
This entry was posted on Saturday, August 27th, 2011 at 9:57 pm and is filed under Challenges & opportunities after professional job loss, Discovering a different America, Don't Hang Up!, Excerpts from Don't Hang Up!, Facing Obstacles in Life, Life Challenges, Phone room, San Diego. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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