Ultimately, it is a writer’s duty to advise you on whether things are worth doing. Cooking books tell you that it is not wise to mix red onions and peanut butter. Travel writers advise you to visit Krakow’s salt mines. Music, film, literature, theatre and art critics tell you what to watch and what to avoid. History books tell you what events you should think about when contemplating your present predicament. And, perhaps, poetry tells you what’s worth feeling. So, let me offer some advice. Do not work at a call centre.
It’s profoundly boring. Its powers of oppression are so great that one manages to be simultaneously bored and busy. I have a list of one-hundred names, people aged between sixty-two and sixty-seven. I copy the numbers over from the spreadsheet and paste them into my other screen and I ring.
Usually they tell me they’re fine. ‘Thanks for the call.’ They say.
Ten percent of the time they’re angry. Sometimes they’re angry because they have no money, or they want to go outside, other times they hate the government and two fifths of the ten percent are completely mental.
One percent of the time they’re dead.
Wednesday afternoon I rang looking for a man we will call Barry – if I ever have a son, he will be called Barry and he will eat chocolate eclairs for breakfast and have baked camembert for lunch, a pig of a child. A lady answered the phone and told me Barry was dead. He died three weeks ago. This woman didn’t sound too upset, maybe she was his nurse, or maybe she was an opportunistic squatter, relishing old Barry’s demise. I didn’t ask. I made a note on my spreadsheet, Barry = Dead.
Over the next two days I carried on making phone calls and updating spreadsheets.
I noticed three large TV screens in the room, they showed the date, time, number of calls waiting, longest wait for a caller, average wait, agents who are: ready, on call, wrapping up a call and busy. A message repeatedly passed under the bottom of the screen, like a banner, attached to a plane. It read ‘Are You Ready For Windows 10? Have You Checked Ben’s Emails?’
Suddenly it happened!
True consciousness, awareness, is always sudden. Not out the blue, there are subtle moments along the way that are necessary for the awakening, but the sensation is one of surprise. I had been filing away observations, realisations, inevitable facts, a latent mongrel reality waiting to pounce. And here it was! Now I could see…
This call centre is a nut house.
That’s not to say that everyone who comes here is nuts, but people certainly become more nuts working here. Maybe the classic line ‘You don’t have to be mad to work here but it helps’, sums it up.
So, let me give you a run down of who’s left in this motely crew, some have been sent home recently, due to a reduced need for people answering phones. Also, I can’t name these people and I cannot be arsed to invent names for them all. Conceptualising Barry tired me out.
Man 1: A softly spoken failing actor, we had met before covid19, he ran an event for a theatre group for year five children. The kids loved it and his acting was good enough to hide his disdain from them but not from the adults in the room. I suspect he went a bit sideways a few years ago, after he learnt that dedication and talent are not enough to make it in showbiz.
Lady 1: Was in a band in the 80s that charted, someone showed me a picture of them the other day, looked like Jesus and the Mary Chain, leather jackets and mad hair. Where Man 1 resents the arms-length the showbiz world keeps him at, Lady 1 has fully embraced the quiet life. The lesson here is that you look mad if you can’t accept failure and you look mad if you accept it. The only sane thing to do is keep working for a better life, while understanding there are billions of components that will work against you, or suddenly work in your favour, for completely random reasons.
Man 2: My personal favourite. He turns up twenty three minutes late every day, his rotund stomach enters half an hour before the rest of him, his comb over blowing in the wind. Grunting as he passes me, he turns a quick smile to everyone in the room. Recently he has started standing up and trying to touch his toes in between phone calls. He is the sanest one here by a country mile.
Lady 2: Like I said I cannot reveal names, but I must inform you that Lady 2 has a very similar name to me, first and second name. She likes to gesture to this unusual fact every morning and laugh. She can’t possibly find it funny anymore, her circuit board must be broken, stuck on a loop. Hopefully one day she’ll bump her head and her brain will snap into action, she’ll realise that we’ve been here for two months now and our conversations should have advanced, perhaps one day she’ll greet me with ‘Good Morning, I’m scared of death, are you?’ One can only hope.
Man 3: I have worked with him for three years now and he is the slowest mover I have ever met. There must be an incredible amount of training and discipline involved to achieve such a staggered pace, must have taken years to master it. We have greeted each other warmly every day we have worked together and said goodbye. Slow but nice.
Lady 3: She is properly mental, and she knows it. In between people laughing at her antics she often begins to laugh too, then her face reverts to default – confused – and she marches off. Every day, and sometimes more than once, she shouts out that she can’t find the tea bags and she can’t cope without a ‘cuppa’. We take turns in telling her that someone has moved the tea bags a few centimetres from their previous position. One day she will realise that if she looks in a different direction, moves her neck slightly or even swivels her whole body, then she will be able to scan whole areas and locate what she is after. But for now she has learnt that the tea bags are in the kitchen and this is a start. She is the maddest one here.
Lady 4: She’s bonkers too but she is an innocent bonfire of madness, compared to Lady 3’s full blown Brazilian forest fire of insanity.
Lady 5: She seems to be enjoying the coronavirus, must have been waiting years for a call to action. As I get older and naturally less cynical it is nice to have people like Lady 5, trying to make the workplace a hub of games, chat and light jokes. These people do concern me though, for if they put so much energy into their worklife, surely, they must be neglecting the good times beyond work, the music, the booze etc etc. It is her nonstop laughing that signals her as insane and it is nonstop!
This strange constellation of nutty stars are not destined for great things and will never wield much power. But truly, aren’t ninety nine percent of people who have that burning desire to do achieve amazing things absolute cunts?