Saturday Morning Post #73: Courtesy Call

In another short story from the 24 Exposures collection, an unnamed telemarketer justifies his job and explains an elaborate revenge plan on a customer while warning about the dangers of losing our privacy. Keep in mind that all of these stories were set in 2000-01, when the internet was still in its infancy, long before any social media, even MySpace, were created.

It’s just a damn job, okay? Would you rather I was the guy going around sticking parking tickets on your windshield? Suddenly doesn’t seem so bad, huh? I don’t have to cost you money, that’s entirely your choice. I have to pay rent and eat too, you know.

I’m an actor. Don’t give me that look, I am. I have a script, I have to act like I’m interested in half the shit I’m saying. No cameras and nobody knows who I am — which is probably good for me — but I still have an audience, an audience of one, you, your friends and neighbors, whoever. Whomever? Yeah, whatever. So don’t give me any crap about it. What do you do for a living that’s so good for the world, anyway?

See? Oh, yeah, you try to justify it, but how many people do you fuck over every day? Business is just football, your team and their team and what’s good for business is bad for the other guys, got it, you have to make those touchdowns, which means someone else isn’t stopping the ball. Or something like that.

My boss always does these inspirational bullshit speeches on Monday mornings, football and we’re the team but we’re only as good as the worst player, blah blah blah, of course he’s the coach and he kisses the owner’s ass. Last guy was the same thing, they must buy a book that says, “Use football. The grunts understand that.” Third… no, fourth new guy since I’ve been there. It’s something like eight, nine months now.

I get to set my own hours. You get to do that? Didn’t think so. Nine to five, eight-thirty to six, something like that. Yeah, thought so, too. So, you’re actually at that office for nine hours but they make you do an hour lunch and only pay you for eight.

How many times you only get forty-five minutes? Yeah, it’s football all right, but management is the other team and they have a lot of ringers. Our place, I seen people get promoted fast, sometimes. Hell, the owner started out like me. I mean, not with this company, another one, but he learned everything and started his own. How are you going to do that? I already got a raise once, about six months ago.

Anyway, all I’m saying is, I’m not out gassing Bosnian babies or evicting widows or any of that, so don’t give me that look when I tell you what I do. It’s just rude, that’s all. I don’t like rude people. I deal with rude people all day, who don’t even want to listen.

I mean, is it that hard to just say, “Oh, no, thank you?” People seem to think the phrase “go fuck yourself” is so original. And I hate old people. They still keep whistles by their phones, you know? That’s supposed to be for obscene phone callers. It’s so retro, but not in a good way.

What, I’m rude for doing my job? What’s the big deal, you answer the phone, you say, “No, thank you,” you hang up. Yeah, yeah, okay, I do. That’s part of the script, trying to change that “no” into a “maybe.” People don’t know how to say no, that’s their real problem. They get all vague or they get hostile. They lie. You know whom I really admire? When I see people get hit up by bums who don’t give excuses. “Got any change?” And they just say, “No.”

That’s once in a hundred. Usually it’s, “Um, sorry, I don’t have any change in my pocket,” or, “Maybe on the way out,” or all that bullshit. People are big pussies. Why are they apologizing to homeless bums, anyway? No, beggars aren’t doing their job, that’s the point. They don’t have jobs. I have a job, it’s what I get paid to do, just give me a little fucking respect, that’s all I want.

There’s nothing to get over. What, you think I don’t know who you are when you blow me off? I’ve got your name and number, and you’d be surprised what I can do with that information.

Yeah? Let me tell you about this one guy I knew. Really pissed me off. It was his attitude. He didn’t just say no or just hang up or even say, “Fuck off.” No, he decided to lecture me. Tried to get into this whole conversation, telling me how evil I was, asked me why I did what I did, just like you.

Had the balls to tell me there are lots of other jobs out there. Sound familiar? And wasted my time, I was on the phone with this fuck for ten, fifteen minutes on a no sale. So the first thing I did after we hung up was put him on the sucker list. People who are easy marks, who can’t say no.

Know what that means?

He went right to the top of the rotation, every list, every employee. Little bastard was probably getting called ten times a day. Know what the son of a bitch did? Tried to complain to a supervisor, spouting off all these things about the law, and what we were supposed to do. Acted like he really knew his shit, threatened to sue us. That was just too much.

Oh yeah — the sucker list is also the one the company sells to other telemarketers, which is where we really make our money.

You know, it only took me about ten minutes to find out all kinds of shit about this guy on the internet. Name and phone number, and pretty soon I knew where he lived and where he worked and where he had worked and what his kids’ names were and on and on. Can you believe that people actually put so much shit about themselves on their homepages?

Anyway, this prick was a big-time volunteer at his local church. Baptists. Yech. I figured he never really had any fun, so I signed him up for one of those music clubs first off. Every Marilyn Manson album in their catalog, about five really nasty rap CD’s, a shitload of heavy metal and one by Pat Boone. Did the same with their DVD club, picked all the gay-themed movies in their catalog, except I signed that one up with his fifteen year-old son.

Yeah? Well he was being just as immature with all his whining and shit. And it’s no big deal, you send the stuff back and tell them it was a mistake. Anyway, the bastard didn’t stop bugging us, so I upped the ante.

You know how easy it is to get your power turned off? Give them your name, address, social security or mother’s maiden name, bang. Lights out. People really shouldn’t put their family tree online, either. Mother’s maiden name is a very powerful skeleton key to all kinds of shit. Makes it really easy to start transferring funds between bank accounts at random.

Hey, I never took a dime from him, okay? Just caused a little mayhem. Take everything but a dollar from checking, move it to a non-linked savings account on the fifteenth. Move everything back ten days later.

Yeah, that part is real fun. Because, when he goes to the ATM with his paycheck and sees his new balance on the receipt, I’m sure he just shits all over himself and runs right for the phone. Bet his bank wasn’t happy with the way he treated them over “their” error, either.

They flag that kind of stuff, you know. Yes they do, my ex-girlfriend used to do customer service. “FC,” that’s the code. “Frequent Complainer.” Know how you have to enter your account number to get through the automated system to a person? Well, the queue seems to always be quite a bit longer for the FC people.

And the stupid motherfucker never connected that to me. It only took him about two months to go through the complete pain in the ass of taking his money somewhere else. I let him off the hook for a few weeks, then started the game again at the new place. I’m sure he thinks that all banks are incompetent.

Rude, suspicious, paranoid people. I wonder how he reacted when his wife started getting calls from all these strange men. You think he asked any of them where they got her number? You’d be surprised how many guys will actually respond to a little message on a restroom wall. No, not me, asshole. I’m talking about all the calls my ex got when I did it to her. It’s one of the classic tricks in the repertoire.

So’s reporting credit cards stolen. You know you can check a credit report online now? That magic social security number again. People really got to be careful with that thing, but they spew it out all over the place, and everyone asks for it. Shit, those nine digits are supposed to be just between you, your employer and the government, and the banks and credit companies act like they are.

Lucky for me none of them have caught on to reality yet, huh? I had a doctor’s office ask me for my social once, and the bitch behind the desk couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t give it to her. I asked her if they were offering me a job, but she was only a programmed drone. “Must… get… number…”

I honestly think she blew a few circuits because somebody refused. She had no idea how to deal with it. I finally gave her a made‑up number. She never knew the difference.

Yeah? Well it’s illegal for them to ask for it, too. Yes it is. It’s… it’s in the federal laws or something. No, I don’t know the reference, asshole. I bet you’re on a lot of FC lists around town, aren’t you?

The point is, you can’t be too careful with personal information nowadays, why do you think I’m telling you about this poor dumb schmuck? No, it was his own fault, because at some point, somewhere, he filled out some registration card or went to some website or something, and he filled out that little box that asked for his phone number. And it wouldn’t have been that bad for him if he’d at least been nice, but no, he couldn’t be. Instant karma.

Anyway, I know your name. Yes, I do. Because you weren’t all that careful when you gave the bartender your credit card. Only gold, not platinum. And it’s one of those pay through the nose to pretend you have good credit deals. Yes it is, I know that bank’s name, don’t bullshit me.

You’re just lucky I’ve got no reason to be pissed off at you, especially since that’s such an unusual last name. No, I’m not fucking with you, just trying to explain. Jesus, relax, you’re the one who started talking to me. Not having any luck with the ladies here tonight, huh?

Hey, I’ll give you a freebie. See the chick over there in the red dress? No, the blonde. Midori Margarita, no salt. Send one over and you’ll be a very happy man.

Yo, barkeep. Danny boy. Yeah, another. Thanks.

So, this guy. I kept at him for a few months, on and off, nothing in the category of major felony, just constant annoyances. I guess I finally made my point. You’d know his name if I told you, but that’s not my doing. Hey, he was a major asshole anyway, obviously. He would have done something like what he did without my help. Eventually.

I was just playing mind games with him, that’s all. Anyway, the loser didn’t actually kill anyone, just wounded six people before the cops took him out. So some schmuck decides to take a gun and go down to his local bank. I’ve got no control over that. But do you think, if he wasn’t a total prick, he ever would have thought of that in the first place?

Hey, where are you going? Oh, yeah, right. Yeah, Midori. No salt. Remember that part, very important. No salt.

Asshole.

Yo, Dan — uh, thanks. That order, make it a double, will you? Sure, sure. I know my limits, man. Don’t know much, but I know my limits. L’chaim.

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