"Dad, it's somebody important."
Kid voice. I'm flattered. I save my laughter for when the parent answers the phone, show my appreciation.
"Hi, mister ________? This is _________ calling from Executive Directions." (careful to be sure and pronounce the D, or else I'll be in trouble) "We're updating people's files, to see if they're interested in some of the job opportunities that we're hoping to fill. Do you have a few minutes?"
What do I get for those few minutes? Commission plus salary. Low incentive.
I gauge my voice, alter it, get more hip for New Yawkers, more soothing for southerners with a potential for white supremacy. Anything for a placement. The bonus. A month's rent. Almost.
intimacy through wires. I make jokes with strangers. Like the ACT UP days, I talk
in acronyms. This time it's not drugs or affinity groups, but languages, mainframes.
Systems. LAN. WAN. MAC. DOS. UNIX. GUI. Yes, it's pronounced "Gooey."
AREA CODE FOR THE NUMBER YOU HAVE CALLED HAS BEEN CHANGED.
The home calls are the worst. I can almost smell dinner simmering, hear Wheel of Fortune, see the oldest son sulking in his room, disappointed it's not for him, while the cherub answers the phone. I'm interrupting the announcement of Lotto numbers, the transition from day to evening, the folding of newspapers.
"No, it's no interruption."
While my target is at home, having loosened his tie only hours ago, I am in an office with a window that has a lovely view of a wall. On my bulletin board, a Dilbert comic and a picture of David Duchovny of X-Files remind me of my own absurdity. In a drawer, beside my menu file, I am saving a mocha Power Bar before the MUNI ride home.
"Great, do you have a few minutes?"
"This is Ariel; what city?"
"Ariel. Is that your real name?"
I cringe. He the faerie, me the centaur, each of us chained to audio headsets.
I hang up.
I play with my phone. Did you know 6438 is the first four notes of the Sugar Plum Fairy dance from the Nutcracker? 1213 is the first four notes of the theme song from "My Three Sons."
PLEASE HOLD WHILE I TRANSFER YOU TO AN ATTENDANT.
"Can I speak to _________?"
"Just a minute."
They usually set the phone on the kitchen counter with a clunk. By the sound I know it's probably five-year-old Formica. There's a memo pad nearby with a pen attached by a patch of Velcro. Off in another room a child is burbling a rhyme decipherable only to itself. I can measure the width of the house by the quality of the echoed, "Daaaad. 'Sfor you. Some executive something guy." I wonder how old their sons are, if they play soccer.
"Hi, this is __________ with Consecutive Erections. I'd be very much interested in giving you the best blow job ever if you'd just be willing to come on down to our orifices and offer your cock up for sale."
"Sure thing. What's your name again?"
I try to "ingram" success over the lines, a sexy relaxation that each of us are in on the way the world really works, and the rest are dumb fucks.
There is a consistency to the heterosexual male that never changes. There is a consistency to these homes that I hear, all across the country, a consistency that is awesome, creepy and comforting.
SORRY YOU WERE HAVING TROUBLE. GOODBYE.
Mohammed, my boss, has a dipshit niece/substitute receptionairre who saunters into my cubicle in frequent and clueless attempts at flirtation. She calls herself Persian. I respond, "Rugs are Persian. You're Iranian."
This is after she juts her tits out for me and doesn't understand why I'm not humping her on the spot. It takes all of two times for her to call me "Jimbo the Bimbo" before I read her beads and say, "I don't care if your uncle owns the place. I don't care if you're engaged to an emir, but you will call me Jim, or Sir, because I work here, and for that I deserve your respect."
Mohammed responded quite well to my version of things, said it showed aggressive tendencies. "Now do it to your clients, but be nice."
Mohammed, I think, would like me to blow him, but I don't like his aftershave. He says to call clients at home, where they're more relaxed. I've told him it's not really that way, but he disagrees. He also signs my checks, so I don't re-disagree.
But he doesn't know the tensions of an American home. His home is probably very different. He's Iranian. He alternates lunch hours between going to the Club gym and going to Temple. I want to ask him to let me, the infidel, come visit one day, learn how it feels to kneel toward Mecca and, like Superman, pray through buildings.
Mohammed's a smart guy, but he doesn't understand. When I call their homes, American wives are the interrogators, not the property. When they answer, I'm flustered. They sense a threat.
"Oh, he's not looking for work right now."
"Well, thanks for reading your husband's thoughts for me, Ma'am. Sorry to waste your time."
I actually said that after the fifth such response. They can do call return, *69, whatever, but they won't even get to Level 1 of our voicemail after hours.
But I understand their fears. It is they who will have to pack up, they who will have to decide if the Big Wheel stays or goes, if the cat is given away, how to collapse all they have created into a lumbering Mayflower semi and start all over again, just for a few grand, twenty or thirty more, a raise that is more than my annual salary, that is if I last a year.
But I'm not complaining. Only when the wives cut through my spiel, and I stutter and my script rings false, do I understand; I am going to throw a monkey into your life, a wonderful opportunity for you to lose old friends and make new ones. I am offering you a chance to increase the neuroses of your children.
They guard the fort. I am a rogue coming to steal eggs. That's the way it is in most species.
"He's not interested."
"He's already employed."
I thank the wives and hang up, then, next day, try the
husbands at work.
At this level, you don't get a job when
you're unemployed. Guys who work the jobs I offer hunt on their lunch hours, check
out other jobs. Men do that, compare. That's why urinals are built side by side.
YOUR CALL HAS BEEN TRANSFERRED TO AUDIX.
I'm always happier to get voicemail, of course. Then it's their decision, their problem. Ball's in their court.
They leave the same message. I leave the same message. That little bump in the script, that "Excuse me," is polished to sound relaxed. A tone too smooth is too reminiscent of the dreaded misnomer: Salesman. Things are faux-friendly after the second go round. I'm not a salesman. I'm a doorway.
I'm very good with foreign names. I roll my Rs. I know how to say Thank You and Good Day in seven languages. But even ethnic people can be boring when approached this way.
I try to personalize these men, and they are men, 96 percent of them. Sorry, but that's the way the patriarchy crumbles. They sniff at 150K jobs like wine snobs.
You are so money, the het headhunters in my office say, snapping around each others' desks like carp. I have a space which is all mine for most of the day, until the big guy comes in for night shift. I like mornings. I've become a morning person. Spend half an hour with voicemail, coffee, scone or bagel, watering the pathetic plant, adjusting pictures, being alone. Picking, sifting through the guys, picking the nice-sounding ones first, voices I can woo.
Only later do the carp come swimming. What was once the outpost, a rented room next door to the main office, is now the "groovy cool" space, since I have made it fun, asking for the old Deco desk the law office next door was going to dump, plus the matching Deco wooden garbage can. The carps come in and covet my privacy, my differentness.
Mohammed says it's okay that I don't dress as sharp as the others, since there's "no client interface" in my office. No, no interface, or in yer face. Just calling them is embarrassing enough.
I should have started with a fake name, like the
time I worked on a phone sex line. It's not that I think these people will notice
the name again. These people don't read our kind of books. They read A Time
to Kill on the LIRR or MUNI or the Boston Line or Chicago or on their lunch
break in Atlanta. I imagine them at the Peachtree Cafe, having a Peachtree soda.
Fascinating courtroom drama. Sweet romances. Stilted Rural Wisdom, soon to be
a major motion picture starring some dazzling gorgeous actor whose nude pictures
litter the Internet.
THAT NAME DOES NOT MATCH ANY OF THE NAMES IN OUR DIRECTORY.
Sometimes I lose my place and call twice in a row. That's the worst. People can't stand to be thought of as being on a list, just number 32 of that hour. But they are. I should be paid piecemeal. That would make me work faster, wouldn't it?
Of course, I already work fast. Where do you think I wrote this?
FOR THE LETTER Q, PRESS 7.
How else to get through it, the tedium in all its variety? I save voicemail.
I have a library of sexy voices. My favorite is Kyle at FedEx. He's got a voice like an infection you get from too much good sex. Cock Throat. He sounds ample, a recovering Southerner. There's a few Italian guys with voices that make me think of pretzel vendors, pizza guys in Jersey City. Alexander, a Moscow émigré in Salt Lake City, is "vay-ree much looking to move beck to Bay Are-yah."
Come to me, Alex, my little blintz.
I loop their voices into braids, while out the window, rain threatens to fall. Down in the dead end alley below, Century Street's last block culminates at a dumpster and a brick wall. The sign reads:
The plant is looking better, now that my voice has cheered it for another eight or so hours, give or take a few breaks. Across my desk, David Duchovny still likes me enough to look back.
I may sound small and petty, but if it were your resumè, and if I were the difference between Newark or San Francisco, MIS Director or Program Analyst, Chicago or Atlanta, 100k or 160K, your kid's chances at Purdue or Princeton, if it all depended on my tracking you down and recruiting you, you'd be nicer to me.
We corporate lackey queers are the conduits.
Enter your secret code. Flirt.
"Hey, _____. Thanks for calling back."