Molly Swenson
A Dollar Short

Accentuate the positive

By - Jul 22nd, 2009 09:10 am

borg cube

On my way out the door, one of my kids said, “Mom, you look really nice today.”

“Thanks, Sweetie.”

“But, Mom? If you know you’re overdressed every day, why are you wearing a skirt?”

I mumbled something under my breath as I picked up my bag and car keys.

“Love you, Mommy,” the voice trailed behind me.

The ride to work was nice, though. A sunny day, warm with little puffy clouds. Pat Benetar belted something out to me, loudly, on the freeway and I sang (out of tune) with her. How I longed to be spending today in the sunshine instead of clocking in for another shift of training.

Today, it felt normal to go through the building’s security screening — I even waved to the guy at the conveyor belt. I remembered what floor I was going to, and even which bank of elevators would drop me off in the right hallway. “Maybe it’s going to be okay,” I said to myself as I was stepping off the elevator.

“Hey — Molly! Not so fast!” I turned to see the HR Generalist hurrying up the hallway after me. “I have a few questions about your permanent schedule. Can you come with me?”

And that was the end of feeling in control of my day.

I got to the classroom after everyone else had started, and tried to catch up the whole time. It was hard, because we were simulating these calls and I could hear the people around who were four or five calls ahead of me. It filled me with dread to hear the complicated simulations they were doing, and I got so scared that I couldn’t keep up. I started to panic, with my left leg shaking like it was going to come off and my shoulders up so high they were practically touching my ears. My trainer kept walking behind me, shaking her head. “Slow down a little, you’re trying to go too fast.” I transcribed her words on to the screen before I realized what I was doing. We haven’t learned how to correct our mistakes yet, so I had to leave it there.

“Alrrrrrright. If everyone could wheel themselves over here, we have a short presentation for you.”

As I was pushing my chair into the semi-circle, I ran over the geeky guy’s toes. “Sorry. Sorry.”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” he mumbled, but I don’t think he meant it.

The ‘short’ presentation started. I timed it — it wasn’t short. It was 72 minutes. Also, I had to pee, which made it the longest 72 minutes of my life. The person next to me fell asleep. I gave myself a full-blown migraine trying to see the video monitor at the other end of the room while taking notes about the skill we were supposed to be learning that night. The whole time I was listening, the voice in my head was saying, “You’re never going to remember all of this stuff. You should just walk out now.” It was a tempting thought.

During the break, some of the cool kids said they were flustered, too. “Oh My God, that was insane. This is SO hard.” There were nods all around and several comments of assent.

I got up the nerve to say, “I know, I’m not actually sure I can do it.” Instantly the sense of camaraderie was gone. Everyone looked at me and one guy said, “Look. I have a friend who works here. He said training fucking sucks, but after that you can do it in your sleep. Just don’t be so negative.” More nods of assent, but this time regarding my negativity. Conversation quickly resumed around me and I packed up my lunch. “I’ll just go … use the restroom, stand in the hallway, play in traffic … ” I mumbled to myself as I left the room unnoticed.

Because here’s the thing that I thought would make this job tolerable. This call center is a home for the displaced intelligentsia. On our first night of training, everyone went around introducing themselves by way of announcing their degrees. Women’s Studies, Functional Anthropology, Social Psychology, Filmmaking, Art History, Philosophy, and the list of completely impractical majors went on. Somewhere in my mind, I pictured at least having in common similar values and a drive for learning. I guess I thought that lunch break conversation might be about feminism, environmental doom or at least current events.

The kids working here are brilliant, and still young enough to have hubris about their giant bags of brains. At 22, they have experienced no major failures – no place where the Universe has just smacked them back and said, “HA! That’s what you think.” And though I am usually the most optimistic person in any given group of people, being surrounded by all of these Pollyannas was beginning to grate a bit. (Note to self: sometimes when a person says they can’t do it, they don’t actually want you to convince them otherwise.)

The upside to the whole day was that our trainer was dressed in business casual — kind of. She was wearing a fashionable bowling shirt and khakis. But the khakis weren’t cotton, they were some very, very unnatural fiber. And she was wearing giant white running shoes with them. Still, I thought, my casual skirt and v-neck tee don’t look so bad now, do they? Oh, who am I kidding?

Categories: A Dollar Short, Voices

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