Phoner (2)
by Kevin Groves

I begin the calls and type in the codes for every case that I deal with. Through years of survey drudgery, phoners have created their own code language. Instead of saying I left a message with the person who answered the phone I can put lmwpwap and all is still made clear.

Sometimes phoners will vent their frustrations using elegant strings of code: "respabofad, cbltrwingm." Translation: 'respondent is a bit of a dink, call back later when he's in a good mood.'

We can't say this stuff to the respondent's face of course, since that would be unprofessional, but don't despair! If you're in the mood to vent your frustration, simply hit the headset's mute button and cut loose, no one can hear you. Veteran phoners can keep up a conversation about the fun they had last night and do a survey all at the same time with the help of the mute button. Multitasking is a beautiful thing.

If only the respondent can see what we're REALLY doing when we're talking to them. I cannot count the number of times I have pretended to hang myself with my phone cord while saying sweetly: "uh huh, mmmm, yes, anything else you'd like to say about how your college can be improved?"

It could always be worse, I guess. If I were a girl I'd have to deal with being hit on by the respondent. This happens more times than you might think.

Of course, there are always those respondents who think I'm a girl when I talk to them. This too happens more times than you might think, and there is nothing I can do about it. What exactly would I say?

Hours tick by slowly as the survey completions pile up, and my fingers start to get sore from mashing the speed dial button. It's eerie when multiple phoners are doing surveys at the same time, you could be at the same point in a survey with your neighbor and not even know it. If you listen closely, the voices will begin to blur together into a single symphony of phonerspeak:

We are the phoners. Lower your defenses and surrender your data. We will add your individual and relevant distinctivness to our own. Your life experience will become one with us. Resistance is futile.

I look over and watch KH walk into the office to talk about her completion rate. I shake my head and remember that I have to be on my guard when the inner office's door is closed. See, every headset in the office is linked to the inner office's network, which will allow the supervisors to listen into your interviews at any time. This means that you have to constantly be on your guard when you lift that receiver lest Big Brother should be listening.

KH comes out of the inner office and heads back to her cubicle. I hope it went all right, performance reviews aren't usually a big deal, and the office manager is a pretty nice guy when it comes right down to it.

Monitoring is just part of the job, to make sure we're efficient. There's nothing really wrong with it, right?

I check my watch and crack my first smile all day: five hours in, break time. I stand up, joints creaking, and head over to the front desk to sign out. Now begins my routine pilgrimage to the local convenience store, or our unofficial cafeteria, to pick up my lunch. I walk into the staff room, package tucked under one arm, and sit down to eat in absolute silence.

That's one thing that I've learned about being a phoner: you really come to appreciate the value of quiet after you've talked for a few hours. I wolf down my stir-fry and stare at the futuristic black coffee machine at the other end of the room (dubbed the replicator) since there's nothing else to look at. With my neurons firing at half speed, the minutes blur into unintelligibility, like the jumble of gobbledygook you'll see if you ever try to read something when you're dreaming.

Did you know: if your appliance is appealing to the futuristic image, it will always be black; your Trinitron TV, or state of the art stereo are good examples.

I look at the clock and curse: five minutes late. No doubt the office manager will be on my case for taking a half hour' break again. I toss my Styrofoam container into the cupboard to keep from putting it in the garbage and head back to my desk. The harsh glare of the screen makes my contact lenses water as I try to return to some semblance of productivity, and I lift the phone receiver for my last few hours at work.

As the seventh hour comes and goes I enter into my own little world where all that exists is the computer and the phone. I make the final transition to survey drone in a hive of statistical information: a mindless automaton who picks up the receiver, dials, spews the survey, gets the completions, hangs up, and repeats.

A random thought flits through my brain during this time. TL once asked me what my comfort food was as a starving student, and I replied that it was tuna since it is all I seem to be eating lately. I read somewhere that if you eat lots of tuna it can actually boost your brainpower in some kind of vague and mysterious way, kind of like if your palm starts itching it vaguely implies that you'll shortly find some money (I wish). As I complete my fourteenth call it occurs to me that if this rumor is true then I'm probably committing an act of heinous intellectual waste by being here, since my brain activity is probably on par right now with a glass of water.

But who cares, I'm making money; after all, I am not being paid to think. In fact, as I reflect on my employment history, I don't think I ever have been.

I log in my hours at the end of the day and join the line of phoners waiting for the signature that gives this whole escapade meaning. We file past and pick up our pay cheques, and as I open mine up I hope that this is the week when I will finally get that bonus I've been waiting almost two months for. When I look inside it turns out that I do get the bonus, but since I made over five hundred dollars it pushes me into a higher tax bracket and the government grabs it all back.

I want to yell in frustration, but my lungs won't cooperate: they're burnt out by a solid eight-hour workout that would leave an Olympic runner gasping for breath. I try to think about the bright side, and tell myself that I should be thankful I have a job. It could be worse: I could be back in a fast food restaurant, one of the living dead that'll serve you up a meal which will slowly turn your arteries into a sewage outlet pipe. Would you like nitroglycerine with that?

But something inside me snaps anyway. I hate being a phoner. It sucks that people who are university educated are forced to work in jobs they wouldn't wish on their enemies because they're broke and have no other option. My thoughts turn to the impending Liberal victory here in BC that I will have no say in (kind of like the federal election), and their undoubted policy of providing tax breaks to the wealthy that will widen my debt load and make my tuition higher, forcing me to work as a phoner more just to make ends meet.

Most of all, I hate the fear that I fight to control as my mid-twenties increasingly make themselves known in my bathroom mirror with each passing day. Will I be forced to work at a job that I hate for the rest of my life?

That is why I complain.

                        Kevin Groves 
didn't see the rain on its way down, but knew it was coming, natch. 

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