Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Shitty Jobs I Have Known (Part I)

I believe the God created the Earth and put life on this Earth. I don't really believe in the whole evolution theory.

I believe that God also made us. I just think it's a lot easier to believe then the big bang theory, or any of the other theories about apes.

To say that this was all some big cosmic dice roll, and we went from fish to frogs to monkeys and monkeys to humans. It's just kind of almost ridiculous.

I think you have different types of scientists, and the ones that bring about, you know, theories of evolution, I wouldn't call them scientists they're just like philosophers.

I don't think a human body could have just come about. I think God definitely had everything to do in it, it's so complex, I don't think it could have just come.
— Quotes from high school students in Danville, Kentucky (PBS broadcast, 28 March 2005)

For about two months in early 1993 I worked as a telemarketer for a ski resort in central Virginia, in a town much like Danville, Kentucky. Our job was to lure our marks to the resort for a "free weekend vacation," where the "vacationers" would be pounded with hard-sell tactics until they wept like babies, peed their pants, and purchased a time-share at one of the resort's condominia. My role was to be the set-up guy. I'd dial the phone, speak gently and alluringly to the person who answered, using the word "free" as often as possible, and keep the victim on the line until he or she sounded interested enough to earn a call-back from the closers. This little victory was known as a "hit," and I was expected to make six hits in a five-hour shift. The closers, who lived off our hits, were a group of edgy, chain-smoking, foul-mouthed motherfuckers who worked on commission. They had a separate room with their own coffee pot and ashtrays galore. They shouted a lot, mostly at each other. Being with them was like watching a David Mamet play, only without the optimism and uplift. At least one of them had a mild stroke while I was employed there.

This was a heinous, $5-an-hour job that I endured only as long as it took to get fired. After a few weeks of genuine effort, for which I was rewarded with humiliation and failure, I decided that I would only pretend to work. Instead, I used the phones to call friends and family; I took dozens of bathroom breaks each shift, blaming them on bad tacos or sour milk; I sat with the phone to my ear, mumbling nonsense and listening to the dial tone as I doodled and wrote essays about alienated labor. Not surprisingly, my "hits" declined catastrophically, and the closers stopped letting me drink their coffee. After several lengthy pep talks from the supervisor, a former elementary school teacher who tried earnestly to make me give a shit, it was clear where this relationship was heading. The final straw came when she strolled by my table one night and caught me — phone cradled aimlessly on my shoulder — sketching a giant anvil dropping, Wile E. Coyote-style, on her pumpkin-sized head.

My colleagues in the set-up room were a strange mix whom I genuinely missed for about 20 minutes after I was fired. There was me, an English and History major eight months from jumping down the rabbit hole of graduate school; a genuinely psychopathic personality named Kelly who liked to show us pictures of the Iraqi solider he'd killed during the Gulf War; a 24-year-old woman with a heart defect and the 16-year-old kid she started, then stopped, fucking in the parking lot on breaks; a University of Kansas graduate who, if I recall correctly, sold the occasional slug of crack to make ends meet; another woman who was obsessed with the health of her colon, though not enough to quit her ferocious smoking habit; and a dozen other people afflicted by life in all the usual ways. But the co-worker I remembered most was a high-school junior named Torie, who had moved from Virginia Beach earlier that year and was having a difficult time at the publicly-funded Christian academy known as Harrisonburg High. When I wasn't diagramming ways to execute my boss, Torie and I would chat, mostly about school and work and how she might get the fuck out of Dodge after graduating the next year. One night, as she was describing her latest science project, she lowered her voice and confessed that she believed in evolution.

"I know that's kind of weird," she explained quietly. "But I've been doing a lot of reading for this project, and . . . "

She went on to explain how her fellow students and even her science teacher ridiculed her for suggesting that humans and apes shared common descent. I tried to reassure her that she wasn't the weirdo, that creationism isn't science and can't be taught in school, that this debate had been settled by the Supreme Court in 1987, and that all arguments to the contrary would be swept away as the rest of the nation slowly entered the twentieth century. Those days, I still believed in progress. I was a college graduate, and I think Torie actually believed what I was telling her. She seemed immensely pleased.

I've been thinking about Torie a lot recently, as the clamor over "Intelligent Design" accelerates in states like Kansas, as I see more Jesus-fish car magnets on the roads, as I see the well-attended churches in my community sponsoring seminars on evolution and the Bible, and as I read about places like Danville, Kentucky.

If we were still working together, I'd probably buy her a hit of crack and apologize.