This is written by a dear friend who I happened to have had the pleasure of working with at a job similar to what she is writing about here. I can 100% back up her account of what it was like to work in a market research office. It is, after all, the very first place I learned what a Top Ramen prison spread was. And, a lot of those people enjoyed their spreads immensely. Don't fuck with an ex-con's spread. Molly Martinez recently started writing again and has an already hilarious start to a blog called Erroneous On All Counts. Please check this woman out. She is an amazing writer and friend. -No Trade Jack
“Do you have a mirror?” she asked. I was 23 years old and a couple of hours in to the first day of my new job. I had already met several charming individuals who wasted no time in allowing their stellar personalities to shine through, I am not including the respondents I had the pleasure of speaking with over the phone. I had interviewed for the position of Telephone Market Researcher for a total of 5 minutes before I was offered the job. I considered this to be a great sign. I should have reconsidered that initial thought. I sure did after about an hour sitting in the swivel office chair in front of a dot matrix computer with a headset attached to it.
Obedient, and hoping to seem helpful, I commenced to look for a mirror. I rummaged through my bag and offered the not-completely-unattractive woman of about 35 my Cover Girl powder compact. Then, in abject horror, I watched as she shoved ½ of it in her gaw with one hand, as she carefully placed a broken piece of tooth slathered with superglue on the corresponding match in the back of her mouth. Once it was placed, and she was satisfied that the glue would hold, she handed me back the makeup with the mirror still steamed up and a spit bubble on the side. I almost dropped it because I was trying desperately not to touch the part which was recently in her mouth. I fumbled it in to my bag and placed the purse under my desk. With my stomach rolling and mouth dry, I made it to the single stall bathroom with the dirty floor and purged my breakfast.
That was the first of many graphic details of disgust I experienced working in the phone bank. The most interesting manner of human beings (and I’m using that term loosely) are employed for “phone work”. It’s a fairly easy job requiring no face to face contact and little to no effort, so the visually unappealing and the lazy make a bee line. All you really need is a good voice and convincing a manner, and that is only for those who happen to care what their success rate is.
This particular marketing research company was strictly for radio surveys. We would call people from all over the country and try to get them to listen to 3 to 4 second clips of music currently being played on the radio and then ask them to rate it on a scale from 1 to 5. I personally listened to mostly alternative rock at the time, so I learned very quickly to ask for the country music stations because if I had to listen to clips of songs I actually liked being played on my favorite station over and over and over ad nauseam, I would never be able to listen to that music again. That, and when I did the country music surveys I had a high success rate because I spoke to customers in a country accent and they ate that crap up with a spoon!
I sat in the middle of a row of 7 cubicle type stations. To my right was a short little feller with the saddest case of cystic acne I had ever seen, offset by a shaggy mop of shoulder length hair, which was either naturally greasy or created that way on purpose with some discount product of unspecified nature. I didn’t ask. To my left was a 45 year old woman pushing 400 pounds with the voice of an angel. Bernita was one of the top 10 favorite people I ever worked with! She had thinning blonde wisps of hair pulled in to a tiny bun, rosacea, and was gay. I was going through my own skewed sense of sexual identity at the time and that fascinated me about her! Her partner was a motorcycle driving butch who treated her terribly. Bernita would often come to work with tears in her baby blues because Shayna had called her some derogatory name or hadn’t come home the night before. It was my mission to make Bernita smile again! Her laugh was infectious and her sense of humor was razor sharp. I needed that in my life. Sitting day after day in a quite uncomfortable and flimsy desk chair trying to talk to a decidedly unenthusiastic public about the music they listened to everyday was boring as hell. I would crack sarcastic comments or mimic respondents, and when she laughed her whole body would shake and her specially purchased “sturdy” chair would rock. Everyone around her would laugh with her, the joy permeated the drab office interior. About 3 or 4 times every day I would walk by her from the bathroom or break-room to get to my station and I would hear “Fuck you, Molly” in a growly girl whisper. I didn’t need to ask her what it was about, it was my hair. She was insanely jealous of my thick, curly hair. It would make me laugh out loud every time I heard it, it was so ridiculous and she was so very serious! I saw her a few years later after I had left for another job and she had gotten gastric bypass, but her laugh was still the same and Shayna had moved on for good. She was a much happier Bernita and was still envious of my hair.
A couple seats from Paul, the greaser, sat Terry. This was her second job, she was earning money to go towards getting her teeth fixed. She is not to be confused with Superglue Maguillicutty, whom I began this reminiscence with, Terry had no teeth to glue back in. Correction, she had 8. Four on the top, four on the bottom. They were yellow and had sundry pieces missing, but they were hers and she was hanging on for dear life. Terry was a “new Christian”, recently out of jail/rehab for (shockingly enough) methamphetamine addiction and sales. Everything out of her mostly empty mouth started with “And praise Jesus”. Literally. “And praise Jesus, they filled up the vending machine and I can finally have my Reeses”, “And praise Jesus, I found the left flip flop under the back seat of the car where Jimbo threw it last night”. It was cute the first 6 times I heard it. When I realized the, “And praise Jesus,” was her breath before starting a sentence I started making tick marks on a post it note to count how many times she said it in a night’s shift. On one vivid and impressively talkative day, when I was sure she had relapsed on the crank, my tick marks filled the front and back of 3 separate 4’x4” post it sheets! I was saying “And praise Jesus” when she finally left for the night!
Alice was a whore. I am not just talking about a loose woman, she was a real live sex peddler for cash. She was 5’8”, about 60 pounds overweight, and had the henna red hair of an old timey ‘painted woman’. She also had a limited tooth count. Are we seeing a pattern here? This was also Alice’s second job… guess what the first one was? You would think a woman of the night would have a secretive air about her, a type of mystery that makes you wonder what goes on after she gets off work at 9:00pm. Nope, not Alice. She was not only completely unashamed of her alternative profession, but she would speak to her cubicle neighbor of her adventures and have the audacity to call the “date” sick! “Honey, he wanted to put the bottle right on up there, and not the skinny end either! Sicko”. She was terminated because she often showed up to work an hour later than her start time. She needed a “fuckin’ rest, Goddamn it!”
Carl was also a woman of the night. Not for actual monetary transactions, but I am sure he got paid in other ways. When Carl transformed himself in to Miss Sparkle Devine it was an amazing thing to see! I was able to see her in action once, and she was a delight! Then the pancake makeup and cleavage would be washed off his cocoa colored skin and his Armani slacks and button up shirt would go back on for work. He was 6’1” with green eyes and always dressed beautifully for his telephone research job. He would sit with one arm resting on the back of his chair, legs crossed, working the computer with one hand. He was actually graceful! And charming and completely likable! I think about him every time I watch “To Wong Foo, With Love Julie Newmar”.
The phone bank employed between 20-30 people on a revolving basis. Some were only there a short while, long enough to realize having random people in Kentucky, or Alabama, or Ohio, or Maine, hang up on you with or without screaming bloody murder that you interrupted their dinner or woke their baby up isn’t the most fun a person can have at work. Some were there years before I set foot in the place and are probably still there to this day. I worked there for 2 years and I quickly worked my way up to floor manager. I left when I followed the general manager to her own marketing research business that she opened. I was invited to be her office manager, no more phones again! Being a phone researcher wasn’t a dream job, but it fit my life at the time. The job paid reasonably well for the amount of work actually done and I moved up quickly. When I look back at the monkeys running that zoo I have to remember to not be too smug… I once was one of them.
You can read up about more of Molly's hilarious adventures at... Erroneous On All Counts!