b Papa Dog's Blog: Worst. Job. Ever.

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Sunday, February 20, 2005

Worst. Job. Ever.

Somebody else was blogging yesterday about crappiest jobs. I’ve had a few. Things I’ve done for a living, in what I’m pretty sure is chronological order (some concurrent with one another, and some rather stretching the definition of “making a living”): clerk/typist, bartender, groundskeeper, blackjack dealer, carpet cleaner, record store clerk, writer/editor/publisher of comic books, warehouseman, comic shop clerk, secretary, word processor, newspaper columnist, door-to-door salesman, temp, word processor again, secretary again, temp again, word processor again, temp again, secretary again, graveyard shift clerk at an hourly-rates motel (I have a few stories from that one), temp again, data entry clerk, accountant, word processor again, freelance word processor, word processor one more time, and freelance word processor on the side. I may be forgetting a few here, but clearly, I’ve mostly been processing words. You can generally tell how much I hated a job by the length of time I lasted before quitting. I was a blackjack dealer for two weeks. I was a groundskeeper for four days. I was a door-to-door salesman for three. That there would be the winner, and it’s not really much of a contest.

Those of you who know me are probably surprised I ever had such a job in the first place. It’s well known that I’m a) shy around strangers and b) of the belief that sales is the root of all evil. I’m not a natural candidate to go around convincing strangers that they should buy crap they don’t need. I had a couple of compelling reasons for taking the job. One was that I hadn’t worked in about six months and had exhausted my supply of last-minute miracles to get the rent paid. Another was that the ad in the paper said “No experience necessary,” which made it exactly the right ad for the level of confidence I was feeling at the time. Also – and this is one of the more counterintuitive things about me – although I’m generally as cautious and shy and tentative as I keep saying I am, every now and then I’ll try out something I’ve never done before just to see how it works for me. At this particular time, that was getting to be the rule more than the exception.

Anyway. That’s why I took the job. How did I get the job? I met their rigorous screening process: I showed up. It turns out they ran that ad continuously, hiring a new crop of salespeople every week. They’d take ten or twenty or thirty or however many new salespeople, pair them off with an experienced seller, and send them out on the streets. Since the salespeople worked strictly on commission, they weren’t out anything by taking them on. Those who could, sold. Those who couldn’t went home and looked at the classified a little more carefully. The head office was a warehouse crammed with crap bought in bulk lots from overseas. You never knew what you were going to be peddling. In my three days I did leather shoulder bags and flashlights (odd combination, but that’s what they had), fake alligator skin briefcases, and a few other things I can’t now remember.

The crop of salespeople they’d hire every week always skewed young, mostly people still in or freshly out of high school. This was 1991, when I lived in Vancouver. At 27, I was pretty much the old man in my bunch. One of their rules was that all men had to wear ties. If you didn’t have one, they’d supply one, just like at a country club. I was one of the few new people who showed up wearing a tie my first day there. I watched as the manager handed out tie after tie, showing several young men how to tie them. “This is a big part of my job,” he said, “teaching how to tie a tie.”

Needless to say, I sucked as a door-to-door salesman. Like the best, I lacked all conviction. I didn’t want to bother people in their homes or places of employment. I didn’t want to overcome resistance that was in place for good reason. I hardly sold a thing. The one day I did fairly well was because they sent me to work my own neighbourhood. I just went into all the places I usually frequented – the salon where I got my hair cut, the coffee shop where I spent my unemployed days, the stores and restaurants where my face was known. I went up to people I knew and said, “Hey, look, I finally got a job, and I’m selling useless crap! Do you want some?” To help me out, or because they thought it was funny, or because they really did like the leather bags, they bought. The other two days I hardly sold a thing.

For most of my three-day tenure, I was paired up with a kid who was 20 or 21 and was one of the company’s star hustlers. I can’t remember his name, so I’m just going to call him Slick, which I’m sure is how he liked to think of himself. He had moussed hair and a little wispy attempt at a moustache and knew how to tie his own tie. He clearly thought of himself as an operator and just as clearly didn’t see how seedy he already was at 21. I wanted to grab him by the throat and sit him down and make him watch Glengarry Glen Ross (I guess the movie version wasn’t out yet, but I could have showed him a stage production). He revelled in penny-ante rule breaking, anything to give him an advantage. We worked an office building together. At one door I pointed to a prominently placed sign reading “No solicitors.” “I can’t read,” he smirked, and went in. We were eventually escorted out by security. One time we took the LRT to our territory for the day, and he looked at me like I was the world’s biggest sucker when I reached for money to buy a ticket. We strolled on without paying and strolled off the same way. I guess he figured he was an outlaw or something.

One of the things that made the job unpleasant was this kid’s constant attempts to insinuate himself into my life outside the job. He contrived to assume a personal rapport that simply didn’t exist. This would have been bad anytime, but right then I was in the middle of breaking up with my girlfriend. Or rather, I was in the middle of putting it together that the reason my girlfriend wasn’t returning my calls was that she had dumped me. After I’d been particularly silent and withdrawn for a while, he started pestering me about what was wrong, so I told him I was having woman troubles. “Women,” he said sagely, “they can be such negative fucking bitches.” “Huh,” I thought, “that’s very helpful. Glad I opened up.” Out loud, I said, “Mm.” I checked my watch to see how many more minutes I had to spend in this chimp’s company.

I was taken aback when he called me at home in the evening, saying that some of the people from the company were getting together for drinks, and did I want to come along. I couldn’t imagine anything worse. “That sounds great,” I said, “but I’ve already got something going on. Maybe next time.” Then I hung up and went back to watching Bernardo not getting any drawing done.

It took me until partway through the second day to suss out how the whole thing worked. It was a pyramid scheme. Any earnings I made would kick up in part to this kid, and then up to whomever he had apprenticed to, and so on. He wanted to be my buddy to better inculcate some notion of being part of a team. The more people who stayed on and prospered, the more money for him. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was backing the wrong horse.

The one thing, though, that made the job most unendurable was the extra layer of team-building bullshit that was built into the process. You couldn’t just go to the warehouse, pick up the crappy merchandise, and hit the streets. No, first you had to go through and hour or two of sales exercises in the morning. Basically, these are improvs. Salespeople pair up and try to sell each other. It’s self-evidently useless as a skill building tool, but I guess they figured it was a good warm-up to get the troops motivated. One day, I was paired with the only other guy in my crop of new salespeople who was older than me. He had evidently attended at some point in his life a seminar that emphasised the casual touch as a means to gain trust. In our little improv, he came up to me and went into the standard spiel, tapping me casually on the arm every now and then to emphasise a point. I was hung-over and heartsick and every little tap sounded like a gong in my head. I put up with it as long as I could, until finally I said, “Man, I know you’re just trying to put the sale across, but if you touch me one more time I’m gonna have to hit you.” I had never said anything like that to anybody before, and I’ve never done it since, but I see the appeal. It’s weirdly exhilarating. It also pretty much ended my participation in that morning’s improvs.

Worse than the morning’s playhouse was the evening’s pep rally. Before we could collect our cuts of our sales and go home, we had to gather in a room and talk about how we did and go through a bunch of rah rah bullshit for the team. One day I asked the manager – the tie-tying guy – if I couldn’t just collect my money and go home, because I was really beat. “I get the feeling,” he said, “that you don’t quite buy the usefulness of all our management tools.” Perceptive guy, I have to give him that. I hardly thought he’d noticed my existence, but I guess I kind of stood out in that crowd. “I’m just really tired and not feeling that well,” I told him. He gave me my money, and I went home and didn’t come back. Come to think of it, that was the night Slick called me at home to invite me out for drinks. I guess he’d figured I was about to jump off the hook and he was giving it one last try to reel me in. He should’ve saved his breath. I had satisfied myself by then that I had no inner Willy Loman. I was ready to sign up at Kelly Services and go back to the devil I knew. And that was my three days as a door-to-door salesman.


Blogger ZsaZsa said...

I forgot to mention - I did telemarketing as well. Although that was a pretty great job. I can't remember why it didn't suck, but it didn't.

And, brace yourself - I was a SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHER. Seriously. And I knew nothing about Sunday Schooling. I used to get the kids to stand up and do impromptu speeches. And they coloured in pictures of Noah's Ark a lot.

12:14 AM  

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