Posts Tagged ‘still a little rusty

The summer after my freshman year, I had a job telemarketing. I was not particularly good at it; despite the one day I was the top seller in the office, thanks to the 8 cups of coffee I drank out of a ceramic demi-tasse with a black exterior and white interior which I stole at the end of the day and which today I regret not knowing what I did with, I never was able to sell enough to meet the minimum weekly quota to earn a bonus. So, while on the down side that meant that I was not making a lot of money, it should be noted that I was at least getting rejected a lot. People do not like telemarketers, I tell you what.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that the main problem with my sales technique was that I apologetic about the invoice : the way I hit the would in our scripted “After two months, you would be sent an invoice,” let them know that I wasn’t really behind the product. Sure, they would get the Non-Profit Board Report for 2 months, and that’s cool, but, even if they enjoyed it, they’d still have to deal with this invoice in 2 months time. Like, you’re a non-profit organization and that we respect that, and our publication might help with the management of that organization (I think? I don’t know if I ever saw a copy of the Non-Profit Board Report). But we are not a non-profit organization, and we will charge you. Of course, you could cancel the invoice, but the way it was set up, we were basically coming as close to ripping you off as the bounds of the law would allow. All of that, conveyed with a simple would.

However, sometimes the problem was that the leads weren’t very good. That was the culprit the week we were selling The Marketing Report and all of the businesses that the list of contacts spit out were slaughterhouses.

As it turns out, slaughterhouses are not really all that concerned with marketing, for the reason eloquently provided by the gentleman on the other end of the phone who, in response to my request to be connected with the marketing department, drawled “Lady, all we do is kill old pigs.”

The brilliance of that response, of the unconcerned deliberation that made it clear that the foolishness of my question would not be entertained, has always made it one of the great joys of my life. However, as much as I appreciated the laconic verbal smack-down that put my self-hating would to shame before it could even be uttered, what I did not realize until this past week is that what I truly admire about that gentleman is the simplicity of purpose expressed. This is not someone who’s ever had to worry about an elevator pitch, of breaking down an overly complex process into its component parts, who has to chase fads, keep up with the latest technology, or worry about obsolescence. As long as there is an old pig that needs killing, this guy is in business : that is the hedgehog-like focus that proves elusive for most companies.

It’s the professional equivalent of my gastronomical envy of pandas, who only eat bamboo; fortunately for the panda, bamboo is only eaten by them. I enjoy the lovely natural symmetry of that relationship, in no small part because it relieves all of panda-kind of most food-related stressors : a panda never has to figure out what to do for lunch, or what it’s in the mood for. There are no ethical implications to panda’s diet, it doesn’t matter if the bamboo has been humanely raised or if it’s locally sourced. The question of what to eat has been so solidly settled for pandas that it never even needs to be raised; a panda only gets as far as “what” before it realizes that the answer is “bamboo”. It’s bamboo; it’s always bamboo.

Make no mistake : I don’t want to switch to a diet of only bamboo any more than I want to make a career of killing old pigs. Or pigs of any age. It’s just that, every now and then, instead of answers, what I would like is a lack of questions.


Thursday night I performed the annual Breaking of the Coffeepot While Doing Dishes, a tradition begun unexpectedly last year at this time when the delightful 1-cup French Press I had been using decided it could no longer bear the strain of daily washing and shattered just as I had delicately jammed my hand inside it. Though this week’s reoccurrance was just as unexpected as the inaugural event, the ceremony itself has been upgraded somewhat in the past year; one improvement was in the size of the sacrificial vessel – this time around, it was a six-cup French Press that broke. But the greatest breakthrough came through the deploying of implements : after last year’s Grand Shattering, I invested in a bottle brush; thus, though glass still broke, this year at least, my hands were in the clear and no blood flowed.

Probably the only thing stranger than breaking a coffeepot exactly one year after having broken your previous coffeepot is noticing that it’s been exactly one year since the last time your coffeepot broke in your hands, but my circumstances at this time last year were quite reduced from what they are today. I was, on the eve of the Boston Book Festival, well into my fourth month of unemployment, and what had seemed like such fun during the summer was becoming bleak indeed the further it stretched into fall. While I was excited to see one Miss Myla Goldberg the following day at the BBF, it was more and more difficult each day to follow the rules of unemployment I had set up when I’d been unemployed for a brief 6 weeks the previous summer, the very first of which was Make Sure You Leave the House Every Day. While I was unhappy to be learning that sometimes, there is no joy in Pajama Day, once my hand went through the French Press, all of my concerns became focused on one bright and suddenly relevant problem : I had no health insurance.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I did, in fact, have health insurance; I just didn’t know it yet. I hadn’t wanted to apply for the state health insurance when I first became unemployed, but as the months went on and I realized that, somehow, despite my positive outlook, unflagging belief in my own excellence, and disdain for the news, I was actually being affected by the recession and the poor job market; the public option was looking more and more like my only option, so in early September I broke down and applied. My application had been approved, but since the wheels of bureaucracy turn sloooowly, I wouldn’t find that out for several weeks. In a lovely bit of irony, I actually got the letter informing me of my approved status, retroactive to the date I’d applied, two days before receiving the offer for the job I have now.

I didn’t know that at the time, though, so as I stood over the kitchen sink watching the blood from my slashed hand run down the drain, I pondered : Should I be running my hand under hot water, or cold? Should I be elevating my hand above my head? What is the best way to dispose of all this broken glass? Should I get stitches? and decided on the following:

  • cold
  • eventually
  • wipe it up with a damp paper towel, put the paper towel in a paper bag, and put the bag in the trash
  • probably, but no.

It was not just financial considerations that influenced that final decision. Many, many, many years before, around the time I was in the second grade, I cut myself with a serrated knife. It was a cheese knife, to be specific, and instead of slicing through the fancy cheese my mother had set out on the good cheeseboard to serve as an appetizer at the dinner party she was hosting that night, I sliced right across the knuckle of the index finger on my left hand.

I know there was blood – possibly spilling over onto the crudites – and definitely crying, but what I remember most is the immediate aftermath of the event : my mother having hustled me upstairs with an unaccustomed quickness; the two us stood in front of the sink in her bathroom, holding my hand under cold water, and her saying “You’re lucky; most parents would take their kids to get stitches.”

One very fascinating thing about being a child is that it often takes children a long time to discover when something is off. Especially within their own family; for a long time, their family is the only family they know, and so they assume that everything that happens inside their family is happening to every other family in the world, and, since it’s normal, there’s no need to really take note of or be alarmed by any of it. As that child grows, however, they inevitably discover that some things about their family don’t quite jibe with other families. These discoveries can be innocuous – not every family has a housekeeper, for example – or they can be slightly more unsettling – not every family has a housekeeper who got fired because their mother was convinced the housekeeper stole the cat’s blood for use in Korean voodoo ceremonies, as another example.

This, however – the idea that I was somehow fortunate not to be getting medical attention that others would consider routine – immediately struck me as abnormal. I may have said as much at the time, but it’s much more likely that I just went on crying, as I have no recollection of an explanation from my mom. Probably she was equally influenced by the dinner party she couldn’t abandon, the crazy that is her nature, and the precept of all doctor’s that their children do not get sick*.

It turns out that, in the long run, she was right – I was lucky. Because, 30-odd years later, as I stood in a very similar position, this time in front of my own sink, I knew that while most people in this situation would get stitches, I didn’t have to. I did not have to worry about the possibility of bleeding to death, or any other undesirable outcome; I knew first hand if all I needed were stitches, I would survive without them. And so, after I got bored with the cold water, I wrapped my hand in a paper towel and kept it resting on the elevated back of the couch while I watched tv. At the book fair the following day, between the morning event with Steven Almond and the afternoon event with Miss Goldberg, I scouted around Copley Square for the best possible bandage (which, in retrospect, would have been the butterfly bandages) and considered myself lucky to be out on a chill fall day, keeping my hand from bleeding all over famous authors, rather than waiting in an emergency room for unnecessary stitches.

This year, however, though I was sorry to have to work through the Boston Book Fair, when my coffee pot shattered, I learned that, health insurance or no, real luck is not not needing stitches, but not cutting yourself in the first place.


*I have twice in my life gotten stitches, and once, my mom took them out in the living room in the morning before I went to school. So, yeah – I don’t like to get stitches.

One comment that I’ve received in response to my writing a number of times over the years is that I write just like I talk. While I’ve always taken that to be a compliment (and by “always” I mean “all three times”), I’ve felt somewhat like a fraud accepting it. Because the truth of the matter is that I don’t at all write like I talk; rather, I talk like I write.

This wasn’t always the case, of course. There was a time, not too long ago, when I actually spoke like a normal person. That all changed, however, when I started blogging. Writing about what I was doing influenced the way I viewed every situation, and that, in turn, changed that way I spoke about them. From there, it was just a short jump to changing the way I spoke about everything.

Now, so many years on down the road, I couldn’t stop talking like this even if I wanted to. Which has been awkward in some situations. More awkward, however, are the times that I’ve tried to stop; my occasional efforts at normal vocal communications have met with some spectacular failures.

The most recent spectacle occurred a few short weeks ago. Due to some personal computronical issues, I was forced to use the public library computers to find a place where I could take my computer for repair. As I sat there, trying to find a place that would charge me less than my own employer would to fix my computer, I overheard a fellow – a library patron – say to one of the librarians – a fellow – something about not knowing the author of  Into the Wild.

I fought back the urge to immediately jump into the conversation and show off that I knew – I’ve shelved that book a number of times (that number being higher than the number of times I’ve been told that I write just like I talk), and every time made a mental note that I should read it; even if I never do, the author’s name will forever be etched in my memory. But, I hadn’t heard the beginning of the conversation. Perhaps there was some sort of wager in place and knowing the author’s name would exclude him from the prize. Or maybe the guy hated the movie version so much that he was looking for the author’s name so he could track him down and punch him in the face; I wouldn’t want to be a party to that.

Plus, this wasn’t my library; while I have yet to receive my official copy of The Big Book of Librarian Etiquette, I feel confident that Don’t Show Up Another Librarian On Her Home Turf has to be, like, rule #5, after Accept With Good Grace And Gentle Deflection All Comments About Sexy Librarians, Politely Inform Those Who Ask That Plenty Of People Even Read Anymore,  Don’t Shush Your Fellow Librarians Even If They’re The Noisiest People In The Building, and Never Comment On The Size Of A Gentleman’s Book. So I sat quietly at my computer, graciously allowing my fellow Librarian  to claim the glory that was rightly his by providing the patron with the requested information. Except that he didn’t. “I don’t know either,” was all he said in reply.

Over and above any other rule of Librarian Etiquette is Represent Librarians In The Best Possible Light At All Times, which is so obvious that it never even needs to be stated. Telling a patron that you don’t know something is fine; failing to follow-up with an offer to find out, when you are seated at the service desk, right in front of a computer, is unacceptable. I may have been loathe to break rule #5, but he seemed in danger of giving librarians everywhere a bad name; I really had no other choice but to pipe up from across the room with “Krakauer; John Krakauer”. It took a couple of repetitions before they understood what I was saying (I think my mispronunciation of the name – it’s actually Jon Krakauer – proved momentarily confusing), but finally, librarian and patron alike were fully aware of just who was the author of Into the Wild.

I was exceptionally pleased at the job well done, but not so much so that I wasn’t inclined to respond with modesty to the little girl seated at the computer next to me, who looked at me with wide eyes and said “Wow, you’re really smart.” Except that my stated response “Well, I knew that,” came out less of a humble “Well, I got lucky and  happened to know the particular piece of information they were looking for,” and more of a “Yes, I am well aware of how exceedingly intelligent I am, little girl – thank you.”

She looked abashed and returned her focus to her computer screen. Eventually I figured out where I had gone wrong, but it was too late. Over explaining the error didn’t make it any clearer to the child and didn’t make her feel any better, but it did make me feel like a jerk. Probably I should have written her a note; then she would’ve understood what I meant.

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