Talk With A Smile

"Y our first job isn't supposed to be fun."

To my father, you weren't a worthy human being unless you had your shirt sleeves rolled up and were ready to sweat a little. I had no problem actually WORKING, it was trying to find a damn job in the first place that trampled my self-esteem down into the cement.

I was 16 years-old and my father was tired of seeing me get up at 10 am every day over the summer and roam with my friends to skate parks or spend six hours a day reading books and writing stories in a cafe. I couldn't avoid it any longer...I had to find a summer job if I was to get along with Dad at all for the next 3 months.

And so I did what any unexperienced teenage girl would do - I looked through the classifieds for anything saying "NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY."

All I came up with were restaurant owners who wanted experienced wait help, office managers wanting experienced typists and secretaries, coffee houses wanting experienced latte slaves, etc. How the hell was I supposed to get work if I never had a job to begin with? How was I gonna get experience?

Then there were the jobs even those who were desperate wouldn't grab at -- janitors, encyclopedia salesmen, Avon ladies and topless dancers. (I later found out you had to be at least 18 to dance or else it would be considered child porn. Somehow I don't think my father would have approved of THAT career choice, even if the tips were good.

So I took the next evil choice on the list --- Telemarketing.

I had NO idea what I was in for. I figured I'd get the job, work afternoons, get some evenings free , be paid around $5 an hour and above all, be able to show my minimum-wage face at the dinner table again.

I went to the interview dressed for success and was handed the job in 15 minutes, along with a phone book and a seat by all the other telemarketers. I wasn't given any training...just a script to read from - a very BAD script.

I was to go through the phone book, pick names at random, call them up around dinner time and try to sell them tickets to sponsor trips to the circus for children with disabilities.

The guy in charge was an old man around fifty who gave the new employees (me and two high school boys) each $5 for coming in to work in the first place. He then said, "You'll get $5 an hour plus commission for ticket sales after today. You have the day, without pay, to prove yourself, but if you don't sell any tickets, I can't afford to keep you on. So go and sell, sell, sell! And remember to always talk with a smile!"

Yeech...I was starting to think this wasn't such the grand step toward capitalism that I wanted to take. I sat down at my station in between a woman in her early forties who refused to make eye contact with me, and a man who looked like a retired vacuum salesman. He introduced himself as Chuck. And Chuck was the veteran --- selling $60 in tickets already that day. I listened carefully to his technique -- he talked with ease and convinced the people on the other end of the line to make a simple effort to help a poor child in need.

I thought if he can do it, so can I! I dialed the phone.

"Hello, is Mr. Chris Sutton there?"

"This is him."

"Hello, my name is Bonnie Burton. How are you doing this evening?"

"Fine, who did you say you were?" (sounding confused).

"I'm with Smith Marketing and we're trying to bring a little happiness to children with disabilities. Do you want these children to have a few moments of joy in their lives, Mr. Sutton?"

"Er...cut to the chase. How much is this gonna cost me? What are you selling?" (sounding irritated).

"For just $5 or a larger donation, you can send a child to the circus to see clowns, eat cotton candy, and..."

* click *

"Hello? Mr. Sutton?"

My supervisor walked over and told me I wasn't "talking with a smile." I learned to really hate that handy expression - a lot. He said, "Keep trying honey, you just need one sale to stay on."

Oh great - pressure.

I quickly learned that my first call was one of the better attempts. Usually people hung up on me after saying "I'm with Smith Marketing." If I was lucky most people rambled on about how their day was when I initialy asked.

On the whole, I felt guilty talking to the elderly. I discovered most of them were simply lonely and would talk to anyone with a cheerful voice. I also became disgusted with my supervisor who said I should play upon their vulnerabilities and promise them anything, including inviting them along to the circus to be with their sponsored child, if it meant getting a sell. Of course, they wouldn't be going. I don't even think these poor, crippled kids even existed. But I kept calling.

If the old man or woman on the other end said they couldn't afford to make the donantion, I said "Thank you for your time" and hung up. I refused to follow the manipulative script and press further.

I remember calling some not so innocent people to where I wish they had hung up on ME!

"Hello, is Mr. Frank Victors there?"


"Hello, my name is Bonnie Burton. How are you doing this evening?"

"Well, well, well...hello doll. How are YOU?"
(in a very sleazy tone).

", I'm with Smith Marketing and we're trying to bring a little happiness to children with disabilities. Do you want to give these children a few moments of joy, Mr. Victors?"

"Sure, but call me Frank, my dear." (even sleazier than before).

"Great...well then, Frank, we're selling tickets to generous folks like yourself who will sponor these crippled children to go see a circus, see the clowns, eat cotton candy and more. The tickets are $5 a piece or you can make a donation for more. How much would you like to give?"

"Okay, I'll donate $50."

"Thank you very much, sir!" (elated I get to keep my job)

"With one condition..." (he was talking with a smile)

"Yes, Mr. Victors?" (I wasn't)

"If you'll go out with me tonight for dinner and drinks."

"I don't think that's possible."

"And why not, Ms. Burton?" (ick, he remembered my name...)

"I'm only 16 years-old and I have a feeling you're a lot older."

"And about it then?"

* click *

I hung up this time.

For five more hours I put up with sad old people, horny men, rude name calling and blantant hang ups until I was driven to tears and no sales. I had had it!

I walked up to my supervisor and said, without a smile, that I didn't think I was cut out for this line of work and handed him back my initial $5.

He said, "Oh don't be so hard on yourself, kid. Keep the $5 and come back tomorrow with a better attitude. It was just your first day."

I walked out and never came back.

After telling my father at dinner that I got a job and then quit in one day ... he wasn't as upset as I thought he would be. (I think he had a high distain for telemarketers anyway.) I later got a job as a book binder...another story all together.

Smith Marketing disappeared from the obscure building it was in within a month, but my phone hell memories of "talking with a smile" will never fade away.

s t o r i e s