Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joby Cain Gets Fired

Joby Cain worked for Callus Representation and Partnership. He doesn't now, because he was fired three days ago. He's been at sea since then. Some would say gone to seed.

He stayed up the first night getting drunk. The second night - the night before this - he couldn't sleep for the nerves. WTF would he do now? He asked himself again and again:

  • As he made coffee with shaking hands and a sore head

  • As he took the bins out, smell of cheese and that smell that only rubbish can have

  • As he switched on the computer and googled aimlessly round the web

  • As he panicked, realising his rent would be due in two weeks, and he had only enough really to pay for that month

WTF would he do now?
Last night, after the day and evening drinking coffee, he decided to stay up and watch the dawn. He'd be at the darkest, just before then. Or so they said. It made some sense to him, but why, he had no idea. It was a feeling more than a rationale. And besides, WTF else was he going to do?
When they did it, he knew it was coming. He got an email. Not telling him exactly. But saying something else that he knew meant that was it. They didn't need to tell him it was the third, but they did anyway. He knew what would happen next, so he waited. He delayed. He saw the mouse pointer moving about the screen, perhaps of its own behest, it became real. Deus Ex Machina. He always took this to mean "God's coming from the machine - there was no classical education here. But, when he saw that pointer, he knew it meant this is it. He didn't know, nor did he care WTF he'd do next. He was nearly - nearly - ROTFL.
He was miserable anyway, so didn't see much point in fighting it anymore. Fighting himself, to get out of bed and get in there everyday; or fighting them, with their artillery of numbers and spreadsheets and three letter acronyms which recorded - apparently very accurately - calls answered, compliments received, complaints reversed, complaints carried over, complaints outstanding, complaints, complaints, complaints. WTF was this job anyway? Somewhere between an answering machine and a sounding board for general frustration.
The call centre was an outsource partner for every crap service and product distribution company in the land. So customers phoned up to complain about something that wasn't working, or the shoddy attitude of the person who came to fix it, or the last person they spoke to about this (or that, or any of it). He'd been called everything from an asshole to an automaton to unfeeling. He'd been told of nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and pregnancies. Everyone was miserable, as far as he could tell, and he was paid to listen to them all let it out. But not as much as a therapist or psychiatrist or barman who was expected to provide solutions, or show a way out. Because he was paid to keep them in limbo. To stall them, while someone somewhere else figured out WTF would be done about it. Everyone seemed to know: At least they said as much in pubs and things. But still they said "I want to know: What you YOU going to do about it?"
So, he stopped answering phones. That was when he got the first email. They called him in and told him "This isn't good" They talked about SLAs and SQ and SDTs and he had no idea what they meant. One guy was wearing braces, like in the film Wall Street. And the girl he fancied from the interview seemed to grow fangs as the "Interface" progressed. He shrank in the glass cube while people passed to get their coffee and listen in and try to figure out how bad it was.
But then he was back at his desk. He had to answer phones, and he had to make people happy. So he tried to DO something about things. First, he wrangled emails to try and contact the people who seemed responsible.
Dear so-and-so, Joby from Callus here. This old woman nearly died (her daughter said) from exposure because her gas was cut off. But it shouldn't have been, because all her payments were up to date...
Dear such-and-such, this customer pays a fortune in line rental and the infosuperhighway broadband, but suffer very poor speeds. This is a work-at-home business, so likely to cause real problems for him...
Dear cares-not-a-jot, your toy broke off in a girl's hand. She was only two years old and nearly ate the head. He mouth turned blue from the ink used to colour the dolls hair, and her mother is most distraught...
That brought him in the second time. All the acronyms were rolled out again. But this time they also mentioned the crucial role of Personalised Response - Interfacing with Customers in the Brand-Customer interface. Brands were presented to customers, but couldn't interface with them, because appropriate responses had to be formulated according to the Brand objectives, customer value and legal ramifications. It was absurd to try contacting these people. They would deal with customer issues based on volume, priority and Brand requirement. WTF did a PRIC think they were doing when they tried to contact these people directly? Apart from anything else - and as one partner pointed out - if they were taking calls and dealing with these things, they'd have no need for the Callus PRICs, would they? There was no arguing it. The world needed Callus PRICs, apparently. WTF would happen without them?
So he was back at his desk, feeling contagiously miserable. Spreading through telecommunicative contact; symptoms: general feelings of frustration, anger and leading to drunkenness or complaining to friends and family. Jesus wept, Callus Representation and Partnership (NASDAQ: CRAP) seemed to be the hub from which some awful conspiracy spread. Humanity was no longer journeying to face hell. No longer your epic travails with the great writers of antiquity. No longer the simple pickup by a skip down an alleyway just off the quays. No longer the suffering of the world - a vale of tears - visited upon you when you least expected. Now, you phone a Lo-Call or Freephone number, and get patched through to limbo, inaction and frustration for next to nothing. It seems a shame to get it for free, when others had studied or worked so hard to experience it.
So he was incident free for about two weeks. Kathryn and he ate lunch. She asked him to tell her about his meetings and why he did it. He told her he didn't know, and embellished enough to make her laugh. They'd looked at each other just so, every so often. WTF would happen there? Hopefully something good. She always ate vegetarian. But she was a good laugh. He just had to stop looking at her cleavage. She'd caught him a couple of times, but if anything were to happen, he'd need to seem more together... less of a perv.
So that side of things was getting better as every other side was getting worse. For phone lines and gas lines and credit lines and storage lines and any other line of business requiring support or a customer interface, the customers tangle with scripts, ably read by people wearing headphones and staring at screens. People like Joby. Callers fight back with scripts of their own, but are powerless against the might of the call centre scripts and so become more and more desperate.

“...look, you have to help me...” asserting

“...look, you have to help me...” demanding

“... look, you have to help me...” hoping

“...look you have to help me...” pleading

“...look you have to help me...” begging.

Cries of desperation. Like those who had not known Christ, these people who called daily were tortured for not knowing a better service provider. Their arms outstretched, grasping for hope; hope ebbed away with those answering “Hello! Some company name. I'm whatever, how can I help you?” So promising, some even responded in good tones. Sooner or later the callers, the unclaimed customers, realised these call centre folks were really just passing by. They asked how they could help, knowing they couldn't. Joby could pass no longer; he stuck out a hand.

He told one woman to never give up. While the thought of calling everyday was daunting, she would get nowhere until she hit the critical threshold. The number for that particular partner was free, so it would cost her nothing but time and her battery charge. She had nothing to lose, had she?

Another, he told to give up. It was quite simply the company policy to avoid support discussions relating to the lithium battery shipped with the device.

He spoke to another customer for thirty minutes about her son's phone bill and how best to deal with his way with it.

Then, he hit the big time. He called to one woman's house with a mop and bucket to replace the set that fell apart. She asked how he got her address, and demanded to know why he would do such a thing. She slammed the door. He was still explaining through the letterbox about how he wanted to make a difference when the Guardians of the Peace arrived to ask him what he thought he was doing. Down at the station, he explained to them how he could take the suffering no more. How he had to do something. When Mrs Molloy called about her mop and bucket, he decided to replace them for her. It was a small thing, but he hoped it would make a difference. The Guards looked at him blankly, then gave him a coffee and a breath test. They told him he could leave and asked him – begged him – to not give them reason to bring him here again.

It was the following Tuesday that he got the email; that the pointer started moving round his screen of its own free will.

It was short, really. Some berrating. Some recrimination To bring a competitor's product to someone's door! We can't have our partners thinking that we hire stalkers! It went on, until It's not without regret that I inform you... This last, spoken as if it were a letter being dictated. He wondered whether he should be writing it down. It turned out this was unnecessary as they'd be sending him a letter and an email to confirm in writing what he'd heard in person.

And so here he is, past the darkest moment – or so they said – with the dawn light bleeding from behind the night sky and its clouds. Blood red and beautiful, he stares up. And thinks “Well maybe it wasn't for me anyway”. He makes some coffee. He looks at his phone, the unanswered calls. Texts. He thinks about his rent, due in two weeks. He drinks his coffee and wonders what he'll do next.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Go on, smile!

Emily Sunshine, all this time later.

"Make me laugh and I'll make your day!"

Saturday, November 01, 2008


A summer afternoon, a Friday, a throng to get through on Grafton Street. Shoppers and drinkers utilising the long evening to get ahead of a weekend of spend. Lemuel_Buckett (AKA Frank Murphy, IRL) is heading for HMV where he'll meet JoyceJameson. He was surprised to learn that JoyceJameson is AKA Joyce Jameson, IRL. He can't wait to meet her, IRL.
He suggested they meet IRL after they'd LOL'd enough to feel like they really knew each other. They were going to go for coffee and maybe some lunch (one step at a time). Maybe even a drink later. Maybe even...
No. Wait and see how we go. You have to wait for a page to load before you can click a link. That's just how it is.
He tries to avoid the people bustling toward him. Some are going in, others are just dodging other people. He sways to avoid them all; gets an unnecessary umbrella slapped across his face (why do you even need an umbrella in this weather?); has his knees slapped by shopping bags; shoulders shouldered by pedestrians... he waits. Soon, he should see her, IRL.
He's seen her avatars and read her signatures and mottoes. They wrote about trying to cross Dublin without passing the front door of a pub; of the radio show when "Kilcock" was the reply to the question "Which town in county Kildare is also a body part found in a man's pants?" (Correct Answer: Athy).
She came from the UK, from Bristol (or Brighton? He couldn't remember, and now only remembers he'd intended to look through their threads to remind himself). Studying Anglo Irish Literature in UCD or Trinity or maybe DBS or somewhere like that. She had a brother and two sisters, one of which was over here too, working in banking (but which one?). For some reason he remembers only the shadows. He hasn't taken in anything she told him and now he must face her, IRL.
"Hello" says a soft, English accent, somewhere to his right. "Are you Frank?" He turns his head to see another average sized, brown haired, early thirties male say "I'll be as frank as you want, love. You're lookin' great!" She laughs timidly, unsure; the guy laughs on and walks off.
Convinced the coast is clear, Frank goes over. "Joyce"
"Yes" she says, confused: who is Frank?
"How about that coffee..." thinking reference to a private conversation would convince her of him.
"Oh, Frank" she said. "Yes. Yes, let's go for that coffee." Quickly adding "I will, yes" with a smile.


The coffee shop is all metal frames, glass panes and fabric cushions. The waiter (in invariable black) puts down the coffees, rattling off complicated names with the boredom of a botanist being asked about sunflowers on Gardener's Question Time. Perhaps one day there will be Barrista Question Time. Answers from experts about roasting fair trade beans and how to get the stains out of the filter. Vinegar will always be the answer. Use vinegar, but rinse well to make sure you don't corrupt the beautiful flavour of those unique beans. She is talking. He can't listen, sidetracked as he is by this bitter reverie. But he must listen, otherwise the whole thing will be a mess. So he listens. But he hears a pop song from overhead, and from behind: "So, anyway, like I said, I said to him you better not be talking about Marie Boool and he's like, well, he says, like..." she is not coming through at all. She is talking, he can see it, but he's not receiving. Whatever did that guy say to Marie Bool. He'll never know now. Too much noise: here.
"Would you like lunch?" he asks. She looks at him. "Here, or somewhere else... ahm, whatever you like..." he says hopefully. She is still looking at him. She is not talking, so perhaps he should. But he has now. He's asked her to lunch. Yummy. A pannini or ciabatta would go down nicely. Or even one of those nifty salads where they chuck a whole bunch of hams and lettuces and strange looking vegetables on a platter and you douse them in olive oil and vinegar and spear a couple of pieces with a fork to deliver to the satisfaction of a salivating mouth. Feels like they go on forever those salads. Like being in some kind of eternal salad heaven, where you meet the salami you first tasted when you were ten and thought "Now that's good." Tragedy of losing such a moment forever. Joy of reliving it for something between thirteen and fifteen Euro.
And Joyce Jameson was first captured when her name was called out as "James' son, Joyce" in a classroom. "Like the writer?" the teacher had asked. Not that she knew of, coming from Bournemouth. As far as she is concerned, nobody comes from Bournemouth; if you were born there, you stayed there. Other people go there. Often for holidays; it was beautiful and once home to Auberon Waugh. Every summer it would fill with visitors and their accents.
One summer, she met Ger (who pronounced his name Jayer), who read James Joyce and thought all the world was made of words. That convinced her of the beauty of Irish thought and that there was something more than digging and drinking and dying in the streets to them. Besides, her degree had tired her of the English and Americans and their hysterical irony that meant nothing.
She landed in Dublin with an acceptance letter from Trinity college to attend the MA in Anglo Irish literature. She would read everything worthwhile in the course of a year, maybe two. She would travel to see the beaches of the west, the bog of the midlands. She was ready for smog, but happily surprised by Dublin's clean air. She would have dreams. Everyone here had dreams.
After a time, Dublin became tiresome. High costs, high men, high ho.
She got a job in a coffee shop, grilling paninis and heating milk and pouring espressos and collecting change and handing out receipts. "Do you take laser?" she was once asked. Olga, one of the other girls explained it was a cash card and they did. But her reaction still cost her the job, and she found another in another coffee shop, where the manager looked at her funny when she asked "Is laser accepted here?"
She'd had no luck with men, so far. Either splashing money on fine wine, only to get pissed or taking her to the cinema with an obvious attempt at being chivalrous to achieve less chivalrous ends, they all seemed duplicitous, devious and dying for a shag.
So, she concentrated on her study. Literature, to her, was the real 'first draft' of history. The encapsulation of a moment, expressed in terms framed by the time. Truer than journalism - edited to suit the ephemeral needs of the day - literature for her would be the beauty that would save the world. It's safe to say she probably needed to lighten up. No one can remain so intense and retain a functional level of insanity in the modern world.
Throwing herself into studies, she quickly learned the key to so much of this literature was in the language. She spent more and more time on blogs and forums, learning how Irish people talk. How this strange breed think. How they read. This was where she met Lemuel_Buckett. Satirical, straight, serious. He seemed like no other. Without airs, without hypocrisy. They spoke of literature and how crystalised ideas could hold a whole world in your mind. She believed in literary humanity; he believed in symbols. She thought this a sign. They were Ying and Yang. Balance.
But now the scales are tipped. With him silent, she tries to fill conversational shadows with some light. She talks about the time she dropped a salad all over a posh woman with BO; how she first heard the term "Laser", and how pouring the coffee all over the guy got her fired; how she sometimes missed Bournemouth. He stays quiet. Maybe none of this means anything to him. Maybe he's really into his books, so the experience means nothing to him; he's searching for the symbols. How could she know? She looks at him for a moment, saying nothing. Just looks and tries to see.
In a lunatic voice, accompanied by pointless gestures, he asks if she wants lunch. She doesn't really know. The last thing she wants now is a paninni or ciabatta or some other quasi-Italian way that Irish people show how cultured they are.
When you can buy it in a petrol station, along with Coke, condoms and a girlie magazine, it's no longer a cultural demonstration this was the opinion of one of her failed dates in Dublin, but she supposed he was right. She suggests a salad somewhere... guessing it's a good compromise between demonstrating fluency with this adopted culture and a tasty lunch.
And so they leave the coffee place that does lunch to find a lunch place that does coffee.
"Hey, did you see the Godfather on TV last night?" she says.
"No, I don't watch TV" he says. There is a guy asking for money somewhere. You'd have to look down to see him, he knows. "Look, you can see the spire there - just over those buildings"
"Oh yes," she says "what is it for?"
"For? Nothing that I know of. Perhaps a spear to fire at the Brits in case they try something funny." She looks at the beggar, who redoubles his efforts. Hope eternal springs from eye contact. I know you can see me now. I know you can see a human here. I know you can see the possibility of you here. Now. They walk past. She wonders why he doesn't try to hold her hand and is thankful he doesn't.
They walked for some time in silence; all small talk exercised in the forum. Where they were from, what they did, their jobs. The books they read, what they thought of them. The music they listened to, the magical moment when they found some obscure or cultish artist they both liked. Disappointment when trying to impart some kind of trivia only to find the other already knew it, or had heard some updated version. Quick searches to help them say something sensible in reply to comments about things they'd no (previous) interest in. Now it seemed they'd nothing to say, IRL.
"Hello!" says Frank, surprised. She turns to him to find another guy walking toward them.
"Howdy pardner" says the other guy, with neither a trace nor attempt at an American accent. The words deliberate; the delivery wasted.
"Raymond!" says Frank "This is Joyce. Joyce, Raymond. Raymond is an Americanist." They say hello, and Frank says "We were just on our way for lunch..." he looks at Joyce, who looks at him. Neither of them knows where they're going.
After a moment, Joyce relents and says "... Oh, Frank. I'm so sorry, I have to meet someone... in about thirty minutes... so maybe..."
"Yes," says Frank "another time. Yes." She smiles. "OK then. Well, it was nice to meet you..."
"You too" says Raymond
"You too" says Frank. There's a moment, then she turns and leaves. So close, but not really.
That evening, after Frank has had a few pints and Joyce has called home and thought again about what it is she is doing in Dublin, they message each other to say it was nice they met up. Unknown to each other, they both look up Sisyphus and think he knew hope. Just at the moment, just at every moment when the boulder looked like it would get to the top, there was hope. An early wave of achievement, which made pushing the boulder up that hill again (and again) just a little less absurd and a little more essential.