The first thing I learned on this job is that the clock in the top right corner of the computer screen doesn’t respond if you leave it on one page. When I hit either the pg up or pg dn keys, the time adjusts to the next prompt. The thing’s on life support, I motion between the two keys using them as defibrillator paddles to keep the time alive. The trapped heat blowing from vents, inescapable in the closed training room and reclining chair force me to momentarily slip away from the temp job and somewhere far off in my mind. It happens so often I find myself minutes behind, though the clock’s back here with me.
“Ok, so when we want to receive an order, we first ask the customer if they already have an account with us. To do that, we first …”
I’m not the only one drifting. The girl next to me, Violet, expands her fingers onto the desk and shrivels them back up into her palm. After, she takes to drawing a picture of her hand over the notes she’s scribbled to force herself into attention. Across the room Manuel has found the value of drifting away as I have, but he’s let his eyes close and has slipped into a semi-sleep,
“I’m listening, I’m here. Sorry.” He props up in the chair when Eileen asks him a question about taking a phone order.
Helen is spinning half circles in her chair in front of me; in front of her Lisa has her head in folded arms on the desk, same as Ann Marie sitting across from her. TJ, the oldest of us here, looks the most attentive but is staring straight ahead; far away from this training room and outside of the entire office.
Eileen is nice, laid back, and honest about the shitty pay. She keeps asking us if we’re going to come back tomorrow. She’s kidding, she says. Earlier in the day a different woman asked us the same question. She was kidding, too. She pushes forward with PowerPoint slides and common codes we’ll be using. I don’t blame her for the dull lessons, I have no idea how I would make a call center sound exciting. Each moment in the room is an exercise in patience, forcing the clock down to a 15 minute or lunch break.
Outside of the training room the 5th floor office is surrounded by wall to wall windows that overlook cities and a recently renovated park. In our training room we’re caught in a white walled trap; a windowless box propped up by a stick and string with $13.00 an hour as bait.
Dear lord help me.
“Okay, who wants to try role playing?”
There’s some silence; half from nervous reluctance, half from everyone’s sudden snap back to reality. Violet raises her hand “I’ll go” and is the first to try out the program with Eileen’s assistance.
The program is old, maybe from the late 70s, early 80s. It reminds me of old DOS text-based games with about the same amount of entertainment value.
Violet has some problems in front of the room but handles herself well. It’s the first day so Eileen expects nothing from us, but wants us to get a feel for the program as soon as we can. Though none of us say anything, we’re all secretly hoping she does well. Make this time worth something. Once Violet finishes the transaction, she sits down in her seat and we applaud her.
“You did great! You guys can take your 15 minute break now … but make it 20, because I want a 20 minute break.” She laughs and reclines in her chair. This is as monotonous for her as it is for us.
Violet, Ann Marie, Helen, TJ, and Manuel dart for the door. I have nothing to do with the break time; I figure looking outside for the moving 15 minutes would only be a tease so I stay seated and spin around in the chair texting Gina. I scroll through social media feeds and news articles, barely reading and numb. Less than a day ago I was excited to start this job but I’m already underwhelmed by it; just like everyone else here.
The disenfranchised graduates walk back in and take their seats, dazed as I am. Manuel doesn’t return.
“Have we lost one already?”
Eileen sounds like she’s joking, but she’s unsure. The training still hasn’t started back up, we’re still waiting.
Manuel comes back into the room, defeated. So close. We were all secretly rooting for him, too. The room is glue and we’re all stuck here.
“Sorry, problems opening the bathroom door.”
“That’s ok. It’s tricky. You have to push 2 and 4 at the same time, then 3. Sometimes the buttons stick.”
“Yeah, I noticed …”
Eileen starts back up and we’re off into more PowerPoint presentations.
2 more hours.
I let my body weigh against the chair pushing it back, tilt my head over the top, and stare at the ceiling.
Next to me, I can hear the tapping of Violet working the keyboard. I fold back into my chair and assume typing position, but nobody else is typing. I look over to her screen:
We’re all in this shit together. It’ll get better. It has to get better.