Hi there. So here’s the deal: My friend Heidi who blogs at Heidi’s Notes From Vermont has known me for over (holy shit – crazy revelation about to unfold) 25 years. Can you even believe it? Did you have any idea that I’m even over the age of thirty? I bet you didn’t. Okay, well, I’ve gotten way behind on my Botox so maybe you’re starting to suspect but whatevs. The point is, Heidi, is all over my book, It’s Not Me, It’s You. I changed her name to Beth so no one but people we know well would’ve known it was her but we decided to come out of the closet! So, two things: 1) I’m posting an entire chapter from my book (which is very long and not the finished version because that one is in the book) and 2) if you go to Heidi’s site you will see pictures of us from when we were teenagers! And I had a big (bigger) butt! And we’re giving away a book!
Also, if you haven’t seen the Larry King I did and you’d like to, it’s up on this site under “she’s famous.”
When I saw the ad in the classified section of the paper I knew it was for me:
“Would you like to make the easy money in a relaxed environment with room for advancement?”
Um, let me think…yeah!
“Imagine a job in a fun, creative environment that offers flexibility and a weekly paycheck between $500-$1200”
I think I’m in love! But not so fast. There’s probably a catch.
“Great pay, great incentives in the exciting world of telemarketing!”
Perfect! I didn’t know what telemarketing was, exactly, but it sounded right up my alley. I loved talking on the phone and I loved marketing.
“Start tomorrow – have a check by Friday!”
Sold! The phone was in my hand in seconds and a few minutes later I’d secured an interview for later that same day. I was optimistic. Seeing as I’d just put down stakes in a rundown apartment just off of Hollywood Boulevard with my best friend Beth Moskowitz from High School solely on her dime, I needed a job fast. I’d started my cross country trek from Massachusetts to my new life with nine hundred dollars cash – a lot of money to me at eighteen. But my funds went quickly on 7-Eleven Slim Jims and Motel Six stays. We’d started the trip with lofty plans to camp out in order to save money, but that strategy flew out the window after the very first time we spend two hours in a camp ground unsuccessfully trying to pitch our tent. We eventually ended up partially dozing in our car on the side of the road at two a.m., paranoid that we’d be raped by the truck drivers we’d brazenly been flashing for hundreds of miles. By the time a down payment was needed for the apartment, I was flat broke and it was up to Beth’s Bar Mitzvah savings account to finance our new place and budding marijuana addiction.
When I told Beth about my golden opportunity all she said was, “Be careful. Better make sure this thing is on the level.” What was she even talking about? I might’ve only been living in Los Angeles for a week, and I might’ve, much to my consternation, still been a virgin, but I wasn’t naïve. I’d seen a few movies of the week in my time. I knew about Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway. I’d heard about these young girls, straight off the bus in Hollywood immediately getting preyed upon by some pimp who wants them to pose for “modeling pictures” and BAM they’re sucked into the seedy world of prostitution or pornography never to be heard from again. “Tres Jolie, Coco. Tres jolie.” Obviously I was too smart to fall into that trap.
“It’s a phone job. Telemarketing. I’m sure it’s cool.”
“I’m just saying, it might be a scam” Beth said just before sucking in a huge hit through a blue glass bong we’d received as a “welcome neighbor” gift from the guy in the apartment next door.
“I’ll tell you the real scam: Bat Mitzvahs. Chant a little Hebrew for two hundred of your closest friends and family and everyone gives you so much money you never have to sling Whoppers at a Burger King for three months until you finally get moved up to cashier where you are eventually fired for routinely shorting customers a few cents on their change in a noble attempt to help raise your minimum wage.”
Okay, perhaps I was a little bitter. Despite the fact that I was Jewish, my parents didn’t seem to notice, celebrating Christmas every year until I was about twelve. Suddenly, out of nowhere, my mother remembered our heritage, joined a temple and forced me to attend Hebrew school even though it was too late to have a Bat Mitzvah. She also put the kibosh on Christmas leaving me irritated and broke at thirteen. But at least I knew the value of a dollar.
Later that day, a pleasant blonde woman of about thirty who introduced herself as “Genie with a G” looked me up and down, and then asked me to read from a script to see how well I articulated over the phone. I never had a big interest in acting but I had been chosen to play Dorothy in the Jewish Community Center’s production of The Wizard of Oz when I was in the second grade so I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. The script itself was one I’d know by heart within a few weeks.
“Hi, this is (insert your name here) from General Business Warehouse. You’re on our preferred customer list so I’m paying you a courtesy call to tell you about the huge savings I’m able to offer you today only on your office supply needs. Am I speaking to the person who makes the purchasing decisions at your company?”
To no one’s surprise I was told I could start the next day.
But before leaving, I was led to a back office to be introduced to the owner of the company. I wish that Genie with a G had warned me at what I was about to see. Even just a minimal, “Hope you’re not scared of a little chest hair” comment would’ve been helpful. But I never saw it coming. The door swung open and standing there was a humongous Hungarian version of Brando in his bloated final days. For a second I thought How cute, someone dressed up a bear in people clothes! The bottom of the man’s shirt was fiercely trying to fight free from the waist band of his pants and the buttons on his shirt were pulled so tight I was afraid if one popped off someone could lose an eye –well, the few buttons that he’d actually buttoned. His shirt was purposely opened almost to his navel exposing mounds of chest hair. It was a truly horrifying sight. But I didn’t say anything.
First off, we were still a good twenty years away from it being acceptable for a man to get his chest waxed – this was the eighties, call waiting had yet to be invented and many people were still under the impression that Kajagoogoo would have another hit. Secondly, he seemed downright proud to be hairier than a Cro-Magnon and since this was the man who would be signing my weekly paycheck of $500 – $1200 bucks I figured it best to keep my thoughts to myself. I smiled widely and tried to maintain eye contact despite the bowl haircut, gold tooth and huge medallion which were all equally battling it out for my attention. He stuck out a one big meatloaf hand.
“I’m Chubz. Eez veddy veddy nice doo meet you” he said in the thickest Hungarian accent since Zsa Zsa Gabor. “I hope doo be zeeing much more of you.”
I hoped not.
The large room where I worked was lined wall to wall with cubicles. Genie brought me over to an empty one and I was provided with a phone, order pad, a book of “leads” and my script.
“All of this is for me?”
“Yeah” said Genie with a G. Have a seat and we’ll get you started. Wow. It was straight out of the last scene in Working Girl! My very own desk and phone! I’d truly arrived!
My co-workers were a ragtag bunch; a couple of rocker types, a part time Michael Jackson impersonator, a few actors and a smattering of girls. The girls seemed to mostly be scantily clad fake blondes with big boobs. I wondered if wearing a tube top helped inspire the sales team somehow. It seemed like the girls spent most of their time chatting with each other about nightclubs and “how totally trashed” they’d gotten the night before but I was determined to be a high earner. For approximately six hours a day, my job was to call people and get them to buy office supplies by any means necessary. Most calls went like this:
“Hi. This is Donna Kay (we got to make up fake names for ourselves and I thought Donna sounded very professional) from General Business Warehouse. You’re on our preferred customer list so I’m paying you a courtesy call to tell you about the…hello? Hello?” But within a few days I was able to keep people on the line a bit longer. After my opening, if they were still there, I attempted to take the customer straight to a yes.
“Now, are you still using those Scripto Deluxe ink pens?… Great! Why don’t I just get a gross of those out to you.” That was not said as a question. “And because you’re ordering today I am authorized to send you a touch tone phone with automatic redial. Would you like one in black, pink or red?” This, of course, was just a regular cheapo phone with a redial button for people impressed by not having to re-press seven numbers but I delivered it like I was offering to throw in a free cruise to Europe. I’d been given one of these phones the first day I worked there and the nine button had gotten stuck permanently on its maiden call.
“Just give me your personal address so I can make sure this phone gets delivered straight to your…I’m sorry, you’re only a two person office and that’s too many pens you say?…No problem, let’s just do a few dozen of the pens and get you set up with some writing pads. I have down here that you like the perforated edges.”
If I felt a call going south after I’d already had them somewhat interested, I was supposed to hand them over to a “closer.” The closers were a bunch of Chubz’s cronies who didn’t seem to have much to do other than eat extremely pungent seafood stews, discuss their rotisserie baseball teams all day and play cards. But, they had the special ability to offer potential buyers a 25” color television set.
After almost a week of calls which were mostly unproductive save for a couple that went to closers. On Friday I was called into Chubz’s office where I presumed I’d be handed my walking papers. Instead I was handed a check for five hundred dollars. “Keep up zee good work and next week you make more. Much more.” I didn’t even know what to say. I was giddy.
“Really? Because I didn’t make any actual sales yet. I mean, I’m really close but…”
“I hear you make many sales. Ees veddy good.”
“I did? I do?”
“You send calls to closers, they close. You are gifted girl.”
“Oh, great! Thank you.” I too saw huge star potential in myself in the field of telemarketing. I was just thankful Chubz had noticed.
“You have very large breasts.”
“Oh.” This was also true but it had never been pointed out in such an offhand manner so I didn’t quite know how to respond.
“I give you a television set.” Huh?
“Oh no no. That’s not necessary” I said, although, truthfully Beth and I had been going crazy because there’d been no room in the car for a television and no money once we arrived in LA. I figured I’d definitely be blowing my first paycheck in Circuit City. But, there was no possible way I was going to even entertain the notion of accepting a TV from my new boss. I mean, sure, I may have been a natural at this whole sales business but wasn’t it just a little premature to reward me with a television?
“Don’t vorry. I haf whole warehouse full of TV sets.”
“No, Chubz, I absolutely cannot accept a gift like that. But thank you so much for offering.”
The next day two men delivered a 25” color TV set right to the door of my apartment. That night Beth and I celebrated by getting high and watching Small Wonder – the show about the ten-year-old robot girl –an extremely underrated show if you’re stoned.
Monday morning I arrived at work bright and early with a spring in my step. For me, a weekend spent doing nothing more than reacquainting myself with favorite TV shows was more rejuvenating than a forty-eight hour foot rub would be to someone else. Settling in at my desk I felt more determined than ever to move some merchandise and prove Chubz right about me.
My very first call of the day I explained to a patient old woman that it was National Safety Week and first aid kits were being offered for half price. That afternoon Genie took me into her office to tell me I was invited to a mandatory Vegas trip set for the following weekend.
“Wow, is it some sort of sales conference?” I asked.
“Something like that” Genie answered noncommittally. “Bring something sexy to wear and a bikini.”
Vegas. A mandatory invite. This was a bit odd. Confused, I went back to my cube, but before picking up the receiver to make my next call, I looked around the office. Two different girls in the office used the fake name Bambi. The strangeness of that hadn’t occurred to me before just this moment. I interrupted a conversation about fake nails between Bambi #1 and a girl who went by Darla. “Are you guys going to the sales conference this weekend?”
Bambi #1 stared at me blankly. “Sales conference?” Shit. I instantly felt bad. Obviously she hadn’t been mandatorily invited to the conference and now I’d leaked it. It was probably only for the more successful telemarketers. I’d never seen Bambi make a call let alone a sale.
“Never mind” I said as casually as if I’d just asked if she wanted a piece of gum and then realized I was all out. I picked up my receiver and put it to my ear.
“Are you talking about the photo shoot?” Bambi asked.
“In Vegas?” Darla added. Now I was really confused.
“Did Chubz call it a sales conference?” Bambi said, giggling. Was it possible that I was being laughed at by someone who purposely called herself Bambi?
“I didn’t talk to Chubz. Genie just told me Vegas. What photo shoot?” I didn’t want to sound dumb but I had to know.
“Chubz brings the girls he likes to Vegas to modeling. I know you don’t think we make twelve hundred a week selling pens.” Bambi was definitely laughing now. Bitch. Chubz’ words echoed back to me in my mind sounding a lot more disgusting than they did at the time. You’ll make more. Much more. My stomach was starting to feel a little unwell. The stench from the closers’ office wasn’t helping.
“Yeah, no, I didn’t know there any modeling involved.” What kind of modeling exactly? I was grasping here but I just really didn’t want it to be true. I’d kind of been envisioning a successful future in sales and I wasn’t quite ready to let it go yet.
“Oh God, it’s no biggie, there’s no nudity! It’s just topless” Darla offered assuming she was being helpful. The only way I could see someone thinking topless modeling was no big deal would be if that person was used to doing something else…like bottomless modeling! How could I have not seen this coming? How could I have thought that making no sales was not the sign of a sales savant?
“Oh, cool. Cool.” I said like I had conversations about nude modeling all the time and I turned back to my phone so that no one could see my face. I tried really hard not to cry but I felt so incredibly foolish –so ridiculous and naïve.
Was everything in LA like this? Did I always have to be on the lookout? Most importantly, did I have any talent in sales?
That night I reluctantly told Beth what happened. I might not have but she would’ve become suspicious when she found me in my pajamas all day eating bagels. I was fully expecting an “I told you so” or at least an appalled reaction. Instead she started laughing. Of course she was a little high but it still took the sting out of it. Before long I was laughing too –possibly due to joining her in her drug abuse. But, really, it was pretty funny.
The next day I didn’t show up for work. Or the day after that. In fact, I never went back.
At six a.m. the following Monday after the mandatory “sales conference” I’d been absent from, I awoke to a pounding on the door. Beth and I, both startled, met in the hallway and looked at each other wide eyed. We tiptoed up to the peephole and peeked out. Standing in front of our door were two burly men with matching bowl haircuts. What the hell?
“Let uz in!” I grabbed the phone to call 911 but realized immediately that would be impossible due to the damn sticking #9. The pounding got even louder and the men outside started yelling. “Open up zis door. We come for Chubz’ television set.”
Damn. I really wanted that TV. And although it was a sleazy operation and one I wanted no part of, I still thought maybe I deserved the television.
Beth and I watched as the men walked down the long driveway with our beautiful television.
“Stop!” I yelled. The men turned. “Here. Might as well take the phone too.”