Note: I'm intentionally being obtuse about some details; no need to make more enemies than I have to. Also, for those of you for whom solicitor means a form of lawyer, I apologize; I am using it in the US-centric fashion to mean a person who calls on the phone to get donations.

It was the end of a summer "off" from college, and I needed money for when I returned. I say "off" because at the college I was attending, you were supposed to have a co-op job. My mother pointed out a job in the town newspaper for the suburb I lived in that paid $6/hour and didn't care how long you could work, which was what I needed given I had only three weeks until my return to school. So I applied for the job.

As it turns out, the job was to solicit donations for the local police union. You would work from 5pm to 10pm weeknights (Friday till 8, Saturday 9am-1am as I recall), calling people to get them to donate money, in return for which they would get tickets to a concert put on by a one hit wonder band from the sixties at one of the town's high schools. The job took place in a windowless office in the back of a plaza. The tables were... well-loved, the phones were the generic tan touch tone phones many businesses had. The environment was quite spartan -- tables, phones, and a desk in a room with a door that could actually close for the boss. It seemed that they did other things during the day -- some employees left as I arrived, though what they did I do not know.

Like most jobs of this type, there was a script to be followed, and a general procedure. You were handed columns of numbers from the Haines criss-cross directory (a phone directory listing phones by number), and called each non-business number on the list. You had a name for who you were calling, etc. After about three calls, I was told to shorten my Slavic surname to something that wouldn't scare children. Most employees, including myself, were cold calling people in an attempt to pull the "required" minimum of $100 a night.

My fellow employees were an interesting bunch. First, there was the aforementioned boss, who seemed to just sit in his office. To get an idea of what he looked like, think of the comic store guy from the Simpsons. Now remove the long hair, and make him uglier. There was a woman who seemed to do a lot of the office manager type tasks -- preparing the lists, getting the pay distributed, and occasionally making coffee. Another employee who was a seasoned salesman called those who had donated in the past, rather than the cold calls. Also, while not really an employee, there would almost always be one of the police officers there to answer any questions someone might abruptly have, presumably. Most of the rest of the employees were high school students from the city that the town adjoined. One of them had a boyfriend who would always forget to pick her up. I would drive her home to one of the bad areas of town. She was always nice, and I never worried about having trouble -- a rusted-out Taurus wagon hardly indicates affluence.

Of course, I had my share of unhappy people at the other end of the line. Let me tell you this -- the people who just hung up were the nice ones. The ones who started cursing were no fun, but the worst was someone who completely freaked out that I had their number, since it was unlisted. She began demanding all sorts of things. I got to put the office manager-type person on with her to calm her down.

Of course, I figured I'd be let go a week in since I wasn't quite getting $100 a night, but apparently I was doing good enough for them to pay me. Pay me they did, in cash. They had us all as independent contractors. They kept me on until I left, and while I could work as few as four days a week, I took as many as I could get. I was desperate, after all.

While it was nice of them to keep me on, nothing would beat the intra-office experiences. One time the boss told me I was doing something wrong, and I apparently looked at him wrong, at which point he said "Don't get pissy with me." I wasn't ticked off at him before he said that, but afterwards... let's just say I didn't earn any more that night because I stopped putting forth any effort.

Another night I was writing up a successful call when I heard the officer that was sitting in that night talking. Now, my mother very carefully brought me up so that I wouldn't be afraid of the police. She never told me anything like "Eat your vegetables or I'll have the policeman get you," because she knew that I would need to be able to trust them if I needed help. The officer was complaining about a call he had to go to. I do not remember all of the exact words, but the situation was that a little old lady thought she heard something and wanted them to look around. He was complaining that she made them look everywhere, like she didn't just trust their cursory look. Now, I might have understood had the town been a high crime area, but it hardly was, especially in the morning, which is when they were called. I found myself wondering if he remembers who pays him.

At one point I pointed out that there was a large group of numbers, all with the same address, that was actually a nursing home. I had figured this out from my calls to these numbers, none of which were successful and all with the same explanation. They told me to keep calling these numbers, that some of them could be persuaded into it. I didn't do that. I realized that I needed calls that were likely to succeed, so I just crossed those numbers off.

Later, I received an exchange that was partly in the town but mostly in another. Again I pointed this out, but the boss told me that they would be happy to donate -- they might pass through our town on the way to work and appreciate the work a police officer had done. After 100 more calls, I begged to differ and smuggled the sheets home (a big no-no), pulled out a map, and crossed off most of the list.

Eventually, it was time for me to leave for college. I had realized I was a valuable employee to them a few days prior when they had made most everyone else but me stop calling to get a lecture on the work ethic. They told me that if things didn't work out at college I could always return. But at that point, I was ready to shake the dust from my sandals. I talk about it with a smile on the humor it holds in hindsight -- it was an eye-opening experience for me, and one that is too amusing to find utterly shameful.

But I'll never, ever do it again.

Like sleeping wolf, I was once employed as a telephone solicitor. I worked for a local construction company which specialized in windows and siding. I knew what I was doing was telemarketing, no matter how much my superiors tried to make it seem like I was doing someone a favor by calling people randomly, but I didn't mind it so much at first. After all, I was making $8/hour plus commission (more on that later) with the only training necessary being an occasional 5 minute pep talk I'd receive from my boss.

When I began working there, I was enthusiastic. Jeff, my boss, made it seem as if these people we were calling were either previous customers or had expressed an earlier interest in our company's services (no and no), and I felt confident that I'd be able to start pulling in "leads" from the get-go. My incentive was that, according to Jeff, I'd be receiving a small percentage of the profit generated by the lead I had gotten. Something along the lines of if someone got $10,000 worth of work, I'd be getting $100 cash.

I took a seat in an open cubicle, surrounded by the stereotypical dregs of society (unhappy mothers in old stretch pants and ratty white t-shirts, smelly old men with facial hair who reak perpetually of booze and body odor, and other teenagers).

If memory serves, the script began something like, "Hi, this is Adam from (name withheld), can you hear me okay?" I always thought that first line was very carefully worded and chosen. We were instructed only to say the company's name, not "construction" or "windows and siding". So, in my evaluation, my credentials were vague enough to keep someone from hanging up in case it was an important call, and then i hit them with a rather innocuous question, one that refusing to answer over the phone is almost unheard of (unless, of course, my headset was muted, and they couldn't hear me).

I worked at this company for a little over two months, taking their hourly pay and never once getting a commission. If you got a lead, and then inquired into when you'd receive your commission, they'd invariably tell you that the lead "fell through".

I became rapidly dissatisfied with interrupting people's lives to ask when they last had their roof fixed or windows done, but stuck with it for the easy money. However, I started to hate myself for being that annoying voice on the other end of the telephone; pretending to know and care about you only long enough to hear a "yes".

And then I learned this company's horrible, horrible secret. Firstly, my boss was a full-blown cocaine addict, complete with the manic-depressive behavior and constant association with strippers in one way or another. Secondly and more importantly, I learned what they were REALLY doing.

I had begun to notice (and so did the people I called) that not only were some people getting calls many times a week from us, but all the calls were restricted to neighborhoods known notoriously for housing primarily non-whites and for being less than "cozy" (e.g., you lock your car doors when you reach the borders of these towns). I began to overhear things spoken between other employees and my superiors, and sooner or later, I pieced it all together.

We called these people, most of whom were probably poor or close to it (some would inform me of this as a way to get off the phone), and convinced them they needed a free estimate on the condition of their home. Then, we'd send people over to give them the estimate. Invariably, the homeowners weren't able to afford the work that was "absolutely necessary" on their precious little homes, so my company would kindly set them up with another company which would provide them with a loan. These companies were in cahoots, and I guess they'd fast-talk these poor people into signing documents or something, but one way or another, the payments would cripple these people, and they'd be forced to surrender their homes to the loan company. And that's how they went about their business.

Of course, I was only a teenager then, and didn't have any hard evidence to bring this up to anyone, let alone know where to begin and with who, so I just quit. And so did my friends who I had referred there to aid them in their quest for beer and cigarette money. A few months after, the company disappeared.

I try to forget about my time spent with them, as I'm not proud of any of the money I earned or anything I did while I was there. I feel dirty for having worked there. I just pray that I was a really shitty telemarketer, and that no one was ever really convinced of what I was saying to them, and that no one ever suffered because of me.

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