I was joking the other day at work about how trouble follows me everywhere I go in that department, and why when I am clearly such a sweet, innocent, demure human being!? And it got me thinking about other jobs I had, where I was a holy terror on purpose and gave no fucks about it, because what was the worst that was going to happen? I was going to quit after three days and my mom would still pay my rent.
Rinse and repeat.
But if I had to pick a place that got the best version of Asshole Erin, it was definitely Echostar.
PICTURE IT: The year was 1998. I had recently lost the only steady job I ever had, as a telemarketer for Olan Mills Portrait Studio—which, coincidentally, is how I met the guy who got me to take the only bus ride of my life, which I mentioned last week. Joey was one of my cold calls (as opposed to those on the coveted and golden PAST CUSTOMER LIST) and after letting me pant my way through the whole portrait package spiel, he laughed and said, “Well, that sounds really great, except I don’t need it because I’m a photographer.” Turns out, he was in Pittsburgh going to the Art Institute for photography, and we REALLY HIT IT OFF over the phone. Like, instant connection. This is how people used to hook up back in the day! Over the phone, on sales calls. Anyway, my supervisor was starting to catch wind that I was no longer trying to make a sale, or at least, not the kind of sale I was being paid to make, so I quickly gave him my number and then we proceeded to stay up all night on the phone when I got home that evening and before I knew it, we were making wedding plans, moving to Montana, and buying a sheepdog. I mean, until I actually met him and then it was “……” But I still got on a bus with him and went to his place on the Southside, because I’m fucking smart.
OK OK, so our Olan Mills telemarketing branch got shut down (thanks, Internet) and my mom was started to put pressure on me to find something else. There was another telemarketing job after that, where I sold a credit card terminal to a tattoo shop and then got a free (and shitty) tattoo out of it, because back then I had A Personality and it was impossible for me to not make friends over the phone. Now I won’t even ANSWER the phone. So by this point, I had myself pigeon-holed to the telemarketing industry. It was apparently the only skill I had attained somehow. That’s a little known fact about dropping out of high school: you’re spilled out into this holding cell while everyone else is running off to college like normal, functioning humans, and you’re given two options: drugs or telemarketing. I had a mild interest in drugs back then, but then my friend Brian got me a job at Olan Mills and totally ruined that plan.
After quitting the credit card terminal place, I applied at Echostar (Dish Network), which had just opened a huge call center in McKeesport and it was like A Really Big Deal for us people who weren’t qualified to do anything much greater than bag groceries. It was so new that the call center wasn’t even finished, so the training classes were being held in this really old joint called the Peoples Building, and it was such a shady area that we had to have security guards escort us from the building to the parking garage every night. (Evening classes, ya’ll.)
What I will always remember the most about this job is that I started on the Monday directly after returning from Philly, where I had attended the Dracula’s Ball with my friend Cinn. I almost didn’t show up for my first class at all because my eyebrow piercing had become so infected from all the glitter I was wearing that evening, plus the fact that the new hoop was shoved in forcefully by some guy who looked like the guy Happy Gilmore shot with a nail gun to the point where I PASSED OUT IN HIS SHOP and woke up on a couch with him standing above me, holding a paper towel saturated with my blood, saying, “Wow, look how much you bled!” So all of these factors led to an eventual infection which caused my eyelid to swell up and I had to walk into this class room with my hair covering one side of my face, looking like I was trying to hide a black eye. But then I was like “Fuck it” and just started flaunting it and that was how I made a bunch of friends in that class on my very first day, by being the youngest person in the class who had a gross piercing story to share as an introduction.
(I ended up going to the emergency room right after class that night, where a doctor had to cut the ring out of my face while a nurse watched on and said, “This is exactly why I told my daughter she’s never getting pierced.”)
At the start of this first class, our trainer Mike had us go around the room and say our name with a descriptive adjective that started with the same letter. I fucking love these things because I’m a nerd, so when it was my turn, I shot out of my seat and cried, “EFFERVESCENT ERIN!” Everyone in the class laughed at my enthusiasm, and that was basically the start of Mike’s infinite disdain for me.
The class was a month long. We had to learn all about the company, customer service, operating the company’s computer system, and all of the various cable packages they offered. It was kind of like telemarketing and support combined: we had to help customers with issues they might be experiencing with their service while trying to upsale them at the same time. I was kind of torn, because I used TCI for my digital cable and I was obsessed with it. (This was pre-Comcast.) I loved TCI so much that I turned down a pretty nice apartment when I found out that the cable used in that area was ADELPHIA.
So my heart was never really in this job from the get-go. (I mean, how much of a heart could one really put into this sort of job, anyway?) Class quickly became less of learning and more of an opportunity to hide behind computer terminals while passing notes and giggling with my new friends, Bobbie (a girl), Roniece, and Letecia.
These girls though. They were the only reason I kept coming back to that class, night after night. One time, I arrived in tears because my pet frog Hubert had died that day. They helped me eulogize him on our break, and it was the sweetest thing that I will never forget. THEY WERE MY RIDE OR DIES, obviously, except that no one said that in 1998.
We were totally the bad kids, and very quickly we became A Class Divided: there was us and a handful of the other younger people plus some of the soccer moms (surprisingly) and then there were the Others, made up of the older women and the people who were surprisingly actually there to learn. They would get so fucking irate every time Mike would have to stop class to chastise one of us. It got really bad too, and if us Bad Kids wound up in the same place as some of the Others during our dinner break, they would get so ruffled and tight-lipped, like we had just sleazily oozed over the threshold, flicking our switchblades open and closed, popping our gum, and making cunnilingus Vs with our fingers.
One of the girls in our group got bitched at by Mike because he found out that she was sneaking out onto the fire escape to smoke. So then he had to have the building manager come up and lock the door to the fire escape, which made us scream dramatically about, “BUT WHAT IF THERE IS A FIIIIIIIRRRREEEEE?!” while cracking up behind his back.
There is one moment that stands out the most for me though, and that was the day we were learning how to add notes to customers’ accounts. The company was smart enough to make sure we were on a training server, so all of the customers were Jane and John Does. Trainer Mike was having each one of us take turns going into the fake accounts and adding notes based on the scenarios he read to us, so after the note was “published,” it would show up on everyone’s computer. I quickly realized that if I skipped ahead, I could add fake notes and then everyone else would see them by the time we made it to that particular account.
I quickly alerted my homegirls about this and we all giddily forged ahead and began adding childish notes, the only one I for sure remember was “Our trainer sucks ass.” NOT SAYING THAT WAS MINE.
But it was mine.
Needless to say, when the rest of the class, and Mike, stumbled upon these, there was a major uproar. The people on our side laughed and appreciated the effort of our antics, while the nerdy ones were appalled at our juvenile behavior and began clucking and whatever else old bitches do when they’re mad at the Youth of Today.
Mike was furious. I mean, this was his breaking point. You could practically see his pupils turning into boiling point thermostats, the veins popping out of his forehead like someone REALLY WAIST DEEP in some late night viewing of The Erotic Network, the LARGE FONT letters queuing up in his brain before exploding out into a “I DON’T GET PAID ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH THIS MOTHERFUCKING BULLSHIT” rant.
When Mike eventually regained his composure—kind of—he pounded his fist against his desk and demanded that whomever did this, speak up.
Of course none of us did. And he definitely could narrow down the suspect pool to three. But Bobbie, Roniece and I just hunkered down lower, our faces red from stifled laughter.
Then he started threatening us.
“If no one comes forward, then the whole class will suffer!” he roared, and this made the Other Half of the class pivot in their seats, thrusting their fingers at the three of us, screaming about life’s injustices and their inability to get a good Echostar education thanks to our disruptive behavior and basic tomfoolery. Still, we wouldn’t take the blame.
(This morning, I was actually telling Henry this story, and through tears of laughter I said, “Can you believe those bitches were so upset over that? What losers.”
“Yeah, imagine being concerned about your job,” Henry dryly replied.)
Mike then told us that the CEO of the company, Charlie Something-Or-Other, was coming to town to deal with this, that the fucking CEO OF THE COMPANY was flying in from COLORADO just to YELL AT OUR WHOLE CLASS.
Like, OK sure, Mike. We all knew he was coming in because the grand opening of the Pittsburgh location was that weekend. But still we were sure surprised the next night when fucking Charlie himself made a guest appearance in our dumb classroom, and proceeded to lecture us about respecting Mike, how he puts a great deal of effort into employing the BEST TRAINERS to provide the rest of us with the knowledge we need to succeed within the company. Mike stood to his right, hands clasped behind his back, looking smugger than a motherfucker grading Echostar tests.
It was fucking surreal. I loved/hated every moment of it. I think we were simultaneously proud that our actions warranted such a dramatic response, but also stunned that we didn’t get fired when we probably should have.
Hilariously, that one lady back there in the pink turtleneck was the wife of some dude who worked at my family’s drywall company, so she would go home and tell him about all the shit-stirring I did, and he in turn would go to work and tell my mom. The phone calls I got from my mom was fantastic. “What are you doing over there?!” she would cry. “Please don’t embarrass me!” But that dude’s wife was actually cool as shit; she was on our side and thought the whole situation was hysterical. When the “Goody-Goodies” started to rally against us, she gave me a big pep talk outside on the sidewalk and told me that they were just angry old women who had no joy in their lives and to not let them get me down. I mean, these broads went full-throttle Mean Girls on us, which was stupid because we weren’t directing any of our antics against them. We were just a bunch of goofy idiots who were bored at studying the various remote controls that came with the satellite dishes. I was nineteen — of course I didn’t take this job seriously!
But you know, looking back on it — wow I was a fucking douche bag.
Somehow, we all managed to make it to the end of the month-long training course, but the real victory is that we all PASSED THE TEST. It was time for us to move to the newly-built call center and begin our live training, head-sets and all. But first, we decided amongst ourselves that we should celebrate during our last class.
Even Trainer Mike was on board with having a party, but he was definitely partying for much different reasons.
I volunteered to get a cake, which was no skin off my back because all I had to do was call Mommy and tell her to deal with it.
“What do you want it to say?” she asked.
“I don’t know….;this class sucks’,” I joked. Then we went on to talk about other things, probably me whining about all the things I wanted her to buy me.
The next day, and I remember this vividly because it was a bad day, I had to leave my apartment to go to the mall and pick up the cookie cake. But first, I realized that I forgot my car keys, and how I realized this was that I was unable to open my car door with the CORDLESS PHONE that I left the house with instead of my key chains. And then I couldn’t open the apartment door because my apartment key was on the keychain so I had to call my mom (on the cordless!) to come and open my door with the spare key she had. Even back then, I was a spaz about being late. I have ALWAYS been a spaz about being late.
(Hey 1998 Erin, never change.)
By the time I had my keychain, I was in pedal-to-the-metal mode and floored it to the mall, where I said, “Nah!” when the Original Cookie people asked if I wanted to see the cookie cake before they put it in the bag. Then, several feet away from the stupid Peoples Building, I merged into the right lane and didn’t see that there was a car in my blind spot so then I had to pull over and deal with THAT nonsense.
And so I was late. And in a really shitty mood. Which didn’t get much better when Bobbie lifted the lid of the cookie cake to reveal that it boasted a delicious declaration of This Class Sucks.
“Fucccccck,” I whispered. “I thought my mom knew I was joking!” And then I played back our conversation and realized I never told her what I actually wanted the stupid fucking cake to say.
I was nearly about to cry because everything kept happening! But then I was like, “Fuck it, I’m probably going to quit this job anyway, so who cares.” And it turns out, Mike definitely didn’t care! He came over, swiped off the “cl” with one swift motion of his finger, and then started cracking up.
I guess we kind of made up that day, over pizza and unfortunate cake sentiments. But honestly, I think he was just really fucking giddy about never having to deal with us hooligans again.
I mean, look at how innocent I was! This was also when I was going through a heavy goth phase, in that I spent most of my free time in a goth chatroom, listened to goth music, and had goth Internet friends. I never went full-fledged goth, but LOOK AT HOW PALE I WAS. So I would go to my training class every night and teach all of my new, normal friends things about Dracula’s Ball, Sisters of Mercy, and Darkchat. Their response was always, “Giiiiiiirl.….” paired with the raised eyebrow of skepticism.
I did end up quitting right after we “graduated.” It just wasn’t for me. I saw Bobbie once afterward, when we met at Nigro’s, a lounge down the street from Echostar. And the next summer, I hung out with Roniece and it will forever be known as The Night I Died On The Street In Front of a Strip Club In Braddock; but earlier that evening, Roniece’s grandma saved my friend Keri from possibly dying from a bee sting, so the day was clearly full of second chances. I kept in touch with Leticia the longest out of all of them, and dragged her to the Denis Theater twice to see “white people movies” which she bitched about on the way there and then gushed over the way home. (“Shakespeare In Love” and “American Beauty” lol.) I even visited her a few years later when she had a baby. But eventually, I lost touch with her too. I wish I could remember their last names so I could Facebook-stalk them.
Anyway, the moral to this story is that I am not even close to being a troublemaker at my current job, even though Todd thinks I’m a “bully.” So there.
(I think I actually am kind of a bully though.)