I Was a Middle-Aged Wage Slave

articles
March 21 2000 3:00 AM

I Was a Middle-Aged Wage Slave

Life at $6.15 an hour in a telephone boiler room. 

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I swabbed my headset with alcohol and started dialing. Very few people listened to the end of my introduction, "Hello, I'm Natalie Lerner from … doing a short survey on a vital topic … will you be prepared … absolutely confidential … interviewing influential people." In my first hour of calls, only one person even let me finish. When I did, she said, "I'm not influential" and hung up. Amazingly, at 6:45 I got a business owner and at 7:10 a sales manager willing to do the almost 20-minute survey. Afterward, two supervisors called me in. Overall I got an "A," but they went over a number of mistakes I made, such as hitting the key for "extremely concerned" when my sales manager was only "very concerned" about making the right investment decisions.

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I went back to the phones. It took two more hours before I convinced someone to do another interview. While I dialed, a woman from the cleaning crew began vacuuming the hall, making me feel grateful that I only had to sit in the little cubicle. At 9:45, when we start calling the West Coast, the older woman one seat down said she was worried about what time we would get out. Her trip required a subway and a bus transfer. Last night she just missed the bus and so had to wait 40 minutes for the next one, getting home around 1 a.m. "It's dangerous out there," she said.

The college student next to me, who used the names of his football teammates as a revolving pseudonym, finally completed an interview. Before he hung up, he said, "Thank you, thank you, you're my only one for the whole night." Then at 10:46, the supervisors walked up and down the rows telling us we could go home. By the time I got to the main computer to check out at 10:48, the office was deserted. I decided that was my last night. I had worked for 13.6 hours, dialed 370 phone numbers, and completed 13 interviews. My take-home pay was $77.24.

When I got out to the street, there was an older woman from the office, who walked with a heavy limp, already hailing a cab. When she got in, I hoped her trip was a short one.

Some minor identifying details were changed in this story. 

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