A Tale of Three Cubicles, Part II

Part I.

Bilingual Benefits Representative. That seemed pretty good. What was it? Target Corporation, corporate headquarters. Sounded important enough. Fourteen dollars an hour, plus ten percent off at Target stores and lots of perks to rent limousines and go watch WMBA games. (I did both.) I was teaching Spanish. 26k a year before deductions. With my commute and everything else I was beginning to feel like Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych: underpaid and under-appreciated. Unlike Ilych, I actually was being underpaid — like everyone else at that small parochial school. I put on my suit and interviewed. A breeze. In training I quickly realized that everything was a joke, but fun. Teaching had come easy, but this was easier. I expected it to be more serious and harder. I gave a presentation during one of our innovative group learning projects about offering puma rides. Everyone laughed. It boosted morale. My reviews were sky high. One of the trainers pissed me off so I got him fired through my exit interview and evaluation. No one liked him anyway. We all started on the general call floor. English calls only, there was more training required for Spanish calls. The trainer was nervous because her Spanish wasn’t tip-top and asked for my help. I already felt like I was being groomed for a promotion. Great. Shirt and tie, everyday. Everyone was counting down till they could transfer out. Except the older people, they were there for life. Programmed. Not us. We were fresh out of college, looking for a shot at middle management. We’d dream during lunch hour, in the corporate cafeteria. Our in- and after-call times were to be short, but not too hasty. Sound natural saying the prescribed greetings and following all the steps, that’s the key. Everything was recorded. Surveillance somehow made things feel more official and dignified. This was Target: everyone is a team member. This means that everyone was treated like a chimpanzee. Training. Bananas. When I knew the answer, I was observed to make sure that I looked it up anyway, and recited it word for word from the manual. That way, everything we said could be held accountable to the same, standard language. “Even if it’s wrong, say it anyway and report it, then it will get fixed for everyone.” (Everyone, that is, except the person who got the wrong advice about her family’s health insurance.) The cubicles were pretty spacious, you could twirl around in your chair. When calls were slow I’d read and write and goof off. There was constant morale boosting — team building activities! — going on: I started playing all the stupid games and even invented a few. I brought a little rubber ball, the kind that bounces everywhere and forever, and my buddy and I played a game to see how many times it could bounce without breaking anything. If you could get it trapped under a desk, it would bounce at least twelve times. Win. It got out and flew into our floor supervisor’s cubicle one day. She was annoyed but didn’t really care. Even thought it was funny. I realized that her job was even dumber than mine was. Every week we’d have a short ceremony where our stat reports would come out and we’d find out who rated the best that week. If you got over 90% they gave you a little sheet of paper. People kept these pinned on their cubicles. Badges of honor. Corporate helmet stickers. I won a few. But soon I realized how hard it was to go below 80%. I’d leave my phone off the hook, explore the new building or sit on the toilet reading a book: it took a long time to drop my stats into the 70’s. Facebook wasn’t blocked, but it wasn’t really permitted. Me and another buddy who worked downtown would IM each other on Facebook, writing backwards — that way, no one could read what we were writing and it was another fun way to make the time pass. I started job searching. I couldn’t wait nine months for a promotion. Four months was long enough. I regretted leaving the school. I was applying too low and holding myself back (back from what?), all the managers were either infantilizing or acted like well behaved children. I needed more money. This pay was nothing here. I saw people’s salaries, even the ones of the store workers making seven dollars an hour, with no benefits. No one cared about anything. My calls were getting worse because I would hangup on assholes and people I didn’t care to talk to. One person reported me for telling them they were killing my stats when they were being idiots about the fact that I couldn’t send them a screen shot of their benefits page. It wasn’t in the manual!

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