The 411 on 411

Lots of people who don’t go straight to college after high school, or who drop out of college like I did, end up working some sort of soul-sucking job. There are plenty of horror stories out there from those who cut their teeth professionally by waiting tables, or delivering pizzas, or manning fast food drive-thrus. I personally never had any of those kinds of jobs, but my first “real” job was its own kind of crazy – I worked in a call center.

Side note: my first job ever was working as a cashier at a Grocery Outlet when I was in high school and I only have good things to say about that job, it was actually a lot of fun.

Unless you were born after the mid-nineties, you probably remember when calling 411 was a thing. In the transition period between phone books and the Internet, 411 was a service offered by the local phone company that allowed callers to obtain the addresses and phone numbers of people in the phone directory. You could call and ask for the same sort of information that was in the phone book, and the operator would look it up for you and transfer you to an automated service that would read out what you had requested and give you the option to be directly connected to the phone number you’d just gotten. You could ask for up to three phone numbers per call, so if you were just looking for a general service like taxis in your area, they’d give you three different choices. If you had a cell phone, you could ask the operator for additional services like movie showtimes or horoscopes.

I was hired into the 411 call center in September 2003, when having a cell phone was just starting to become a normal thing and people who were out and about needed information and didn’t have access to a phone book. I went through two weeks of training to learn how to quickly search the directory database we would use to find the listings that customers asked for. There was no need for a formal greeting because that was done by an automated system before the caller was connected to me, so all I had to say was “City and state, please?” so I’d know where in the country I’d be searching. I think that question might throw a caller now, but back then people knew the drill and they’d give you the town they wanted. The next question was, “And the listing please?” to which they’d respond with what information they wanted. More than once I accidentally answered my personal phone, “City and state please?” instead of “Hello?” out of habit. Asking the same question a million times in a row will do that to you.

The work was easy and I caught on fast, except for a few things that really threw me for a loop until I learned about them. In training, they taught us the spelling of some of the stranger cities we’d get requests for (Sequim, Washington, I’m looking at you), and tried to generally prepare us for some of the things we would be encountering that we might otherwise struggle with. They couldn’t prepare us for everything though, so there were some listings I had a hard time finding initially. One example was this burger chain in Texas called Whataburger, which I could not find for the life of me until someone finally spelled it for me because everyone in freaking Texas pronounces it “Waterburger” and they would get super annoyed when I’d tell them there was no directory listing for a Waterburger because I had no damn clue what they were actually saying and when I would repeat it back to them they wouldn’t correct me and instead would just say, “Yeah, Waterburger, there’s like twenty of them in this town, y’all really have no phone number for Waterburger?”. Texas, this is one of the reasons I hate you.

The call center I worked in was a 24-hour office, so there were lots of different schedules available for employees to work, except all the good ones were taken by people who had been there longer than me and so at first I got stuck working a lot of split shifts. I’d start around 8am, work for four hours, have roughly a four-hour break in the middle of my shift, and then have to go back and work the last half. Having the long break in the middle sounds like it might be nice, but I lived about a half hour’s drive away from my office so if I decided to go home in the middle I lost an hour of that break just to drive time alone, and I was never really able to relax during the break because I knew I had to keep an eye on the time so I wasn’t late for the second half of my shift.

I eventually got tired of working splits and switched to night shifts. Nights were awesome because the shifts were six hours instead of eight, so I’d be scheduled to start at 9:30pm but I would be off at 4am. We also earned a night differential, so I got paid an extra $0.75/hour for those late nights. In the quietest part of the night, we’d only get a call every 20-30 minutes, and all people really wanted were phone numbers for pizza delivery and taxis. We weren’t supposed to do anything else at our desks, so even when it was slow we couldn’t read or play music or anything. Sometimes we’d all sit close to each other so that we could stand up and talk quietly between calls, but my favorite way to pass the time was by listening to a little MP3 player (this was before most people had iPods). Of course listening to such a device was strictly against the rules, so I would stash it in the front pocket of my jeans, making sure that I wore sweaters that were long enough that it was covered. Then I would run the cord for my headphones up the inside of my sweater, putting only one earbud in my ear while keeping the other one free so that I could hear callers who dropped in. I would wear my hair down so that it covered the little bit of cord that was visible between my shirt collar and my ear, and the earbud itself was covered by my phone headset. Tada!

Looking back, working in 411 was certainly a mindless gig but it was also probably the best customer-facing job ever, because I rarely had to speak more than a few sentences to each customer and the worst thing I ever had to deal with was people calling back because they got the wrong phone number last time, or being drunk and trying to hit on me when they called. That happened more on overnights than days and we operators had a great time with the drunk callers. When they’d slur at us, “You sound hot, what’s your phone number?” we’d reply innocently, “Why, it’s 411!” Another one we’d hear pretty frequently was, “Hey baby, where are you at right now?” to which we’d sweetly say “I’m at work!” We thought we were pretty genius and it was a lot easier to just give those sorts of replies than to demand that the drunk person stop the nonsense and just tell us which taxi service they wanted.

The night shifts were great for a few months, until most everyone else in my life started working regular day jobs and I didn’t want to be the only one on nights. By then I had enough seniority to pull a normal shift, so I changed to working 6:30am-3pm. Unlike nights, calls came in rapid-fire during the day and it was very abnormal to have any time at all between calls. The requirement was that our call handling time average around 23 seconds per call, but I usually hovered right around 18 seconds per call. I knew the system and I was efficient at finding listings; the only problem I ever had was with “clipping calls”, which was when you transferred the customer to the audio that would read them their phone number but you did it too fast and you cut yourself off as you told them to have a nice day or whatever. In the world of live directory assistance, this was something we were coached on, even though looking back now I would guess that not a single customer cared if we transferred them and all they heard was “Have a good d-“ instead of “Have a good day”. Every month when my supervisor would listen to my calls to give me feedback, he’d remind me to be careful of clipping calls.

On day shifts, I retired the MP3 player and instead my friend K and I would pass notes all day long. Of course such a thing was not allowed, so we had to be stealthy about it.  In the mornings, we’d get ourselves each a stack of little pieces of paper that were left out for operators to write their schedules on (schedules were put out two weeks in advance and came out every Friday; you had to find the binder that held schedules for the week and look up your name, then write down your start time, end time, and what time your breaks and lunches were each day). We’d make sure to get work stations next to each other, and would use the little papers to write our notes on. We would pass them to each other through the cubicle walls. I’m on the short side but K’s tall, so she could see over the wall and if a supervisor was walking around, she’d kick the wall so I’d know to hide the notes under my keyboard. It was a perfect system and we were never caught. K became one of my best friends. We even lived in the same apartment complex for a while, and when we weren’t at work I’d walk over to her place and she’d curl my hair or we’d play the karaoke game on her husband’s Xbox. If we got bored we’d go eat pie at Coco’s or go to Walmart at 2am, cruising along in her VW Rabbit and singing along to Kelly Clarkson at the top of our lungs.

K and I are still best friends, and even though it’s been years since we’ve lived in the same apartment complex or even in the same state we still talk nearly every day.

I worked in the 411 call center for two and a half years. In May 2006, I transferred to the sales call center to make more money (the hell that was that job is a story for another time). Even though at the time I hated 411 and would moan to my supervisor frequently that I couldn’t wait to land a job in a different department, now I look back on those days very fondly. What started as a job I randomly applied for after seeing an ad in the newspaper became the start of an eleven-year career with the phone company and brought more good things into my life than I ever could have imagined.

Adultish

I am very happy to report that it appears Seattle’s 2019 Snowmaggedon is nearing its end. The snow has started to melt. By Wednesday, Bill and I were able to finally venture out and go to our offices to work instead of working from home, and I don’t think I’ve ever relished working in a cubicle quite so much as I did that day. I also took time to make my hair and outfit look nice, since I’d been living in my pajamas and forgetting to actually brush my hair most mornings since the snow began.

While we were housebound, one of the things we tackled was a thorough cleaning of our abode so that staying inside all the time would be more pleasant. In doing so, we used up a lot of our household cleaners, making a note along the way of each thing we would need to buy when we could again venture out. After our first day back in the office, we had enough daylight left to stop at Fred Meyer to restock.

Bill has a strategy for buying consumable products like toiletries and cleaning supplies: he buys multiple of each item, then typically buys more again when he opens the last new bottle/jar/tube of said thing. This way, he never finds himself in a position where he is totally out of something he needs. Maybe lots of people do this, I don’t know, but the idea of it was fairly foreign to me before I lived with him. It turns out that stocking up on things is one of my favorite adult things to do, which I think is likely because I’ve been so poor in my life that I couldn’t even afford to buy everything I need, much less to be able to buy multiples of any items so that I would have more for later. Now, being able to buy multiple sticks of deodorant at one time feels like the height of luxury, and I revel in it.

A few weeks ago comedian Bill Maher got flack for calling out people who refer to their grown-up activities as “adulting”, and for still liking the things from our childhoods like comic books and Lucky Charms (now, kids, I like Bill Maher even though I don’t always agree with everything he says, and I suppose he doesn’t do things like invent Eggos with chocolate shavings and powdered sugar on them when he has been snowed in at his house for over a week, which is something that I may have possibly done since the beginning of Snowmaggedon, so let’s not be too hard on him). The thing is, I agree with him on this but then again I don’t. I do adult things like pay my bills on time, and eat vegetables instead of Pop-Tarts for dinner, and hold down a steady job. I have a 401K and an IRA and more than the required $5 in my savings account. I can afford to buy more than one bottle of carpet cleaner at a time. So, I suppose I reasonably have my shit together.

The thing is though, that I don’t really feel like an adult, not a real one. Or, at least I don’t feel the way that I thought I would when I became an adult. When I was a kid, adults seemed so put-together and mature and confident and even though I’m in my thirties now I still feel like a kid playing house half the time. Maybe my parents’ generation wasn’t actually better at being grown-ups than mine is and maybe it’s all a big facade, but I somehow thought that when I got to this age I would have a different outlook on my own level of maturity. The truth is that all of the adulting things I do are because I have recognized that they contribute to my own comfort: I do laundry because I like having clean clothes (and clean sheets, there is not much in life that’s more wonderful than crawling into a bed that’s been freshly made up with sheets still warm from the dryer), I work because I like having money, and I buy things in bulk because the money I earn at my job allows me to and because I hate running out of shampoo and having to dig through the drawers and cabinets in my bathroom in hopes of finding a small hotel sample to hold me over until I can get to the store. I contribute to my retirement accounts because I know I want to retire before I’m a hundred years old and recognize that I need to be saving now for that.

I think we all have to find the things that make us feel fulfilled, and do them. Maybe for Bill Maher that’s putting on snappy suits and smoking lots of weed (not necessarily in that order). That’s the kind of adult he wants to be. I, on the other hand, want to be the kind of adult who can get shit done but who also still wears Vans as my go-to shoes and binge-listens to a podcast about the hit 90’s cartoon Gargoyles on my commute (it’s called Grotesques and it’s amazing).

But seriously, buy three bottles of Windex the next time you’re low on it. Trust me, it feels sooooo good.

 

50 Shades of Suburbia

Western Washington has been hit with crazy amounts of snow over the last week. There’s currently about nine inches of the white fluffy stuff on my back deck with more coming down, and due to hills and lack of road-clearing machine things we are pretty much just told to stay off the roads as much as possible until Snowmageddon has passed. People are taking it very seriously and the grocery stores look like people were stocking up to be housebound for months instead of for a week or so. It was so busy when Bill and I went out on Thursday to grocery shop that we waited in line for over half an hour to pay for our stuff.

I snapped this photo while we waited in line, in the produce section, because the line was so long it snaked along the front of the store and into the produce. See all the empty spaces where bread should be? I’m thinking a lot of people fell off the Keto/Whole 30 wagon and stocked up on some nice comforting carbs.

Since we’ve been housebound for days now, I’ve spent a lot of time watching tv and reading things on the Internet to amuse myself. If it doesn’t stop fucking snowing I may make a list of my favorite shows and movies watched during Snowmaggedon, but I’m not quite bored enough yet for list-posting. Emphasis on the word yet.

On Friday, it had just started snowing in earnest when I came across a randomly-shared listing of a house in Maple Glen PA. I clicked on it because it vaguely looked like Kevin McAllister’s house and I thought the price tag of $750k seemed more than reasonable for this sprawling 5,029-square-foot abode, and because I am a real estate junkie and love looking at house listings. I’ve mentioned before that I follow multiple old-house accounts on Instagram, and many times in my life I have visited open houses when I was definitely not in the market for a house. I thought I had seen it all, until I opened the listing on my Redfin app and read the property description.

“50 Shades of Maple Glen: a suburban home with a sexy twist”

Uh, what now??

I began scrolling through the listing’s 48 photos, trying frantically to see what the hell that meant. My thoughts went something like this: oooh, lovely giant kitchen, nice brick fireplace, big bedrooms, cool in-home gym, OHMYGAWDISTHATASEXSWING??

Spoiler alert: yeah, it totally fucking was.

I am not a prude by any means. I had just never seen a house with a full sexy-time basement (dungeon) on a Redfin listing before.

I did what anyone would do and immediately texted the link to a few of my friends, the ones who would be as amused as I was. Redfin must have reconsidered its stance on sex basements, because it quickly removed the racy photos and naughty listing description, but Zillow still had the photos so I took screen shots of them, and it’s a good thing I did because Zillow has since taken them down too.

I read a particularly hilarious comment on one post about the house from someone who initially thought that the cage under the bed was a dog kennel, which made me laugh quite a lot.

I’m actually really happy that whoever owns this house seems to have had a lot of fun there. Good on you, people of Maple Glen. I did have questions when I discovered that the house was posted on AirBNB with the sex dungeon or basement or whatever on prominent display as the main selling point, mainly around how one goes about sanitizing that room after guests rent it out.

My only concern now is that my top-floor condo has zero sex basements and I hope this doesn’t hurt my property values.