My dearest friend Alys has been sending me video links for a simply outstanding series of performances under the title Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads – Series 1. I can’t recommend them highly enough. Extraordinary stuff. I just viewed a new one she sent me, “Soldier on”. Turns out, I have a ‘trigger’, too. Didn’t know it until today. “Soldier on” sent me back seven years ago.

I started working for Macy’s in 2008. I’d been out of work for quite a while and I would have taken a job mopping floors but I couldn’t even find that. I did my application and submitted it and a friend of mine who worked there put in a good word for me. I had a phone interview and then a personal interview and then got the call that said I was hired. I was so excited – but scared, too, because I would be doing something I’d never done and something everyone hates; debt collection. I worked at the call center in Clearwater, which was also a regional office and the Human Resources Department handled probably a third of the country’s Macy’s employees. Three weeks paid training was a blessing.

After two weeks training, we had to stop talking about talking to people and actually do it. My very first call, in the training room, was to an 83-year-old woman in Detroit who called me everything but a child of God. Welcome to your new job. But at the end of training, I got my seat on the floor – cubbies are for one person, ‘pods’ are for two people tilted away from each other under the false assumption that the other person’s talking wouldn’t bother the pod mate.

You know what’s easy? The loudmouth, the foul mouth, the ‘entitled’, the people who like to demean others (namely – me!). Macy’s has a policy that no associate is to hang up on a customer; instant dismal if you do. No ifs, ands, or buts. Done. Outta there. It was the only job I had where I never – NEVER – worked overtime. Eight hours of abuse is way more than enough for one day. In one way, you do get hardened – you can hear it in their voices right away; you take a deep breath, roll your eyes and try to convince the customer that while I may be, as they called me, illegitimate (don’t want to use the word but you know what I mean), they still owed money. I never fought with them, I never got snide with them. Always talked to them as nicely as if they weren’t insane monsters. My manager used to call me the Velvet Glove – I always made my bonuses, always hit my numbers.

You know what’s hard? Know what you never get hardened to? The sadness. After watching Soldier on, I wrote to Alys these words: When I was doing collections for Macy’s I got those calls; or rather, I made the calls … the woman would start out very professional and want to discuss how the account had gotten in arrears and after a few sentences, her voice would break, there’s be a small sob, and then she’d start crying. Her husband had died a month ago, or two months or six months; he had never shown her how to take care of the money – he always paid the bills. Alys – they’d have me in tears and I’d gently walk them through how to do the bills – power, water, etc. They’d be so grateful and then the tears would start again. Used to just tear me up. I’m way too soft hearted for that job; it had a very bad mental effect on me. Took me a year, after I retired, to be mentally emotionally healed from it. I told Lon, if life got bad and I had to be out on the street and be a bag lady I would – but I would never, ever, do collections again. The little Alzheimer ladies and shuffling papers in front of them as we chatted and I tried to explain how we hadn’t gotten paid in three months and they were so certain I was wrong but couldn’t concentrate or focus or pull their faculties together long enough to prove what couldn’t be proven anyway – they hadn’t paid. The stage four breast cancer lady. The woman with the 8 year old who was now a ‘brittle’ diabetic and in and out of the hospital. The lady cop whose mother had died and she ran out of money taking care of the funeral and all. I’m sitting here crying telling you about it. My heart still aches for the people who wind up just hopeless. I used to get in a lot of trouble with my bosses because I would say to these customers, “If you won’t be offended, I’ll say a prayer for you”. The ones that hadn’t cried before would start crying and thank me so much – oh, Alys; the sadness of the world. Can you imagine what God sees and hears?

25 Responses to Sadness

  1. Alys Williams says:

    I do not know how you did that job for so long Audre. I would not have lasted a morning. That particular piece in the Talking Heads series is one of the best I think. As I said to you it represents a very particular kind of well off middle class woman who has only the vaguest idea of how her husband’s money is made and tied up. Although my family was working class my dad always saw to it that the mortgage and all the bills were paid and he said to me on more than one occasion that he hoped my mother would die before him because she would not be able to cope without him and he was right. That was a generational thing though because when I was married it was the other way round. My former husband, through a mixture of laziness and ineptitude, just left all the bill paying to me. It stood me in good stead though for when I divorced him and made a decent life for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • audremyers says:

      I think you’re quite right about it being generational. Young people today know all the ‘mechanics’ but don’t have the wisdom to see the details.

      I had a man on the phone once, he was reading me the riot act because his college-attending son had racked up $8000 in debt. I couldn’t tell him to go to the college and complain about allowing the credit card companies on site to hand out credit cards like candy on Halloween. Worse yet – due to privacy laws in America, I can’t discuss the details of an account unless the account owner gives me verbal permission to. The gentleman was off the charts because I couldn’t discuss it. Seems to me, a little sit-down chat with sonny-boy would have been more productive.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. 39 Pontiac Dream says:

    Good hearted people like yourself aren’t meant for mean spirited jobs like debt collecting. They’re jobs for the soulless, the heartless and the empty.

    There’s only a couple of jobs in life I would never do – working at an abattoir and debt collecting. You’d have to have a skin thicker than elephant hides to do those jobs.

    Liked by 2 people

    • audremyers says:

      Lots of folks do it. It’s just not meant for someone like me. The hard part, in addition to what’s in the article, was listening to people talk about God – more bad than good. But the good ones still stand out in my mind.

      Calls start 8 a.m. The worst day is Saturday – lots of folks like to sleep in on Saturdays. You’d steel yourself and off you’d go. One Saturday I called this gentleman and my gosh, he was chipper and friendly and upbeat and believe me when I say I wanted to keep him on the phone for hours, lol! We got thru’ the business of the call and I chuckled and said, “Are you always this chipper in the morning?” He said to me, “I know Who I belong to.” Simply stated. Incredible impact.

      But there was also the guy who liked the sound of my voice and wanted me to talk dirty to him. Sigh. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

      Liked by 2 people

      • 39 Pontiac Dream says:

        ‘But there was also the guy who liked the sound of my voice and wanted me to talk dirty to him. Sigh. From the sublime to the ridiculous.’

        That wasn’t flirty Birtie, was it? If you’d have played your cards right, you could have been wife number 6! 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Scoop says:

    Sadness is an apt title for me today as I digress to inform or remind folks of our loss yesterday of the incomparable Rush Limbaugh and his fight against cancer. He will be missed and I know of no other that can adequately take his place in conservatism. I think it fitting that he died on the first day of Lent; for Lent it shall be for those of us who loved the man and his strong voice for a righteous America. May he Rest In Peace.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. the unit says:

    Think maybe you showed some racism when badgering these down-trodden to pay up? /sar
    I mean…it’s everywhere. Com’on man. 🙂
    From the news couple of days ago…
    “White supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms when… the focus is on getting the “right” answer. The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so. Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • audremyers says:

      Being white, I consider my job at that time as being ‘universalist’ in nature. (eye roll)

      Some day, all this lunacy will end. We won’t be here, of course, but it WILL end. Hence the saying “When everything old is new again”.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alys Williams says:

        Apparently classical music is racist now, a concept which I find deeply upsetting being a lover particularly of Schubert lieder (known to Americans as art songs I believe). The sheer ignorance of anyone who could describe some of the greatest art in any form ever produced as racist and/or ‘too white’ is both staggering and bewildering.

        Liked by 2 people

        • audremyers says:

          Math is racist, too. I understand that we will soon be dying rivers and streams green because blue is colonialist racist.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          I just googled as to what music was played when boiling missionaries. Nothing. Nor over at Duck Duck Go. No sense of humor these days anywhere. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  5. Alys Williams says:

    Audre, this applies to your reference to Birtie further up. I am saying this very quietly so that he won’t hear: Birtie is from Lancashire, not Yorkshire.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Nicholas says:

    Heartbreaking. You and I have discussed before the similarities between our jobs. In the wake of coronavirus, there are new laws in the UK to give debtors breathing space under certain circumstances. Even if we are back to normal by the end of the year, I would expect those laws to stay in place in some form for the next few years as the economy recovers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • audremyers says:

      We have, indeed. But just in case I wasn’t clear – I was upset when I wrote it – I’ve been retired for two years. What amazed me, Nicholas, was how quickly a simple email conversation with Alys had me right back in the middle of it, even after two years away; that was the ‘trigger’ I mentioned.

      One time, while I was still working, someone said collectors in Europe don’t have to put up with the bad language and the attitude. Some of us went online and searched YT and found that most countries in the EU allow collectors to hang up on a customer after one or two warnings. We brought it up in team meetings but management wasn’t impressed.

      I’m quite certain that companies here, too, are making allowances for the special circumstances; I’ve heard that most of the company works from home now so they are well aware how badly people have been effected.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: In The Mailbox: 02.19.21 (Evening Edition) : The Other McCain

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