Malcolm Steadman will dial the suicide hotline in 41 days.
The combined echolalia in Karen’s row as other customer service reps recited problems back to their customers faded and dulled as she logged on and put on her headset and the “waiting music” took hold. Karen had a complicated relationship with the waiting music. It could be a nice reprieve, a chance for her to catch her breath and center herself after a difficult call, or it could be an incredible vexation that was worse than the mindless echolalia that surrounded her. Currently it was playing an instrumental to an early Brittany Spears song. This was not a moment when the song became a reprieve.
The row that she sat in at the call center seemed like an endless distance of grey growing in either direction beside her. She did not have her own desk. They all sat at the same super long desk, a massive piece of particle board that stretched the entire aisle. Each Customer Service Representative was partitioned off from the rest by plastic walls covered in a grey carpet. These partitions were only about two and a half feet apart, and between them were old CRT monitors, the massive beige kind that weighed ten pounds and took up the majority of the partitioned space. The cold glow of the monitor and its low resolution was the closets thing to the sun that Karen would see for eight hours. Stuck to the bottom face of the monitor was a bright pink sticky note with the solitary word “Brazil” written on it, a reference to Karen’s favorite movie by Terry Gilliam. This was the most that she could do to protest her job and its atmosphere and she giggled to herself now as she realized that Terry Gilliam got the future wrong. It wasn’t bleak enough.
The music came to an abrupt end as she was connected with a customer, in a few moments Karen would hear the customer’s asinine complaint and she would likely be berated and yelled at for conditions she had no control over. She heard the telephone line click and asked for the customer’s phone number, when she typed it in a file was brought up on the customer. His name was Malcolm Steadman, and his file was extensive.
“What can I do for you today Mr. Steadman?” Karen asked as half a dozen other reps mindlessly parroted the same but with different names. She skimmed over the customers notes as he spoke. Each note carried with it a date, the problem, and the name of the rep who entered the note. Malcolm Steadman had called them seven times in the span of just two weeks, and there was a common theme among each call. She was able to read two of them.
- customer called in to complain about slow connection and flashing blue light on modem. care documents have nothing on such light, customer ranted on about various existential crisis and was upset about carbon 🙁 smh customer hung up after issue resolved self. -Michelle F.
- Customer claims internet service has slowed. As I refereed to care documents customer declared that dinosaur toys were “a perverse monument to the massive amount of time and life it contained in its form”, seemed more animate and worried about that than he did his connection. -Lucas D.
“The blue light, uh, just won’t stop flashing” Malcolm informed her. Karen was not prepared to deal with a crazy person. “let’s see what we can do about that” she responded and tried to flag Michelle, who sat behind her in the row, over to her screen. She was unsuccessful. “I see you have had this problem in the past” Karen continued “give me just a moment to look over your notes”.
- customer referred to blue lights flashing which dont exist and was very worried about dying or something -Ben B.
- Malcolm called in again about fake problems. Notified management. This time he was upset about a dream he had about a man trying to kill his neighbor and what that meant about his own fleeing mortality. Terminated call. -Cyntia C.
Though Karen had been trying urgently to get Michelle’s attention, she had to stay silent so that the customer would not hear her, and had failed to do so again. Malcolm had not skipped a beat and was currently describing a date he had gone on with a former manager of his, or at least he thought it was a date. Karen rolled her eyes at the details of it.
- Customer called in AGAIN about flashing lights. This time he asked me if Pink Floyd ever made me question reality. Is this guy high? I offered to send out a technician to look at his modem but the customer terminated the call early. -Hannah Q.
Michelle had finally noticed Karen and looked at her with a puzzled expression. Karen muted her end as Malcolm droned on about his date, and asked Michelle in a hushed tone “did you talk to this guy?” Michelle looked at the monitor and the notes as Malcolm continued on about how he had accidentally spilled his coffee, something that he was apparently doing all of the time. Michelle rolled her eyes and mouthed the words “yes, he is crazy”. She then mimed her finger cutting her throat, and the message to Karen was clear: “end the call”. Karen turned back to her desk and continued reading as Malcolm’s mood seemed to turn sour.
- customer complained about blue light again, read previous notes and tried to flag down a manager, see how I should proceed. customer seemed upset about toilet paper? smh -Michelle F.
Malcolm was ranting about how the puddle of stained coffee spill had some cream that was not completely mixed in, and that it reminded him of our spiral galaxy, The Milky Way. He continued ranting that in that moment he realized that the formation of our universe, the big bang, was akin to the random act of him dropping his coffee, and that made him feel like life was meaningless.
Karen listened on.
The rest of Malcolm’s date was soiled from that instant. As hard as he tried to get over the awkwardness of it, the realization that the universe was arbitrary had ruined his mood, and there was a moment, though he didn’t know how long, that he was catatonic from it. “It could have been anywhere from a minute to ten, I have no idea, but my former manager was not happy about it” Malcolm stated. “She thought I was disinterested, that I was making a big ordeal over nothing” he continued. This man, Karen thought, has some serious issues.
- looks like this guy called in this morning. He asked me if I liked my job, said he got a new one and that was a problem? He’s either prank calling us or needs a therapist. He has refused to allow a technician over and the problem is not one that exist with that model of modem. RED FLAG. -Sr. Floor Manager, Vernan H.
Red Flag. It meant do not engage, terminate the call when you get it.
“I don’t know, I guess I put a lot of pressure on myself. Nothing has gone right” Malcolm said after a pause. “I got a new job, I quit my old one because I didn’t like it… didn’t like her. I wanted to change my life. I got a new job and I like it, I REALLY like it, do you understand? But it’s exactly like my old job. Nothing has changed”. Karen listened on, now impatiently. Malcolm continued to rant on, “So I have this date with my old manager, which is something I thought would never happen. We didn’t get along till she was no longer my manager and I have been lonely and-” Karen couldn’t wait any longer, something had been bothering her.
“Sir” she interrupted “Sir what is her name? You keep calling her your old manager. What is her name?” There was a long and silent pause on the other end. “Sir?” Karen asked.
The fear and disappointment in Malcolm’s voice spoke louder than his actual volume “I’m… I’m doing it again. I dehumanized her because of her title and I…” Whatever was going on the other end of the phone, Karen was tired of listening. The “Red Flag” gave her permission to hang up, should she take advantage of it? She hesitated, considered that this may be Malcolm’s only outlet to talk about his problems. Some people see a therapist, others hire sex workers and just talk. Some people talk to their priests, others their spouse. Malcolm, it appeared, talked to customer service. The other end was silent now, supposedly whatever had happened to him during his date was happening now. There was nothing Karen could do for him now. Whatever problems this man was dealing with, he was going to have to deal with them alone. Karen terminated the call and wrote:
- Malcolm called in again. Terminated call. -Karen W.
After hesitating for a moment, Karen then wrote “RED FLAG” and queued it to the top of the notes.
The Brittany Spears Instrumental that played over the phone now was a nice reprieve.