© 2017 by Tom Sparough
In his cubicle at the call center, he tried to picture himself in his safe space. It was the beach at Siesta Key, Florida. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
“My name is George Baitenswitch.”
“Well, good afternoon Mr. Baitenswitch. How may I assist you?” As Brendan said these words, he wondered if this man was a heavy smoker. How else do you get a gravelly voice like that?
“Call me George.”
“Absolutely, George, how may I help you?
“My life is over, and I am very unhappy.”
Brendan thought this was a joke. Lots of callers had an odd sense of humor. He smiled. “George, my friend, you called the right guy. I specialize in making people happy. I am going to do everything I can to resolve your issue. Now what seems to be the trouble?”
“The problem is I’ve got no life left. I am forever in the dark.”
“Let me put it this way, George, what product are you calling about today?”
“I am calling to get a new life. You are my lifeline.”
“George, I appreciate your call and wish you all the best, but I am afraid you have called the wrong number. This is Amazing Products customer service. I can only help you with product information.”
“Your product is the reason that I am miserable, why I am stuck in the dark.”
“Mr. Baitenswitch, which product are you referring to?”
Do you want the product ID number or its name?”
“Either is fine.”
“Then I’ll give you both, you little weasel.”
Either is fine, and there is no need for name-calling. I am here to help you.”
“You have already told me you can’t help me, that you care nothing about me.”
“Please, just give me the product information.” Brendan took a deep breath and tried to imagine himself on the beach at Siesta Key. The warm sand on his feet was a soothing feeling. He needed to stay calm.
“One, seven, three, alpha, seven, bravo, two. The Ever Light.”
“Thank you. I’m pulling that up. I see the item is discontinued, but maybe I can still help. What seems to be the issue with your Ever Light flashlight?
“It doesn’t work.”
“Say a bit more about that. What exactly is the problem?”
“The problem is I am talking to an idiot who doesn’t care about me or my flashlight.”
Brendan tried to see the gentle waves at the shore of Siesta Key and feel the salt water on his bare feet. “Mr. Baitenswitch, I really am trying to help. Did you drop the flashlight?”
“How would I do that?”
“Perhaps you bumped into some furniture, and it slipped out of your hand?”
“There is no furniture here so it couldn’t have slipped out of my hand. You have a lifetime guarantee, don’t you?”
“We do have a lifetime guarantee. When did you purchase it?”
“It was given to me as a present seven years ago.”
“Well George, we have a new line of flashlights, and I can provide you with a replacement.”
“No, I want this one to work, because I am stuck in here. All I have is a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work, and it’s your fault, you piece of scum. Did you get that message, Brendan?”
“Loud and clear, sir. And I thank you for your call. I truly hope things improve for you.”
Brendan disconnected the line, pulled off his headset and stood up. It felt like he had some sunburn from his day at the beach. He walked to the break room. He opened the refrigerator and stared inside. The cool air felt good. His cheeks were flushed. He grabbed an apple.
“How’s it going?”
Brendan looked at Rachel and took a bite of the apple. He shook his head. “I just talked to a certifiable nut job.”
“He got to you?”
“A little, and I have to say I hate this job, at least with calls like that one. Truthfully, I am not so sure that picturing my safe space is helping.”
“Do you think a different place might help?”
“I don’t know,” Brendan said.
“Maybe a mountain view would help. You often talk about your hike on the Continental Divide in Colorado. Maybe that’s the place where no one can disturb your calm.”
“I guess. I do love the mountains.”
“Give it a try, and let your supervisor know if you get too stressed. Anger will take you away if it gets hold of you.
“Really Rachel? Do the mountains help you to stay so calm?”
“No, I pretend I am on a trampoline, and everything bounces off me.”
Back at his desk, Brendan put on his headset. A call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
“Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
“Hello, are you there. I can’t seem to hear you. Can you hear me?” Brendan disconnected the call.
Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
“Can you hear me?”
Silence…no wait, soft, raspy breathing. Brendan listened carefully. He could clearly hear breathing. “Hello, are you there? This is customer service.”
No response. Brendan disconnected the call. He tried picturing himself on top of the Continental Divide. He breathed in the crisp mountain air. He hit speed dial one. “Hey Bob, I have had a couple of calls in a row that I couldn’t hear anyone. I wanted to make sure that there isn’t a problem on my end. Can you give me a test call?”
A call came in. “Brendan, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, Bob. Thanks.”
“Thank you, Brendan. I appreciate you following our protocol.”
Another call came in. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
Brendan heard a wheezing breath. A voice he recognized said, “Hellll-o.”
It was the gravely voice of Mr. Baitenswitch. Brendan thought about disconnecting immediately, but stayed on the line. He was at the Continental Divide and looking at the pine trees below. But with 17 call reps, how the hell did he get this guy twice?
“Brendan, I need something from you.”
“What’s that sir?”
“I told you to call me George. I’m your friend.”
“Yes, of course you are. George, how can I help?” Brendan tried to feel the mountain breeze and see the clear blue sky.
“I want you to step into my shoes for a minute.”
“Go on. How would that help?”
“Because you are a whiny little punk who has no idea what I am going through.”
Brendan snapped the pencil he had been holding in his hand. “I am going to have to end this call.”
“Don’t you dare end this call. I am stuck in this coffin with nothing but a phone and a flashlight, and the flashlight doesn’t work. I need you to fix this.”
Brendan was speechless. He hit disconnect. He tapped his chest with the palm of his hand to slow down his heart. He spread his legs apart and stretched out his feet. He looked at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and tried to get back to the Continental Divide.
Another call. He hesitated to connect. Brendan tried to imagine a mountain meadow of flowers. He laughed to himself, and connected. “Hello, this is Brendan of customer service. May I ask your name?”
“You know my name. Come see things from my side. Come experience eternal darkness while you have the Ever Light in your hand, the hand that has never dropped the light.”
“Sir, I don’t know how you are calling me, but I am going to have to ask you to stop this. It is not funny. I can’t help you. Have a good day.” He disconnected. He was out of breath. Perhaps the altitude was too high. He needed to get back to the beach.
Ten seconds later a call came in. Brendan looked at the light that signaled the call. He didn’t answer. He imagined himself jumping on a trampoline at the beach.
That low gravely voice came into his earphone anyway. “You’ve got no spine. You don’t help people. You manipulate them. You abuse them. You leave them hopeless and in the dark.”
Brendan fell off the trampoline. “Get off this fricking line.” Brendan was in a rage. “I am not listening to you. You’re a pathetic sicko. You deserve to be dead. I wish I could see you, see you in all your pain, you cigarette smoking idiot!” Brendan was smashing his fist against his desk.
As he was screaming he lost touch with where he was. It felt as if he was being sucked away from the call center into the phone line. He was somehow in the phone line, darkness, speed, anger, whipping along. He left the trampoline, left the mountains, left his cubicle, and was compelled into darkness.
Rachel and a half dozen other people stood up and stared at Brendan. He appeared to be in convulsions. Then he calmed down suddenly. He opened his hand and looked at it. He took off his headphones. He was smiling. He took a long slow breath.
Rachel shook her head at him. “I guess someone is getting assertive. Brendan you really lost it. Management is going to be all over that exchange. I thought you were going to break your desk the way you were hitting it.”
“You know,” he said in a gravely voice. “Call me George.”
In the sudden darkness, Brendan could not see anything. He opened and closed his eyes. There was no difference. He lifted his arms. They hit against some kind of padded roof. He was stuck lying down. In one hand was something that felt like a phone. In the other was a cylinder, a plastic tube with a switch. He pushed the switch forward. Nothing happened.
About the Story
Where did Brendan end up? In case you are unsure, he went to Mr. Baitenswitch’s casket. In a single word or phrase, what is this story about? What struck you about this story? How did Brendan get drawn in to his anger? What else is this story about?
Bringing It Home
How is some aspect of this story a reflection of your life or career? What lessons have you learned from past experiences about getting angry? What is an example of how you learned one of those lessons? What is a memory of a time others got angry, but you did not? What tools does your organization have in place to help people with anger management? What more is needed?
Anger management. Control our temper. Bait and switch refers to the dishonest technique of tricking people into getting something they don’t want. Angry people can bait us. If we take the bait, anger often takes us to a place we would not choose to go. When we lose control of our temper, we are the ones who end up in trouble. The good news is people can’t actually telephone us from the grave, but most of us need special training in how to maintain our cool when things get heated. It is not easy to stay calm when people direct their anger at us or try to push our buttons.