Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday Snippet: Drowning Slowly

You were an assistant bank manager. Then the bank re-organised and culled a rake of middle managers. The only job you could get was working as a 'customer service advisor' for a web-hosting company, sitting all day in a call centre talking to lost people and morons. Then your wife leaves you. You're drowning slowly.

I wrote the first chapter of Drowning Slowly earlier this year, but its now been on the 'something to come back to list' for a while. Here's a snippet.

I threaded my way through the cubicles avoiding everyone’s inquisitive stares and dropped down into my seat. What the hell was I doing here? I was that character in the Dilbert comic strip - Wally or whatever his name was. I used to have an office, now I had two hardboard walls tacked with yellow stick-it notes and postcards from people who could afford to go on holiday.

The open plan office was organised into six sets of four cubicles. Two sets were occupied by the technical advice team. They were staffed by three Indians that always dressed in smart suits and ties, three lads who didn’t own a comb between them and had a wardrobe consisting entirely of black jeans, assorted dark coloured t-shirts and shapeless grey jumpers, and two women whose hair colour seemed to change daily, who sported a number of piercings of lips, noses, eyebrows, and dressed pretty eclectically. Today one had her hair dyed blue, the other black with orange streaks. They were both wearing flowery summer dresses over black leggings, brightly coloured plimsolls and lots of black eye shadow.

All eight techies are under the age of twenty five. The three Indians are pleasant enough but I can hardly understand a word the other five said. If they weren’t talking technical gibberish then I hadn’t the cultural frame to get involved in any conversation. It was all blogs, manga, games, bands I’d never heard of, and general geeky stuff. God knows how anybody understood the advice they were supposedly giving.

The next two sets of cubicles were the content advice team. They consisted of two Polish men in their late twenties, a Latvian who used to be a fireman, a mixed-race guy who had recently graduated with a media studies degree from Oxford (which he made a point of telling you – ‘Hi, I’m Phil. I recently got a first in Media Studies from Oxford’), a young slip of a lass from Cork with a fierce mouth on her (who everybody knew was sleeping with Phil because she let us all know by talking loudly over the cubicle wall - ‘Phil, are you coming over later? Don’t bother with pyjamas, you won’t need them’; he seems delighted and embarrassed by her in equal measure), a lovely Chinese woman of indeterminate age that I have trouble understanding, Sal, a quick witted, twenty-something, Liverpudlian with long dyed blonde hair who could probably make it as a model, and an auburn haired, late thirty-something goddess from Northern Ireland called Niamh. I had an awful crush on Niamh.

The final two sets of cubicles were occupied by the customer services team to which I belonged. Our job was to basically answer billing and account queries, to redirect queries to the other two teams, and to deal with complaints. We were the lowest of the low both figuratively and literally. Sales and marketing were located on the floor above us, the web design teams and programmers were on the third floor, and senior admin and management filled the top floor. We were the dumb bastards too dull or lacking in ambition to have a job that required skills beyond being able to answer a phone, type shit into a computer, and take crap from people for eight hours at a go. The rest of the floor would have taken pity on us except they couldn’t care less.

Over the wall to my left sat Carol, a thirty two year old of Jamaican descent with one inch fingernails, two inch heels, three children and a take no-shit attitude. To my right was Johnny Tubbs, a mid twenty-something wide-boy who seemed to spend most of his time on his mobile wheeling and dealing, arranging to sell stuff that had fallen off the back of a lorry. So far he had persuaded me to buy four dodgy DVDs and two polo shirts, none of which I wanted and all of dubious quality. Diagonally across from me was Diane, a fifty-something housewife whose two children had flown the nest. She’d come back to work for something to do now the house was empty and a bit of extra money. She looked like a straight-laced pensioner-to-be with short grey hair, large spectacles and plain blouse buttoned to her neck, but she had a mouth like a Blackpool postcard.

At the other four cubicle block sat two early twenty-something lads: Tas a British born Indian who was between acting jobs and Jack who was a bear of very little brain but also the life of the place, always cracking jokes and swapping banter. Both fancied themselves as ladies men. Opposite them sat Carla, a raven haired, dusky skinned, Italian who always dressed immaculately in designed label clothes and seemed to spend most of the day filing her nails or gesturing wildly as she spoke into her headset, and Clarissa a shy, be-spectacled woman in her mid-twenties who barely spoke above a whisper, never looked anyone in the eye, and blushed deeply anytime a man spoke to her. Which given she was sat next to Jack was about every five minutes.

I was the only bloke on the floor older than thirty. And I was at the bottom of the food chain.

‘Are you alright, man?’ Johnny asked looking round the edge of the cubicle. ‘You look like shit.’ Lift you up, knock you down. ‘What did Ms Big Jugs want?’ He asked referring to our ambitous twenty six year old section manager who had a prodigious chest which she flaunted with a wardrobe of plunging necklines.

‘I need to improve how I empathise with our customers,’ I said wearily, putting my headphone set back on. ‘I’ve had an official warning. Once more and I’m gone.’

‘Like she’d know what empathy is,’ Carol sympathised from behind the divide. ‘All she cares about is how we reflect on her. Fuckin’ fat bitch.’

Carol was also on a written warning for telling a customer exactly what she thought of him when he threatened her after she wouldn’t give him her personal number (‘I don’t give a shit how many years you’ve been a customer or who you’re friends with, but you can fuck off you fuckin’ wanker, fuckwit, dickhead.’) Apparently she should have dealt with it more professionally even though the company admitted the caller was a fuckin’ wanker, fuckwit, dickhead (although too important to drop).

‘Don’t sweat man, you’d be better off out of here,’ Johnny continued. ‘At least you wouldn’t have to put up with any more crap from Ms Juggernaut.’

‘What did you do, Greg?’ Diane asked without raising her head above the screen.

‘I told Mrs Twelve Pence to get a life.’ They all knew who Mrs Twelve Pence was - I’d given out about her enough times. She was on old biddy who insisted the company owed her a twelve pence rebate, which technically we didn't. She'd rung up everyday for the past two weeks asking for me by name and I'd finally cracked.

‘You said, fuckin’ life,’ Johnny corrected. ‘I heard you, man.’ He voiced shifted timbre as he took a call. ‘Yeah, Godzilla Media. Johnny Tubbs my name. What can I do for you, yeah?’

‘Don’t worry about it, Greg,’ Carol said. ‘You had to say something to that woman. She’s been pestering you for days. And Sandra’s always got a bee up her ass. She just likes to throw her weight around.’

‘Just make sure she doesn’t land on you,’ Diana the straight-laced granny said. ‘It would take you days to climb out from under her tits.’

Carol laughed, and spluttered, ‘You’re a wicked woman, Diane. A wicked woman.’

Perhaps something to fiddle with once I've stopped fiddling with other things.


Dorte H said...

Hm. I can combine drinking coffee, entertaining my mother and reading short blog posts with watching Midsomer Murders, but I think I will have to return to read this one properly.

Dorte H said...

Here I am again.
I like your characters. Generally they are interesting people I would like to hear more about, but it is quite a lot to take in in one go. It might help if they were spaced out a bit (or perhaps it is just me).

The environment did not catch my interest in the same way. Perhaps it is the bank, or perhaps there are not enough gory corpses in it.

Rob Kitchin said...

Yep, spacing them out is a good idea. It's not a crime novel, more a social commentary.