Hey that girl’s looking at my butt!
Wait is that a a girl or a boy or – what?
— Team Dresch, song for Ann Bannon
Today at my day job somebody called to do the copier scam. You know – where people somehow try to scam you by figuring out what kind of copier your office has? I’ve never really understood what they get out of the deal, but they call us all the time trying to find out what kind of copier we have. Here’s how it went today:
Hi this is Carol from Customer Service, I’m calling about the copier.
Me: (laughing) What about it?
Carol: You know, the copier?
Me: What copier?
Carol: The big one. In the copy room. You mean you don’t have a copier?
Me: (just laughing)
Carol: What’s your name? Are you a man or a woman?
Me: Are you a man or a woman, Carol?
Carol: Because you sound kind of like a man, but you laugh like a girl.
And with that, she hung up.
Which is as good a segue as I can ask for to regale you with scintillating stories of semi-inadvertent genderbending when I worked at the call center in Oregon. But first, I also finally have an excuse to use the telephone sheep photo!:
A bunch of years ago, I worked at a call center in Tualatin. We answered the phone for about a billion different companies (okay, not a billion, but over 700) and whatever it was we were supposed to talk about would pop up on a computer screen in front of us. “Thank you for calling Used ATV Parts, how can I help you?” or “You have reached the Hollywood Movie Money Hotline, may I have your zip code please?” Most of the time we helped people order stuff out of catalogs, but other times we were supposed to be “creative” – like “sorry, Frank just stepped away from his desk, may I take a message?” Even though Frank was in Topeka and we were in Oregon.
The weirdest thing to happen to me there – my high school girlfriend called a lawyer’s office in California after hours and got my voice instead. Hi, Alissa, if you’re reading this!
Some of the places we answered the phone for were overt scams, and we’d make a game of it, being as polite yet pointedly unhelpful as we could to somebody’s disgruntled customer to try to get them to cuss. Once they said a four-letter word, it was within the rules to say “I’m sorry sir, but I don’t have to listen to that kind of language” and hang up. Sometimes they’d call back again madder than ever and ask for a manager. “Hey Diana,” I’d say, “Wanna be my manager?” Diana (or whoever was sitting next to me that day) would pick up the call and assure the disgruntled so-and-so that I was now in big trouble.
The other thing that would happen all the time was that a whole bunch of the callers would assume I was a woman. I’m not sure what-all was behind this — sometimes an expectation that the person at the other end of the line is “the gal in the phone pool,” I guess, but I got it from all sides. People calling about ATV parts ma’amed me constantly, and every now and then I’d wait for to hear a ma’am me and then pointedly lower my voice and sound as dude-ly as I could to see if I could get them to stutter. And I once had a somewhat stoned caller serenade me with the entire “I’m a joker, I’m a smoker, I’m a midnight toker” song before he realized he was crooning to another fella.
But it wasn’t just men that ma’amed me – we took phone orders for herbal creams purported to make men junkier and women bustier, and I once got a woman who was calling with a zillion questions about the bust cream. I read her all the info I had about it, and finally she asked, “Well, do you use it?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Well, because I’m a man.”
“Oh! Oh, well, I guess that’s good then.”