Monday, March 2, 2009

Selling Jellies, Keeping The Kids Off Drugs - Part 1

Part 1: For The Kids

I've had my fair share of crappy jobs, particularly back in my pioneering days of employment. And I've found myself in some bizarre situations where I have asked myself, "What am I doing here, and why am I doing it?" Let me tell you something right now. At no time in my life has this combination been more pungent than the time I sold jellies to keep the kids off drugs.

Let me set the scene. It was 1990, and I was going to school in Pittsburgh, PA. I was also eating a lot of mac n' cheese since most of my paltry income was allocated to beer. While attending school, I had jobs doing typical things; stocking shelves, making pizzas, running counters. I must have burned through ten or twelve jobs in three years. My thing was, I became easily bored with each job I acquired, and ended up doing a lot of job-jumping.

One day while flipping through the classifieds for the next new gig, my friend Mike said to me, "Hey, you should come work where I'm at, it's right down the road. You sit all day and they pay you under the table!" I was intrigued. That evening, I followed Mike down to his place of employment. We walked into a small office building and Mike led me to a back room -- the nerve-center, if you will -- where I met the boss of the operation, a 40-some-year-old man named Ron.

I am not exaggerating here when I say Ron was one of the most inbred-house-on-blocks looking dudes I had ever seen in my life. He had pop bottle thick glasses, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows, a porn 'stache, and half his teeth. He had a raspy smokers' voice, too. Oh, and his left eye was looking in the wrong direction. He was from West Virginia. I extended my hand to introduce myself and the first thing Ron said was, "Can you dial a telephone, son?" "Sure," I said. " Can you start now?" he asked, with a gritty, southern drawl (imagine Foghorn Leghorn chain smoking cigarettes.) Seeing as how I did not know where my next beer was coming from, I nodded yes. We shook on it.

I drew a picture of Ron. Here it is.

I had a lot of questions. I knew from looking around that this was some kind of telemarketing outfit, and that selling was involved, but what was I selling? What were my hours? And how much was I being paid? I sat down at a grungy workstation and was handed a list of telephone numbers. I was also handed a script:

"Hello Sir/Ma'am,

I am calling from the Pennsylvania Troopers Association, and I need your help keeping the kids off drugs. We are offering a set of four delicious jellies for only $29.99! And part of the proceeds go to help keep the kids off drugs!"

[Get address and credit card number or check number]

[Say thank you, hang up]

Jellies. Little jellies like these.

Kids? What kids? Why is this saying "the" kids? Whose kids were they, and what trouble were they in that we needed to sell jellies to get them off drugs? I did not know. No one seemed to know. All I kept thinking was that I needed beer money, and that I would need to call many strangers to obtain it.

Amidst a room of about ten other employees, I started dialing numbers from the list, hoping to get someone on the line for a sale. I finally got an interested party. It was an elderly woman. She would buy these jellies. She had to buy these jellies. I read the script to her and it got quiet. Then the woman asked, "How much of the proceeds go to help the children?" I did not know, so I cupped the phone and asked Ron.

"About two cents," he replied. I thought "Wha - ?" It was at that moment when I realized I might be involved in some sort of scam.

I proceeded to make calls selling jellies, while finessing my sales pitch. One hour went by, then two. At one point, Ron came into the room and yelled, "People! We are NOT associated with the Pennsylvania State Police!!" Another time Ron poked his head from his office and yelled, "Whatever you do -- DO NOT give out the phone number here!!" It seemed quite unprofessional for a supervisor to be shouting like this while his people were on the telephone, let alone shouting that we should keep the company's location a secret. I turned to the guy next to me and said, "So should we expect, like, Connie Chung to come in here with a camera crew?"

So here were the bullet points. 1) Working at a place, selling jellies, being paid under the table 2) Not being associated with the police, even though we were calling ourselves representatives of the "Pennsylvania Troopers Association" 3) Keeping the location and phone number a secret, and 4) Two cents out of thirty bucks went to charity. The whole thing smelled fishy.

Every once in a while on his way to a smoke break, or to pinch one off in the bathroom, Ron would saunter through, crazy eyes and all -- and yell, "Smile an' dial, people! Smile an' dial!" The whole scene was so weird to me, it was like a bizarre dream.

And then, just when I thought I had experienced the zenith of bizarre, in walked a man wearing a dark brown, corduroy sport jacket. A man who stood about five feet, two inches tall. A man who went by the name of "Sporty Shorty."

Part 2...

1 comment:

  1. Holy christ man, I read all 3 parts of this and I can't believe how fucked up that shit is!