When I quit stripping I decided I still wanted a job that meant doing something for others. Unfortunately, most soup kitchens refused to pay for my services as ladle master. I insisted that was no way to get quality help. However, they persisted in claiming what little money they had went to feeding the needy. Something about one priest's grill, all diamonds and gold, made me believe there wasn't much cash to spare. Still, while there I overheard two hobos sharing rumors.
One said to the other, "There's a spot Southside they pay fifty a day to answer phones."
The other said to the one, "Can't be more than bullshit."
"You got shit else to do?"
"Ya right. ROAD TRIP!"
I listened to them plan their route. The destination seemed to be the home of some self help guru. It sounded right up my alley, a bit of cash to help others. Now, I don’t believe in Fate, yet I do I know I’ll be damned if two fucking hobos are going to beat me out of the job I'm after.
I bombed down to Tripp and Keeler Ave. where I found myself in a residential neighborhood. Cruising around I saw a home with a sign on the front lawn. Words circling a wide open eye proclaimed: Waldo Gandry. Perspective. One of the hobos had mentioned the name Waldo. I figured some two-bit psyche-quack had discovered the dubious virtue of self publication. Needing a hand with his cottage industry psychobabble Waldo Gandry hired anyone willing to help peddle his insights. So long as I didn’t have to believe in what I sold, I was willing to lend a few hours a day. Plus, fifty bucks is better than nothing.
I knocked on the front door. A woman answered the door. She greeted me with a warm smile, “Hello. My name is Karin. Are you here to have your perspective improved?”
I shrugged, “Maybe later. I heard there’s a job answering phones.”
She nodded, “Excellent. We can always use more ears.”
I didn’t know how to respond to that, so said nothing. She gestured for me to come inside. Stepping in I caught the faint murmur of voices. Somewhere in the house a group of people seemed to be gathered.
Turning to Karin I asked, “What do you need to know about me?”
Karin smiled. I was starting to wonder if her face were fixed in that expression. She said, “What do you mean?”
“Usually a job application involves an interview, so I can tell you why I’m the best person for this position.”
“Oh, I see, but you’re already hired.”
“You asked about the job, therefore you got it.”
“Well then, when do I start?”
“Right away.” Karin gestured for me to follow her. We went to a door in the kitchen. Three teenagers and an elderly woman sat at the kitchen table stuffing manila envelopes with thin books. All of them beamed as if nothing in the world could give them more satisfaction than to sit in that room putting together packages.
Karin remarked, “The novelette they’re mailing out is an account of how Waldo came to his revolutionary insight into the human condition.”
I picked one up. A few pages with large font all wrapped in purple featuring the great staring eye from the front lawn. On the back of each was a print of an oil painting, the portrait of Waldo Gandry I presumed. He reminded me of everyone I’ve ever met with a lust for school girls getting railed by cock-ended tentacles.
The elderly woman laid a cold hand on my arm. Grinning, she said, “It’ll free you for the better.”
“Then I will read this when I’ve got some free time.” I handed the literature over to her. She said okay like she really believed I planned to read it later. For a second that made me feel bad about lying, but then the look on her face seemed as if she’d gotten wet at the prospect of a new person reading Waldo’s words.
Karin whispered, “Over here.” She opened the basement door. The murmuring voices came up from below.
“Yes um, we accept all the credit cards.”
“Gurl, Waldo changed my life. Let him change yours.”
“You don’t have to read. We can read it to you.”
“Sir, dontchyaknow I’ve given birth, but this was a far better experience.”
From wall to wall rows of card tables lined the basement. Using their own cell phones, the telemarketer collective preached the virtues of Waldo Gandry’s insights. The words perspective and life altering got tossed around a lot. On legal pads the salespeople took down the information of everyone they called.
Karin said, “When you get started feel free to sit anywhere. There’s no seating arrangement. We like everyone to feel comfortable.”
“Is there a list of numbers to cold call?”
She replied, “We just go down the phonebook. Keep ringing until someone answers then don’t take no. George.” – she pointed to a stout man on a couch – “He calls every no back, once a week every week till he gets a yes. We’re very lucky to have him.”
She led me under the stairs, “But before you start selling you need to know the product.”
Some recent drywall additions sectioned off an enclosed cubicle. From within I heard faint music accompanying the clatter of typewriter keys. Karin knocked on the wall. The typing ceased then the music.
An imperceptible panel slid aside. Out stepped Waldo Gandry dressed for a picnic at the Church of Eternal Virginity. He introduced himself right away.
He said as he shook my hand, “Welcome, welcome, welcome. I’m always happy to meet a new recruit.”
“And I’m happy you’re happy,” I replied.
“That’s the spirit,” Waldo said. He clapped his hands together, “I suspect you are here just for the money.”
“No offense, but yes. Is that going to be a problem?”
Waldo shook his head, “Not for me. I understand distractions.”
Silence. Almost a full minute of nothing other than the background chattering of telesales before Waldo went on. I think he was waiting for me to ask him about those distractions he understood. In any event, he said, “I was taking a shower once when a lightning storm crept up on my house. This house in fact. A bolt struck nearby, close enough that the resulting electricity raced through the pipes. I looked up into the spray from the shower head, and was blown out of the shower. I saw the electric whip. My life has never been the same since. I…”
As he went on I thanked god for high school. Those four years taught me a skill I’ve never lost: the ability to ignore people while seeming to pay attention. I already knew enough to do this job. Cold call random numbers pitching the possibility that reading Waldo Gandry’s tale of the electric whip might reveal unto one the great arcane mysteries of the universe. Simple. While Waldo rambled I put together a list of things I needed to do over the week like vacuum, and rotate my tires.
After fifteen minutes, Karin on the verge of joyful tears the whole time, Waldo offered me these parting words, “One day I hope you’re willing to see.”
“Indeed,” I said.
I worked there for five days, spending most of my time waiting for people to hang up on me. The upside to telemarketing is the constant collection of unique interactions. No one can call a person an asshole with the same kind of punch as a grandmother. The excessively somber way every teenager claims their parents are dead. Or the lonely people who aren't going to buy anything, but like to feel as if someone's called them to chat. And of course, those rare individuals who seem to think this is the best time to audibly masturbate.
I thought about reading Gandry’s novelette if only to get my coworkers to stop advising me to read it. George in particular kept hinting my sales would increase if I read it, and thereby understood reality better. A few times I tried, but couldn’t get past the opening paragraph:
I don’t know if I’m really talking to you. It’s possible I’m dead, and this is just my imagination. Or maybe it’s yours.
Not sure I wanted to see where Waldo’s logic went instead of reading more in-depth I cherry picked a few choice quotes from random pages. Things like growing new eyes, and becoming the master of all as well as connectivity through solipsism. The book at a glance reeked of all the standard self help clichés. So I treated it as nothing more until I experienced a follow up.
See, part of my job, as I learned after my first sale, was to call back to see what customers thought of the book. If they wanted to know more I should give them a number they could use to contact Waldo. He spoke with them directly to answer any questions they had.
One day, almost two weeks into the job, a follow up for George arrived. Karin came down to ask if I would accompany her to a room on the second floor. I figured this was yet another unsubtle way of exposing me to the Gandry philosophy. However, I treated it like a break from the stale air in the basement… as well as a chance to escape the constant smiling faces of my coworkers. There’s something truly unsettling about people who are content all the time without chemical assistance.
Karin took me to a sunny room painted sky blue with a king size bed, antique wooden chairs, and a large metal washtub full of water. Waldo stood in the room next to a middle aged woman. She looked like someone who forgot how beautiful she was, and dressed accordingly. I wouldn’t be surprised if she sometimes said things like I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Waldo held a toaster in his hands.
He said, “Ah! I’m glad you could join us. Evelyn is taking the next step to owning reality.”
Karin added for him, “We always like to have an extra set of hands when this happens.”
Evelyn said, “Thank you for helping me.”
Before I could say anything Waldo said, “The sooner the better.”
He plugged the toaster into the wall, while Karin helped Evelyn climb, fully clothed, into the washtub.
Evelyn shivered as she stood in the knee deep water. She remarked it felt cold. Karin smiled. I stood in the doorway not wanting to feel as certain as I did about what was going to happen.
Evelyn asked, “Will this hurt?”
Waldo said, “Like ripping off a bandaid.”
Karin said, “It’ll be all right.”
I said, “It is going to hurt so bad you shit your pants.”
Waldo shot me a smile, “Please don’t upset Evelyn.”
Karin remarked, “If you’d only read Waldo’s story you’d know what happens next is for the best.”
I had a counterargument ready, something along the lines of fuck you cunt, when Waldo dropped the activated toaster into the washtub. The lights flickered. Evelyn seized up as electricity coursed through her. Karin beamed with delight. I jumped to unplug the toaster. Evelyn collapsed backward.
Before I could move Waldo and Karin were already beginning resuscitation procedures. They used a paramedic kit I hadn’t noticed next to the bed, and performed the process with the adroit skill of well practiced people. This was clearly not the first time either of them revived someone. Within moments Evelyn gasped back to life. She coughed. Her eyes fluttered.
Evelyn asked, “Am I alive?”
Waldo said, “We can’t know. This could all be your imagination after death.”
Karin smiled, “It’s all your reality now.”
Waldo added, “And now that you know Death there is no need to fear it.” He turned to me, “I can get another toaster if you’d like to make the transition.”
Karin said, “We’ve all done it.”
I replied, “Oh fuck no. In fact, I quit the shit out of this job.”