It was dull and grey and close and Karl could feel the sweat cling to his skin like a blanket.
The bike ride up the hill was difficult at the best of times. Today, it was damn near impossible. First off, Karl hadn’t slept much. He’d tossed and turned thinking about how to get back to work on his kid’s game when technology had moved on. Then, he’d jacked off a few times before breakfast hoping he wouldn’t feel the need to get himself off later at work. At least until lunch. If his boss Ed was on the lookout for some dude in the bathroom, it meant he was on the verge of getting caught.
Karl stopped at the bottom of Davenport and looked up Bathurst. He’d have to peddle at whipped cream speed for nearly three minutes just crest the hill. He’d have walked his bike up if he didn’t think walking was for tools. ‘People under thirty who say cycling is a great way to get to work are assholes’, he thought.
Him, he missed his car. A classic Mazda RX7 he’d had to sell to get the collection agencies off his back. But he wasn’t whining. He could take his lumps just as well as the next guy. It was just that life had really changed. Seven years ago, he was burning with ideas and moving in a great direction. Now, he was stuck in a dead end job, facing bankruptcy and living in an illegal basement apartment in Christie Pits.
Sex had been a kick until it he started needing it. He had to get his shit together. NOW.
Karl hopped back on the saddle. That fucker hill would not win today.
As the traffic light was on the cusp of turning green, Karl edged his way out in front of a Subaru and then jumped the pedals the moment it turned. He rode hard all the way up, making the cars go around him, giving the gears to all the twenty year olds, telling himself he couldn’t wait for the pleasure of returning to the daily grind that tore his soul apart like a handful of coffee beans because his resilience proved he would ultimately succeed.
AMICO’s call centre was located in a smoky glass monolith which had all the warmth of a pair of State Trooper sunglasses.
Out of breath but exhilarated by his triumph over the hill, Karl jumped his bike’s front wheel up onto the curb and coasted to the racks which were jammed to the tits as usual. He was running late so he locked his bike to someone’s back wheel and headed for the main entrance. He’d deal later.
As he moved towards the mirrored main doors, he spotted his glistening red face and the large sweat stains under his pits. Fucking twenty year olds and their fucking bicycles. Fuck them. He needed a car.
As he hit the lobby, Karl spotted Jackson carrying a coffee with so many creamers stacked high on the lid, he looked like he was going to play fort.
“How’s the diet going?” Karl asked.
Jackson didn’t get the jab. Then, he did. “Fuck you.” His gaze lowered to Karl’s pit stains. “Hot out?”
“No,” answered Karl, smiling and matter-of-factly wiping his face with the back of his forearm.
“Some woman was trying to find you. She’s waiting in HR.”
“Fuck me.” THE woman. The newbie he’d promised Ed to show around and get set up.
“Not my type,” Jackson threw in as Karl walked away.
“That’s a relief. “ Karl answered. “I don’t like your type.”
Karl ran into the john and splashed some cold water on his face. He finger-combed his hair and dried his pits under the hand dryer until some jerk-off came in for a piss and gave him a look.
Karl walked into the HR offices, straightening his tie and sporting his best fuck you attitude. No matter how many times he applied, these guys never let him interview for IT jobs so Karl had decided they were a waste of time.
He peered into a few of the empty offices, looking for the guy who hired for his division. The man made absolutely no impression on anyone. Whatever his name was, in the sea of humanity, he was beige. Everything about him was soft and blurry: his clothing, his hair, his expression. In a book, he’d be described as ‘gently rumpled’. His voice seldom rose above the volume of a private conversation and he reacted to all jokes with a pained smile as though he was afraid of offending the Newfies, the Frogs and the Jews in rowboats everywhere.
Luckily, Karl didn’t have to describe who he was looking for. Beige spotted him first.
“Looks like we’re all running late this morning,” He smiled quietly like he was making room for an apology which Karl wasn’t going to give it to him.
“Is she here?” Karl asked.
“Yes.” He waited a moment, then added, “I’ll go get her, shall I?”
Beige was one of those people who needed to ask permission for everything he thought he should do. He must have been a riot in the sack.
“Sounds like a plan.” Karl tried to look particularly bored and impatient to leave.
The newbie followed Beige back out of his office. She was wearing slacks and a baby pink polo shirt, but she wasn’t what you’d call a “girl”. More like a centre ice with boobs. Karl held out his hand.
“Danae Wilkins.” She took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
“You got a real grip there, Danae. Softball?”
Danae smiled. Karl suspected they were batting for the same team.
Karl gave Danae the five dollar tour. He took her to the mailroom, the boardroom, the cafeteria. He even showed her where the john was. “I don’t mean to seem ungrateful,” she said, “but where’s the women’s?” She was alright.
Karl led her across the call centre floor towards his desk, the call centre kiddies gawking like they’d never seen two people walking before. He pulled a desk chair out of an empty cubicle and rolled it in front of them, up the aisle to his pod. Someone yelled out, asked if Danae was his replacement.
“Eat it,” Karl yelled back.
Karl couldn’t see Ed anywhere so maybe, just maybe, he’d gotten away with being twenty-five minutes late.
Karl flicked on his PC and monitors and started rummaging around in a drawer for a second headset. He caught Danae checking out his Spartan workspace.
“ Did you just start here?” she asked.
“I’ve been here seven years.”
“Holy shit. Seven?!” she said, rather loudly. “Years?” Then, trying to lower her voice: “That’s a really long time.”
Karl plugged in his headset. This fucking morning.
“I’m really sorry. Honestly, I’m not usually this much of a twit on my first day. It takes a lot longer to become obvious to everyone.”
Danae held his gaze. No bullshit. She was sorry. Karl nodded. “What do you know about call centres?”
“I used to work a hotline for a pharmaceutical company. Mostly, I got calls from suicidal patients about drugs for depression but I quit because after a year and a half because I didn’t know which side of the equation I was rooting for anymore, if you know what I mean.”
“Nothing life or death here. The only thing you have to remember at all times is that Ed, your boss, is an asshole.”
She looked at him a few moments, her clear green eyes assessing the information. “Got it.”
“He’ll listen to your calls. You might be here three years and he’ll tell you you’re doing a great job: he’s still going to listen to your calls. When you hear a long beep in your headset, you know he’s listening. And HE knows you know he’s listening. It’s a mind game. Do NOT let it get to you.”
“You get bonuses based on your call load. That’s the time you’re on the phone plus your after-call time multiplied by your call volume. The magic number you’re looking for is one-five-oh. Anything higher than that is gravy. You’re going to get yelled at. Every day. Figure out how to let it roll off your back or you’ll burn out in four months. You rep Amico and therefore, you are a corporate stooge. That’s how you’ll be perceived. People call because they want service but we only make money if we get rid of them fast. Don’t look for sense. It’s just the way it works.”
Danae held up her hand. “I don’t mean to interrupt but I have to. This job sounds TERRIBLE. How could you possibly do it for seven years?
“Every single person in this room is on their way to someplace else, whether they know it yet or not. I just took a stupid detour. “
“This is like having a conversation with Buddha and Dr. Phil at the same time.”
Karl smiled. She was alright. “Okay: What do you know about high speed internet?”
Danae flashed him a smile. “It’s really, really fast?”
COMING UP NEXT WEEK: The Big Picture