Today is Thangzgibbin, and I am thangful that I don’t work at the AAA Road Service Call Center anymore, which is where I drew this picture on Thanksgiving day in 2008 in between calls from angry people who wanted to know why their tow truck wasn’t there five minutes after they’d called the first time.
I still have nightmares about incessant beeping in my ear and being held responsible for things over which I have no control. I still brace myself for an argument every time I have to get on the phone with a stranger.
Whenever I think about “corporate culture”, with its tunnels of beige and labyrinthine rows of cubicles, the arrays of personal photos and the sad little ferns and the gonks placed around on the desks like an infinite galaxy of fading childhood dreams, I think of that job.
I had worked in another office for ten years before I moved out of state and got hired at the call center, but that was a local operation. Strictly small-time. The management there tried everything they could think of in order to grind their workers’ souls down to little nubs, but they simply didn’t have the archetypal clout of an enormous, ancient, multi-national firm. There were only around 200 employees there, and at least half of us were artists of some kind. It was a glorious example of clashing realities: unrelenting pressure from one side creating horrific super-powered mutations of the very forces it was trying to squash on the other. We didn’t have to deal with the public there, either, so it was strictly Management vs. Underlings, and we ran rampant in every direction while they played whack-a-mole with our spirits. Our antics were legendary. Our cubicles were an archipelago of chaotic beauty.
AAA tried to tell me what books I could and couldn’t read at my desk between calls. Someone complained about that book cover*, the supervisor said. Can’t you at least turn it over?
No, I said. I’ll read what I like, thanks all the same. Let other people keep their noses in their own books and mind their own business. It felt good to stand up for myself against an unreasonable demand that they knew they had no power to enforce. The expression on the supervisor’s face was priceless. Score one point for me.
I really did try to figure out where I could fit in that environment and make it work, but the whole place just…chaffed. There were simply no me-shaped spaces there.
After a couple years of this, I had a bona fide, therapist-approved nervous breakdown and never went back. Instead, I spent the next six years in college studying art and Latin and recovering from my battle with that version of consensual reality which spit me out like a watermelon seed: unpalatable and intact.
*I was reading Lucifer Rising, a scholarly history of the “Satanic Panic” surrounding heavy metal in the 80s. Boo. Scary.