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Call Center Purgatory
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
  Winston's Struggle

Winston Smith writing in his diary. From the movie 1984(c)

Previous Post in the Series:Frederick Douglas and the Struggle

Once a year I read "1984" and "A Christmas Carol". I know that explains a great deal about who I am. Recently, I re-read 1984 again. The character Winston is one of my heroes because he struggles to be human in an environment that is designed to dehumanize. He gives up his life and eventually his soul and spirit so that he can live and think, even for a short time, as a human being.

Here is a quote from the book about what the party does to people:

When once your were in the grip of the Party, what you felt or did not feel, what you did or refrained from doing, made literally no difference. Whatever happened you vanished, and neither you nor your actions were heard of again. You were lifted clean out of the stream of history.

How would you live if nothing you did mattered? What would you do if you would die alone in your sleep and no one would notice your absence? How would that change you? What would motivate you after that?

Winston's definition of how the party was able to destroy all of the effects of whatever an individual may have been able to do might not be accurate compared to our world, but it is comparable to how the pressures of modern life remove any real motivation to act beyond just providing ourselves with food, housing and some mindless diversion. We may not have big brother breathing down our neck, but the pressure to conform to society's prevailing groupthink and not think for yourself is evident everywhere we go. At school, in our jobs, in our communities, in our families, society wants you to submit to its rules and think its thoughts.

Check out this quote from an unlikely source:
The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. -Friedrich Nietzsche

One of the re-occurring themes in the book is Winston's mother. He dreams about her, and how she died. Her strong personality, and character haunts Winston every day. She is Winston's internal proof that there is a spirit of humanity, a spark of the divine, the spirit of all that is good and lovely, can and has existed in a world and a future that has become as O'Brien will later describe as "...A boot stamping on a human face-forever."

Here's how Winston describes his mother:
He would have liked to continue talking about his mother. He did not suppose from what could remember of her that she had been an unusual woman, still less an intelligent one; and yet she possessed a kind of nobility, a kind of purity, simply because the standards that she obeyed were private ones. Her feelings were her own, and could not be altered from the outside. It would not have occurred to her that an action which is ineffectual thereby becomes meaningless.
The idea here that burrowed down into my psyche like some kind of mental tapeworm was the idea that an action which is ineffectual is not meaningless. If an action is part of who you are, if it expresses what your values, that gives it value, regardless of its outward efficacy.

As I pondered more, it became more and more clear to me that struggle in itself is valuable. Even if it involves nothing more than speaking the truth, writing a letter, giving $1 to someone who needs it, hugging your kids, carrying a protest sign, feeding stray animals, putting a bumper sticker on your car.

All of these are actions that people are quick to say doesn't matter, they say they are too small, and will amount to no substantive change in the real world. People mock actions like these as idealistic and stupid. But they are wrong. Any action based on what you know to be true, on what you hold as important, keeps you human.

Being human is jousting at windmills. Being human is writing a diary about your feelings even though you know you will be tortured for your beliefs. Being human is giving a bully the middle finger even though he will kick your ass afterwards. Being human is taking the time to care for people and their feelings, even when its not profitable. Being human is struggling and not letting the world wash over you and drown you in a commercial culture that defines you by what you buy and how you smell and not by the measure of what is inside you.
Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.-Mahatma Gandhi

Thanks for reading...


Next in the series:Struggling Poetry
Monday, November 29, 2004
  The Struggle-Frederick Douglas

Prelude to a struggle-part 1

It's not very often that I get a comment from a reader that seems to know what I'm going to say next. The following is a comment from Andrena @ Heavenly Ankh. Click on the title or find her on the blogroll to read more from this great writer:

My life is one big struggle...have had to struggle from childhood....I like what Frederick Douglas says:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."



Thanks for reading, and thanks again to Andrena for the great comment.


Next in the series:Winston's Struggle

  Prelude: The Struggle

Something has been brewing inside me lately. Like some stew that gets more tasty every day I leave it in the fridge. It's hard to describe. I spend a lot of time commuting, looking at the white lines speeding past thinking of nothing in particular and everything in general. This word has begun to surface again and again..."STRUGGLE."

Clearer and clearer it becomes, as if someone is cleaning off the windows in my brain and I can finally see what the landscape looks like. It is very possible that success and notoriety will escape me forever. I may not die satisfied with my life. But there is something that I can do that will let me die with dignity.


Struggle against the mediocrity and numbness every part of life seems to try to inject into me. Sometimes it feels like every event of life is some super-thin needle injecting me with a cereberal painkiller that causes me not to give a shit what happens to me or my dreams.

I've become aware that so much of life is like a tide of success in the strugle to be honorable, kind, disciplined, and principled, followed by the tide withdrawing back out to the sea. I am left high and dry and on the sand, feeling numb and confused. In this dry state I regress to that landlocked sense of not caring if I make it or not, living like so many of the lemmings heading towards that cliff of oblivion. When the next tide of energy finally arrives, it hydrates me enough to fight again, to struggle against the mediocrity and selfishness that is my constant companion. I only pray that the tide keeps coming, and I keep trying...

The hardest struggle of all is to be something different from what the average man is.
-Robert H. Schuller

To Be Continued...

Next in the series:Frederick Douglas and the Struggle
Sunday, November 21, 2004
  A little down time...


Sorry for the lack of posting as of late. Life seems to be getting a little more complicated than usual. I'm taking off for the week of Thanksgiving, and will be back on November 29th with a new series called:

"The Struggle"

Thanks for reading...

Wednesday, November 17, 2004
  The Anti-Cog

When I saw this blog, I was struck how it is the exact polar opposite of my blog. He's the anti-cog! Wilson Ng speaks about a business-driven life, and has founded many companies, and has several degrees in business. He's also a gracious person with some good things to say. I wonder if he'd like to become the General Manager for a call center...

Go visit his blog:

"Reflections of a Business Driven Life"

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday, November 16, 2004
  "I Don't Want to Write This..."

I don't feel like writing everyday. I don't want cry to my readers everytime the GM farts in my general direction. I don't want to be a whiny-ass.

I also don't like talking about things I would rather forget. Things that make me feel like I am a putz, or go on and on about how stupid I have let my life become, or how I have got this far in life without learning basic adult lessons. But, like driving slowly by an accident, I can't look away, no matter how bloody and horrible it is. Blogging my head-on collision of a job makes that non-specific feeling of dread melt away overnight.

So, here goes...

Everyone takes turns coming in early on different days and working weekends. This makes up for the strange off days we get off during the week and just the flexibility of a non-nine-to-five job.

On my early day recently, I got some shocking news. One of the veteran guys that helped train me in my first days here gave me a warning for the day ahead. The day before, I had left early. One of my trades went incredibly wrong, and it was totally my fault. There were some other people at fault, but I did not follow policy, I got in a hurry, and I think I lost the company a little more than a thousand dollars.

Normally, when I have made a mistake like this, I have been able to find a way to make it not my fault, or find a way to weasel out of it. But not this time. Not only that, but I messed up a trade for a customer that cries bloody murder any time his portfolio loses half a point of value. Now, I find out that I screwed up his great trade beyond all recognition.

The early warning from my friend was a good thing. Forewarned is forearmed. When my boss called me on the mistake, I was not shocked or floored. They could not catch me with my pants down, I had already taken them off, and was walking around in my boxers for everyone to see.

"Yeah, I saw that when I checked out my trades from yesterday. I can't believe I did that. There's no excuse for that. Is there anything I can do to help us recover from this?"

Larry looked up at me with a strange expression on his face. I think he was a little annoyed he couldn't yell at me, but he also knew there was nothing more he could do. "No...The GM will take this over. Go back to your desk..."

The rest of the day, he was exceptionally polite. He became very "professional", which is very unlike him. I kept waiting to be called in the office again, or get a written warning. It never happened. To receive nothing when you expect the world to drop on you is actually scarier than what you expected.

I walked by Larry's desk when he wasn't sitting there and saw a paper of some kind with my name on it. It was a memo, or report. I think he had to write to corporate to explain why we were paying back a big refund. I couldn't stay long enough to read it and had to keep walking.

Besides that stupid feeling of paranoia,(which is not without merit), part of me is scared I will lose my job. I know, no big loss. But my plan to leave here and never come back is not complete yet. Besides messing up my plans, just the idea that I would lose another job based on performance tears me up inside. I don't know if I have the strength to keep my sense of self intact if I can't make this work. Yes, I could go on and on explaining why I'm not meant for a "production job", why I'm destined for better things. But that's only partly true, the rest is self-justifying bullshit. Anytime you lose a job, it is still a ball-busting,ego-slap-down no matter if the job sucks or not.

In some ways, it feels good to be able to tell someone that I'm both scared that I could lose this dung-pit of a job that I have spent nine months complaining about, and disgusted with myself for being such a putz. Being human is like that though, we are a big ball of contradictions and weaknesses trying to either triumph over adversity or justify ourselves into a state of numb self-ignorance.

Oh yeah...That feels a little better.

Thanks for reading,


Sunday, November 14, 2004
  A Little Help Please...

Hey everybody,

I need some help with a couple of things to spruce up the old blog, and build some more traffic(just never enough with some people).

I am looking for an image hosting service that is both reliable and easy to use-the one I was using was only working half the time.

I am also looking for somewhere I can design a banner ad for Blog explosion.

Leave comments below,

Thanks for your help,


  "Ahh cheese...Is there nothing that you can't do?"

I like cheese...


Saturday, November 13, 2004
  Jaded Worldview

It's very hard for me to subscribe to the theory that people in the world are all basically good.

It's a worldview that will never take root inside me. The world reeks of so much selfishness sometimes that I can't see beyond it.

Call centers are sort of a microcosm of all that can be bad in the world. The callers certainly leap to mind. Lately, it seems that every call I have been getting is a struggle. The customers are angry, impatient, ignorant, ungrateful and just plain mean.

But not just the callers, some days the people I work with are hard to handle. Of course, the management here has always been on my list of sources of evil. I thought that mediocre management was the one thing that brought all the workers together. I used to believe in solidarity between the workers. But three days ago I was taught not to count on that.

The temps were gone, the boss was sick, and we were down at least five people. The phones are ringing off the hook. Not just with new customers, but customers calling back asking for status on their trades and wanting to change orders. Anyone can handle these supplemental requests, in fact, we are trained to try to help everyone and not just put people on hold. But two of the veterans have a bad habit of taking no calls unless they are for them. All of the new people are working together and trying to help each other, but the two veterans on the floor are just dumping on us every call that is not connected to them. They refused to help anyone but themselves, and refused to help the customers. Instead, they continued to put the customers into hold-purgatory, and yell out our names to pick up the phone calls.
The older guy who was the substitute supervisor on duty was even doing it.

Finally, I looked at him and said, "Rico, I'm taking a new call. You need to handle it."

He looked up at me sort sideways, and it finally shamed him into handling it. It was the only moment of justice for the whole day.

Evil exists in people's hearts, minds and desires. It will exist there for as long as there is a physical world, and has its roots in the spiritual world. Real virtue, and real good is certainly possible, but it is certainly like walking against a strong wind. I'm sure some of you will disagree...

Maybe it's my upbringing, or my peculiar philosophy, the books I have read, and the values I espouse. My own view of theology is very much to blame. When I see my own imperfections, self-indulgent thoughts and desires, and just plain sin, it's hard for me to deny that everyone isn't evil in one way or another, whether they choose to admit it or not. That's why grace exists, to show unconditional love to an individual whose heart possesses inexcusable evil.

Thanks for reading,


Friday, November 12, 2004
  Assorted linkage...

Check out three blogs I have been reading lately:

"Orange Haired Boy"
"Staying Cool"
"The Zero Boss"


Wednesday, November 10, 2004
  Don't be trite!

I was about 17 years old when it happened. I was sitting in the car with my mom as we were leaving work. I got a job with her, at a Christian publishing house in the Midwest.

One of the people we worked was a single lady in her thirties that was in some sort of personal crisis all the time. At work that day, she had told both of us about the problems she was having with her current boyfriend. Even though I was a teenage boy, I seemed to have inherited that same quality that my mom has that makes people want to tell me their problems.

I was very active in the church youth group, had recently become an usher, and felt I had it "all together". So when mom and I were discussing this lady's problems, I piped up and said, "You know, if she would just pray more, she wouldn't have so many problems." I said it with a real arrogant tone, like she was pathetically stupid to not see such an obvious answer to her problems.

"I don't ever want to hear you talk like that again! Do you understand me?! Don't be trite! People's problems are not that simple!"

My mom had never talked to me in that tone before. I was speechless. I was the baby, my mom thought I was the best thing since sliced bread and got me everything I ever asked for if she was able to. She had never spoken to me in such a harsh, direct tone.

As I got older, I understood the full truth of what my mom was saying. The world is a tough place. Everyone you see around you carries hurts, broken dreams and struggles to understand a world that changes the rules everytime you think you have it figured out. I could tell you some theological reasons for all of this, but it breaks down to God loves us, but we are bound to screw up, and life will suck for all of us from time to time.

When I look at people, or talk to them, I always try to remember that each one is an incredibly complex combination of thoughts, beliefs, and values. What makes people tick inside their hearts and minds is as complex as the strands of DNA that make up their cells. No one is as they appear, and people and their problems are not labeled so easily.

Do I have a point to all this?

Yes I do. Since the election, I have had this aching inside my heart. Every blog I read, every newspaper I pick up, every TV show I watch, is going on and on about how the Red States are all idiots, or how the Blue states don't have a clue. I have heard people say that anyone that voted for Bush must have been a retarded inbred, and how anyone who voted for Kerry is a godless atheist.

It's all arrogant bullshit, both sides.

All Republicans are not theocratic, gun-toting, sister-marrying fascists. All Democrats are not elitist, members of planned parenthood, who want to toss out all of historic Christianity for some form of sloppy one-world religious pluralism. These caricatures, these internal archetypes that we use to describe those "others" we hate are as dangerous and as damaging as any other forms of prejudice this country has experienced. Don't give in to this type of prejudice. There is more common ground between us than we realize.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, November 08, 2004
  "Memo: Re: Giving a rat's ass..."


From: Management

To: All Investment Coordinators

Subject: Multiple Topics

When determining the service fee to attatch to all smaller trades, please remember to take into account any extra services, such as more than three inquiries of research per trade, or more than two adjustments to the initial trade request.

It's come to our attention that callers may be trying to obtain free information without proper offer codes. Do not handle such calls.

If a corporate customer calls and you are unable to locate their account, do not deny service. You are to hand them over to a member of management so they can determine if anything can be done.

The very nature of the market causes some of our customers to sometimes be in an agitated state when they call. Do not argue with them. Remember to act in a professional matter no matter what they say.

Finally, I'm sure some of you may have noticed the drop in call volume, and the departure of several important corporate customers. What is amazing to those of us in management is that some of you continue to act like this does not affect you. More plainly, there are some of you that do not seem care at all. There needs to be a can-do attitude, and a desire to work together to keep our customers happy and keep the call volume up. If you have any ideas or input, please feel free to share this with management. Together we can make a difference for our great company!

This memo pissed off even the veterans who have become jaded and cynical. We have all been working for so long under the wage freeze, we are starting to give up hope. Insurance costs went up, gas prices go up, everything goes up, except our wages.

They get rid of extra help, they saddle us with new and exciting memos that would make the IRS confused. We work overtime, train endlessly, receive no rewards.

But yet, they remain surprised that some of us don't seem to care. The new saying around the office is "Hey, and, don't forget to care..."

Thanks for reading,


Friday, November 05, 2004
  The Bathroom

We have two bathrooms for the staff. Both of them are large and handicapped accessible. They are right next to each other, up the stairs by the vending machines and the human resources office. The ladies room is a nice dusty rose color, and I think I even saw some hand lotion and pretty soap when I walked by one day. Of course, the men's bathroom is less tidy, I'll just leave it at that...

I have worked in places with bathrooms that the bubonic plague would be ashamed to breed in. One place I remember did not have doors on the stalls. Not only that, but there was this one guy who would always stop and talk to you while you were there. It's not that he was a pervert, or liked making people feel uncomfortable. He was just oblivious to social boundaries, and fancied himself some sort of roving philosopher looking for a captive audience.

The reason I like the bathroom is that its like some little zen paradise. It's away from the call floor, and the memos and the stupidity. Sometimes, if I am really losing it, I turn off the light and just sit there for 4 or 5 minutes in total darkness. The only light I see is the flashing red LED on the automatic air freshener system, the only sound is the hiss of baby powder scent cleansing the atmosphere.

When I go in there, and lock the door, I can't hear Larry screaming, I can't hear that buzz of conversation like so many hopeless drones in a hive producing money for the queen corporation in another state.

There is one place in my world that is quiet and peaceful, though it's still kind of smelly...

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, November 03, 2004
  "The Will to Blog"

Check out another anonymous blog, this blog deals mainly with philosophy,politics and sociology.

"The Will To Blog"

  Cad Monkey in the Cubicle Jungle

Be sure to visit Cad Monkey in the Cubicle Jungle.


  Thank You John Kerry...

Thank you.

Thank you for ending the election soon, and letting us get on with life.

Thank you for not letting loose your lawyers to contest every vote in Ohio.

Thank you for acting presidential, even though you did not get elected.

You have exlempfied the sort of civility that this country needs.


Anonymous Cog

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
  My political statement about the election.

The polls will be closing soon, and I am very nervous. I'm not really freaking out about who is going to be president, because it's my opinion they're both weasels-just two different types. We're screwed either way.

But will we ever be truly united as a nation again? Are we losing something more important than putting the wrong guy into the oval office? Have we forever lost that sense of national unity? Nationalism has become more nasty, and civics is more cynical than I ever remember in my life.

Let me explain why I'm concerned.

When I was a kid, I remember election day would come, and the next day we would have a new president. Everyone may be sad for a while, and you knew not to talk about Carter or Nixon around Grandma, but the country accepted the count, and moved on. This continued on throughout my teen and young adult years. But everything started changing around the time of Bill Clinton, and really went downhill at the end of the 2000 election. That five weeks of limbo when we did not know who was going to be president was torture. The bad thing is, nothing has improved. Sure, we may not have hanging chads this year, but we already have an army of lawyers on both the Democratic and Republican side that are chomping at the bit to be released like the hounds of hell upon those of us in Election Purgatory.

If we don't step back from all of this name calling, and blaming, and berating, we are going to become like the Israelis and the Palestinians. Every evil is repaid by another evil. Every slight, every harassment is visited back ten-fold on the enemy.

It has to stop this year! The lawyers, the campaign bosses and power-mongers have to stop thinking about position, power and money, and for once do what they keep saying is foremost in their minds: Do what's best for America!

This country was not founded on such great principles of fairness and truth, only to be undermined by the endless arguing of lawyers, and the slimy tricks of the media elite!

Accept the count, accept the ballots, don't tear the country apart to try to make up for all of the wrongs both parties have suffered. The faith of the American people in the soundness of our system of government is worth much more than any party gains.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, November 01, 2004
  Epilogue..It finally happened

"It finally happened"

A week after the big event, things are still kind of strained. My relationship with Larry(my direct supervisor) has changed for the worse. Of course, there is no real love loss with the GM. I don't know if it is a permanent thing or not. Before that meeting, we got along good most of the time and even joked around on occasion, but that's been a thing of the past. He's really looking for me to do something wrong, and has tried to confront me about a couple of things, before I pointed out he needed to talk to someone else.

The biggest change is what has happened on the inside of me. I feel so much more calm now. I know I could lose my job anytime, but I'm not really worried about it. They will do what they will do. But to know where I stand in their eyes is very refreshing, even if its not good news.

I realize that in the big scheme of things I am only a semi-skilled no-name clerical worker on the back side of thirty, who got mouthy with his supervisors. No grand illusions on this end of the keyboard.

On the other hand, for a shy, passive-aggressive person to stand up to abusive people is a big deal.It does not matter if they yell at me or fire me, because inside, I have already won. Sometimes a small moral victory is the best that we can hope for...

Thanks for reading...



Exploring the mind numbing insanity and childish corporate culture of an unknown call center employee.

Purgatory: A place of suffering and torment with an unknown duration. In Roman Catholic Theology-the place where the dead are purified from their sins.

Email:anonymous.cog at

"One must know oneself, if this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better." -Blaise Pascal

The Cog is listening to:
"Wake Up"
By Rage Against The Machine

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