Dirty Condoms And Smelly Butts: The Worst Job I've Ever Had
The worst job I ever had was as a Visa credit card collector at First Atlanta bank in Atlanta, Georgia. I’d been in America for only three weeks and had no banking experience, having worked as a journalist in Jamaica before leaving. But times were getting tough. I needed to save up money to buy a car and to start school the following year.
The training seminar went well. Strangely, the training manager was a fellow Jamaican who was committed to professionalism and dignity. Never yell at a customer, she warned us. Never eviscerate the dignity of anyone, and always start the conversation with: “Mrs. So and So, I’m Mr. Clark from First Atlanta. How are you? That’s wonderful. I’m calling because your account is 30 days past due with us. When can we expect a payment?”
Sounded easy enough, I reasoned.
And then all hell broke loose on the phone. My first customer, a curmudgeon and a racist from Alabama said to me: “Boy where you from? You got an accent.” I told her I was from Jamaica. “Well I don’t want no stinking nigger “ferner” telling me ‘bout that card. Had it for thirty years back when you was in diapers” She then went on to ask me how long I’d been working at the bank. I told her three weeks.
That was too much. She demanded to speak to my supervisor who also happened to be Jamaican (boy, we’re everywhere). I don’t know what my supervisor said to her, but she reminded me not to call her back for another three days; anything under that could be interpreted as harassment.
The following week, another customer asked if I wanted some of his ass for Thanksgiving as a gesture of goodwill and intent to pay.
“No, I don’t want your smelly ass (Uh, Uh, I’d broken the golden rule right there) I want the bank’s money.”
Two days later he sent in what I thought was a payment but, instead, turned out to be two dirty condoms with a note saying: You’re next. And I was next. No kidding. This asshole sent in a raw turkey via Fed Ex with its oversized rump tied into a neat knot and another condom draped over it. This guy was creative. There was no message this time. The turkey smelled just awful.
I was breaking down.
The worst part, really, was cancelling the credit cards of old ladies who had been up to date on all their payments for thirty years or more, but because of illness, had spiraled into debt and reneged on their payments. One eighty-five year old black woman from Mississippi said to me, her voice creaking with age and emotion: “Mr. Hill, Sir, I raised my three children on Visa and my two grandchildren. I sent them to school on that card. When I had no health insurance, I used it to pay doctor’s bills. If you take away that card, you done take away my life.”
Another supervisor who had been monitoring the call, a real meanie, came over, stood at my desk and gave me one of those: “bitch, please” looks.
“Cover dat phone, now.” She barked.
I obeyed. “Alright child,’” She began. “You need to be tellin’ her she needs to have a yard sale or sumpmn’. She eight-five, she got shit pilin’up she needs to git rid of. Tell her sell some of her jewelry, her wedding ring. Ah don’t care what! We need our money tadaaay! Okay? Okay.”
As the supervisor walked back to her seat to finish monitoring the call, I looked up at some of my black co-workers, many of whom had called me an Oreo a few weeks earlier because of the way I had talked and walked, they declared. “Walk like he own the damn place,” they had said.
Eventually, I called back the eighty-five year old woman and did something that could have gotten me fired, but something that I had had the power to do anyway. I told her to send a minimum of $15 (her minimum payment was $100), and that I’d re-instate the account. She wept and said God bless me and that she would pay it off. I knew she couldn’t. She had racked up $150,000 in medical bills on the card. But by the wonders of technology, I placed her account in the current file and deleted all her phone numbers.
After six months of having to cancel the accounts of good, decent, and hard-working Americans, and after finding myself growing into a harsh and insensitive human being, I quit. I had eviscerated the dignity of too many people and allowed my temper to flare too often. The last straw was when a teacher told me that I was too young to be a collector and that I was just a clerk.
I said: “Let’s get one thing straight. I am a clerk, but I’m not the one with bad credit. I don’t have a credit card balance. And guess what? I’m looking at your credit report. It sucks. I have good credit. You won’t be able to even bail yourself out of debtor’s prison if you continue on your present track. And plus, lady, I’ve got my school fees saved up already for next year. So the joke’s on you.”
She was furious and demanded to speak to my supervisor.
“I’m not a telephone operator. Please hang up and call back and go through the proper channels.” And with that I hung up on her.
And with that, I laughed. I knew this job wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t for me. I quit my job, started school and never looked back on the year of dirty condoms, swollen, smelly turkey butts, and old-school racists.