Authors: Dan Fante
THE MAIN REAL difference between Orbit and the other telemarketing rooms I had worked for in the past was their pitch. That, and that everyone dressed up and wore plastic calligraphy name tags. Eddy Kammegian’s script permitted no ‘deals’ between his salespeople and the mooch—no ‘gifts’, no ‘contests’, no color TV’s sent to the Office Manager’s home address, no all-expense weekends at Trump’s on the boardwalk in Atlantic City ‘with this next order’, no ‘rebate checks’ mailed to a brother-in-law’s address or a P.O. Box.
At my last bucket-shop job in New York selling ‘balloons’, my office supplies presentation went like this:
Mary-Beth, Dave Conway calling you (you never use your real name when you’re selling balloons), Distribution Manager over here at Central Supply. I just got a radio call from one of my drivers. We were making a delivery in your area. Our truck tipped over down the block from you on Fourteenth Street (or Forty-sixth or Seventh Avenue). That’s the bad news. Here’s the good news: nobody was hurt, and we’ve got fifty gross of the Paper Mate
with the crates broken open, all over the street. You know these, Mary-Beth, they come in the standard dark blue or black ink. Which color do you use out there, the black or the blue?…‘I USE THE BLUE, DAVE…’ Great! These are the retractables with
the silver button on top and the matching pocket clip and they come boxed by the gross…Mary-Beth, as you know, these normally sell all over town in bulk at 39 cents each but, because of the accident, because my guys have to wrap ‘em in rubber bands and stuff ‘em into plastic bags, I can let you have these today only at 29 cents a copy. You save $14.40 on each gross. It’s a win-win deal for you, Mary-Beth! Now, my question is: Did you want one gross or would the full three gross be better for you?…‘DAVE, TELL ME HONESTLY; IF I DON’T LIKE THEM, CAN I SEND THEM BACK?’ Boy, am I a knucklehead! I forgot to mention about the premium you qualify for just by placing your order today. You’re going to be glad I called! Do you like coupons, Mary-Beth? Supermarket double coupons? Let me say it another way: How much do you spend on groceries every week? Fifty dollars? A hundred? Well, enclosed with this order—I’m making a note right now as we speak—I’m sending out $1,000 worth of coupons on everything from detergent to steaks to baked goods to deli coldcuts. Just my way of saying thanks, Mary-Beth…Mary-Beth, do I need a P.O. or should we just go ahead on your verbal?
Now compare the above ‘truck tipped over’ ‘balloon’ scam pitching knock-off pens with Eddy Kammegian’s Orbit presentation selling legitimate printer ribbons and storage media:
Bob, Bruno Dante calling from Orbit Computer Products. (At Orbit everyone uses their own real name.) Can you hear me okay?…Great! Bob, are you the one handling the ordering on the computer supplies: the
computer ribbons and the re-stuffed laser cartridges?…Outstanding. Bob, what my company can do is price protect you. What kind of printers are you folks running out there at Bob’s Saddle & Feed?…Excellent. How many of those do you go through in an average month?…Great. Now Bob, on one gross only of the 4245 printer ribbon at $36.95 per unit, to get you fully price protected on our new high-yield premium product, would the ribbons go out to your attention?
Completely straight. See? His people exaggerated sometimes, but there was no sleaze. Of course, at first, the guy has to object a few times, say he doesn’t want any, that he has too many on hand, or that he gets them for less money. Naturally, this is all bullshit. Data Processing guys always lie to get you off the phone. The other thing I found out about data processing guys from working at Orbit is that most of them are inexplicably named Bob.
MOOCH: Okay, sounds great. But I’m real busy right now and I’ve got way too many ribbons on the shelf. Get back to me in a few months, we’ll talk then.
ME: Absolutely. That’s no problem, Bob. I know when I call in cold like this you’re not going to have an immediate need. But let me ask you a quick question: You
have the authority to evaluate on a new product,
I mean, I’m talking to the head and not the feet.
MOOCH: Sure, it’s my department. I’m the boss.
ME: Great Bob. I don’t want to overstock you. You’d lose faith in me, and I’d lose the potential of a good customer. Why don’t we do this: I’ll cut that quantity in half and go with just 72 only. You can handle that. And I’ll put ‘em on a slow boat and they won’t even arrive until (next week). Oh, and let me
give you my name and number just in case you ever need me. Have you got a pen handy?
MOOCH: Right here.
ME: (In this part I give Bob my name and number and make him repeat it back to me. That distracts him nicely. Then…) Good. Now Bob, will I need a P.O. on this order, or can I go on just your verbal?
MOOCH: Duh, duh…my verbal is okay.
ME: That’s an excellent decision, Bob. I’ll be getting back to you in a few weeks just to see how well they ran for you. Nice meeting you on the phone.
JIMMI VALIENTE WAS new at Orbit Computer Products too. Her ass was sensational. Hard. Packed and round like a stuffed foam pillow from Motel 6. ‘Masume’ was her real name from her mother’s side, but she made everybody call her ‘Jimmi’. Exotic. Beautiful. Half Mexican, half Iranian. Her desk was located one behind mine in the Incubator, a separate trainee room where all new telemarketers start out. Eddy Kammegian interviewed and hired us both on the same day.
Jimmi was twenty-six, beautiful and street smart, from the Pacoima projects. Completely self-reliant. She had an intense, in-your-face honesty about her. Long black hair and long legs and coffee-with-milk skin and shocking, defiant, blue eyes, and two tiny gold hoop rings piercing the skin of her left nostril. She was six months sober off rock cocaine and alcohol. That first day of our phone training, when we were all introducing ourselves around, Jimmi, like a man would, shook my hand and smiled. When I sat down, I felt my pants. My dick was hard as iron.
She was born and raised in L.A. like me. On the phone or talking to our supervisor, Rick McGee, she spoke perfect television American. But, one-on-one, her dialect was a cross between Van Nuys gang-banger and Twelve Step newcomer.
At the end of day three, the final day of our phone training before our written test, we met after work at Norm’s Coffee Shop on Lincoln Boulevard to study and memorize ‘The Seven
Keys Of Selling’ from Charles Roth’s book,
Secrets of Closing Sales,
an Orbit requirement. Jimmi guzzled three Pepsis while I drank coffee. Everything that came out of her mouth was direct and unedited, completely up front.
When we were done with our memorizing, she offered me a ride home in her rag-top bug, then paid for both our drinks while the cash register guy oogled her perfect ass and attempted to make chitchat, wanting to know if he had seen her on TV.
We laughed and talked more on the ride. The back seat of her bug was filled with Barbie Dolls. Sad and old, some with their soiled dresses looking like forgotten hookers in the L.A. soot. Jimmi kept one between her legs as she drove.
When we stopped at a traffic signal, she grabbed her tits and began screaming a crazy imitation of a high school valley-girl brat demanding an implant boob job from her parents. Nuts. Very funny.
Outside my sober-living house in Venice, as I opened her bug’s car door to leave, she put a hand on my arm. The blue eyes were like two flamethrowers. She pulled me back. ‘So,’ she said, already using Orbit’s boiler room jargon,
‘I am fully price protected! Right?
‘Right,’ I said, playing along,
‘Twenty-four months. The total price freeze.’
Jimmi cooed, ‘You were a big help to me today, baby. You know this shit.’
‘Hey, any time.’
‘You think I’m funny, right? I mean, for a towelhead-wetback bitch?’ She grabbed her tits.
‘Do these go out to your attention?’
I had to laugh.
Now the perfect, beautiful smile. A three-finger Pacoima
gang-banger salute against her chest, slipping into vato hip-hop, ‘We’re da team, esse. Jou know? Iz jou ‘n me, homie.’
I copied the salute against my ribs then turned to get out. She held to my shirt. ‘What?’ I said.
Reaching across me she pulled my door closed. ‘I need you to talk to me a minute, man—like real people—okay?’
She clicked the bug’s ignition off, and the motor sputtered dead. ‘Gimme a cigarette, okay?’
I handed her the pack.
‘Okay, this is like AA, okay? We’re both program people. Sober, right? I truss you. Like one alkie talking with another alkie. Okay?’
‘Talk,’ I said.
Jimmi lit a Lucky and took a deep hit. Then it came out, flooding her bug like a backed-up Van Nuys storm drain. Two years at Santa Monica College studying drama until her drinking and amphetamine habit got out of control. Her amazing looks got her a dozen TV commercials, a full-time Victoria’s Closet modeling gig, and a twenty-thousand-dollar check for a nudie spread in
Taking another hit, she blew the sweetness at me. ‘But see,’ she sneered, ‘alla tha shit was “BC”.’
‘BC?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, you know, before crack.’
It made me laugh.
Her life fell apart. No longer able to hide her drug problem, the disgusted husband, Sean McCarthy, a football player turned TV actor, had given up and moved on. Jimmi got jail time after two arrests in Hollywood for possession. Out on the street again, afraid to deal dope again and violate parole, to support her habit she took up the only gig she could hold: Lap dancing and performing nude at Strip Crazy on Century
Boulevard. During her private session with the johns, she would lean close to ask if they wanted full service. Her blow jobs were two hundred extra.
But, like me, not much had improved in sobriety. ‘Attitude problems’ caused her to quit or be fired from three dancing jobs in three months. Lately, her older sister’s husband, Caesar, had begun demanding that she catch up on back rent or vacate their rear bedroom at the house in Los Feliz. Collection agencies rang her phone in the middle of the night; she had a dresser full of traffic tickets gone to warrant. The pressure of staying clean and working too was making her nuts. Jimmi considered Orbit Computer Products her last shot.
She grabbed my arm. ‘Pretty screwed-up, right mijo?’ she whispered. ‘I mean, lap dancing. Private booths with red curtains. Suckin’ dick for money. Tha shit. Thaz deep down even for a loca chola.’
I lit my own cigarette and tossed the match.
There was a connection between us. We both felt it. Two fuckups holding on by our fingers. ‘People do what they gotta do,’ I said…‘I’ll help. We’ll work together.’
In gratitude, smiling, she ran a long finger over the hair above my ear. ‘Right,’ she breathed, ‘“don’t quit before the miracle.” Right, Bruno?’
But then something was different. She twisted away in her seat. The eyes went empty. ‘Hey Bruno, know wha?’
‘Troof? Okay to say the troof—to say what’s up?’
‘Well…don’ be mad, but you’re like a pussy. You know?’
The words stung. I felt my anger. ‘No,’ I said. ‘I don’t know.’
‘Before—when we was havin’ Pepsis—and right now. You lookin’ ah me. All sweet. All fuckin’ watery baby-dog eyes n’ shit. I mean, you’re a pussy. Easy meat. Know wham sayin’?’
I popped the car door open to get out, then turned back. ‘You’re the one who wanted to talk.’
Leaning across me, she pulled the door closed. Her thick, perfumed hair was in my face—her smell, her tits hard against my arm and chest. Before I could pull away, she was licking my face, my cheek. Two big, wet, slow swipes, the way a friendly Irish Setter would kiss its master. Then she kissed me, deeply. Slowly. Her tongue twisting in my mouth.
Afterward, seeing my eyes and my reaction, she fell back, laughing. ‘See? Was I wrong?’
I pulled away, angry.
‘If we was in the club,’ she hissed, ‘you was wit me—private—I could get an extra two hundred, maybe three, no problem.’
‘So I’m like a trick, right?’
She giggled, took a new cigarette from my pocket and lit it. ‘Done get all mad’n’shit, man. It’s jus’ the troof. You’re easy.’
It was enough. Outside her bug, I put my head back through the window. My mouth wanted revenge. I dug in my pocket, pulling out fifty or sixty cents in change, flinging it on the seat. ‘This is all I’ve got,’ I said, tossing the coins at her. ‘After we get paid our first checks, I’ll have more cash. You can suck me off and lick my asshole then.’
COLD CALLING IN telemarketing is a weird test of survival. Too confronting for normal people. A hundred calls per shift—face deep in the lion’s mouth, hour after hour—dialing for dollars. The bodies pile up fast. By Tuesday afternoon of my first week on the phones, two trainees from our group of four, Jeff Baitz and Prince Johnson, had already quit. Blown out. Jimmi and I were talking again. I knew it was because she was using me, needing my help. We ate lunch together every day. As friends. I didn’t care. I liked the company.
But by late Thursday afternoon, she was sinking too. Behind me at her desk, I could hear her slamming her phone down after each cold-call rejection from a receptionist or a data processing manager. Her pitches were monotone; customers were saying ‘no’ easily after sensing the clumsiness in her typed-out delivery. She had only six deals for the week, four under the minimum limit. Grounds for termination.
On the other hand, I was home, taking no prisoners. After the initial hour or two of uncertainty adjusting to Kammegian’s pitch, my old sales adrenaline had taken over. Without cocaine and booze, my head was clear. I was like a dog with a rag in its mouth. I refused to hear ‘NO’. I’d cut the quantity, give a dollar off per cartridge as a discount, defer the shipment, propose an eighteen-month price freeze, whatever it took—then CLOSE the deal. My success ratio of pitches to sales was higher than it had ever been. I had twenty-six cold-call deals for the week,
tops in the company. Twelve hundred and seventy dollars in solid commissions. Already Frankie Freebase was bragging that he’d discovered the new wonder mouth on the sales floor.
Then, finally, Jimmi bled out. It was Friday morning. She had no deals at all before the break. Sitting together in her car in the parking lot at lunch, I sipped my coffee and watched her chain smoke and drink Pepsis. In boiler rooms, you have it or you don’t.
‘You buy their tears, or they buy your toner!’
Furious and sobbing, she grabbed me around the neck. She’d never make quota. She knew it. Today was her last day. All I could say was, ‘I’m sorry, Jimmi.’ It was then that I realized something: I would do anything to keep her around, help her save her job. Anything at all.
Half an hour later, in the middle of a sale, the solution came to me. A plan. For the next three hours, I dialed my ass off, slamming DP Managers and stock clerk mooches, cutting prices, pushing partial boxes of ribbons, whatever it took. At ten minutes before the last order pick-up of the day, I had six fresh sales in my desk tray. They were small deals, but the size didn’t matter. Scooping them out, I erased my own name, then wrote ‘Valiente’ and Jimmi’s Orbit ID number on four of the orders.
I got up to go to the crapper, and on my way passing her desk I slid the pages into her ‘out’ basket. I knew they would put her at quota and save her job.
After I returned from the bathroom and a smoke, I was at my desk totaling my commissions when I felt the thud of a thick eraser against the collar of my shirt. Behind me the blazing Siamese eyes held nothing back. ‘Thanks, babee,’ Jimmi cooed. Then, as an afterthought, she grabbed her crotch. ‘Wait, vato,’ she whispered, ‘I suck your dick for free.’
We both laughed.
At five o’clock she was still on the phone, so I decided to go to the bookkeeper’s office to ask for an advance. I had won the cold-call bonus for the week: two hundred and fifty dollars.
New Incubator people were normally required to wait an extra seven days to get their first check because of the lag time in verifying orders, but, because I needed the money and because I had won the contest, I’d convinced Frankie Freebase to ask Kammegian for an exception and get me a thousand dollar advance.
It took almost half an hour for me to collect the money. Tilly, the payroll lady, kept ringing Kammegian’s line, unwilling to cut me the check and cash it without the boss’s personal okay. I didn’t mind waiting. I’d had my biggest telemarketing week in years. Twelve-hundred-and-eighty-six dollars for five days work. Take home. No taxes were deducted, because Orbit paid all its phone people as Independent Contractors.
Tilly finally got through to Kammegian and obtained his okay. I signed the pay vouchers. She only had enough money on hand to cash my two hundred and fifty dollar bonus, so I was given a payroll check for the rest.
I was leaving Payroll when Doc Franklin walked in. Orbit’s top salesman. We hadn’t met yet, but I had heard about him from Frankie. My supervisor, with a sneer, let me know that Doc would be easy to recognize. His trademark at work was his crazy hats. The man behind me in line sported a thousand dollar business suit topped off by a leather WWI aviator’s helmet, complete with a beanie propeller.
Tilly introduced us. Franklin’s smile was ear to ear. Honest and friendly, not filled with grease like Kammegian and Frankie Freebase.
Doc put his thumb and pinkie finger to the side of his
head pantomiming a telephone,
‘Do these ribbons go out to your attention?’
I played the game, snarling,
‘Bob, I am fully price protected!’
‘First two weeks, right?’
‘Right. First week on the phone,’ I said.
Playfully, Doc snatched my pay vouchers from my hand. After seeing the amounts, he thrust his palm in the air to be high-fived. I slapped skin. ‘My man!’ he roared. ‘Only one week on that horn! Almost fifteen hundred bucks! Twenty-six new accounts! Outstanding!’
‘Thanks,’ I said. ‘Feels good.’
‘You’re sober too, right?’
An odd question. ‘Four months,’ I said. ‘Why? Does it show?’
Doc laughed, then reached up to give his helmet propeller a spin. ‘Just a guess. Around here, we’re all ex-juicers, junkies, and crack heads. I figured you for a member of the club.’
I smiled back. ‘I’ve joined an AA cult, right?’
‘More like a sober success machine. Around here, it’s white flags or toe tags. Eddy calls it, “sur-fuckin’-render”!’
Tilly handed Doc his sealed pay envelope. After signing the voucher he tore the flap open, then passed the check to me. He hadn’t looked at the amount inside. I read the numbers in disbelief: $7,099. One week’s commissions.
I handed it back. ‘Hey,’ I said laughing, reaching out to check the amount again, playing the sales pitch game, ‘that really is
the price protection.
Franklin shook my hand. ‘Keep it up, my man! You’re on your way. Orbit’s a million dollar deal. Problem is, we shove it up your ass fifty cents at a time.’
When I got back to the Incubator, Jimmi was gone. The room was deserted, the lights out. I was about to leave when something drew me to her desk. A queer need to be where she had been, to be intimate, to feel her presence.
Looking around to make sure I was alone, I pulled her chair out and sat down. Jimmi’s heat, her perfume, the pulse of her, was everywhere. I could feel her.
On the desk pad next to her computer was her office stuff: a freshly washed coffee mug, a row of sharpened pencils, a calculator, a scratch pad, paper clips, brochures to be envelope-stuffed and mailed out, and a stack of order blanks. A Barbie Doll in a Harley Davidson outfit rested against her phone. Everything was neat, ready for the morning. I began touching and handling each thing, wanting to experience what she experienced.
The Incubator door hissed open. Toxic Bob, another trainee, came in. I stayed motionless in the semi-darkness. Without looking around or turning on the overhead lights, he went to his desk, grabbed his jacket off the back of a chair, then left the room.
Alone again, my fingers found one of Jimmi’s pencils, a short one. I handled it, then wrote my name on a scrap of paper, then rolled the wooden-ribbed sides against my lips. The same fingers that had written with this pencil had also visited the magic place between her legs. I licked the yellow covering until its salty taste was gone.
Pulling open her top drawer, I continued my tour. At first, there wasn’t much: a pack of Kleenex and more office paraphernalia, a cheap stapler, erasers, paper clips, a glue stick, a lined box of 3x5 cards, and two Baby Ruth candy bars. But lifting the cards, I discovered a small treasure: Jimmi’s lipstick. The dark red that touched her mouth. Sacred.
Sliding the gold tip off I drew a thick line on my tongue.
The taste filled me, shocking my mouth. Jimmi’s taste. Wondrous. Intense.
I was seized by a perversion. For a moment, before acting, I listened for footsteps in the hall. There were none. Then, unzipping my fly, I pulled out my cock. Taking my time, I painted the head of my dick with the gooey red stick. With each smudge my cock got thicker, more swollen. The fear that another late Incubator straggler might re-enter the room intensified the trip.
Lowering my pants to the floor, I began to jerk off. Long, slow strokes. In less than a minute, I felt myself ready to cum. Grabbing the closest thing—Jimmi’s Pepsi mug—I let go my load. Blast after blast, into the cup.
When I was done I found the pack of tissues and wiped my cock, then pulled up my pants.
Stealing her lipstick was a petty thing to do, but I had to have it. It was hers. A relic. Clicking the top back on, I dropped the tube into my pocket, then left the room.