double identity

After graduating from college with a useless degree in Advertising, I couldn’t get a job. Plus, it was the Eighties: I had big sticky-uppy hair and wore brighty-colored miniskirts with white wrestling boots, a look for which Corporate America was not quite ready. The only job I could get was a job where no one could see me, as a telemarketer for a company that sold $3000 water purification systems to unsuspecting homeowners. This was before the bottled water craze, when people were still drinking tap water. I was the annoying cold caller that disturbed them during their dinner hour and tried to convince them to let one of our random salesmen into their homes to perform a free analysis on their tap water.

If the salesman could just get his foot into the door, he almost always made the sale. It was actually a good product, with the most stunning, disturbing, and effective product demonstration I’ve ever seen. The salesman would merely fill a drinking glass with tap water from the kitchen sink, and hand it to the homeowner, who would drink it. The salesman would then fill up the glass again, insert a special magnetic rod into it that would separate the positive and negative ions (apparently undoing the job that all the chemicals did during the water recycling process), and in a few short minutes, the glass would be filled with brown poopy water, thick with semi-solid oozing waste, which not even a person dying of thirst in the desert would be desperate enough to drink.

Having realized what he’d just drunk, the homeowner would puke into the nearest bucket, and then purchase the purification system immediately, even if it meant auctioning off his least attractive child in order to pay for it.

The problem, for me, was getting the salesman into the door. I am not a born orator, hate talking on the phone, and would have a difficult time selling air conditioning to a billionaire during a heat wave in Miami. They never should have hired me for the job, but I was the only person who showed up for the interview, so they didn’t really have a choice.

By the end of the first night, I hadn’t booked one appointment, and had been hung up on twenty five times. I felt personally rejected, as I should have, but I needed the job. Maybe if I pretended to be someone else, I thought, it wouldn’t feel like “I” was the one being rejected, and I wouldn’t now be sitting here at the end of the night, crying in the bathroom, wishing I had the nerve to drown myself in the toilet.

So that’s what I did. The next morning, it wasn’t Stacey who showed up to work, but a bubbly, engaging person named Jennifer. And boy, was Jennifer good. She booked a record three appointments in one night, resulting in two actual sales. Her employers loved her and her co-telemarketers tried copying her effortless banter, but unfortunately, “Jennifer” was exhausting. Naturally gregarious with a loud, exuberant personality, she used up a lot of gas, and I just couldn’t sustain her. Stacey, who spoke mostly to the dial tone in a half-hearted, apologetic tone, was much easier to maintain. “Where’s Jennifer?” my boss would say. “Bring back Jennifer!” But in the end, I just didn’t have the energy. Two days later, after only two weeks on the job and not one booking of her own, “Stacey” was “laid off.”

It was one of the happiest moments of Stacey’s life.

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