What Are You Wearing?Posted: August 18, 2011
I’ve never had phone sex. Not the get-naked-and-give-it-your-all kind anyway. Maybe I just never dated women who traveled enough. Or maybe it’s because I always found talking on the phone to be irritating and impersonal. Never having been a twelve-year-old girl, I never got that itch to sit on the phone and just talk it out—and that goes for any subject. I used to worry that I wouldn’t have anything to say (if you can image that). If you ever got me on the phone, I’d do everything I could to get to the brass tax as soon as possible. And once I knew there was nothing left to gain from the conversation…click.
So imagine the horror that filled me when I went to work at the chop shop and realized I’d be selling mortgages to people over the phone. Sure, I’d eventually meet them in person to get the deal done, but all initial client contact was done via telephone. The company would send out direct mail pieces to entire neighborhoods to let them know that something was terribly wrong with their mortgage and that they needed to call us immediately. We’d sit back and listen to the phone ring—the digitized sound of devastation, embarrassment and fettered hope.
That’s how I came to learn something everyone else already seemed to know: people love to talk, especially when the topic is them. Too often, I’d try to get down to the business at hand only to be led down some long, tangential road about the oddest things of which they could possibly think. There was this one guy who told me he needed to take cash out of his home (you know, because they’re ATMs). The request seemed harmless enough. But then I made a crucial mistake: I asked why. He went on to tell me that he’d been in a car accident a couple years back and suffered slight brain damage. The net result was that he lost his sense of taste. Instead of eating the foods he loved, he’d take vegetables and whatever else the doctor told him to eat and blend them together into a frothy beverage that he could drink. His story was sad, and it certainly made me pity him. But mostly it just made my skin crawl. He’d been going on for a while and I was dying to get off the phone. A moment before I gave him the old click, he said something that grabbed my attention.
“I love pizza,” he said. “You know when you’re eating it and you’re full and you still go back for one more piece because it’s so god damn good? That’s what I want. I just want to taste that one last piece.”
I ended up talking to him for about 45 minutes. The subject of his mortgage didn’t even come up until the very end—and I got the deal. That day, my relationship with the telephone changed completely. I love deep interpersonal connections—to me, that’s what life is really all about. But for some reason I figured it was something I couldn’t accomplish over the phone. This opened up an entirely new world for me. I started engaging people on the phone. I became interested in what they had to say rather than how quickly they could say it. I steered clear of discussing their mortgage for as long as possible. It actually helped, since people like doing business with people with whom they relate and feel comfortable. It was a win-win for me.
Another prospective client had me on the phone for about fifteen minutes talking about barbeque. I was happy to discuss it. That sort of conversation is totally in my wheelhouse. I mean, I eat, right? When we finally got to the topic of his mortgage, I asked him where he lived.
“In the home,” he said.
Thanks, pal, but where?
“Right now?” he asked. “On I-94.”
It turned out that he lived in a mobile home. You can’t get residential mortgages for a mobile home. The only way you don’t know this is if you’re the sort of person who would never buy a mobile home or if you’re a moron. I couldn’t really tell if he was fucking with me or not. But at the same time, I didn’t really care. Probably just like him, I was looking for a bit of companionship on a slow day.
As the months passed, I got into a groove where I was chatting the hell out of people. I’d show up for work excited to answer the phone and wait for that first line to come out of their mouth. Those first words always said so much about the person on the other end of the line. It was like opening a present on Christmas morning. You never knew what would be inside.
One morning, I was sitting at my desk. The phone rang. I picked up. The stranger on the other end of the line was a woman. Her voice was smoky and smooth and it echoed in my ear like it came from the well of a North Carolina holler. She sounded like Susan Sarandon circa Bull Durham. I’ll never forget the first words that came out of her mouth: “What are you wearing, sweetheart?”