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113

White Voice

Teen telemarketing at the dawn of the mortgage boom

by Dan Sinykin

bookmarker.dellsystem.me/s/white-voice
3
terms
6
notes

a really excellent first-person essay on telemarketing that touches on telemarketing, the previous financial crisis, and Sorry To Bother You

Sinykin, D. (2019). White Voice. n+1, 35, pp. 113-128

113

THE MAN ON THE OTHER END of the line is furious. Last time we came, he says, we left his basement buried in dust. He spent hours cleaning our mess, a process he now describes in detail. “I’m so sorry,” I tell him. “I’d like to do what I can.” I ask him to go to the basement and look at the furnace, where he’ll find a sticker with the names of the technicians who served him.

As soon as he sets down the receiver I know he’s mine. A minute passes, then two. I ready my plan. When he gets back he tells me the names, and I take a beat. “Like I thought,” I say with studied camaraderie, “them. We let them go shortly after that.”

Actually, I’ve never heard of these technicians. I’ll forget their names as soon as I’m off the phone. “Listen.” I sigh. “I feel terrible. Let me do something about it.” I raise the price $30 so I can tell him I’ll take an extra $30 off, in addition to the $40 he’ll save thanks to our fall sale, which will become our winter sale, and then our spring sale. Two minutes later I hang up the phone and spin around in my office chair. “Bling!” I yell to Tuck, the pit boss.

damn

—p.113 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

THE MAN ON THE OTHER END of the line is furious. Last time we came, he says, we left his basement buried in dust. He spent hours cleaning our mess, a process he now describes in detail. “I’m so sorry,” I tell him. “I’d like to do what I can.” I ask him to go to the basement and look at the furnace, where he’ll find a sticker with the names of the technicians who served him.

As soon as he sets down the receiver I know he’s mine. A minute passes, then two. I ready my plan. When he gets back he tells me the names, and I take a beat. “Like I thought,” I say with studied camaraderie, “them. We let them go shortly after that.”

Actually, I’ve never heard of these technicians. I’ll forget their names as soon as I’m off the phone. “Listen.” I sigh. “I feel terrible. Let me do something about it.” I raise the price $30 so I can tell him I’ll take an extra $30 off, in addition to the $40 he’ll save thanks to our fall sale, which will become our winter sale, and then our spring sale. Two minutes later I hang up the phone and spin around in my office chair. “Bling!” I yell to Tuck, the pit boss.

damn

—p.113 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago
115

Ninety minutes into our four-hour shifts, Derek—who must have been about 40, average height and weight, thin black hair cut short, red face pitted with acne scars—would emerge from the storage closet he called his office, take a drag from his Marlboro, squint his eyes, and scream, “Spin ’em around!” It was a daily ritual. On days we were selling well, the speeches were short, but on one particularly slow day in June at the end of the millennium, he delivered what would be his masterpiece:

There are two kinds of people in the world. Fuckers and fuckees. Which are you? Are you a fucker? Or are you someone who gets fucked? Look. We’re having a shit day. Tuck, what’s the tally? The tally’s shit. You bastards aren’t selling shit. You say it’s June, no one’s home, no one’s thinking about their furnace. Lemme tell you a secret. You making a sale, it has nothing to do with furnace and duct cleaning. It’s about one thing. Are you a fucker? Or do you bend over for the bitch on the other end of the line and get fucked? You say the sheets are bad, you have a shitty neighborhood. Look. You making a sale, it has nothing to do with who’s on the other end of the line. They own a home, they have a furnace, you make a sale. End of story. It has zero to do with the sheets. It has to do with precisely one thing. Are you a fucker? Or are you a little bitch who gets fucked? You let him hang up on you? You got fucked. You let him check in with his wife? You got fucked. Tell him, does he ask his wife before he mows the lawn? Does he ask her before he jerks off in the basement? Tell him, I’ve got a sweet little opening for Tuesday at three, how’s that? Wanna know a secret? I’ve owned a home for fifteen years. How many times do you think I’ve got my furnace and ductwork cleaned? Sawchuk? Sinykin? Boehmer? How many times? Twice? Fuck you. Zero. Zero times. You think it matters, what we’re selling? You think it matters, the product? The product is shit. Only one thing matters. Those people on the other end of the line, they’re weak. They’re waiting for you. They pick up the phone and there you are. You tell ’em, Here I am. You say, I’ve come for you. You—you—are fuckers. You are fuckers. And you fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck.

—p.115 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

Ninety minutes into our four-hour shifts, Derek—who must have been about 40, average height and weight, thin black hair cut short, red face pitted with acne scars—would emerge from the storage closet he called his office, take a drag from his Marlboro, squint his eyes, and scream, “Spin ’em around!” It was a daily ritual. On days we were selling well, the speeches were short, but on one particularly slow day in June at the end of the millennium, he delivered what would be his masterpiece:

There are two kinds of people in the world. Fuckers and fuckees. Which are you? Are you a fucker? Or are you someone who gets fucked? Look. We’re having a shit day. Tuck, what’s the tally? The tally’s shit. You bastards aren’t selling shit. You say it’s June, no one’s home, no one’s thinking about their furnace. Lemme tell you a secret. You making a sale, it has nothing to do with furnace and duct cleaning. It’s about one thing. Are you a fucker? Or do you bend over for the bitch on the other end of the line and get fucked? You say the sheets are bad, you have a shitty neighborhood. Look. You making a sale, it has nothing to do with who’s on the other end of the line. They own a home, they have a furnace, you make a sale. End of story. It has zero to do with the sheets. It has to do with precisely one thing. Are you a fucker? Or are you a little bitch who gets fucked? You let him hang up on you? You got fucked. You let him check in with his wife? You got fucked. Tell him, does he ask his wife before he mows the lawn? Does he ask her before he jerks off in the basement? Tell him, I’ve got a sweet little opening for Tuesday at three, how’s that? Wanna know a secret? I’ve owned a home for fifteen years. How many times do you think I’ve got my furnace and ductwork cleaned? Sawchuk? Sinykin? Boehmer? How many times? Twice? Fuck you. Zero. Zero times. You think it matters, what we’re selling? You think it matters, the product? The product is shit. Only one thing matters. Those people on the other end of the line, they’re weak. They’re waiting for you. They pick up the phone and there you are. You tell ’em, Here I am. You say, I’ve come for you. You—you—are fuckers. You are fuckers. And you fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck and fuck.

—p.115 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago
117

In the lull before September 11, before the Iraq war and resurgent white nationalism and 4chan, we were young, upper-middle-class white men with excess energy, more than we could expend on Swedish death metal or catfishing with a 28.8 Kbps modem. Our lefty cousins, ahead of the curve, attentive already to wealth inequality and wage stagnation, fought the Battle of Seattle, smashing Starbucks windows and looting Niketown against globalization, an augury of Naomi Klein and, much later, Occupy Wall Street. Meanwhile, I wrote essays defending urban sprawl and deriding global warming as a hoax.

Ours was a pastiche conservatism, rooted in our belief that we were smarter and more deserving of success than anyone else. Because we lacked evidence for this belief, we adopted an ethos of quotidian domination; we were debased Nietzscheans for whom cruelty signaled strength. We convinced the school to let us do an independent study on Ayn Rand. We called it “Philosophy.” Because we had already read Rand’s full oeuvre, we spent our time creating an elaborate joke, a series of intricately illustrated posters for made-up clubs—the John Stamos Society, the Council of Elders—vehicles for coded slander and eerie absurdism expressed through Simpsons and South Park quotes, lampooning a classmate’s mother’s alleged sexual habits or depicting two clowns discussing an abusive father over a water cooler. We had a mentor, a young social studies teacher who was named Branden after Rand’s acolyte and lover, Nathaniel Branden. But he was a liberal, for which we mocked him to his face.

—p.117 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

In the lull before September 11, before the Iraq war and resurgent white nationalism and 4chan, we were young, upper-middle-class white men with excess energy, more than we could expend on Swedish death metal or catfishing with a 28.8 Kbps modem. Our lefty cousins, ahead of the curve, attentive already to wealth inequality and wage stagnation, fought the Battle of Seattle, smashing Starbucks windows and looting Niketown against globalization, an augury of Naomi Klein and, much later, Occupy Wall Street. Meanwhile, I wrote essays defending urban sprawl and deriding global warming as a hoax.

Ours was a pastiche conservatism, rooted in our belief that we were smarter and more deserving of success than anyone else. Because we lacked evidence for this belief, we adopted an ethos of quotidian domination; we were debased Nietzscheans for whom cruelty signaled strength. We convinced the school to let us do an independent study on Ayn Rand. We called it “Philosophy.” Because we had already read Rand’s full oeuvre, we spent our time creating an elaborate joke, a series of intricately illustrated posters for made-up clubs—the John Stamos Society, the Council of Elders—vehicles for coded slander and eerie absurdism expressed through Simpsons and South Park quotes, lampooning a classmate’s mother’s alleged sexual habits or depicting two clowns discussing an abusive father over a water cooler. We had a mentor, a young social studies teacher who was named Branden after Rand’s acolyte and lover, Nathaniel Branden. But he was a liberal, for which we mocked him to his face.

—p.117 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

sop (en)

(noun) a piece of food dipped or steeped in a liquid / (noun) a conciliatory or propitiatory bribe, gift, or gesture / (verb) to steep or dip in or as if in liquid / (verb) to wet thoroughly; soak / (verb) mop / (abbreviation) standard operating procedure; standing operating procedure

118

we ridiculed the teaching of hip-hop at Harvard, a shameful sop to black students admitted through affirmative action and, worse, to self-hating white liberals

—p.118 by Dan Sinykin
notable
5 months, 1 week ago

we ridiculed the teaching of hip-hop at Harvard, a shameful sop to black students admitted through affirmative action and, worse, to self-hating white liberals

—p.118 by Dan Sinykin
notable
5 months, 1 week ago

(adjective) parched with heat especially of the sun; hot / (adjective) giving off intense heat; scorching / (adjective) ardent passionate / (noun) the region of the earth between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn

119

It was a tiny, torrid crucible.

—p.119 by Dan Sinykin
confirm
5 months, 1 week ago

It was a tiny, torrid crucible.

—p.119 by Dan Sinykin
confirm
5 months, 1 week ago
121

I was only 17 but longed for a radical transvaluation of my life. I’d grown bored with my trifling mendacity and skeptical of Rand’s righteous dogmatism and maladroit prose, skeptical less about her truth than her usefulness to whatever game I was playing. I shed all my allegiances. I quit marching band, math team, drama club. I was kicked off the cross-country team for insubordination. When I spotted the ad for American Summit in the paper that November, I was spending most my time skipping school to get lunch at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet—or, once, to pick up the latest Tool album from Best Buy—before going home to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon’s humor, elaborately linguistic and stupidly slapstick, seduced me, quietly and over the long run, toward his politics of the marginal, the liberatory, the ephemerally utopian.

—p.121 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

I was only 17 but longed for a radical transvaluation of my life. I’d grown bored with my trifling mendacity and skeptical of Rand’s righteous dogmatism and maladroit prose, skeptical less about her truth than her usefulness to whatever game I was playing. I shed all my allegiances. I quit marching band, math team, drama club. I was kicked off the cross-country team for insubordination. When I spotted the ad for American Summit in the paper that November, I was spending most my time skipping school to get lunch at the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet—or, once, to pick up the latest Tool album from Best Buy—before going home to read Gravity’s Rainbow. Pynchon’s humor, elaborately linguistic and stupidly slapstick, seduced me, quietly and over the long run, toward his politics of the marginal, the liberatory, the ephemerally utopian.

—p.121 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago
124

MOST PEOPLE TOOK subprime loans because, by the ’00s, real average wages in the United States had stagnated for thirty years, the social safety net had been disassembled, and yet prices had continued to rise. Wealth inequality had reached heights not seen in a century. Ordinary people were not buying mansions they couldn’t afford. Ordinary people were taking subprime loans to keep the lights on, and the heat, and the gas, and to feed their kids. They were taking subprime loans to survive.

I was the first point of contact. Subtending all the trading, the hedging, and the rating fraud was a simple phone call where I explained how much money I could save my desperate new friend. When I hear the suggestion that ordinary people were living beyond their means, I think of these phone calls. I think of how I used every trick to convince my new friend to stay on the line. I think of the promise threaded into my every word, the promise sewn into the fabric of this nation, the threadbare fantasy of an American dream.

—p.124 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

MOST PEOPLE TOOK subprime loans because, by the ’00s, real average wages in the United States had stagnated for thirty years, the social safety net had been disassembled, and yet prices had continued to rise. Wealth inequality had reached heights not seen in a century. Ordinary people were not buying mansions they couldn’t afford. Ordinary people were taking subprime loans to keep the lights on, and the heat, and the gas, and to feed their kids. They were taking subprime loans to survive.

I was the first point of contact. Subtending all the trading, the hedging, and the rating fraud was a simple phone call where I explained how much money I could save my desperate new friend. When I hear the suggestion that ordinary people were living beyond their means, I think of these phone calls. I think of how I used every trick to convince my new friend to stay on the line. I think of the promise threaded into my every word, the promise sewn into the fabric of this nation, the threadbare fantasy of an American dream.

—p.124 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago
124

Michael McVay created American Summit in 1997. The company quickly moved from his garage to a number of well-appointed office buildings. By 2003, it was the seventh-largest IMC in Minnesota. Like the others, it specialized in nonconventional mortgages, designed for people who would be rejected by most banks because of insufficient capital, low credit, or a spotty employment record. Nonconventional is another name for subprime. “They’ll find money for people in bankruptcy,” Forster wrote. “Or they’ll sell to customers like the one [American Summit’s director of marketing] described as hiding from the repo man, waiting for the sheriff to serve him foreclosure papers on his home, and up to his neck in credit card debt.” The question about bankruptcy that I asked each person I called was not, as I’d thought, an attempt to suss out a warning sign, but an enticement. I was checking not for a red light, but a green.

Hundreds of other IMCs behaved the same way. What American Summit did that most didn’t—what allowed its bosses to claim they could “turnkey an office and be profitable within eighteen days”—was use “aggressive marketing techniques.” That is, telemarketers.

For my cohort—white, middle class, liminal, too young to be Gen X, too old to feel millennial, post–cold war but pre-Google—it’s difficult to believe that for most, the ’90s were a time of quiet desperation and slow violence. We came of age during the glancingly brief end of history, raised to believe that our futures were limitless and that our nation’s narrative—at least the one it told its kids—was trending forever up. The reality is difficult to believe even for me, who as a kid spent my weeknights tallying the nation’s debt, on the phone with its debtors.

—p.124 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

Michael McVay created American Summit in 1997. The company quickly moved from his garage to a number of well-appointed office buildings. By 2003, it was the seventh-largest IMC in Minnesota. Like the others, it specialized in nonconventional mortgages, designed for people who would be rejected by most banks because of insufficient capital, low credit, or a spotty employment record. Nonconventional is another name for subprime. “They’ll find money for people in bankruptcy,” Forster wrote. “Or they’ll sell to customers like the one [American Summit’s director of marketing] described as hiding from the repo man, waiting for the sheriff to serve him foreclosure papers on his home, and up to his neck in credit card debt.” The question about bankruptcy that I asked each person I called was not, as I’d thought, an attempt to suss out a warning sign, but an enticement. I was checking not for a red light, but a green.

Hundreds of other IMCs behaved the same way. What American Summit did that most didn’t—what allowed its bosses to claim they could “turnkey an office and be profitable within eighteen days”—was use “aggressive marketing techniques.” That is, telemarketers.

For my cohort—white, middle class, liminal, too young to be Gen X, too old to feel millennial, post–cold war but pre-Google—it’s difficult to believe that for most, the ’90s were a time of quiet desperation and slow violence. We came of age during the glancingly brief end of history, raised to believe that our futures were limitless and that our nation’s narrative—at least the one it told its kids—was trending forever up. The reality is difficult to believe even for me, who as a kid spent my weeknights tallying the nation’s debt, on the phone with its debtors.

—p.124 by Dan Sinykin 5 months, 1 week ago

the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax

125

WorryFree, an apotheosis of the gig economy, offers room and board

—p.125 by Dan Sinykin
notable
5 months, 1 week ago

WorryFree, an apotheosis of the gig economy, offers room and board

—p.125 by Dan Sinykin
notable
5 months, 1 week ago