After getting laid off from my gig at ZDNet.com back in 2002, I did some QC contract work for a software company for a bit. When it became clear that the contract was not going to evolve into a full-time job (my first clue was when my "workstation" was the corner of someone else's desk with their giant CRT monitor dumping heat in my face), I realized that it was high time to get another real job. The industry that I had been in, the dot com biz, had just gone belly up in a rather spectacular manner so my skill sets would have to be re-evaluated if I was going to move forward. I was also without insurance at this point so every time I left the house in the morning I would think to myself "is today the day I break my leg and end up buried in a giant mountain of debt?". Not a great place to be mentally when you're trying to remain positive during a job hunt. The job market wasn't looking all that great so I figured I'd have to reinvent myself (again).
So enter my friend Nat. Nat is the guy who drove the Hate Bus. He's been with CSG for a fucking long time now (17 years maybe? Something crazy like that) and he knew that
- I was looking for work
- CSG was hiring
- I had worked for CSG before (twice before and I had been laid off twice before. I am, however, very short sighted)
So cut to 2002 and my 3rd time working for CSG. Third time's a charm right? Oh silly reader...have you not been paying attention? This can't possibly end well can it?
This time around they gave the position more bollocks by expanding the program to include being able to provide the customers with steep discounts on "green" home improvements. The idea was that a customer would call because they were interested in making their home more energy efficient, we'd go out and sell them some insulation (and other things) and everyone would be happy. Yea, except that the public awareness of this program was still almost non-existent and when you'd get a customer with genuine interest in making the improvements, we had so little quality control over the sub-contractors that it was a logistical nightmare. I understand that they have since resolved these issues but it was a hodge-podge at best back then (oh, and as it turns out, I'm a terrible salesman. I'm not a "closer". I'll never get those goddamn Glen Garry leads. My approach was: here's the issue that your house has, here's what I can do to fix it, here's what it costs, buy it or don't. I didn't pressure anyone into buying the services from us. I just told them all the stuff they needed to know. Not the best model for fantastic sales figures).
The story I wanted to talk about was when Nat was training me for the new job. Having had experience in most of the aspects of the position (with the exception of sales) the training was going rather smoothly. Nat and I were riding around in his company van going to his appointments so that he could show me the ropes. One beautiful sunny afternoon we pulled up to a brick house in Brighton where we had a scheduled appointment and started getting all the gear ready to go inside. Nat's giving the place a quick once-over looking for potential issues and getting an idea of what to focus on during the meeting when he says "This should be a pretty straightforward one". Oh, dooooooood. Never tempt The Furies like that.
We ring the doorbell and wait patiently on the front stoop for someone to answer. Finally the guy who owns the place comes to the door and he was a little off-putting. He had these shifty eyes and I noticed that he was wearing his sweatshirt inside out and it was covered in paint splatters. Odd, but not alarming right? Almost immediately after opening his door we were hit by a smell that I can only describe as godawful. It was so strong and so pungent (ever have the misfortune of getting a whiff of some poor dead animal? It was damn close to that smell) that Nat and I looked at each other as if to say "you smell that right?". The guy then invited us in. Sure, I'll come into your house Mister Dahmer. What alarm bells? I hear nothing.
We set up the computer in the kitchen and then start the house run-through. Nat asks to see the basement and immediately the guy's demeanor changes. He goes from creepily friendly to creepily tense. As we go down the stairs to the basement, the smell gets worse. "Ah, it's just a dead mouse or something" my brain tells me, "Don't worry about it". The guy lets us into the area where the heating systems are but won't let us into a locked storage unit (we hadn't asked for access either...he just mentioned that he wasn't going to open this up for us). When the guy wasn't watching, Nat pointed out some "disturbed" dirt near the bulkhead to me. This was the nail in the coffin (excuse the pun). Nat gave me the "let's get the frick outta here" look, and we all went back up the stairs (with the guy following waaaaaay too closely behind) to the kitchen to enter a bunch of junk numbers into the computer so that we could bail.
When we got back to the kitchen Nat gave up all pretense of trying to make this a real training session and just buried his nose in the computer. This left me with nothing to do except engage Mr. Crazypants in idle chit-chat. I'm terrible at small talk in the best of times so imagine how smoothly this scenario went. Plus, the guy had a ton of legitimate questions he wanted to ask. Look buddy, we've pretty much determined that you've got a body buried downstairs in that storage area and we just want to bounce the hell outta here before you slaughter us too, ok? Nope. He'd have none of it. He just kept asking question after question most of which luckily I could answer so that Nat could finish up with the computer junk ... how long does that program take anyway dude?
Finally he seemed to run out of things to ask and started showing me things in the kitchen that he thought were cool (admittedly the little flip-out thing in front of the sink he had for the sponges and such was pretty sweet). Nat was almost done and had started printing out the paperwork so the end was in sight. We were going to leave! And then the guy says totally out of the blue: "There's someone else who lives here too. You want to know who that is?" OH GOD NO! NO, WE DON'T! Look, we're not going to call the cops or anything like that! We'll leave now ok? No, you don't have to confess to us and then jab the giant knife into my eye. Honest. We'll just take off, no harm done. Maybe that guy deserved it or whatever. No judgements here Senior Lunatic.
But I didn't say that did I? No, no I didn't. I said "Oh? Who?" Now picture the layout of this kitchen: I was sitting at this counter/breakfast island thing with Nat seated to my right and the homeowner nutjob was standing a good 10 feet away near the sink (and the knives I noticed). He then quick as lightning was next to me with his face mere centimeters (ooh! metric system!) from my left cheek and he said "It's DONALD DUCK!!!!" in what I can only guess was what he considered to be a spot-on impersonation of the cartoon character. It wasn't, but it was quite loud and frighteningly close to my goddamn head. He was so close I could feel his hot, crazy breath on my skin. I just got goose bumps writing that. I was frozen. I didn't know what to do. He then stood up and cackled (literally cackled as in the Weird Sisters cackling). Nat slammed the laptop shut and we just bailed.
When we got outside and back into the van (I can't remember if Nat got the guy's signature or not...we got out of there pretty quick), neither one of us said anything for a bit. Nat drove us the hell out of there and parked up the street. He called the office and told them about the bizarro appointment we just had and to "put that guy on the list". We then tried to debrief just what the hell had happened. Both of us were convinced that if we had been alone, we'd be dead or we would have just not gone up the stairs in the first place (like fake an appendicitis or something to get outta there). I'm just glad that someone else was there with me so that when I tell this story I have someone who can nod along and confirm that oh yes, people is crazy out there.
And no, I didn't immediately quit. I kept that job for a full year until I eventually got tired of crawling around in people's attics. I quit a real job to do office temp work instead and luckily for me, another opportunity came along (my current job of the last 5 years).