Actually, it IS Rocket Science

Libretti, subscriptti, wasteoftimeee

When I first moved to Chicago I worked, for the better part of a year, for a very famous Orchestra which shall not be named:

I worked in what was known as the “Priority Seating Department” which was just a glorified title for sitting on the phone all day with geriatric subscribers attempting to move their seats around and possibly throw in a swindle here and there by tacking on additional tickets for shows that weren’t part of their packages.  Everyone started this job out the same way, myself included.  You began by feeling extremely evil for attempting to hawk these a la carte performances of “The Planets” or “John Williams Tribute show” which would basically butt rape these kind person’s social security, but then you eventually got to a point where it became a game of how well you could pitch Bartok to a generation only concerned with Chopin and Debussy.

“I see you’re subscribed to the Early Baroque Masters program.  Have you ever heard of Ligeti?  I think it would be right up your alley.”

Hiyoo, pretentious references to differences in composer styles.  Check.

Anyway, you would basically sit there all day, every day, and not unlike many other jobs, the only brief respites you were allowed were to either refill your coffee or go to the bathroom.  We all learned pretty quickly that this could basically equate to a total of about 3 breaks per hour if you timed it just right.  Fill the coffee cup twice between 8 and 8:30 and without a doubt you’d need to use the restroom before 9.

I still don’t consider this as time theft.  I consider it survival.

It really wasn’t so bad, I guess.  Discussing differences between seating arrangements never really bugged me that badly.  What bothered me were the passive-aggressive micromanaging bosses who breathed down your neck and scolded you for speaking to your next door coworker for even a minute.  Yes, I understand time is money and so on and so forth, but I’m pretty sure we’ve all reached a point in our lives where we can fill out paperwork as well as hold a simple conversation with the person next to us.

“Kristen, lunch Friday?”


“HEY GIRLS!  Do you think… maybeeeeee we could… let’s give Mrs. Hazel another call?  Thaaayyyyyynnkssss.”

And then there were the issues that required a certain amount of judiciousness before making the call, figuratively and literally.  If I spoke with Mr. Thompson on Monday and he explained very rationally that he couldn’t talk at the moment because his wife, Betsy, was currently going in for her third renal tumor removal, instead of mentioning out loud how much over information had just been shared, I would casually make a note on his file to “Leave alone for at LEAST 2 weeks- family surgery recovery” and I’d leave it be.

Without a doubt, about 2 days later, my boss would come up to me.

“Heeyyy, Ashlin!  Where are we with Mr. Thompson?”

“I’m giving them a break for a while, they’re recovering from surgery.”

“Ohhh!   That’s terrible!  Well, maaayyyyyyyybeeee we could call them and tell them about Muti conducting The Four Seasons!  That’s always been a very therapeutic work.”


“Yeah!  So, you know… let’s just give him a call!”

And for this reason, I despised my bosses.

My job was not unlike a telemarketer’s position in many ways, although at least I wasn’t doomed to cold calling people all the time, thank god.  But every so often, I’d get a person on the phone who was just too tired with life, or their money-grubbing sons or daughters, or their rheumatoid arthritis robbing them of their articulation, or not taking their meds, that by the time we spoke they just clearly needed an un-faced voice to target their frustrations.  And target they did.  Man, old people are like the NAVY SEALS of outsourced anger and resentment.

“Hi, is this Mrs. *******?”


“Hi! This is Ashlin from the ___ ___ Orchestra.”

“Oh, hello!”

“Hi!  Is this a good time to talk?”

“Yes, of course!  You know, I’ve been thinking about this season… … …”

“…Um.  Mrs. ******?”

“Yes, I’m here.”

“Great!  I’ve been looking at your subscription an-”


“What??  No ma’a-


This was an actual conversation that took place about 3 weeks after I began working there, and so I tried to work with her before learning that I should handle these situations by either A) hanging up and act like nothing ever happened, or B) set the phone down quietly and get another cup of coffee.

A lot of times I ended up doing the latter.  They got to vent their aggressions, and I got coffee out of it, and they pretty much never noticed my absence.  Win. Win.

Finally I got to a point where I was just so fed up with such tippy-toed fairy shit from one side and absolute virulent words of hatred from the other side of the phone that I decided to try a different approach.  Because my position had me at a practical middle-man and subsequently “whipping-boy” status, I just figured why the hell should I have to put up with such crap from either side.  WHY NOT LET THEM DUKE IT OUT THEMSELVES?

I have heard that a customer asking to speak with your supervisor is a veritable death knell for those in the phone subscription community.  But by the time I reached this point, I really didn’t care anymore.  I highly doubted my main boss had the guts to fire me, and if it happened I would consider it a sign from the heavens that I was ready to move on.

It started like this: One day, a gentleman I was speaking with had a very good reason to be upset with me calling, as his file was severely old and it was his wife who subscribed… and who had died several months ago.  The man launched into a thousand angry non-sequitors until finally I heard the phrase,

“Let me talk to your manager. RIGHT NOW.”

And I gladly turned it over to her, who made a combination “I understand” and “Immabouttapuke” face.  She then sat on the phone for at least 5 minutes while beginning a sentence and getting cut off on constant repeat, like this: “I gue-….Yes… Yes, sir, but….Sure I-…Mayyybeee-…oh, uh-huh?”

And for the next several months, I treated any unsavory phone patron the same way.  If I even got the slightest hint at a sense of unfounded hostility or an angry drunk who I called at 2pm who had probably been drinking since they woke up, my first go-to was, “You know, I’m really sorry I can’t get you front row seats to (insert diluted quality performance here), would you like to speak with my supervisor?”

They loved it because getting to speak with the upper-thans is such a great way to feel like they were part of the “elite” crowd.

I loved it because I didn’t have to hear about their deadbeat grandsons while they had ‘roid rage.  And I’m not talking about steroids.

And my supervisors loved it because- oh wait,  no.  No, they most definitely hated it.

Thank you Mr. Ryans and please have a fuck off day.

Win. Win.  Lose. WIN.

And I sat there in contentment for the next several months until I began work as a transcriptionist and another job where I met the Most Brilliant Person Alive.  Where I then found my new source of entertainment.


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