As I approach that wonderful half century mark where I look back and try not to think about how I’m still fanning the flames of an alter ego I cooked up when I was 15, I think about all the fucked up, dumb, horrible things I went through when I was supposed to be in the “prime of my life.”
There’s lots of shit that ruined this so-called “prime,” including a debilitating nerve disease, a family that, I think, was trying to kill me, duplicitous, thieving friends and lovers, and my own lack of ambition and general failure to thrive. I can list all these things and, you know, I’m kind of over them. The nerve disease was cured, the fucking family is dead, those cheating friends and lovers are all dead or (much more appealing to my constant need for schadenfreude) doing poorly.
My lack of ambition and failure to thrive doesn’t really worry me too much because I still lack ambition. Seriously, my dream in life is to be a night watchman at a morgue. Or maybe just a wanderer in an RV. It’s not like I’m sitting here now, approaching 50, and thinking: I coulda been a contendah! Instead I’m sitting here thinking: Why in the fuck didn’t I become a night watchman at a morgue?
And, to that point, I find myself singling out the one draining presence in my life that I do regret: My shitty, fucked up customer service jobs. I devoted 20 years of my life to two employers. I had a weekday salary serf job at a major membership organization serving psychologists and a night/weekend job at a nature sanctuary that rented itself out for weddings and special events. In both jobs, I served the twisted whims of tinpot dictators and broken middle managers, and I sucked up all of the slime that poured out of their dead souls and said yes sir, give me more. I gave them blind loyalty and they chewed me up and spit me out and they probably don’t even remember my name. (Not that I want them to remember me.)
The most egregious of these jobs was for that psychological organization. I started there right before 9/11 in the call center. I was a customer service slave. I’ve found that most call center workers weirdly stand apart from the company as a whole. The call center is the front line of defense for the company’s image, but the call center employees may as well be disgruntled prisoners with guns to their heads (sometimes they literally are!). The call center is the abused stepchild who has to use the back entrance so that the important people don’t see them. The only reasoning behind this, as far as I can figure, is that they barely pay call center employees and we’re all out of our minds after being screamed at by the entitled upper classes for nine hours a day. So when you run into us in the hallway, our unplugged headsets askew, our eyes wild, our voices too loud, the first impression is: This is a crazy person.
Because of this, the only people who work in call centers are the uneducated, the disenfranchised, and the broken. Our call center asked for a high school diploma only but, really, as long as you fucking showed up and remembered to put on clothes, you were hired. Whatever. The turnover is high because no one can take the customer abuse and the poor management for long. No functional human being would or should ever work in a call center. I did it for 12 years, but during that time I had a crippling physical ailment that eventually needed brain surgery to fix. So…that’s who works in call centers. People who fucking need brain surgery.
During the Bush administration, as America launched into its Forever War post-9/11, this organization got in bed with the CIA.
After 9/11, as you know, there was this desire to round up terrorists – real and imagined – and whisk them away to Guantanamo or various black sites or whatever. The government figured a good way to get information out of these prisoners was to torture them, because that’s what you do…if…you’re from Constantinople circa 746 AD. Or America in 2002. Hard to tell the difference really.
The government wanted to get a medical association on board to legitimize this cunning masterplan of theirs. They approached the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, even the fucking dentists. All of these organizations did what a good member-oriented professional organization should do: They were appalled and told the government to fuck off.
Our organization? Man, I don’t think the CIA wonks even finished their sentence before we blindly signed whatever they asked us to sign. We not only gave them the greenlight, our organization enthusiastically helped design all of the torture protocols at the black sites and embedded psychologists in the field to conduct “interrogations.” We literally wrote the script for how a torture session should go. Members of our board of directors formed a private company and were awarded a highly lucrative, exclusive contract with the DOD to run interrogations and torture people for the duration of the Forever War. They made hundreds of millions. And they not only published all of their material, they bragged about it on open email along with our entire executive team, joked about how much money they were making, laughing at the scripts they wrote for the interrogation sessions…
You saw a little bit of this in the 2019 Adam Driver film, The Report. Those two guys having the champagne party on the private plane and laughing all the way to the bank were our board members. I knew them. I chatted with them at luncheons. And the movie captured them well. James Risen goes into more detail in his book Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War.
Bush leaves office in 2009 and Obama is in. At the same time, the public is starting to see what’s going on at these black sites, and those images we all know so well have leaked. The torture cat is out of the bag. The media has the story and is running with it. Obama’s administration shuts down the gravy train. In 2014, it all goes public.
In its typical schizoid fashion, our company’s response was not only to deny everything but also hire an outside investigator to research all this shit and prove our innocence. This is what happens when your board and executive leadership are all self-centered 100 year old white people. I guess they didn’t realize that their email history was full of insane messages like “LOL! THEN WE HAVE A NAKED WOMAN PEE ON THE PRISONERS! SO FUNNY!”
The “torture report” ends up being thousands of pages long, featuring all these emails, and laying bare outright inhuman – inhumane – criminal activity. Next thing you know the board is being fired, the executives are being fired. Hell, it even reached down to middle management. All these “firings” were couched as “retirements” and we had to go to parties and were ordered by our managers to give these outgoing criminals standing ovations. They retired with full benefits – as in, they’ll never need to work again.
Some of us were told to keep personal items off of our computers because there was serious talk of a Congressional investigation. At any moment, the DOJ was going to swoop in.
Our world was rocked for a few years, and then Trump came in. Between his administration not caring about it, and our company groveling and apologizing like a particularly weepy camp commandant at Nuremberg, the problem went away.
If you’re working in a call center, it’s easy to be brainwashed. You’re not paying attention. You’re an idiot. Everything is well above your pay grade. Because we knew about all this the whole time. There was nothing secret or hidden. We even had language to deflect it when it came up in calls as early as 2007. But we just didn’t care.
I wasn’t in the call center when the shit hit the fan in 2014. I had changed jobs and moved to the publishing department. I love books, and I love publishing, and my organization was one of the top 10 academic publishers in the country. They have a kid’s book wing and the adult academic wing – textbooks, etc.
For me, this was a dream job. I would be on the editorial staff and bring books through their long, complicated pre-publication life. It was meant to be a career builder, and it was meant to be fun. But, within just a few months, I realized that the job was less about books and more about politics.
The first big eye-opener to this was when I was working on a textbook on gender studies where the author proposed that all humans decide their gender at six years old. His argument, buried deep in this 600 page textbook, was that, by law, six year olds who were born one gender but identified as another should be able to go to a doctor and demand a transgender operation – hormones, surgery, the whole nine yards. Six year olds, and the doctors they go to, the author suggested, should be able to do this without parental consent. The author said that the previous generation didn’t understand the gender issue like these six year olds – with whom it sounds like he was spending a lot of time – could
So I balked at this. No way in the world could we allow this. I marked it in my notes and, next thing I know, I’m dragged out onto the carpet and officially reprimanded. Why? Because the author was on the board, and he donated tons of money. Most especially, he donated money to our lobby group.
Yes, our supposedly NPO member-based friendly organization had a huge lobbying presence in DC. These lobbyists primarily focused on getting laws passed that would give psychologists – with their liberal arts degrees – full medical power like psychiatrists. There’s good money in writing prescriptions, after all, and why should psychologists miss out on that just because they don’t have a medical degree? I guess there’s also money in encouraging six year olds to have a transgender operation.
That was one of many incidents. After a while, I just gave up. The job wasn’t about editing. The editors had no voice. What we were actually doing was just vetting the books to make sure they matched the general parameters of the contract – topic, page count, etc. And, after 2014, our job was to censor the books. No author was allowed to badmouth the company. No one was allowed to mention the torture report or any of the past shockingly numerous ethical violations. Our job was to expunge any mention of that and pass the book on.
The straw that broke my back was in 2016 when one of my supervisors told me how happy they were that Trump got into office. If Clinton had won, then the DOJ investigation was all but guaranteed. It would have been the end of the organization. With trump, happy days were here again!
I was already thinking it was time to leave. Hell, I was thinking it was time to quit in 2001. After that meeting in 2016, though, I finally understood that this place was truly Satanic and that anyone who drew a paycheck from the company was evil by proxy. So I took those evil paychecks and plowed 40% of them into a high earning account with the idea that I would retire in 2017.
I succeeded. I had stopped working or being productive long before, so my resignation probably just outpaced my firing simply because my boss was a moron and couldn’t figure out how to fill in the HR forms.
My “retirement” has been wonderful. I never went back to a normal job, I’m still living off that money I piled away, and the only thing I regret is that I didn’t leave that company in the early 2000s. I gave them almost two decades of my life and I resent and regret every single wasted second. I regret every breath I took in that building.
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