The last time I spoke about work, it wasn’t long after training had wrapped up. I’m now approaching the end of my first three months at the job and hoping I get to stick around.
When I come home from work, J usually asks me how my day was. There’s very little I can tell him, because I’m sworn to secrecy when it comes to the content of the calls I relay. I’m not even supposed to discuss my calls with the people I work with, unless they have to take over my call because I’m leaving for break or to go home.
Technically, I can’t even give out my operator number, at least in connection with my real name. So if I’m on a call, I’m Operator XXXX, or Agent XXXX, or Communications Assistant XXXX, depending on what location I have to represent and how that area handles their calls. Even if I call a company, and they ask me for my name, I have to repeat, “I’m Operator XXXX.”
And I really want to give out my operator number here, because… I have the best operator number ever! It’s also the worst operator number ever, but let’s stay positive. My number stands out. It’s an even number, and I don’t just mean its divisible by 2. It’s a plateau number. Where everyone else on the call floor says their number a digit or two at a time, I can say the entire number all at once because it’s shorter to do so. And so, because of that, I stand out. It doesn’t help that my personality stands out either, so I have to try and not make waves. Because the number stands out, my favorite callers remember who I am, and are pleased as punch when they see my number appear on their screen. Likewise, I have a caller or two that remember my number and won’t let me process their calls, and while I thought it was just me, there was an audible groan from a coworker when I had to hand off my call one night from one such caller when she saw who was on my line.
Technically I’m not an interpreter. In most cases, there’s nothing to interpret. If you read this aloud, you’re doing the same thing I do every day, just reading words that are typed. You do have to assume a certain tone of voice, though I’ve noticed that speaking calmly reminds the other party that I’m just speaking on behalf of another person, that I’m not actually trying to fight just because I’m saying fighting words. The closest I come to being an interpreter is when I have to take “sign language” and convert it to phrases you’re more used to hearing. I used quotation marks because no one is actually signing to me, just typing the words. Perhaps you know of the gorilla that can do sign language, and you know how the phrases come out like, “Koko sad.” I would have to convert that to “Koko is feeling sad” when I read that out loud, and that’s the closest I come to being an interpreter. Most people use common phrasing, so at best I have to interpret their typing mistakes, and hope they interpret mine when the person on the other end is talking slightly too fast for me to keep up.
I do get all sorts of calls. What calls do you need to make? Deaf and hard-of-hearing people, in addition to those with speech impediments, make the same phone calls you need to make. It could be anything from dealing with credit cards (activating, making payments) to calling for medical-related reasons (pharmacies to refill prescriptions, doctors to set up appointments) and even calling friends and family members. We even have callers who are ordering takeout, in fact one woman was making me hungry because she was ordering chicken parmesan and a cannoli from an Italian restaurant one night.
I never know what the call is going to be when it drops onto my screen. I have to dial it and hope I do right by my caller. Like anyone, some people are more particular about how you handle calls, even going so far as to express a preference to the gender of the operator. I can understand the reasons for some of the preferences, such as the gender preference being there so that if the caller is male, he’s being represented by a male voice. Other preferences deal with how you introduce yourself to the other party (announcing relay or acting as if you are the caller), how you handle recordings (mentioning there’s a recording playing versus typing the recording verbatim), things like that.
So I got this call…
To distill it down to basic details, my inbound was a representative of a group of people seeking to gain and maintain equal rights for that group of people, and my outbound was a writer and reporter for a news outlet. You might not be aware of the group that my inbound was representing, but if you live in the United States, you’ve heard of the publication that the reporter works for. Knowing the scale of this call, you can understand the importance of making sure that I relay everything word-for-word, not omitting anything, making sure that everything is spelled as accurately as possible. Mind you, I’m already bound by FCC regulations (yes, the Federal Communications Commission) to make sure that my call is relayed accurately and completely. But one misspelling could mean that an email isn’t delivered, or a person is inaccurately credited, or any number of other things.
I figured the piece would be a fluff piece, like “by the way, this also happened.” So I shared the article on Facebook when I thought to look for it a couple of days later. I was so giddy, because I was even mentioned in the article… okay, so the words “speaking through an interpreter” were used, and in no way was I actually named or credited. But… that was my call, that was a half hour or more of my 8-hour day. I was so proud!
And then… George Takei shared the article on his Facebook page.
And then… my local news website paraphrased the article on their site. Which wouldn’t have been so bad, but I ended up making one guy feel like I was attacking him personally. While I wanted to explain my side, my maturity kicked in and I decided not to engage any further in the discussion. I won’t get into it too much, because part of his argument against me personally might be correct, but most of it was name calling and assumptions that weren’t true. So before the local news site’s Facebook page admin removed the comment thread between us for that post, the guy took the argument to Messenger where I ignored it. I might have carried on a conversation and intellectual debate if it seemed like a possibility, because I wouldn’t have minded it so much if I was going to learn something.
But oh well, it’s the price you pay for 15 minutes of fame.
Now mind you, I could have found this article online as it was gaining traction. I could have read through it and found a way to put myself in this story, weaving a tale about that unnamed interpreter being me and what my life is like. Or I could have added this paragraph to confuse you and to cover my tracks. Either way, whether this is the result of using a national article like a writing prompt or it really is my life. aren’t you a bit curious as to what it must be like for the person who gets assigned an outstanding number, or for that generic interpreter or source or informant or what have you?
Well, now you know.