I spent the summer before my freshman year of college doing telephone sales. I know, I’m not proud of it, but it did help pay my tuition. Back then, telephone sales was relatively new field; heck, if you’ve been reading this blog right along, then you know telephones had only been around for a year or two when I graduated from high school.
Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration; phones weren’t THAT new, but I know our household had only used the rotary dial phone for four or five years. Prior to that, you picked up the earpiece, held it to your ear, and when the operator said, “Number please,” you said “Mayfair 2-5677” or something similar. That was my sister’s long distance number—she lived about 20 miles away. The old Saturday Night Live skits with Lily Tomlin playing Ernestine, the snorting telephone operator, were right on the money! It was not unusual for the operator or someone else to listen in on your phone conversations--we had party lines--which is probably the reason phone sex never took off until after direct dial came in.
My phone number was 754J. Don’t ask me how I remember; I just do. It’s one of those old people things. You can’t remember something that happened last week, but your old phone number from 50 years ago is right there in your memory, clear as a bell! But I digress.
My parents were opposed to my attending college, and refused to help me financially. A girl was only going to get married and have kids, so what would be the point? Plus, to my straight-laced, religious parents, an unmarried girl did not live away from her parents unless she was married or a harlot. This was another reason for not subsidizing my ticket to Hades. As a result, I had to work and earn the “ticket” money myself!
I landed a job as a carhop at an A & W Root Beer Drive In (which my mother also regarded as one step from harlotry—after all, you approached men sitting in their cars and who knew what they might say or do to you). My hours were from 6:00 PM to midnight, which left my days free, so I took a second job from 9:00 AM to noon—selling magazines by phone.
It was a really strange situation. After I was interviewed and hired, I never saw another co-worker again. I would let myself in, using the key that was under the doormat, make phone calls for three hours, let myself out, lock the door, and replace the key under the doormat. My paycheck would be on my desk each Friday.
I wish I could remember the hourly pay; that escapes me. I know it was a higher hourly rate then I received as a carhop—that was $0.50 per hour. Of course, if you were efficient and pleasant, you could take in $15 or $20 in tips on a good night. So the phone sales must have paid $1.50 or $1.75 per hour. If you actually made a sale, you were paid a $5.00 bonus, for each sale. Posted on the wall in front of me were all sorts of possible customer objections and suggested statements to overcome those objections. “You can’t afford ten cents a day? How can you afford NOT to stay informed with magazines like Time and Life?” or “You don’t read? Well, just think of the fun you and the kids will have looking at the pictures!” Yadda, yadda, yadda.
One day, towards the end of the summer, I calculated the cost to the buyer of the magazines I was pedaling. I remember being shocked that what I was asking people to do was to commit to a $320 contract to subscribe to 5 or 6 magazines for 3 years. Now in 1963, $320 was BIG bucks! I felt very guilty, and from that day forward, made the required calls but no longer pushed to make sales! I did make enough cash from the two jobs to pay my first year tuition, but I didn’t return to that job the following summer.
I managed to get through college, and didn’t become a harlot, although, had I known then what I know now, I might have given that career serious consideration… at least as a leisure activity, if not as a means of support. You know what they say, “We’re too soon old, and too late smart!”