Monday, May 16, 2016
i have been working at the same little law firm for over three years. it is the longest consecutive sentence i have ever served at the same company and it is quite literally killing me.
at the time i applied i was reentering the work force after being a stay at home dad for three years. i had only ever worked in one office before that, graduated community college in my mid-twenties and never really learned how to drive, so my options were limited.
less than one week into my search i stumbled on a craigslist ad for a part-time file clerk. it paid nearly nothing and it was a bitch to get to every day but i didn't have the balls to wait for something better. and tbh, i was happy as a file clerk. it was a low stress job that i could do without thinking or getting much sleep, and i got to be a neat freak and organize the overflowing mess of a file pile.
i was so good at it that i often had too much down time once everything was organized, andso to fill time while waiting for more work (or my 2pm dismissal) i would read blogs and tumbr and write e-mails and story notes, until the lawyer who hired me called me out on it not once but twice and said if i kept doing that i'd be terminated.
i should have called his bluff.
when i was fileling i'd go into the collector's room where there were two full-time debt collectors and i'd hear them shout at nasty deadbeat debtors and i thought to myself "you couldn't pay me enough to do that job" and i'm glad i never said that out loud but instead i said to them "i don't know how you do that" or some such thing and a short time later i got to find out.
the firm let go of one collector, who ended up convincing the other collector to join him at his new company less than a year later. and so the guy who hired me(and nearly fired me) as a file clerk offered me a promotion.
i really, really, really wanted to say no. but i had to give it a try so that i could actually kinda support my family like a real man. i got a 50% raise, which brought me back to the exact salary i was making right after college, and i got vacation time, which i actually was entitled to even as a lowly file clerk but was never informed, but i got no health benefits and i was still part-time.
also, i had to call strangers and ask them for money.
the previous collector trained me for two weeks before he left and i learned as much as i could and took notes because he was really good at his job, and he tried to make sure that i had some practice at every possible thing he could think of while he was there to talk me through it. but i've always been an introvert and i've always had panic attacks before starting something unknown or unpleasant and there was no way that i was going to suddenly become extroverted and confident and capable of collecting debts.
it didn't help that on my first day as the one and only collector in the firm i could not actually collect anything from anyone. you see, my predecessor gave me a lot of helpful information on how to initiate and receive collection calls but what he didn't give me was the password to his computer. so i couldn't access the collections program. so i couldn't pull up debtors' accounts. so basically i couldn't take any calls.
once the password was retrieved, the program itself became glitchy and stopped working. there was also a problem with the printer, two problems with the phones, and i think the computer itself, which has to be like at least fifteen to twenty years old because it still has a floppy disc drive. this was all in the first week or two.
unfortunately things were up and running again (eventually) and i had to figure out how to do my ficking job.
i have now been doing this ficking job for fourteen months and it still gives me crippling anxiety at least sixty percent of the time. i can't quite articulate why certain days or certain accounts are bearable while others cause me to curse the day i was born but i can describe a typical day at the office thusly:
i waste the first of my five hours organizing the work our four attorneys have left on my desk into four piles: shit i can do right away, shit i dont want to do but will anyway, shit i will avoid doing for as long as possible, and (my personal favorite) lololol never calling that guy in a million years. these piles are labeled with code names "debtor calls" "pob calls" "court officer calls" and "misc."
then i go to the bathroom, even if i dont need to. then i check the fax machine, the mailroom basket, and the mini-fridge. by now i've received a call or five, and the attorneys have graced us with their presence so i have to actually pick up the phone. i start by calling the persons who are least likely to answer, and then i fax a court officer. i love sending faxes. and e-mails. only problem is, if they don't reply within a week, my boss plops a printout on my desk with the word call underlined.
now i know this all seems like i'm just a typical slacker who doesn't like my job but i assure you that's not the case. usually. maybe once a week i get straight up lazy but mostly it's just plain anxiety. there are things i was never properly trained to do that i do not feel comfortable doing. some of the calls these attorneys ask me to make were not rehearsed with or even mentioned by my predecessor.
sometimes the reason i dread picking up the phone is because i don't have the heart to tell some desperate debtor who whines and pleads with us to stop a wage garnishment in exchange for pennies on the dollar that, yes, we are aware that your loved one is dying of cancer and that you'll lose your job if we garnish your part-time paycheck, but the attorneys have no fucks to give and you're sol. just doing my job ma'am.
office stress has infected my home life, as i'm constantly complaining about the day i've had and/or dreading the day ahead. i lose hours of sleep, ostensibly because sleep brings me closer to my next day of work. my health has deteriorated to personal worsts because i consume energy drinks like most people consume coffee, because walking next door to 7-11 burns minutes off the clock, and because i cant make collection calls if i'm stuffing my fat face with blue rasberry donuts.
my nephew's wife is pregnant, and we had just found out the last time i went to visit the fam in ct. i've put on so much weight that my mom turned to me and quipped "and when are you due?" nice, right? but i deserved it. i'm well aware of what i'm doing to myself and i. don't. care.
i tried to care, once. around this time last year i had contemplated the theory that if i could overcome my fears and anxieties and actually manage to do debt collection then surely i could do other unpleasant things i've always feared and dreaded. and so, for the second time in as many years, i attempted to enter a gym.
the manager gave me a tour and he explained stuff to me a lot better than that retro fitness place i had tried the year before. of course the dude wanted to make a sale and even though i was making more money i wasn't making gym membership money so i told the guy i'd think about it and he got on my case "well, how long have you been thinking about it?" and then i told the guy that i'm interested but i'm not going to sign anything until i talk to my wife and he was all "why do you have to talk to your wife first?"
i walked home contemplating that very question knowing damn well she would never ever let me follow through and i inevitably began daydreaming about how my crush would have been super supportive and would have gone to the gym with me and it would have been fun. but in this life, the real one that i've been burdened with, things don't happen that way. and that made me very angry. and depressed. and i kept sinking further down into helplessness, until i realized that the key to my happiness, or at least ambivalence, was not a gym membership or an endless fountain of mountain dew. i needed a new job.
lucky for me, i had learned new skills. i was promoted. these things look great on a resume, right? hahaha no. i applied for jobs. dozens of them. i got one interview, which didn't go great and it was for a fabric store i didn't really want to work at anyway. i e-mailed an employment agency whose office started me in the face every time i took the bus and they got back to me...the day i was in ct for my aunt's funeral.
applying to job after job after job after job is an exhausting and frustrating exercise, especially since it was much easier for me to find a job when i hadn't been working for three years. and though my guilty conscience and pessimistic personality constantly warn me that my timesuck skills and lack of production could get me fired if the attorneys only knew how much i wasn't doing i have yet to be reprimanded, warned, or even gently nudged.
it seems that the only thing harder than doing this job is finding my way out of it.