Christmastime in the Emerald City

So anyone who has been to Calgary, whose face I myself have never graced, seems to come back with bad reviews. By everyone, I mean the two people I know who’ve been there. Popular place, Calgary. Being a native Toronto snob (and a downtown one at that), I have a natural disdain for anyone west of Dufferin. However, I do sympathize with the  chief complaint regarding the Calgary ‘scene’, that being the tendency of its populace to introduce themselves not with names, but rather the incorrigible “So, what do you do?”

Toronto snob or not, I feel for anyone subjected to such a round-table gathering of the type who asks a question for the sole purpose of giving their own response. Despite my having never been there, I have no problem saying that I would likely not care for Calgary, or what sounds to be the majority of its yuppy repertoire.

This relayed experience, however, did bring up a question. What do I do, after all – besides avoiding said questions in the first place. Well, the question is obviously intended to ask “What do you do for a living?” Note that we are defined, in some circles at least, by the manner in which we pay our bills.

So, how do I pay my bills? I lie. Lie, lie, lie through my teeth. Every day.

Oh there are particulars, of course. My title is ‘Receptionist’. I work at a business center, where I sit in my datedly elegant reception area, behind a more modern desk and answer the phones for the 56 different companies on my floor. All but one, I believe, have taken space in our office with the purpose of displaying our ‘professional image’ as their own. This is what we advertise, what we sell. Come, rent an office from us. You will have a professional receptionist to answer your calls in the name of your business; your clients will come to our beautiful reception area and believe it is yours, all yours. The fact that my place of work is essentially the business version of a condominium is a dirty little secret that we try to hide from the public.

Thusly, we arise at our problem: I answer hundreds of calls per day, and greet dozens of visitors. Naturally, they will overlap. So how am I to explain then, to the client who believes he is in the suite of an established lawyers firm and not the one-room office of a young traffic ticket court agent, exactly why I answer the phone for an immigration lawyer, a tax consultant, something to do with eyes, and a number of vague sounding acronyms within the span of 90 seconds? The lie we sell to our clients to sell to their clients, that I sell over the phone, is sold by unavoidably revealing said lie to any clients that actually make their way to our great big den of lies (read: reception area).

Still with me?

How many times do I have curious 16-year olds with their first traffic ticket violation peer over through their poor highlights to ask how many companies I answer the phones for? Often. This in itself is not a concern; they care not that their attractive young court agent happens to share a secretary with a few other companies – it makes sense, they suppose. Most, if nothing else, are impressed by my apparent ability to magically know for which company every call is intended. The idea of a computer program seems lost on them.

The trouble is with the older crowd, those 40-somethings who have had their claims for disability denied after tripping over some lap-dog or another and are now here to see a lawyer who never returns his calls about it. They are pissed off as soon as they walk in the door, and they want Persian carpets, goddammit. 50 gallon fish tanks. That their formerly high-regarded lawyer merely rents space in an office centre is an outright travesty. That, were he to spend the money on an office of his own and pay a full-time secretary to answer his 30 calls a day, the cost would be reflected in their bill…well, that’s just as lost on them as the computer magic to the teenage speed-demons.

By the by, the court agent wears a deliciously professional suit and is already speaking to a judge on someones behalf by the time I sit myself down every morning. The actual lawyer shambles in around ten wearing rumpled faded cotton, and disregards his calls to the point that his clients harrass me as though I have the faintest idea what it is he actually does. I lie about that too.

Add to that the phone calls involving more than “may I please speak to…?” and a new nightmare arises. No, I do not know when he’s going to be in the office. No, I cannot take a message, that’s why he has voicemail. No, I cannot schedule an appointment for you, she keeps track of her own appointments. No, I have no idea how to help your ailing mother get across the border. No, no, I don’t know. All day long.

Because we’re only about image here; when any sort of question actually arises, it’s up to yours truly to bullshit in the manner of British politicians.

 “And what does the government have to say about this most recent scandal?”

 “Ahem, well, >cough< >stutter< it’s all a matter of >phlegmy throat clearing< and mumble mumble, ahem. (Pause) That is all.”

Lie, lie, lie. I also lie to the people in the office. Yes, we will have your fax machine fixed. Yes, this VOIP will be better, I promise. I lie to my boss: Sure, people will forgive us for this mess of a phone system and constant ass-raping of charges in exchange for a mediocre mediterranean lunch and unsexy belly dancers!!!!!! You freak weirdo, you!!!! Belly dancers!!! On a random Monday, to apologize for the fact that nobody’s phones, fax, or general business had been working properly for three weeks. I sat through that jiggling travesty with a great big lying grin on my face thinking to myself “my God, I can shake better on a Thursday night at a Goth club.” How embarassing. I munched on my pita bread and I lied, and I lied, and I lied.

So…that’s it. To all you Calgarians, should you care in the slightest, this is how I pay my rent. This is what I “do”. I lie through my teeth, and I smile and I nod, and I pretend to take all kinds of responsibility that I then get paid to ignore. I wonder now, how that defines me as a person. And while it can be stressful, it’s really not all that bad. Because, seriously, I’m getting paid to lie. And any way you put it, that is rather awesome.


et cetera