I remembered something today after a run-in on Twitter with an alleged "businessman" who "pays well AF" and flip-flops on what constitutes professionalism when it comes to joking about suicide. The short version of the story is not laughing at his jokes about telling people who ask if a job is a paid gig or not to go jump off a bridge embodies a lack of professionalism. It was a very roundabout way of saying, "That's how it is here." He backpedaled when called on it, of course, playing the "LOL JK" card and even virtue signaling about what a generally good guy he is and how he wouldn't really say what he just said even though he did--blah, blah, blah. You may not be slime, but more than likely you're surrounded by yes-men (yes-persons?) who go along with your bullshit because you control the money, which can make you just as bad.
As we've found out more and more, especially now with the Harvey Weinstein controversy, among many similar sexual harassment scandals coming out over the last few years, there's an undeniable problem with people in power using that power to solicit sexual favors under the threat of blacklisting.
The story I'm about to tell is not one of those stories, at least from my perspective, but I have a feeling this person may well become the source of too many "#MeToo" stories. I should point out my memory of this has gone semi-fuzzy, but I promise I'm not exaggerating any major details. If anything, I'm being nice and could well be dialing back how gross the whole encounter was.
Many (read: not enough) years ago, I worked in customer service for a mobile carrier. If you've had mobile service, you likely know that if you stay with a certain company for a fairly long time, pay your bills on time, and generally be unremarkable, you get various deals and discounts on handsets and plans. In general these deals aren't anything special and you're most likely getting the same sort of discounts as you would if you were a brand new customer. There's exceptions, especially if there's been some massive faux pas on our part like erroneous charges or poor support, but as a rule, if all's been good for two years, you get a new phone. Don't like your plan? We've probably got a better one by now. You get the idea.
One day I got a call from a woman who wanted in on this, noting that she'd been with us for many years and was, by her measure, a good customer. This was generally true, so I asked if she was looking to upgrade or change her plan to something new. She got a bit frustrated and stuttered to find her words before belting out something along the lines of, "Do something for me." Essentially, she was trying very hard not to say she wanted something for nothing. She was expecting a free month or a phone without having to renew a contract... it was very awkward and there wasn't that much we could do for her that we wouldn't give to anyone else. She wanted special treatment for being unremarkable. Annoying, yes, but funny to look back on. I bring this up to give you a kind of contrast to a similar yet far more crass call I got sometime later from someone in the same standing.
This guy comes on the line, gives me his info while I go over his account, and I ask him what we can do for him. Like the lady from before, he knows he's been with us a while and wants... something for it, but he wants us to make the offer so he has a better bargaining position. Again, funny if annoying. Like the other call, he's not being very specific about what offers he's interested in, and mentioning new plans and devices is not impressing him. He gets very annoyed, like I've insulted him by having the nerve to offer the same deals we give to anybody else who's been with us that long. That's when he says this:
"I've dropped my pants and I'm telling you to please me."
Okay, obviously, he doesn't mean this literally (hard to do over a phone, anyway) and I might have given him the benefit of the doubt that he's only even making this remark because I'm a guy, that if he'd been connected to a woman, it'd be a different story... but given what followed, I'm not sure. As you may expect, this comment caught me totally off-guard, and I didn't even know what to say for a few moments. At first, I wasn't sure if I heard him right, so while I'm scrolling through our handbook on what exactly does and doesn't constitute harassment, I ask, "Say that again, please?"
If you've ever worked in a call center worth its salt before, you know most of them are pretty good about jumping on harassment of operators. Venting and joking around with callers is obviously fine so long as they're the ones starting it, but there are limits and it's often better to err on the side of caution. It's very easy for some off-color slip of the tongue to gradually become something worse. We're friendly, but not your friends, if that makes sense. I'm no prude, and what he had to say didn't necessarily offend me on a personal level, and I could well have ignored it, taken it as simply a crude metaphor, and carried on with the call. However, part of me figured that if I ignored this, what else would I be ignoring? What else would slip through? I've taken thousands of calls, and no one ever pulled a Willum Jeffy Clinton during the exchange. This was definitely breaking policy. If I give someone the impression this is okay, the mess is going to roll downhill and I make things worse for someone down the line. Still, maybe he slipped up, or was trying to "feel the crowd" as comedians say, getting an idea for what would or wouldn't get under my skin.
He repeated exactly what he said, along with a, "You heard me!" in front of it.
Okay, now it's on like Donkey Kong. I'm angry now. He's doubling down. I'm writing down what he's said in my notes while reciting the harassment script before giving my manager a buzz. Of course, the caller interrupts and acts like he's done nothing wrong. I told him what he said is not appropriate for how we run and operate our service and we will not tolerate such beha--And this is the part where he brags about how he runs his own business and that this is not a big deal. He says he talks like this all the time when doing business.
With a deliberate air of, 'Oh, well, please, by all means, enlighten me about a normal day at the office for you,' I probe, "Really? This is how business deals go for you? You talk to your employees this way?"
Now, I have kind of a high voice normally. It can be fairly androgynous if I'm not paying attention to it instead of using my "public speaking/phone voice" and in my "Oh, really?" moment, I may have let it slip. I think between that and my mentioning his employees, it sounded like I caught him off-guard, like he may have mistaken me for a dude when really I wasn't. I can't do justice the attempts he made to try and string enough words together to rationalize what he not only said, but swears he says all the time to everyone else in a professional context.
Going back to what I said about joking around with customers, an operator can play pretty fast and loose with the decency policy, but a manager is no-nonsense. At first, he almost rolled his eyes like, "Ugh, what now?" before leaning it to read my notes. I could tell when he got to the pants-dropping because his eyes went wide, removing all doubt that this was when you put your foot down.
Next thing I know, I'm getting gently shoved aside and taken off the call. Not really hearing the rest of it, I don't know if the call simply ended, if his account got flagged or not, but needless to say he wasn't getting any deals that day. My boss came over to me later to ask if I was all right, if I needed a few minutes. I told him I was more surprised than anything and thought of just ignoring it. He assured me I did the right thing, that while this was hardly the worst situation he'd come across (Hell, I could have told him that), as he put it, "If that's how the call starts, who knows how it's going to end."
What I had dismissed as bravado, locker room lingo, bar swagger, what have you, it turns out may well be hiding something sinister, a quiet corruption. It's not that these things get said or that this way of thinking in and of itself is especially heinous, but the notion that they are defended, even upheld as an essential part of the environment, as if taking it away will somehow negatively affect your business or prohibit you from being the kind of businessman you've built yourself up to be.
I'll just say it: that's fucking pathetic.
Like I said, this isn't a #metoo story, but the more I reflect on what this douchebag not only said, but doubled-down on and defended it sans irony, the more I wonder if he's caused some truly awful #metoo stories.
Goodnight, and good luck.