Answering the phone at Berrett-Koehler is like playing Whacky Roulette. You could get someone making a simple inquiry about where to purchase books, but you could also get someone who needs to tell the world about the messages he has been receiving directly from God through the tin plate on his skull. It’s a mixed bag, but it keeps the job interesting.
Here are the five strangest phone calls I’ve gotten to date (this list will need extensive revisions as time passes, no doubt):
1. When Bald Eagles Cry: A man from Mumbai called trying to get in touch with the production folks and every time I tried to transfer the call, it disconnected (due to our turn-of-the-century phone system). I tried to explain that the connection was bad but he remained convinced I was hanging up on him on purpose. “I would expect this in India!” he yelled at me on the sixth attempt at a callback, “but not from America! This is not professional! You are un-American!” and then hung up. The shame of being told that I am un-American by a non-American is too deep to describe.
2. The Dark Vortex: A visitor to our company website called frantically trying to describe the evil force that had taken control of his computer. He was on our Web site when all of the sudden, a “dark vortex of energy” trapped him there and he couldn’t move forward and he couldn’t navigate away. He had been stuck there for hours and he begged that we release whatever “demon had been unleashed” on his hard drive. In his magical universe, computer freezes are apparently unheard of.
3. Therapy Session: A woman – a potential author – accepted that we couldn’t publish her book because we don’t publish recovery memoirs, but she still felt compelled to tell me about her previous four years of pain and suffering. I knew I had to get off the phone with her, but I didn’t want to cause her another emotional collapse. What could I possibly say? “I’m sorry your son dropped out of high school, but at least you got away from that abusive husband! And you should try painting, it’s a great stress reliever and it might take your mind off the Lupus. Now, I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve got to run, I think one of my colleagues is having a stroke…”
4. The Sales Scam: We get sales reps calling all the time trying to sell us all sorts of things we can’t use, like industrial shredding machines, but the ink reps are by far the most duplicitous. I once received a call from someone claiming to be our rep telling me we had to pay up. I gave him the details of our lease – which includes ink – and voiced my suspicion that he wasn’t really calling from our vendor. He started nervously blabbering about contracts and invoices due. After a couple minutes, I hung up. Less than three minutes later I got a call from a woman with the same company, I then told her about our lease and she added a choice expletive relating to Oedipal tendencies and hung up. What?!?
5. The Little Lady’s Mister: I pick up the phone and it’s a young man wanting to discuss an internship. I poised myself to answer the usual questions about school credits, hours per week, schedule, and so on when he tells me he’s actually calling for his girlfriend. She had submitted her resume a week ago and he wanted to know when she was going to hear back and what next steps she should take. I couldn’t tell whether this young man was either so pathetic that he was his girlfriend’s secretary or whether he was a domineering psychopath. Either way, I told him to have her call me.
And there goes the phone again…