About 4 ½ years of my work experience is in call centers, as a customer service rep. I most recently did it for a year-and-a-half for Kroger Customer Connect, working out of the Fred Meyer campus in SE Portland from February 2013 to August 2014, and before that, three years — from 2001 to 2004 — at downtown Portland's Vesta call center. (Vesta still exists, but moved several years ago from the Old US Bank Building to a Tigard, Oregon office.) Vesta mainly handled the reloading of long distance phone cards, and took calls from literally around the world, like Barrow, Alaska, Guam and Diego Garcia. The place, not the guy.
In any customer-facing business, even when you're facing them (so to speak) over the phone, you'll get Tough Customers. Difficult ones. Angered ones. And one week in late May 2003, I got what felt like an extra-high percentage of customers who wanted to fight with me. People wouldn't listen, they'd get mad at rules, they'd take out anger over a technical problem on me. Luck of the draw, getting more calls like that than normal. (Amazingly, one previous day where I'd gotten almost no angry calls at all: 9/11, the day that Americans broke the record for most phones calls ever attempted. That's its own story, and maybe its own entry, sometime.)
I vividly remember logging off one Saturday night, either the 24th or the 31st, the last day of my work week at the time (working until 10:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays), going over to a floor supervisor I knew, and saying this: "My sense of humor has been beaten out of me."
I needed a pick-me-up. I didn't want to just go home, stewing. And I had time to get that pick-me-up: I went the few blocks over to the downtown Everyday Music, which was open until midnight, and bought a new CD of the new Weird Al Yankovic album Poodle Hat. (I also bought a used CD of Lay It Down by the Cowboy Junkies, because I was in the mood for soothing, too.) I could focus on Al, a musician whose work I've loved for twenty years at that point, and anticipate hearing the songs. Which I did once I got home.
Poodle Hat was a relative flop for Al, though not a career-ending one (yay 2006's Straight Outta Lynwood!), but I still have a soft spot for it: the dexterity with which Al sings "Hardware Store" so incredibly fast, the quick and impressive Dylan style tribute "Bob" (even the title's part of the song's joke), his Frank Zappa-esque "Genius In France," how he found another way to tackle television with his Eminem parody "Couch Potato," and more. One part of the album, the first few times I heard it, I would pause right before it got to that part because I seriously worried I'd laugh so hard I'd pee myself. If I ever meet Weird Al, I'll tell him that.
That week, that night, 14 years ago, I needed those laughs. I feel better just remembering how I got them.