I love people-watching. It’s invariably an entertaining pastime, especially when combined with commenting on the people observed. But doing it at work makes me feel like an asshole. Insurance companies tend to be pretty homogenous. Women form the majority of employees, except in IT, and they’re typically between 20 and 35 – lotta married moms. (The men tend to be similar – married 30-something dads.) This is company-wide. The call centre, however, is a bit of a different story. Given the level of mockery we make of it, the call centre is basically the trailer park of the company. (See what I said about asshole?) The jobs are not highly skilled or highly paid. Typically the hires are kids out of high school or women who’ve worked low-end jobs their entire working lives. Think service industry or pink collar ghetto. Those who start in the call centre but have unusual intelligence and drive don’t stay long. They end up everywhere else in the company, and typically do pretty well for themselves, gaining valuable springboarding experience and skills on the company clock and dime.
I digress. It’s the people-watching of the call centre people that’s the most entertaining, and that makes me feel the most elitist. Nothing more fun than watching a batch of new hires getting shepherded around the building on the Orientation Tour, having departments pointed out to them where most of them will never work. What’s fascinating is how many of them fall neatly into one of the assigned stereotypes: for men, the Nerd or the Homey, and for women, the Nerd, the Hoochie, or the Hag (there’s that asshole again…)
Both male and female Nerds, as well as the Homies and Hoochies, are young, like, their mid-20s are but a glimmer in the distant future young. The Hags are older, well into their 40s, though usually they look like life’s been rough, so they could be anywhere from 30 to 65. Male and female nerds alike tend to be fashion backward, in dire need of a decent haircut, have bad skin, are often bespectacled, and are typically overweight. (If they’re not overweight they are, of course, gawky thin.)
The Homies would be metrosexuals if they had any money or taste, but instead look like backup dancers in a Kevin Federline video. Trailer chic, baby. For example, one of the recent hires has razored patterns in his hair and a line beard. For reals. Buddy probably wasn’t even born yet for the five Vanilla Ice-encrusted minutes that that was originally cool.
The Hoochies are the female counterparts of the Homies. They have elaborate hair colours (think whatever Christina Aguilera was wearing a year or two ago). The dark under-layer with blonde over-layer remains quite popular, as are faded and patchy streaks of assorted colours. As important are the unflatteringly tight clothes (think muffin tops), and handbags and shoes with enough trailer bling to make Britney Spears weep. I have seen metallic pink tote bags with metal studded accents, and more fake couture clutches than I can count. I have seen shoes so encrusted with sequins that they’d look tacky at an Indian wedding, and clear, plastic, high-heeled sandals with flashing red LEDs in the heels.
The Hags, as I mentioned, are older and don’t look like “leisure” is a word they have much familiarity with. They invariably smoke, and have greyish, sagging skin. Perms and mullets are not uncommon. Their clothes reflect Wal-mart couture circa 1988, and they’re either nearly emaciated or bordering on morbidly obese. These women will retire no higher up the career ladder than they started. Older men are almost unheard of, but the ones you occasionally see make you wonder what they’re doing there. They look like they should be wearing orange aprons and explaining drywall screws at Home Depot.
I and my co-workers make fun of the Nerds sometimes, and the Homies and Hoochies often. The H&H crowd practically beg for it, so oblivious do they tend to be of the inappropriateness of their attire (flip flops, micro-skirts, tube tops…) and the vacuousness of their social interaction. The ladies room conversations are the stuff of legend. Occasionally a Hoochie escapes her habitat for another department. Then they’re called Trainers, and we occasionally have to interact with them. Nerds can end up in IT. Two people I’ve worked with did. They can end up anywhere, really, with a modicum of intelligence. It’s the nerds without intelligence I feel particularly bad for.
I feel like an asshole because Thank God I’m Not Them. I am not particularly pretty or thin and I am no fashionista, so in physical terms, I should keep my mouth shut (I never do). There are a handful of women who are very, very large. I am not so rude as to stare, but I look, and I wonder – how does someone get like that? There is one woman who is very short, and has both horrible posture and is considerably overweight. The upper half of her body is essentially round. She doesn’t really have much of a chin, since it wobbles into her neck, and she has grey skin and bags under her eyes so pronounced you could lift them up. I wonder what it’s like to look like that – to live in that body and have that appearance. (And I am grateful that I am none of these women.)
I and my co-workers are very much products of the proverb “There but for the grace of God go I”. I technically have no more education than any of the call centre people. There is not a single university degree to be found on my entire team, and we’ve all worked in factories. But we’re all damned smart, we got that lucky, at least. I have worked shitty customer service and pink collar jobs and I have been a smoker. I left my 20s last year. But I have had opportunities. I grew up in a stable household and have had the support of my family and am not raising children by myself. I have gotten an education and can go back to get more pretty much whenever I decide to. I am smart enough to understand just about anything anyone puts in front of me.
We mock that which we fear, and I fear both ending up in their world, and having no way out of it. But on a day to day basis? Put on a bra, pull up your goddamned pants, and quit yakking on your cell phone in the office at a volume corpses could hear how incredibly fucking wasted you got last night.