The Christmas Gift

In college back in the late 90s, I worked at a large call center near the downtown shopping district and river. The call center was a large grey building with many small cubicles and monitors. There must have been around 200 telemarketers working there. The walls were covered with motivational posters and there were dry erase boards at the end of every aisle gauging sales performance of each worker group.

The entry level employees were hired at Christmas time for the holiday season of October, November, and December. Basically, if you performed well and made it through the holiday season, you would be hired on from the temp agency to work full-time at the higher levels of the call center. The second level was a phone repair line and the tiers above that were various cold calling projects.

The first level was an easy and fun job. Back then, we didn’t have a lot of online businesses and their websites. So, people would call us to place their Christmas orders in various catalogues that were sent to them in the mail. So the job went like this. A person would call in. You greet them and check their personal info as well as what catalogue they wanted to order from. Then together you flip through the catalogue and help them shop. Fun, right?! Who doesn’t like to shop??

Once they decided what they wanted, you placed the order on a computer (data entry stuff). Then you take their payment and process it. In the end, you wish them Happy Holidays and they hang up happy that their Christmas shopping is done.

A lot of times, you could also talk to the customers about their day or their job or home. Some were from NYC, some from California, some from Florida, etc. etc. You were also expected and encouraged to try to pitch a sale or two to the customer, recommending other items they might be interested in.

Around late October, all the telemarketers for this department were called together for a staff meeting to discuss ways to improve sales for the company. A large table was brought out displaying prizes you could receive for getting top sales.

I was in my second or third year of college and dating a ROTC cadet. On the prize table was a DVD set of military movies including Saving Private Ryan, a popular movie my boyfriend really liked.

I worked extra hard that Christmas season trying to get that DVD set. I took on more shifts and tried to do a couple of sales on each call. I really wanted to be a top performer just to get that DVD set and I told a couple of people including my supervisor that I intended to win that item from the table to give my boyfriend who was joining the Army.

Weeks and weeks of hard work and college went by. One day two days before Christmas, I walked into work and the prize table was gone. We were called together for a staff meeting. It was announced that the winners received their items they won from the table due to top sales performance. They thanked us for our hard work and wished us a Merry Christmas. The meeting was over and we got back to work.

I felt pretty down about it. I asked a couple of coworkers if they won and they said no too. We worked a long eight hour shift that day. I clocked out and bundled up in my coat and scarf to trudge out in the snow in the parking lot to my car.

It was dark outside and cold. I could see the steam from my breath as I walked out to my old Nissan Altima. There was someone standing by the back of my car. I recognized who it was. My supervisor was standing there. He was an older guy, good-looking and about 28 years old. He was from the coast, maybe Jersey or something like that cause he had an accent.

Anyway, I walked up to him and smiled but shivered some in the cold. I was curious why he was there.

He said, “ You’re a good kid. I know you worked hard this season and wanted this. Tell your boyfriend thank you for his service and Merry Christmas.”

He handed me a bag and started walking away in the snow. I looked in the bag and it was the DVD set. I looked up at him walking away. I said, “ I didn’t really win this, did I?”

He turned and looked at the building and he said, “ Nobody ever wins. They set that table out every year just to drive up sales.”

With that, he turned and kept walking. I hollered, “Thanks and Merry Christmas.” I had realized with a smile that somehow he had snuck the item off the table without others seeing. He lifted his hand to say goodbye and I got in my car and drove to my boyfriend’s apartment. He was pretty happy about the gift and I remember that we had a good Christmas that year.

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