Watertown Weirdo

Tomorrow, June 17, is a full moon, so – here’s my take on full moon freaks.

March 1995. Watertown, Massachusetts. I was halfway through a nine month project to create an outbound call center (OK, let’s call it what it was… a telemarketing center). My employer was Ionics, Inc and in addition to their primary business manufacturing electrodialysis systems for applications such as desalination and wastewater they operated eighteen bottled water distribution facilities. Watertown, Mass, located just outside of Boston was their corporate headquarters. I started of as an outside sales person, knocking on doors and closing an average of forty new accounts in the cold weather months and sixty to seventy new accounts in the warm months. I was good at this job because A) I loved every minute of it and B) I was passionate about bottled water and an expert on the nuance of the product.

OK, I know that I said that this was the Spring of 1994, but the real opportunity to set up this national call center started almost a year earlier. January 10, 1994 was a Monday. A Monday which followed three shitty snow storms dumping 2-3 feet of snow in our area. It’s hard to pull doors to sell a bottled water service when business owners are more concerned about getting their power back or getting to work in the first place. Freezing cold with wet feet, I slogged into a Barnes & Noble in Enfield, Connecticut for a Starbucks coffee to warm up. While burning the roof of my mouth on that latte, I wandered over to the Self Help section of the bookstore…then to the business section looking for inspiration of one sort or another. Reaching a section containing topics on selling, I saw a book that in a way, changed the trajectory of my entire career. It was titled “Sell Anything By Phone”. I picked the book up and in a few minutes, convinced myself that I did not need to walk the mean streets of Springfield, Massachusetts anymore peddling water. I could just call people and sell them bottled water over the phone. That was the plan. Yep, that was the plan indeed.

So, I developed a sales script for the sales pitch, another script for overcoming potential objections, and another for closing the deal etc…. It was brilliant and it even better…..it worked. My two coworkers and I wrote a combined seventy four one-week free trials the first day we tried this over the phone and maintained an 85% closing rate of those free trials. Frankly speaking, no one had ever done this in the bottle water industry before. Weeks turned to months and word got out within my company that some guy (me) in Western Massachusetts was leading the company in sales and he simply did it over the phone. The company followed my success and talked me into a supposedly six month gig to set up a call center at headquarters followed by a promised promotion to Regional Sales Manager over all of New England. Sure, I’m your huckeberry and Boston…here I come.

One day forty distinctive cow-themed boxes arrived. It was twenty monitors and twenty desktop PCs. Then the high end Plantronic headsets arrived followed by dry erase boards to track sales, Nerf basketballs and hoops, anti-stess balls and all sorts of other fun crap to motivate people strapped to headsets selling bottled water over the phone. Our telemarketing group was surrounded by engineer-types….analytical people employed by Ionics that looked at our group of young people……laughing, ringing cow bells when we’d close a deal and me, their manager, handing out Massachusetts lottery scratch tickets every hour to the person with the most sales. It was a blast and I was in my element…..thriving on all cylinders.

Which…… leads me to the original reason for the blog. A coworker (let’s call him Billy as his name was Billy) who was the local sales manager asked me one day if I’d be part of the interview team for his expanding outside sales team. Side Note – This was the same guy who introduced me to Google. One day Billy walked up and asked me if I knew about Google. No, what’s Google? We spent the next fifteen minutes trying to spell “Kournikova” into its search engine, but that’s altogether a different story – so, please disregard. Anyway, Billy tells me that an applicant would be coming in that morning for an outside sales position. Sure, I thought…no biggie….I’ll interview them and give Billy my thoughts on whether I think they’d be a good candidate to sell bottle water.

The interview room was perhaps 6′ x 6′ in size and all four walls were glass. Today, companies might call it a “Huddle Room”. Billy brings me into the room to meet a woman, perhaps thirty years old. She’s gregarious, extroverted and seems quite nice. Billy excuses himself and I begin the interview asking her different questions about sales, overcoming objections…all the usual stuff…. She’s doing quite well in the beginning, but then I start to get the feeling that she was trying too hard….selling herself and her background in a weird, over-the-top manner. After ten minutes or so, I’m beyond shocked when she blurts out, “Do you think I am pretty?” A few minutes later and she’s now preening and applying more lipstick, preening into a small mirror….adjusting her blouse (not in a professional manner). I don’t know what is going on and I want out. She strikes me as unbalanced and I’m trying to figure out a way to conclude the interview….I finally give up and say, “Look, we have more applicants to interview and I appreciate you coming in…..” However, the real issue is that she’s now not paying any attention to me and is starting to display an unsettling far away look in her eyes….

As I’m quickly trying to figure out how best to get the hell out of this situation, she asks me (get ready…) if I am aware that sea water and human blood have the same pH level. What the F, I’m thinking…. Huh? I reach to the left and put my hand on the door knob. (I promise you….what happened next truthfully happened.) She stares at me….unbuttons the top button on her blouse….tilts her head back so that her eyes were pointed to the ceiling….and disclaimer (twenty five years later I remember this like it was yesterday) she starts this bizarre rambling monologue…And, I quote…..”They think I know…but how would I know? I don’t read the paper…I don’t know, but they think I do….. How would I know?” And at this point I’m about to straight out run from the room. I keep saying her name over and over but she’s paying no attention to me at all – lost in the moment. At this point, I frankly don’t know what to do. It’s like she’s in a trance. Another minute of her rambling about knowing or not knowing …and she says (and I quote) “And then it just comes over me….. and I don’t know if if’s me…or the power of the full moon.” WTF?!?!

I’m terrified and have this dread…somehow knowing, but disbelieving what she is about to do. She starts scrunching up her nose….eyes closed and pointed to the ceiling. The best way I can describe the next moment is that she’s sucking on her top teeth…..I have no idea what’s going on….No Idea. It’s like she does not even know I’m in the room. Over and over I say her name. Nothing….and then……She lets out a whimper….like a small animal. Then. She. Howls. Yes. You read that correctly…..She howls… Out loud. In a corporate headquarters just outside of Boston. With me in the room.

Yes, she starts bellowing out these howls…three, four….I don’t even know. I have the door open. I’m ready to run. Heads are popping up from cubicles and they are all looking at me. I slam my hands down on the table and yell, “Stop It!” She blinks a few times and says, “I’m sorry….could you repeat the question?” as if this crazy shit hasn’t just occurred. I remember stammering out something like, “If we find a position that we think is a good match, we will be in contact.” She stands up, says OK and seemingly aware of what the hell just happened and I walk her to the door with countless co-workers staring with open mouths. She asks for my business card and I straight up lie and say that I don’t have one on me. She rips out a piece of scrap paper and asks if she can give me her contact information. To expedite her leaving, I nod my head, speechless. I stuff the paper in my pocket and walk back through a few dozen co-workers staring in disbelief.

Clearly we did not hire her. But a few days later I was in the basement doing laundry (and for once remembered to check my pockets). I find a crumpled up piece of paper with a 617 area code phone number and above the number…it said (I promise) ….. Tall Hot Blonde. I have no idea what caused that bizarre situation, nor what career path she followed….but in any event enjoy the full moon tonight.

4 Comments on “Watertown Weirdo

  1. Job well done holding it together. A gentleman to the end. Great story Jim. The moon was especially brilliant last night.

    Liked by 1 person

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