Wanted: Customer Service Agent

Multi-National DOGOS corporation is hiring for customer service and collections.

Experience preferred but not required. EOE

That's all the information Careerbuilder provided. No phone number or email, just a site you could drop an application into.

I'm surprised they followed up with me at all.

I left my job at Sprint because the company changed to work from home operations. I'm one of the few who hates where they're living, thrives on seeing real people in a building every day. Offices have better heating, air conditioning, appliances, generally don't have homeless guys knocking on your door begging for stuff.

I applied to US Bank after I quit, but I couldn't take the high pressure micromanagement. When Covid hit, I tried to go back to Sprint, but of course they were full up by then. I was out of work for a long time.

When I came to interview for DOGOS, I thought it would be another work from home situation. It shocked me that they even required a face to face interview instead of using Zoom or a phone call.

Clad in a face mask, slacks, white shirt and tie, I got let in a run-of-the-mill corporate office building. Glass and steel exterior, blue-gray interiors. Antiseptic smells, the paint fresh enough to have a scent. I checked in at a designer reception desk, sat in a modern leather chair, filling out the standard load of newhire paperwork, work history and all that. Upon turning it in, I stared at boring company stuff on their plasma TV while I waited for the interviewer.

A blonde in glasses, stylish Covid mask and white pantsuit led me to a small interview room. She offered me a seat at a mahogany desk, introduced herself as Tamra. A brand new computer hummed on the glass counter protector.

We began the interview. Her mask wrinkled as she examined the contents of my job packet.

I guessed her age to be in the neighborhood of thirty, about a decade older than me. Not too bad looking. Unfortunately, I get nervous and freeze up around attractive women, making me even more uneasy about my chances of getting hired.

"If hired for the position, you will be paid twelve dollars an hour. We do not do raises, but you will have multiple bonus opportunities."

Although I thought this a little off the mark with current minimum wage requirements, I had barely scratched by with some of my temp jobs, so I didn't think it that bad. "That's...fair."

After a few of the standard job interview questions (like whether I felt I was more a leader or a follower) she asked, "How do you feel about wearing a uniform?"

A difficult tightrope, being bored of certain questions and still acting excited about the job. "No big deal. I've worn brown overalls and company polos before."

I thought I saw a smirk behind the mask. "Did you wash and take care of them?"

"Yeah?" Remembering my professionalism, I sat up straight, and, "Yes, ma'am."

"If hired for the job, would you be willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement and agree to the penalties if that contract is breached?"

I furrowed my brow. "Proprietary secrets? Uh, sure. My lips are sealed." Sprint had a bunch of new phones I couldn't talk about. I figured this to be the same deal.

"Would you be willing to do a job where ninety percent of your customers spoke a foreign language, if an interpreter were provided for you?"

So we're dealing with Spanish, maybe Chinese customers, I thought. What, am I going to say no now? "Certainly."

I hoped they would be damn good interpreters. My attempts at Spanish usually resulted in the customer asking for a Spanish rep.

"Would you be willing to relocate, upon being asked?"

I swallowed. I didn't really want to pack up and move away from everyone I knew, but I was desperate for work. "Are we working in Japan or something?"

Tamra didn't answer. I don't know if she took this as a yes or no, but she moved on. "Do you learn new software easily, or is it a struggle?"

That made me smile a little. "I'm kind of a geek. I like learning how to use new tech."

She raised an approving eyebrow, asked me a bland interview question about handling a job with minimal assistance. A sketchier question followed: "If a person decides to work in a foreign country, should they expect the company they work for to obey the labor laws of the United States?"

"It would be nice, but it's silly to expect that." The question gave me sudden pause. Why was she asking me that? Was this one of those fly by night operations that exploit loopholes in labor laws? "Wait. This position is in China, isn't it?"

Tamra didn't answer me. "Would you say you're physically active?"

Under the mask, I wasn't sure if she could see the puzzlement on my face. "I am. Not sure why that matters to a customer service job."

Here I at last got some information: "This position involves video conferencing."

"You might as well have asked me if I thought of myself as physically attractive." Realizing I'd just made an interviewing faux pas, I blurted, "No disrespect intended. I'm just saying, I like to take the stairs, but—"

"Relax. You're not winning any beauty contests. We're just looking for self-confidence."

I flushed red at what she just implied about my looks. "Excuse me?"

I let it pass. I'd applied for a lot of jobs before this, and all had turned me down or kept me in suspense for weeks, and I wanted a paycheck. She might not even be the boss.

"Let's, uh, continue..."

"Do you feel secure in your masculinity?"

My face really felt hot now. "And why does that matter?"

She looked indifferent. "I'll put down no."

"Wait, wait. Why do you need that information?"

The woman scribbled something else. "It's just a question."

"It's certainly an oddball one for a job interview. Are the customers really that insulting?"

I'm passive-aggressive. I can't help it. Plus, tired of my parents complaining that I didn't have a job, I didn't want to lose an opportunity due to some trivial comment. Dad would call me a sissy. "I didn't mean any offense, it's just unusual, that's all. I'm sure it's important." I coughed. "I'm secure."

"No you're not." She didn't laugh. That actually made it worse.

I asked her what kind of things I'd be making calls about, but she left the topic somewhat vague. No specific companies. "Multinational financial products. I suppose you'd call them credit cards. We also have openings with online orders and educational loans. HR will make the final determination based on your application and the results of this interview."

Tamra told me they had some insurance company that I'd never heard of, and the costs were super low. ABC Unlimited. The name sounded fake. Still, I figured if I had an income, I could buy what I needed outside the company.

My interviewer made me sign a bunch more paperwork: NDA, agreement to wear a uniform and it being taken out of my paycheck if damaged, relocation...Legalese she rushed through with the attitude that it was ordinary and on the level.

As much as all of this raised my psychological hackles, I had bills to pay, and didn't expect another stimulus check anytime in the immediate future. I'd been borrowing from mom and eating baloney sandwiches for weeks, so I'd do just about anything that allowed me to work at a desk.

"One more question, Mr. Finch: If offered the job, would you be willing to start right away?"

"Uh, yeah?...I mean, yes, ma'am."

She got up. "Okay. Follow me."

Tamra could probably see the indent on my mask where my mouth hung open. "What?"

The woman sighed. "Having second thoughts?"

"No, no!" I stammered, jumping to my feet. "I just couldn't believe it when you said it."

She took me down a gray hallway lined with locked wooden doors with gold plastic number plates. "Obviously we can't start you off today, but we can at least get you set up and trained. The first portion, unfortunately, involves some Covid procedures. A little inconvenient, I know, but every company is taking precautions."

Tamra unlocked a door with her badge, and I found myself looking at a big green rusty thing resembling a submarine. "Did you bring your second face mask like we told you?"

I shrugged. "Sure. But I still don't—"

She handed me a baggy. "Place it in here and put on your other one. Leave it in the receptacle with your clothes."

"What?"

Tamra opened the pressure hatch. "Take off your clothes and put them in the receptacle." Serious facial expression, like she'd asked me to do something ordinary as reviewing a FDCPA document.

I paled. "Excuse me?"

My interviewer pointed to a tall plastic bin. "Undress and put your clothes in there. Standard quarantine procedure."

Sure it is, I thought, backing away in horror. "Look, I don't know what this is. I just came in for a regular job, maybe something we can do from home on a laptop. I don't think—"

"Mr. Finch," the woman snapped. "Our equipment is very expensive and proprietary, our materials restricted to this building. You just signed paperwork to the effect that you consent to any and all Covid procedurals done on this location, including but not restricted to the sterilization of clothing and a period of quarantine for observation and testing."

I stared, praying for some sign that she might be joking. Instead I only got this expression that said I might not be the best fit for the job. "This some biomedical research thing like Quintiles, isn't it?"

The look in her eyes said no, but she answered, " A little."

I seriously considered walking out, but instead asked, "Am I getting paid for this?"

She rolled her eyes. "We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't prepared to give you paid training."

Training. It implied that this was unpaid. "That doesn't answer my question."

The look on her face said `Now really.' "To be brutally honest, Mr. Finch, I think you're better suited for customer service than, say, a more `exotic' line of work. You certainly wouldn't be my first choice for a G string tip. I wouldn't be asking if it wasn't necessary...now disrobe, please."

Why didn't I just walk out? Well, she was cute. Plus, Dad kept accusing me of sabotaging every job opportunity I came across.

Though not entirely comfortable with baring my skin, I found reassurance in the fact that the woman was a professional and not just after a free show. The submarine thing made me a little nervous - I'd seen horror movies involving similar plot devices, but the woman seemed deadpan about the whole concept, nothing diabolical in her expression. She didn't even crack a smile, as far as I could tell.

It's either this or factory work, I thought. That, or digging ditches. I bagged my old mask like she requested. "What should I do with my wallet?"

"It should be fine out here, Mr. Finch. We have cameras." She texted something on her phone.

Great, I thought. So I'm going to be naked on video. Is this how they enforce that NDA I just signed?

Hoping the answer to be no, I stripped to my cotton briefs, put my clothing in the bin. "Is...sterilization going to affect my phone any?"

She shook her head, gestured to my underwear. "I'm sorry, Mr. Finch. You're going to have to take that off too."

I was already blushing. I guess it would have been better if she actually liked me. "Seriously?"

"As a heart attack."

"I'm pretty sure there's a law against all this."

"You signed the paperwork."

Hoping she would budge a little, I argued, "You can say the same about a lot of illegal things."

"We'll discuss the legality of the situation during our tour. I'd explain it now, but it would be much easier to show you."

"What, like a legal document or something?"

She gave a slight nod. "...Something."

"If it's a gun, people work better when not under duress."

"I agree. It is not our intention to create a hostile work environment." She crossed her arms, glanced at my underwear impatiently.

"God, this is ridiculous." I did what she asked, letting it all hang out. If I had been honest with myself, I had been desperate enough to contemplate doing that for money anyway. "Please tell me I don't have to do video calls like this. I didn't come here to—"

The woman rolled her eyes, her facial expression telling me `We've been over this before.'

"Right. I break mirrors. Got it."

Tamra gave me an appraising look, as if reassessing her previous opinion, but only scoffed, waving me into the submarine.

"For observation."

"Uh-huh." She waved a little metal sphere around me, clicked the button a few times.

"Wait, what is that?"

"Proprietary equipment, Mr. Finch. Get in the tank."

"Like a germ scanner or something?"

"Something like that."

I scowled at her. "Something! Did you just take my picture?"

"It's a scan, Mr. Finch. As stated previously, you are not centerfold material." She put it back in her pocket.

I secretly hoped she was wrong. "...What about the mask?" One side effect of the Pandemic. You got so used to wearing the damn things that you forgot they were on. Mostly.

"Keep it on. I don't want to get sick."

A double standard, but I figured the woman couldn't be reasoned with. "Oh...kay."

She gestured for me to climb in, but I froze at the hatch. "You must think I'm an idiot."

I thought I saw her deadpan exterior crack a little. "And why is that, Mr. Finch?"

"It just seems to me like stripping naked and getting locked inside that thing is a bad idea, that's all. What you got planned next, chaining me to a wall and making me saw my own leg off to escape?"

Tamra crossed her arms indignantly. "Mr. Finch, the medical treatment for such an injury would be cost prohibitive to our organization, and deprive us of the quality customer service you presumably can provide." She nodded to the hatch.

I stepped into a structure with rusty steel bulkheads bearing old dripping pipes and weathered ventilation ductwork. Someone had cranked the AC to an uncomfortable level, raising goosepimples on my bare flesh. No sound, save for the blower and dripping water. Sportscenter, muted, with closed captioning, showed on a plasma TV bolted to a wall.

Dirty gray chevron pattern plating, like the running board of a truck, brushed the soles of my feet. I winced at the smell: Faint vomit, old cheese, and something like skunk...maybe a hint of Pepperidge Farm goldfish crackers.

No toilet, no sink, no food. I sincerely hoped nobody wanted me to stay in this thing long term.

Okay, so all this kind of throws professional etiquette out the window. I plopped down on a padded bench, wondering if anyone sanitized its surfaces recently.

My jaw dropped when the woman, with dispassionate nonchalance, also stripped off her clothes, including bra and panties, stepping into the tank clad only in a mask.

She set my job packet on the bench, pulled the pressure door shut and sealed it.

"Um," I stammered.

Okay, now I definitely didn't want to walk out.

Was this some `casting couch' situation? I couldn't get the words out. I wondered how this would play out in terms of sexual harassment litigation...or if either of us actually wanted to press charges.

I at last managed, "W-why are you in here? With me?...Like this?"

I'd been staring a little, and, judging by her annoyed glances between my legs, Tamra had seen what I thought about the view. "Don't be getting any ideas, Mr. Finch. I'm only here doing this because I've been in close quarters with an individual who could potentially be a carrier." She told the truth. No signs of arousal on her part.

I crossed my legs, tried to think of something boring, focusing on her face, as if in a normal interview. "I'm wearing a mask."

"So am I. Masks are not perfect, Mr. Finch."

A lot of people obsessed about being Covid safe, but this bordered on obsessive-compulsive. "Still, I'm surprised you're...doing this, and not going to a separate...room. I mean, what if your interviewee is dangerous?"

"Separate tanks are cost prohibitive, and this situation allows me to further weed out applicants. Besides, I'd know a threat the moment we begun the meeting. We cultivate a certain type of employee here. A specific personality. I can tell right away who will keep their hands to themselves." I think she caught my skeptical look, for she added, "I'm not going to let a rapist in here, if that's what you're getting at."

"Y-yeah, but what if?"

"I can take care of myself." Tamra struck a bulkhead and a panel popped out, revealing a pistol. "Peek a boo." She closed it again.

`A certain type of employee...That can keep their hands to themselves.' She seemed to imply I was gay, but of course she could see I wasn't.

I wondered if she intended to attack me, like the company were a front for an assassin's guild or something. Not such a silly idea, considering the circumstances.

I flinched when she picked up the clipboard and a pen, but she only marked my paperwork.

"Wait, wouldn't that have germs on it too?"

"We'll run it through a process later on."

She asked more job interview questions.

"I thought you said I was already hired."

Tamra's gaze narrowed. "And I can easily unhire you. I need answers to a few more questions to make certain you're a good fit for the company."

I stripped naked for you, I thought. Shouldn't that be enough? But then I supposed all of this could have been a psychological readiness test of some sort. "Sorry, I...I'm just not used to the way you do things around here." I self consciously crossed my wrists over my crotch. "I, uh, there are worse things I could be doing with my time..."

The woman cut me off before I could say something about enjoying her company. "If faced by a justifiable physical threat, do you feel confident in your ability to defend yourself?"

I reacted to the question like a cold shower. "What?"

Tamra scowled, scratched out a note. "Sorry, never mind."

"That tough in the workplace?"

"That was part of our...security questionnaire."

I thought about the gun. "Is this...An assassin's guild?"

She burst out laughing. "You watch too many movies. Next question: How do you feel about surgical implants?"

"Um, not sure. I...don't really like the idea of Big Brother watching me, if that's what you mean."

Tamra made a note. "Are you doing anything for the rest of the day?"

I swallowed. I actually did have things I wanted to do, but decided I'd better put them on the back burner. "No? Why? Training?...Or does the Covid test take that long?"

"Uh huh."

Not a real clear answer. Still, if I said no, I'd have no job. "Oh...kay. I'm...open."

"Great. What do your plans look like for the rest of this week?"

I got the job, I thought. Guess I have to commit, reasonable or not. "Open."

"All day for seven days?"

"You're kidding."

"It's very extensive training."

Okay, so...desperate for employment. And naked, locked in. With a nude woman. "Fine. Okay."

More notation. "Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrials?"

I goggled at her. "You're...serious."

The woman looked serious.

Only then did she show signs of arousal. I forced my attention away from her, um, salient points, to her eyes. "Honestly, I wish they existed, but I think they'll never visit earth. I don't know why that would affect a call center job."

She took a note, but refused to explain.

Fine, okay. Weird job that may or may not have something to do with selling novels about UFO encounters. A little weird, but more interesting than some of my jobs.

I heard a knock on the outside of the tank, then a gruff male voice. "He's clean. I followed your order to hold your clothing until the test came back, but we kinda incinerated the other stuff."

I bolted to my feet. "You did what!"

A nervous chuckle came from the other side of the door. "Relax! We got you a uniform! And your wallet, keys and cell phone (as outdated as it may be)!"

"Well gee thanks!" I groaned. "Will underwear be included with this uniform?"

"Sort of."

"What do you mean by sort of!"

The male voice just laughed.

I angrily rushed for the wheel that opened the pressure hatch.

"Leave the clothes by the door," Tamra called. "He's trying to come out."

The male giggled. "That could be interpreted several different ways."

I really wanted to choke the guy now. I turned the wheel.

"Victor, I'd clear out if you don't want an eyeful."

The wheel clanked to the unlocked position. I pushed the hatch open.

"Good Lord! I'm going! I'm going!"

A little man in a Hawaiian shirt and khakis rushed to the security door. Before I could throttle him, he'd made it outside in the hallway.

In the back of my mind, I thought, that definitely falls under EOE requirements.

I looked at the floor and frowned. The boss lady had all her things, but mine seemed...Peculiar.

Beneath my wallet, keys and cell phone lay a fat silver unlabeled package, similar in shape to ones used in Amazon clothing orders, and next to it, something greatly resembling Mary Jane flats. "Where are my shoes?"

Tamra, already clad in her underwear, pulled her blouse on over her head. "They've been incinerated. Didn't you hear him say that?"

"These are girl shoes."

She examined the heel. "When's the last time you saw a girl wearing size 13's?"

I gawked at her. "You're shitting me. Why would I wear that?"

She wiggled into her slacks, looking irritated. "Because we don't allow employees to walk around barefoot, and it was custom ordered for you. Are you going to get dressed or do you want to attend orientation in the nude?"

I gulped, hurriedly opening the gray package.

It got worse. Inside, instead of finding a brown jumpsuit, or jumpsuit of any color for that matter, I discovered a dress.

Charcoal grey, puff sleeves, ruffled skirt, big swirling D logo across the chest. "Is this some kind of practical joke?"

Tamra's face did not reflect any sort of amusement. "That, Mr. Finch, is your required uniform, fitting with the client's standards of gender equality. I asked you up front if you had any objections to uniforms and you said no."

"Yeah, but I never—"

"I also asked if you were secure in your masculinity, and you tried to argue that you were. Now, being as your street clothes have been destroyed, and you are naked, I suggest you put that on immediately."

"Street clothes! Those were damn business casuals! I had a tie!"

"At any rate, they're gone. So."

As much as I wanted to leave, I couldn't go naked, and if I wore the dress, well...

I pulled the outfit on. A little snug, but someone had gotten my exact measurements. The good part: It didn't expose my chest in a womanly way, or give the illusion of boobs, making it a little more masculine than it could have been. The skirt, however...disconcertingly short. Secure in my masculinity! I thought with no small amount of annoyance. "Please explain the gender equality thing to me. I'm dying to know why this is legal."

"It's sexist for women and women only to be required to wear that style of uniform. Since our client insists that it be worn, for the purposes of branding, we went with the most restrictive policy and required everyone to have it, male and female alike."

"I don't see you wearing it."

"As a member of senior management, I am not required to do so. I have, however, worn a similar uniform in the past, when I had to do calls...Do you intend to walk around with everything dangling like a Scotsman?"

"No..." Instead of briefs, or even panties, I found white stockings and a sort of diaper in the package. "That's... Not underwear."

"Correct. It extracts water from your waste, and creates fertilizer pucks for our indoor farm. Much more environmentally friendly than a water based flush toilet."

"So it's actually a diaper."

"Essentially."

"And you want me to use it at some point. Won't it...smell bad afterwards?"

"Not really. It's an advanced device. You will also have access to cleaning and personal health supplies." Tamra cleared her throat. "Being as the company doesn't issue underclothes..."

I reluctantly pulled it on. "Wait, you have a farm? Why?"

"Sustainability project. We are an environmentally conscientious corporation. Now, the stockings are optional, but since you don't have any socks, I'd still wear them to keep the shoes clean."

You would, I thought.

Well, what's one more humiliation? I completed the ensemble, stuffed my wallet and other things in my dress pockets ( the ones at the waist allowed for that) and reluctantly followed the woman to the door.

My embarrassment deepened with every swish of my skirt as I trailed the woman down the hallway.

"I once had an applicant who tried to go to class in the buff. We had him put on a gorilla costume for the first class, then sent him packing." She summoned an elevator. "It seems I guessed correctly about you. Insecure but open to persuasion."

The comment made me hot, from anger or sexual frustration, I don't know. If I did know, this story probably would have ended at the elevator.

Past the sliding doors, we met a man who wore standard American work attire. Like an accountant. He seemed unsurprised by my transgender apparel. No amusement whatsoever. He got out and Tamra used a key to access a lower floor.

We came out in a concrete sub basement. More security locked wooden doors. A big metal thing, like a water tower with legs, stood in the center, sweating condensation. "Our client believes in preparing for all contingencies. This is the main floor. You will eat, sleep and do work on level."

"What! Sleep?" I smacked my head. "Never mind. It stopped making sense the moment you told me to take off my clothes."

"You can leave any time you want, Mr. Finch. Just remember the NDA."

"I'd have to tie a string around my finger. I hate basketball." Although I probably should have left, I hadn't. Sarcasm seemed like the only safe outlet.

Tamra stopped to glare at me, possibly to lecture.

I raised my hands defensively. "Sorry, bad joke."

Up until this point, the woman and her weird corporation had kinda intimidated me, so I continued to wear my mask. But now I tugged on it. "Is it okay if I take this off? The rubber band is hurting my ears."

The woman rolled her eyes. "You're clear, aren't you? Not sick or anything?"

"Yeah?"

Tamra shrugged, so I removed it.

A couple cute African American girls, both clad in uniforms identical to mine, came strolling up the hallway in our direction, chattering away. Both bore loaded binders in their arms, manuals, I guessed. Unlike myself, they had the figure for those uniforms.

Upon seeing me, one elbowed the other and muttered, causing her companion to snort in amusement, but when we made eye contact, the face I got wasn't 'Hey, Tamra got the new guy to wear a dress,' but rather `Oh boy, here comes another one.' She rolled her eyes at me, walking on.

I looked back, wondering if the girl would appreciate a crossdressing male coworker, but Tamra cleared her throat, forcing my attention away from them.

She showed me around.

Like Google, the campus offered a full-service cafeteria, daycare center, reading room and coffee shop.

They had actual bedrooms, one for men, one for ladies. Also a laundry room, 'Interfaith' chapel, and even a mini-hospital.

Tamra said the hospital ensured my insurance costs would be super low, that I should visit them instead of my primary care physician.

"Good Lord," I muttered. "Are the people there even certified?"

The woman nodded.

I didn't believe it for a moment. Putting on a dress was one thing, bloodletting by leeches something else entirely. "That's...okay. I've...got something else on the Marketplace." A lie, but I could always get insured later.

A staircase led to a lower level. More offices, a executive crew quarters, storage areas.

Tamra swiped her badge at a secured turnstile, showing me down a concrete tunnel that smelled damp and earthen. "You'll be taking your fertilizer pucks down here. We have a composting station and a place to wash your hands. The water you can drain with hoses in the bathroom."

There, through a pneumatically sealed door at the end of the tunnel, the facility went a tad overboard with the whole 'sustainability' concept. A lush garden, populated with everything from tomatoes to cabbage.

No equivocation about her mention of a farm. Although underground, I spotted enough crop to feed an army. They even had small trees.

Then, as Tamra took me around plots of corn, I saw it. I couldn't believe my eyes.

A gray octopus looking thing. On land.

Eight eyes like a spider, its suckered tentacles busy with gardening tasks.

I pointed, fumbling for words.

"Yes, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. I hope you changed your mind about reporting us to the authorities now, Mr. Finch."