Thursday, October 4, 2012

I was just thinking...

I was just thinking 
back to "another life" years ago when I supported my family by running a financial services business out of my home. 

My mission at the time was to find young families who had not yet considered their financial futures, and to make it easy for them to begin establishing a financial plan through periodic investments and dollar-cost averaging in investments in primarily growth-oriented mutual funds.

By that time, I was already a competent self-taught programmer, and I wrote software that allowed me to enter numbers into a self-designed one-page spreadsheet. My laptop had two floppy drives, and no hard drive. Data was kept only in the form of printed reports, but with the use of macros and some electrical circuits I designed myself, I used that antique (by today's standards) much the same way I use my computer today.

In some ways, my system was more 
efficient then. I used a relational database with only a few records to pull up information about each customer before I spoke with them on the phone. The program would create a combination script and outline with prompts to help me start a phone conversation, and outlined topics of interest to the customer, as well as summaries of quoted prices and dates. I had paper files I could grab at a moment's notice. I would enter (or upload) a list of phone numbers into a specialized telemarketing computer that would dial the phone and find people for me to talk with. Then I would pick up the phone, which caused a timer circuit I designed and soldered together to halt the telemarketing computer while I spoke with the customer up to five minutes. The computer would detect early hangups, but I had to manually disconnect the telemarketing computer if the time went over five minutes, which I avoided, since the lack of memory meant having to reboot the computer and re-upload an adjusted list of telephone numbers. Worse, sometimes the numbers had to be entered by hand each time, depending on the source of the list. 

Each morning I spent the first several hours on the phone setting appointments to meet with people in the afternoons.

One day I showed up for what appeared to be a very promising appointment only to find a strange young man in a dark house with trash bags taped over all the windows. The man told me he was schizophrenic, so he would understand if I wanted to "run now." I asked him if I was in danger. He said, "no." I asked, "why would I run?" He said, "because crazy people are scary." I said, "the fact that you live in an altered reality may make you LOOK crazy, but it does not make you crazy. Smiling, I said, tell me about your reality, and THEN I'll tell you if I think you are crazy.

He liked that answer. He said you are good. I asked him why he had set an appointment. He apologized. He said, "because I'm lonely." I looked at my watch. I said, you are in luck. I don't have another appointment for two hours. I can stay as long or as you want me to stay up to two hours. He asked, can I get you some water. I said, thank you. That would be nice. 

I asked why all the windows were darkened with trash bags. He said, because the shades weren't dark enough. I asked why he needed darkness. He said because bright light is distracting. I can see well enough in dim light, and I find it soothing. I feel as if I can think better in dim light. I don't have to have it so dim. I can turn on a light if you like. I said however you like it is fine. I'm just here to take a break and share my time with you before I go on with my day. I don't really need much light to do that. 

He seemed to enjoy the visit. We talked about a lot of subjects, but I noticed he never brought up people. I thought things were going well for him, but suddenly, after about a half-hour, he said "you have to go now." I looked at my watch. I said I'll go if you want me to, but I don't HAVE to go now. He said, "You should go." Then he said, "can you come back?" I said, I wish I could, but I cannot justify scheduling time during my work day. 

I asked, Do you have places you can go where you can talk with other people? He mentioned some place where they do arts and crafts all day. He said he goes there occasionally if he is desperate enough for company, but he really doesn't like it there. "It's too bright." 

As I walked out the door, he thanked me for coming, and he apologized for fooling me into thinking I had an appointment. I said, you fooled me. I thought you were a potential client, and under other circumstances, you might have become a client. I told him he handled himself well over the phone. "Have you ever thought of telemarketing?" He laughed. He said, on a good day, but not all days are like today. That would NOT be a good idea! He was laughing as I left, in a somewhat disturbing way. I prayed for him, and I never saw him again.

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