Business Makes Strange Bedfellows

In the 1990s, when I started my last company, services and technology were far less hospitable to starting a start-up than today. Needless to say, there weren’t any “incubators,”meaning places where you could rent a cubicle for cheap and have support services. So you cobbled things together.  Usually, as I did, you worked from home and, to project a corporate image, you hired an answering service located at what seemed to be a business address where you also rented a mailbox.

To save some time, I paid extra to have my answering service re-mail my mail to my house so I didn’t have to pick it up every few days.  One morning, when I was in the vicinity, I stopped by to see if there was anything for me. Though I’d been in business for over a year, this was the first time I’d been up to my “office.”

It was a drab place in a drab office building with a good address on Madison Avenue in the 40s.

The owner came out and introduced himself, retrieved what there was of mail, and then invited me back to meet the “staff” which I assumed were the people who answered my phone.

The back office was pretty disgusting. Metal desks and cabinets, food containers, overflowing garbage cans.  But what really startled me were the people.  They looked like they’d been up all night, bloodshot eyes, kind of an exhausted, passive look, disheveled clothes. It hadn’t occurred to me that a business answering service would have a night shift which, I guess, at around 9 a.m., is what they’d just come off.

In an effort not to stare at them, I looked around the office.  The ceilings were tall and, when I looked up at the tops of the walls, I saw poster paper on which, in large lettering, what seemed like instructions were written.  But these weren’t just any instructions.  They said things like “Insert Into Vagina and Push Up Against Cervix” and “When Removing, Relax Your Muscles and Bear Down.” Having no idea what this all meant, I asked the owner who smiled.

“Weekdays, we mainly answer business phones like yours.  Nights and weekends, we’re the 800 number in the instructions that come with contraceptive sponges.”

I can’t wait to find out what the nightshift that answers the Moral Majority’s phones does.





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