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The Pseudonym

When I was working at the call center as a teenager, we were making outbound calls. If we got voicemail, our instructions were to hang up without leaving a message. Sometimes, though, the person would call us back.

One instance of this that stands out is when we got a call back from a somewhat distraught woman. When we explained that we were a fulfillment and compliance company calling about her Yellow Pages delivery, she was slightly confused but mostly relieved. She explained that she had a son in the Army and every phone call from an unknown number could be someone calling to notify her that her son had been hurt or killed.

We told her that thankfully we were not the bearers of such bad news. I suggested we should inform her that if her son was killed in action then they would almost certainly come to her house in person to let her know, but none of us were particularly certain about that and didn’t want to provide this poor woman any misinformation. We just wished her well and hung up.

Thankfully, we weren’t doing anything sketchy; while people might not necessarily be happy we called, we weren’t trying to sell anything, scam them, or really ask them to do anything other than answer two questions. But none of us were particularly proud of the work we were doing, either. So we invented fake names to answer the phone with when people called.

You see, we were told that it was unprofessional to answer the phone with just “Hello?” (this is true), so we were supposed to answer with our names, saying “MDS, this is Nathan speaking, how may I help you?”

Since the only help that we could provide was to inform people who called us that when they missed our call they hadn’t missed anything important, this seemed like an unnecessary bit of window dressing. But since that help was really all most callers wanted, I suppose it worked out well enough. None of us wanted to give our actual names, though, as we did get the occasional psychotic or otherwise unsettling caller and felt like the combination of first name plus company name could possibly be just enough information to track us down.

The name that I chose, naturally, was Beauregard.

The name came not from Confederate general P. G. T. Beauregard but rather from Balaclava Beauregard, a particularly ill-tempered woodchuck who occasionally shows up in a series of delightfully bucolic mysteries by Charlotte MacLeod. My mom enjoys these books, and since I read anything that I could get my hands on, I read and enjoyed them too. When it came time to pick a pseudonym, that’s what I went with.

I originally chose it on a lark (we didn’t need to stick to the same nom de plume each time, so I just spouted it out as it came into my head). But it had the most excellent quality of throwing the caller off-rhythm slightly. The occasional irate caller, angry at getting so may “telemarketing” calls (we weren’t that), would sometimes stop in the middle of their opening salvo, saying “…wait, what did you say your name was?” And even more mild-mannered callers would pause to process the unfamiliar name. It worked so well that on the few occasions when I did choose to change it up, I would choose a similarly bizarre name.

I of course shared this amusing yarn with my parents. We all shared a hearty chuckle over it.

One day, they had more workers than usual on second shift. I’m not sure why; probably there was a special client we took on or something and we’d brought in extra help. Those workers were in our building using the phones we usually used, so we were sent up to a different building to make phone calls. None of us really had assigned seats or phones. We’d just take whatever was available when we arrived, so being sent to a different building didn’t mean much to us either way (and was actually better, since the other building had a nicer break room).

Now, at this time I didn’t have a cell phone. Didn’t particularly want one. So if my parents needed to get hold of me at work, they would dial one of the phones there and ask to speak to me. It didn’t happen very often, so the inefficiency of the system wasn’t a problem.

On this particular day, my mom tried to call me. She rang a random phone in the other building, and one of the workers over there answered (and I have no idea whether he answered using his real name or not).

My mom, knowing my pseudonym, said “can I speak to Beauregard.”

Had it been my usual work crew in that building, it’s about 50 / 50 whether this would have worked. Not everybody knew what names each-other used (and I don’t even think everybody used fake names). But with the other crew in the building, it just sowed confusion.

Long story short, I never did get to speak with my mom on the phone that evening. Good thing it wasn’t an emergency.


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