Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: Pervert Edition

So, by now you all know I work part-time for, and part- to full-time at a call center in the Old Port of Montreal.  Now, I’m going to devote some time to give you a glimpse into my experiences at my first (and probably/hopefully last) call center job – trust me, it’s not what you’d expect.

Firstly, the call center is mostly inbound call for infomercials.  We accept order calls for everything from health supplements, to exercise equipment, to small household appliances, to hair removal products and even bras.  Yes – you heard that right, bras.  You can only imagine the types of calls I’d hear in the course of a day just purely based on the sheer variety of products people are calling about.  Yet, surprisingly, it’s this last item that gives me the most trauma of all.

The problem with these bras is that the commercials show women traipsing around in pants and bras, all of whom, except one, are young, busty, and beautiful.  The real problem is that it’s not just women are watching these commercials, men are, too.  And only a fraction of them are watching to order bras for their wives, mothers, or daughters.  I’m just going to call it like I see it and say that these men are perverts.  They’re the same perverts who keep lingerie flyers in their bathrooms and who grab women’s butt’s on the subway.  The worst part is, they’re not only watching these commercials in the privacy of their own homes – they’re calling in to hear a woman’s voice.

In my opinion, it’s all fine and good if you’re whacking off to magazines and I know nothing about it, but when you involve me in your activity, it becomes a major problem.  And that’s exactly what happens, sometimes repeatedly by the same person.  Whatever possesses these men to call a bra order line to get their kicks is beyond me – there are 1-900 numbers for that – but to call a bra order line, where you might end up speaking to a girl as young as 16?  That disgusts me.

Think I’m joking?  There’s one pervert who calls more often that the rest – at least every weekend, maybe more. I’ll call him Perv 1.  He really gets off on trying to get you to say the word panties, and I’m guessing he prefers the color black.  Here’s how it goes. 

Me: “Thank you for calling, my name is Allison.  What size bras can I get you today?” 
Perv 1: “Yeah, 34C… I was wondering, do you have the panties?”
Me: “No, sir.  We don’t.  And just letting you know this call is being monitored for quality assurance purposes. So you’re just getting the one set of bras?”
Perv 1: “Oh, you don’t have the panties?  I really wanted the panties? Do they come in black?”
Me:  “No, sir.  We don’t have those.  The bras will come in black, white and beige.  May I have your credit card number now, please?  We accept Visa and MasterCard.”
Perv 1:  “Can’t you give me the panties?”
Me:  “No, sir.  They’re not available.”
Perv:  “Oh, but I really wanted the panties.  Don’t you have black panties?”
Me:  “No, sir – and if you’re not going to give me your credit card number I’m going to have to disconnect the call.”

Around this point is usually when I begin to hear him begin vigorously panting and I disconnect the call.  Now, this particular pervert has enough smarts to block his number from appearing when he calls; other perverts aren’t so clever.  For those who have the stupidity to call in with visible phone numbers and sexually harass women who are just trying to make an honest buck, I have a few select words, and they are: “Sir, I have your telephone number recorded.  What you’re doing constitutes harassment and I’ll be reporting this activity to the police.”

This usually results in them hanging up immediately, yet they’re still stupid enough to call back repeatedly, and often they get patched back through to my line.  After I answer the second or third time they at least have the smarts to hang up before I begin threatening them with criminal action.  At this point, I notify my supervisor and have their phone number blocked from calling our agents.  This makes me feel like some sort of small-scale, feminist superhero.  Protecting the innocent female call center employees, one pervert at a time.

Now, I have two things to say about these situations: 1) I don’t get paid enough for this sh*t, and 2) these are deeply, deeply troubled men who are a product of a deeply, deeply trouble society.  But, that's just my opinion.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Tales of an Urban Newbie: February 14 - 20, 2011

My week started out innocently enough, I was scheduled mostly nights, starting at 5 pm, and since I was expecting a very special foreign visitor I had the weekend off again.  It was my first full week on the phones and I was starting to get the hang of selling the wide variety of products that the call centre took orders for.  We had scripts for all of the products that automatically popped up on our screens, so the way I looked at it was if you could read you could do this job. 

Most of the calls I received were for a bra that women (and sometimes men) would call to order after seeing an infomercial on television hosted by some Australian lady who I know nothing about.  In training we were told that it was our job to make these bra’s out to be the best product on the face of the planet, which made my job extra entertaining when only a couple of weeks in I received a call from a lady who told me that she heard the fabric was designed by NASA.  Although I don’t know if this is true, I didn’t bother correcting her because, after all, the best bra on the planet should be designed by astronauts.

While at work, the evening shifts were mostly laid back.  Calls came in a lot less frequently than they did during the day and the evening staff was mostly young students, making the atmosphere even more casual.  In between calls the agents would work on homework or chat with each other and when people found out how new I was to the city, they all went out of their way to share their own personal “best of Montreal” with me.

In my first week I found out there is a bar that serves candy, aptly called CandyBar, and every drink has a candy at the bottom.  I learned about an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant where the waiters shave meat right off a hot skewer and onto your plate.  There was a brunch joint close to Old Port with some of the most unique and delicious breakfast delicacies and espresso-based coffee.  And, I couldn’t forget about the always inexpensive, but always delicious, Thai cuisine that could be found at a hip little joint in Chinatown.

Being the foodie that I am, I was more than excited to experience all of these places in due time.  But first, there was work to be done.  It was also my first week writing for and I’d chosen some really interesting, but rather challenging, articles to tackle in my first two weeks.

While most of the articles I’d chosen involved research or drawing from personal experiences, there was one that I thought could potentially be difficult for me, especially on a moral level:  I was going to be interviewing a friend of mine about her divorce.  I believe there comes a time in every writer’s life when he or she questions their own capacity to write about people whom they care about.

I consider myself lucky enough to have those people care equally for me, and embrace the opportunity to help me with my career, so when I asked Michelle for an interview she was more than pleased to shed some light on the topic.  And as it turned out, the interview helped her develop her own thoughts and further understand her experience, so in the end we really both benefited from the interview.

That Wednesday I was going to make another attempt at seeing some live music, this time for the Wild Nothing featuring Abe Vigoda at La Salla Rosa.  My roommate and I arrived in good time, not only catching the main features, but also the local band that opened the evening, though I couldn’t decide if I liked them or not.  My opinion wavered so much that I was changing my opinion as frequently as between verses and the chorus of individual songs.  In retrospect, if my perspective was faltering that much, they probably weren’t that good.

Abe Vigoda, on the other hand, took me by total surprised and seriously rocked the house.  These LA rockers had a ton of stage presence and energy and got even a hipster crowd moving (which is a feat, for anyone who’s familiar with the indie music scene which is full of shoe-gazers with their hands in their pockets).  After a full set with a nice mix of old and new songs, they welcomed the headliners, the Wild Nothing, to the stage for a great display of musical prowess and stamina.  They played all of my personal favourites, and even included some new material.  Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to shake the crowd from their corpse-like hipster state, even though it should have.  I know I got a little glisten on. 

We ended the night with some delicious Montreal smoked meat sandwiches and poutine, and though my appetite was satisfied, my mind and heart weren’t, suffering from the anticipation of having mere hours to wait before my reunion with whom I like to call my “foreign acquisition”, and whom Ms. Charles and I like to call my “non-boyfriend”.  Not because he isn’t, per se, or not because I’m a commitment-phobe, but because I’ve developed an aversion to the term after realizing that most people who call themselves by the title rarely live up to it.  Anyway, he can go by a variety of monikers, including my personal favourite, “The New Jersey Love Machine,” but his proper name is Matt.  He would be arriving first thing Friday morning and would be in Montreal for four days, so to say I was excited was an understatement.

And so I found myself at the Greyhound station at 8 am sharp (I hate lateness), only to find out that his bus was held up at the border with two “illegals” on board.  So I trudged to Second Cup for a coffee and to check out some local newspapers for things to do for the next few days.  When he finally arrived, we were both hungry and sleep-deprived, but relieved of our anticipation.

In the next three days our time was fully occupied with museum visits, restaurant trials, and more attempts at seeing live music.  Friday night we went to two separate venues for two separate bands and were brutally reject by both of them, sent back into the cold to suffer through blowing snow and icy conditions (I’m not being dramatic here – this is actually what happened!).  Due to the infamy of Schwartz’s Hebrew Deli, we decided to go, but this was my third visit in 2 weeks, and I was starting to tire of the routine.

We made our way around by Metro all weekend, checked out all of the restaurants I had in mind, including Le Milsa on Crescent where I had the most delicious, hot, fresh and, most importantly, unlimited quantity of spiced rotisserie meats.  Ten different varieties of meat were all served alongside a live show of what I presume was a Brazilian man who was wearing nothing but a fedora, pants and a vest, and a woman dressed very caribana, both shaking what their mama’s gave them to some really loud Brazilian music.  Nil Bleu, an Ethiopian restaurant on St. Denis was also a treat, with their sleek, hip interior including a glossy white mini grand piano; though their serving size and selection for their variety plates were slightly less appealing than the other Ethiopian places we had visited in Toronto, New York City, and Montclair, New Jersey.  And for brunch, we made sure to check out the Griffintown Cafe, which had the most delicious Americano I have ever tasted, and a unique, fresh, flavour-orgy inducing menu (I recommend the French toast, but also laid eyes on the most breathtaking eggs Benedict, possibly in all of human history).

During the day on Saturday we went to the Musee de Beaux Arts and marvelled especially at their contemporary exhibit on their lowest level – it was quite the treat for the eyes.  That night we made it to Il Motore for Akron/Family and New Jersey natives, Delicate Steve.  To say I was pleased with the instrumental openers who hailed from the dirty Jers’ was an understatement – they were phenomenal, but Akron/Family, who we had been listening to frequently in preparation for the show, decided to pull an interesting stunt that left me far from amused. 

Their spectacle included 15-20 minute long songs that didn’t resemble anything from their album, and included what I interpreted as desperate attempts to be unique, which included inaudible moanings into the microphone, which was being fully deep-throated by the lead singer, along with mutterings and gibberish that made me question whether I was at a live music venue or a Holy Rollers Convention.  Now, I’m all for a good stage show – but when Matt had seen them only the week before, they were nothing like this, which lead me to believe that they were probably hung-over and/or tired and/or too lazy and ungrateful for our attendance to play a full live set.  So, after waiting 15 minutes for the current song to end, we decided to leave.

We definitely made the most of our time together, even though we got lost a couple of times (on my account, as usual) and didn’t get to do everything or eat at every restaurant that we’d planned.  But, that just leaves more reason for him to come back for another visit soon.  He left Monday that on the midnight bus back to Newark, and so I returned to routine as well, taking calls for bras, writing, and experiencing more of this wonderful city.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

This is why I'm vegan. Now stop harassing me about my protein intake.

So, it was suggested to me that I should write a blog about why I became vegan.  I've found that since becoming vegan, I've been explaining myself - a lot.  Either defending my protein intake, excusing myself from eating certain things, ensuring that I'm being "healthy", defending my choice, and just about every other wild and crazy debate and discussion you can think of.

Here's how it went:

Firstly, I "became" vegan unintentionally.  After a visit from Matt over two months ago where I had eaten entirely too much meat and dairy (on his last night in Montreal we ate for two hours at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian restaurant that served 12 varieties of rotisserie meats), I decided to do a cleanse.  I'd be vegan for a month to detox my system, give it a well-needed rest, and reduce the bloating I was having from all the dairy and salty foods I'd been eating.

My first week of being vegan was a little challenging, but bringing food to work with me helped and I started researching and trying new recipes instead of just eating salad and quinoa.  What I started realizing was that I actually enjoyed the hunt - I liked looking for new recipes, making alterations based on my taste and trying new things.  I really liked cooking - a lot.

During the next 4 weeks my energy levels increased, I lost a couple of pounds (probably mostly in water weight), I stopped craving salt like I used to, I felt happier, was sleeping better, and felt like I was getting into a natural rhythm.  The only thing that became difficult was continually defending my decision, but usually when people found out I was only doing it for a month, they relaxed and stopped bothering me.

On my 28 day mark, I was to arrive in New Jersey for a visit with Matt and the end of my vegan cleanse (since all we do is eat new food while we're together).  For the next five days I gorged on waffles with whipped cream, pulled pork taco sliders, ice cream, and just about anything else I could get my little Canadian hands on.  And in return I had severe stomach pains every day and nightmares every night.  I felt lethargic, had no motivation to go to the gym or work out, and was sleeping 9+ hours a night.

It became clear to me exactly what was going on.  My body was happy with the way it was under my new vegan regimen, and was rejecting the old chemical-, hormone-, preservative-filled foods I was pumping into it again.

When I got back to Montreal I started reading Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet.  This book touches upon a wide variety of reasons for becoming vegan, and just one of these reasons is the inhumane treatment of animals in industrial food production facilities.  I say this because for the vast majority of non-vegans that I've crossed since making my choice, most of them raise their eyebrows and make some snide remark about me wanting the save the cute little cows or chickens or whatever.  While I disagree with the way animals are treated in mass production, unethical facilities, I've gotta admit that my reasons for deciding to stay vegan were a lot more selfish than that.

In Alicia's book, she touches on the way animals are slaughtered and how it actually effects the meat itself - this is what got me.  When an animal is in a slaughterhouse, it's aware of what's going on around it, and when it's time to go under the knife, the animal knows it's about to die.  All animals possess a fight-or-flight impulse that will help any creature to survive a threatening situation.  When an animal goes to slaughter, it's fight-or-flight impulses and stress hormones kick in, causing the chemicals adrenaline and cortisol to spike in production.  

Now, in humans, adrenaline is produced naturally, which can give us a rush and make us feel good, or in too-high doses it can cause aggression and anger (this is the "fight" part of the fight-or-flight impulse).  Cortisol is naturally produced by humans, too; when we get stressed out, our cortisol levels increase and this has been linked to weight gain and a variety of other stress-related ailments (this biological reaction dates back to the caveman days when "stress" meant "food shortage" so our bodies released cortisol to store fat for famine, even though this is no longer the case).  So, consider this:  animal secretes adrenaline and cortisol moments before being slaughtered, therefore, those chemicals are released into the blood, which pumps through the muscles, which then get packaged and sent to grocery stores and bought by people who cook it up and eat it, so those chemicals get passed into us!  If these chemicals are already proven to negatively affect us when we produce them ourselves, then what do you think is going to happen when we consume more when we eat foods that are laden with it?  Cortisol and adrenaline overload = angry, fat people!  That's not good for anyone!

And not only that, but because the FDA doesn't enforce slaughterhouse rules as tightly as they should, we have cases of food contamination.  Do you want to know why that happens?  You probably don't, because it's going to ruin eating meat for most of you, but I'm going to tell you anyway.  When they string up an animal for slaughter, slaughterers go at it with knives, usually while it's alive, slashing away all willy nilly!  In the process, sometimes internal organs are pierced, like colons, which are full of shit - literally.  What does this mean?  Escherichia coli, or E. coli, which is responsible for 20-30 deaths, countless food recalls and over 70,000 illnesses every year.  Fluids from the liver, pancreas and gallbladder can all make their way into our meats, too, filling us with all kinds of nasty toxins.  Milk isn't safe either.  Cows are often over-milked, causing inflammation and infection in their teats, which translates into puss in your milk, cheese, butter and yogurt.  YUMMY!

To top it all off, these poor animals are fed nutrient deficient food and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, which all (you guessed it!) gets passed onto us in their meat.  And we wonder why we're living in an increasingly aggressive, anti-biotic resistant, messed up, cancer-ridden world.

Also, the anti-establishmentarian in me loathes the incestuousness of the industry and government.  These industries pay government parties and officials millions of dollars every year to promote legislation that will keep them on top, and they spend even more promoting their "staples" as absolutely necessary to human survival.  Let's get one thing straight:  until refrigerators were invented, meat, dairy, eggs and  cheese were rarely eaten at every meal.  It's was impossible.  They couldn't be stored for long periods of time like they are now.  Yet, somehow, people still survived.  How could this be?!  Well, I know it's hard to believe, since the dairy, egg and meat industries have brainwashed us into believing that their foods are the only complete forms of proteins, calcium and other nutrients available, but you can get all of those things from other sources - and they're even better sources than meats, eggs, and dairy!

Our bodies use a huge amount of energy to digest these nutrient-deficient, hormone-filled, antibiotic-laden foods.  So, a plant-based diet - one that includes other sources of protein, like beans, lentils, dark greens, and sea vegetables if you're so inclined - is going to provide you with all the vitamins, nutrients, and amino acids (these make up proteins) that you'll need to life a healthy life.  And you'll likely find that you're naturally staying away from preserved foods, which are often extremely high in sodium, and junk foods that have dairy products in them and are often high in fat and refined sugars.  Just what the doctor ordered!  

Whodathunkit?!  A natural diet makes us feel most human - not so shocking when you really think about it.  And vegan diets have been proven to reverse a plethora of medical conditions - even cancer!

Now, I'm not writing this to tell people to become vegan or vegetarian, though it would be nice if a few did.  I'm writing this because most people just don't know about this stuff - I know I didn't!  But in order to make a change in your life, you need to find a reason that will work for you.  If that's thinking about the cute furry animals and not wanting to be responsible for hurting them anymore--cool.  If it's the reasons I listed above--cool.  If it's jut wanting to make a healthy change for yourself and the environment (don't get me started on the waste that's produced and the water that's used for raising livestock!)--COOL!  Whatever your reason is, you've gotta believe in it.

If you still want more information, hit up the interweb.  There's so much information online.  Go to for some mad chill documentaries on food production and other cool stuff.  Read Alicia's book The Kind Diet, or find another book that you are more drawn to.  And even if you don't go vegan, at least educate yourself and stop making yourself look like an ignorant asshole when you talk to me about how "unhealthy" I am for being vegan.  What's in your food that makes it healthier than mine? Don't know?  Then go find out.