Short Stories
Customer Service Cal
January 27, 2022

My name is Cal Kelvin, and I hate my life.

           Well, kind of. Hate’s a strong word. More accurately, I hate my work life. Yeah, that’s more accurate.

           Did I always mean to hate my work life? No, that was never the plan.

           I used to have a big old glorious dream; a dream that entered my life when I was eleven years old.

           Was it to be a fireman, astronaut, lawyer, or a doctor?

           HECK NO!

           It was to be a rock and roll star. That’s right. Was it to be a lead singer? HECK NO! My dream was to own the stage, own the twenty thousand plus adrenaline fueled cheering fans as my fingers tore across my guitar strings. That’s right. I was born to be a lead guitarist.

           Then life happened…real life.



I started at the Fitness Life Centre, the town’s largest complex (not that I really care), three weeks ago. Hmmm…I think it’s three weeks. It feels more like three months, but I’m sure it’s around three weeks, to be somewhat exact.

           The guy that stands at the information booth inside the building and near the main entrance, a grin plastered to his face; yeah, that’s me. I’m your one stop, know it all, information employee. And sometimes it’s really, really painful. Not physically painful. More like mentally painful.

           But let's take a quick step back before we continue.



“We’ve decided to move in together,” Tabitha says.

           Moving in together.

           They’re dreaded words. They only mean one thing — I’m out and Jamal is in. Not that I should really be surprised about getting tossed out the door. I am living in her house, renting a room. Have been for the past two years. And should I really be that surprised that her boyfriend is moving in? Damn no. But it still really sucks.

           I lie on my single sized bed staring at Tabitha standing in the hall at my bedroom door. She appears distraught, but only very slightly. Her head hangs a little low, her eyes hardly ever making contact with mine.

           What happened to being roommates for the next five to ten years? Wasn’t that the plan? I think that was the plan? Maybe it had only been my plan.

           “He’s moving in next month,” Tabitha says. Her eyes roam the dated, purple carpet.

           I follow her lead and stare at the pathetic color choice for a carpet. Welcome to life, I tell myself. It knocks you down again and again…and again. ‘Knocks You Down Again and Again’. That could be a song title. I make a mental note of it.

           “So…,” I start, but I don’t finish. What’s the point? There isn’t much to say. What’s done is done. I’m out on my ass. I look back up at her.

           Her eyes are still glued to the floor as if completely hypnotized by the ugly floor color. “It’s your turn to take out the garbage,” she reminds me, then walks away.

           I hear the television come to life in the living-room down the hall. I think it’s The Bachelor. It sounds like The Bachelor. It makes me want to vomit off the side of my bed. I want to holler out — “Just give the damn rose already, or whatever you do in the stupid show!” This way the credits could roll and give an end to the obnoxious, pretty looking people.

           I stare at my electric guitar—or what I like to call my Glorious Music Machine—sitting in the corner beside my beat up, fifteen-year-old dresser.

           If the music machine had active vocal chords it would be vehemently screaming at me—“SORRY CAL! YOUR ROCK AND ROLL DREAMS ARE RACING TO THE GRAVE!”

           I can only think a couple of thoughts: ain’t that the truth and screw my life.



Welcome back to the present and my information booth.

           You see, this wasn’t supposed to be my life a few months away from turning age thirty.

           My purpose in life was to be the next Eddie Van Halen (no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ about it) making stadiums explode with unbelievable guitar riffs

           We can dream. We can all dream.

           But when life slams you, all you can do is react and change course. Hence, become an official ‘Information Booth Customer Service Attendant’ person. I know, it’s a mouthful of a job title. I think that’s my job title. Honestly, I’m not really sure. Sue me for not knowing what I really am. Basically I’m the facility’s complaint department with a few other job duties.

           Welcome to the Fitness Life Center, consisting of: 1 gymnasium, 1 weight room, 1 swimming pool, 1 food service lounge area, and…yeah…that pretty much sums it up. The reception counter is situated near the front entrance, and beside that five-foot counter is my glorious work place; a desk, a chair, and information pamphlet handouts for our wonderful, potential facility members and drop-ins. I don’t even have a phone, but maybe that isn’t so bad. No one can natter in my ear.

           With that ‘good old’ smile plastered on my face I watch a couple facility members walk by. I nod, wave, and say “hello” giving them my best cheerful greeting. As they pass by both politely say: “Hello Cal.”

           I keep smiling. I’ve seen them a few times before. What are their names? I don’t know. Nor do I have the energy to figure it out. My mental database of names has crashed and burned.

           “It’s Cal Kelvin in the house!” the man nearly shouts.

           Oh God, I moan inside. My co-worker Danny Nalton goes behind the customer reception desk with an enthusiastic hop in his step. You’re sixty-five. Aren’t you supposed to be older and pissed off with life?  

           “It’s gonna be a fine day outside my friend. Checked the weather this morning. It’s supposed to be a solid plus twenty-five degrees today. Not too hot and sweaty.”

           I stare at the cheery grin super glued to his face. I couldn’t knock it off his face if I tried. I watch him plunk himself in the high back chair behind the counter. “Yeah, sounds great, ”I say with only a miniscule level above no enthusiasm.

           “How did your show go last night?” he asks.

           How does he know about my gig at the Jackson Club? I quickly remember I briefly mentioned it a couple weeks ago. I’ll hand it to the guy, he has a half-decent memory.

           “You light that stage up with that guitar and voice of yours?” Danny asks.

           “An audience of five. Made fifty bucks,” I say.

           “Hey, fifty dollars is fifty dollars. Just think of it as being fifty dollars richer.”

           I wonder if he sleeps with that grin fastened to his face. He must be a hit at funerals.

           “You all settled into your new place?” he asks.

           And the questions just keep on coming. Just dump my head in concrete and let it dry. End my misery. Finding a new place is the only reason I’m stuck working at this information booth. With Tabitha I was paying cheap rent—really cheap rent—but a landlord doesn’t charge cheap rent. And since Tabitha’s boyfriend wouldn’t go for me shacking up with the two of them, a one bedroom apartment located on the eighth floor of Carlton Apartments came calling my name; and with that comes normal rent. And with normal rent comes the need for a full-time steady job. Damn, being a grownup can suck sometimes.

           I keep it simple. “Yeah. All moved in.” I give him the thumbs up so he knows it’s all good.

           In return he gives me a double thumbs up. “Excellent. You’re the man Cal Kelvin.”

           He should tell that to my five audience members who were more interested in their beer and hot wings last evening instead of my performance.

           Thankfully a guy who looks to be in his twenties approaches the customer service desk consuming Danny’s attention. I hear him say he wants to buy a weight room membership.

           I turn to staring at my cell phone, my arse stuck in my seat, watching a comical animal video, when the guy approaches me; unfortunately.

            His age? I can’t accurately guess. My ability to determine one’s age without the person straight up telling me is obsolete. But, he’s definitely not in the teenage years or early twenties. I’ll put him in his 30s or 40s. Damn, that’s a large age window.

           “You guys got a gym here I can use?” the guy asks. “Not a weight room gym, but like a real gym.”

           I nearly burst out in a festive wail of laughter thinking he’s screwing with my head for fun. My laughter never starts.

           He stares at me waiting for a response.

           Damn, the guy is serious, I think. My eyes dart directly to my left towards the full size gymnasium, home to regular volleyball and basketball games.

           The guy is still waiting for an answer.

           I point to my left.

           The guy turns his head following the direction of my finger.

           “Hmmmm….,” the guy says.

           I watch him face me again and run a hand through shaggy, shoulder-length brown hair.

           “Cool,” the guy says.

           And that’s when I notice his eyes. They’re a sprawl of red lines contaminating the whites.

           The guy asks another half-baked question. “You guys like…uh…use it for basketball and stuff?”

           Basketball and stuff. I guess the basketball nets aren’t answer enough. Then I notice the smell. That sweetish odor. Yeah, this guy is loaded on reefer.

           I’m about to plunge into the wholesales pitch selling what the gymnasium space all has to offer, when the guy speaks up.

           “Cool,” he says, while nodding his head at me. He turns around, while sending me a waft of weed odor, and exits through the same door he entered. Actually he almost bangs right into the exit missing the door handle when he reaches out for it. His hand manages to find it. He’s gone and out of sight.

           All I can think to myself is, thank God. An extended conversation would have been as enjoyable as cleaning the urine stained toilets in the men’s washroom/change room for the sixth time during my shift.

           But things don’t improve when I see who walks through my door next. Jeff Jackson has entered the building. It’s another—please help me God—moment.

           The second Jeff sees me he saunters my way, moving like he doesn’t have a care in the world; moving as if he has an infinite amount of time in this life. And let's be honest, no one has an infinite amount of time. I may be struck down by a bus right after work or choke on my hot dog dinner I’ll be chowing down in a few hours.

           With his gym bag hanging over his shoulder he positions himself right in front of my booth and points both his index fingers at me. “It’s Cam the man.” He holds out his left hand.

           I know what he wants. To make life a little easier I give in and extend out my right arm.

           He gives me a ‘hey bro type’ handshake as if he were thirty years younger.

           I guess chatty old Jeff Jackson has forgotten that he’s seventy years old, and every other seventy year old I know shakes hands like a normal person his or her age; straight and business like.

           Jeff Jackson has long, grey hair that hangs down to the middle of his back. Today he has it pulled back into a ponytail, the hair hanging over his shoulder dripping over his chest, a body part where I can see all the white tuffs of body hair because he’s only buttoned up his Hawaiian, flowery, collared shirt part way.

           When I see Jeff I think of a teenage surfer dude who forgot he was supposed to grow up.

           A chair with metal legs and a plastic seat sits a few feet away from me against the wall. Jeff grabs the chair and brings it over to my booth and plunks himself down.

           Great, I think. The fact that he’s planted his ass by me tells me that I’m in for the conversational long haul. God knows what the topic will be today. I quickly find out.

           Health issues.

           “I think it’s my gut,” Jeff starts in.

           I don’t really wanna hear about your gut, I tell myself, but since my job is ninety-nine percent pure customer service I have to pretend to listen and care. All I really want is to go back to my phone.

           “I drink that coffee from Brewer’s Café and it makes my stomach feel all twisted,” Jeff continues on.

           “Really,” I say nodding my head as if I’m so enthralled with the topic. Why doesn’t he just not drink the damn coffee? I ask myself.

           “Makes my gut go on the old-roller-coaster ride,” he says patting his stomach with both hands as if he’s trying to play a tune. “You know where I’m coming from?”

           “Hmmm…” It’s the best response I can give. Truth is, I don’t ever drink coffee so I honestly have never experienced coffee causing gut rot.

           Jeff stops patting his stomach and waves me off. “Ah, you’re young. That stomach of yours still works properly. A nice and efficient machine.”

           I just keep nodding away. You see, with Jeff Jackson, it’s a one-way conversation. I just have to sit here and keep my mouth shut.

           Next he asks: “You play golf?”

           I open my mouth to answer. Not a chance. He cuts me off.

           “Yeah, I like to play a few rounds a week. Most of the time it’s Monday to Friday. I take the weekends off though. Don’t want to overdo it. The old body don’t work like it used to. It creaks and groans a little more these days.”

           That’s right, I tell myself, just keep nodding.

           “I go to Jasper Way Golf Course. You know, the one off Ridley Drive?”

           No, I don’t know. I’ve only ever golfed three times in my life and one of the times was at an indoor driving range.

           “You like broccoli? I like broccoli,” he says.

           For crying out loud! I scream at myself. Now I have to hear about what this guy likes to eat for dinner?!

           “Yeah, I eat it probably almost every day. It’s good for you. Helps keep you strong. Gotta love the greens right?” He lets out a hardy laugh.

           I manage to crack a smile.

           The next thirty minutes of my work shift consists of me listening to various topics such as James Bond films (but only the Sean Connery era), boat trailers, advice on how to make a grilled cheese sandwiches, and how he likes to use rubber bands as exercise apparatus.

           I really have nothing to add, so my only strategy is to just keep head nodding and try to mentally tune him out.

           And then finally a miracle happens.

           “Well, guess I better get a move on. Those rubber bands in the weight room are screaming to me.” He gets to his feet. “Good talk, Cal.”

           Yes, go to your rubber bands. Go now! I think eagerly, very eagerly.

           “I’ll see you around Cal.” He does his trademark double index finger point my way. “Talk to you tomorrow bud.”

           Damn, I think. I could be in for another in-depth conversation about grilled cheese sandwiches and bad coffee.

           I watch Jeff walk past the customer service counter, turn left out of the room and disappear.

           Danny leans against the counter looking my way. “You’re a good guy Cal.”

           “Guess so,” I say.

           “No, you are. You sit there”— he points to his ears —“and use these.”

           What he heck does that mean? I ask my confused self.

           “Jeff’s wife left him a few weeks ago out of the blue. Said something about wanting to be free or something like that. Either way, she just got up and left him, wanting to separate. That has to mess with your head.”

           Crap. I never would have thought that from Jeff’s festive, positive personality.

           “The guy talks up a storm,” Danny says. “But maybe he has to. Some people are talkers and some people are listeners. We need listeners. Listeners help people get things from inside them to the outside. Help people calm their minds. You’re a listener.” He turns around and goes back to whatever job task he was focusing on before.

           A listener, I think.





That night I sit alone in my one bedroom apartment. In the kitchen to be exact. It’s not a large space (probably 10 foot by 10 foot), but large enough to fit a small, square table with a couple chairs.

           I sit on the floor crossed legged, the guitar on my lap. I pluck the strings, playing some chords, crafting a new song in my head.

           It would be nice to discuss with someone—in person—about the new song. Hear what the person has to say. Speak my mind. Have them listen to what I’m creating. Get some feedback.

           The guitar string plucking comes to an end. I lay the guitar on the floor beside me.

           The apartment is nearly dead quiet. Only the sound of the air conditioning pushing through the vents can be heard.

           A listener.


           Alright, I think, maybe it’s not that bad of a thing.

           I’m not a rock-and-roll God, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be someone else.




When I walk into work the next day, I have more of a jump in my step. My mind is in a different space. I even give Danny a wave with an honest smile, not some fake lie spread across my lips. This time it’s for real.

           Within an hour of my arrival to work, I see Jeff walk through the door. After he gives Danny a wave and a ‘hello’ he comes over to me. He pulls over the same chair as yesterday and takes a seat.

           We exchange ‘good mornings’ and he dives right into discussing his daily life.

           I forget about the cell phone in my pocket, the device I’d used so many times before to mentally escape from the people around me.

           I let him talk.

           And this time, I listen for real.

           Maybe that’s all Jeff Jackson needs.

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