I was on a conference call. Very corporate. People logging in. Beep. “Hello, I’m …” Beep. “Hello, I’m...”
I had been contacted by a person I’ll refer to as Email Girl who welcomed me after I beeped in and said the others would be joining us soon. In her initial email, she had said she was from a “health advocacy” website and were looking for AIDS blog content. She had said there would be no money in it, but if money was made, by any chance, it would donated to the charity of my choice.
I had said yes because I always say yes to things. (I now call it the Marvin Hamlisch Rule. At the remarkable memorial service for him, which we kinda, but not really, sneaked into, it was the one thing everyone said about him that stood out to me. He never said No to a fundraiser or to meet with young talent.)
This call was to gather all the potential bloggers together for more information and instructions.
Beep. “Hello? I’m...” All of these voices were alien to me.
The sound wasn’t great, so I didn’t quite catch their names. I wasn’t even sure how many others were on this call.
Email Girl then introduced another person, “Legal Girl,” another youngish female voice, who was there to answer questions and make sure Email Girl got all the terms right. They said they were starting the Power Point, which was supposed to show up on my computer, but it didn’t, so she read what was on each slide.
Reading from the rules, which sounded like a student's homework assignment of a boardroom presentation, we were to have two blogs ready before a certain date, and then three more at a certain date. Second, in our submissions, we couldn’t mention any brand names. We couldn’t point to outside links. No products.
I pictured her slideshow as she read along, imagining it decorated with little curlicues. Title cards. Deadlines. Assignments. Suggestions for holidays. All for February. “How about one that’s themed for Valentine’s Day?” She helpfully suggsted/read.
After each point, she would ask, “Are there any questions?”
None of us said anything. I couldn’t think of a question because I didn’t know what was going on. I think the others, like me, were not aware that we were suddenly the staff of a publication, complete with deadlines. I thought they just wanted a few blog entries.
Bullet point by bullet point, to the deafening silence of the people on my side of the conversation, Email Girl plowed on.
“Are there any questions?”
It was shocking to be pushed into this kind of corporate environment.
She continued down the chart.
After several long silences, a male voice, FINALLY -- obviously from our side -- asks “Is this some shell corporate thing? Cuz I’m not writing for some medical corporation. I’m outta here.”
Beep. And he was gone.
Okay. That was interesting.
It was comforting to know I wasn’t the only one sitting here wondering what the hell is going on.
Previously, I had looked around the website provided in the email, but it looked like one of the sites set up to promote the Spielberg movie, A.I., pretend corporate websites that had clues to the world of the movie, all filled with smiling people and shiny buildings. Very little beyond the front page.
Anyway, after Angry Male beeped out, I could feel the tension is rising on our little call. Email Girl soldiered on.
It was just all happening so fast. We were zooming through the bullet points. And after each, “Any questions?” the rest of us would sit there in absolutely bafflement.
I kept thinking that I bet the Corporate Girls think we’re a bunch of dumb asses who can’t even think of a simple question to ask.
After another announcement that we couldn’t “promote” anything, name anything or sell anything. Someone else finally spoke up. An older female voice, Activist Woman.
“Does that include wristbands?”
Email Girl is now puzzled. Whispering. Legal Girl leans in, “We’ll get back to you on that.”
Activist Woman continued, “...because that’s central to what we do.”
“I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
The next bullet point was that no money was involved, but that if it were, “we can’t pay you.” She continued, “We’ll let you know which charity we’ve chosen in a day or two.”
Activist Woman asked, “In your email to us, you said it would be a charity of our choice. I run a charity. We always need money. Can I not direct funds to it?”
Legal Girl answered, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
Another few questions were raised, each time answered with, “I’ll get back to you on that.”
I finally spoke up. I couldn’t bear it any longer. As nicely as I could, but I’m sure with an edge I had no power over, I said, “I have a question. Who are you?”
A little silence. Email Girl starts to read from the WHO WE ARE paragraph that I had already seen. “We are a new health advocacy website...”
A little more edgily, I asked, “Yes, I get all that. But who are you?”
I wasn’t looking for a mission statement. I wanted a name. I wanted to know a person behind all this.
I have learned from my not very brief foray into the corporate world that corporations cannot “do” anything. A person has to do it. That person may represent the corporate entity, bla bla bla, but it’s people who actually do things. I wanted a name.
“We’re a group of health advocates...”
I said, “Look, I’ve been online with AIDS since 1996. I’m happy to share whatever you want. But I don’t know who you are.”
“We’ll get back to you on that.”
Now I’m starting to just get pissed. They were the ones who asked ME to be a part of this. I didn’t go looking for them.
She went back to the bullet points and repeated, “No products can be mentioned. No websites or items to sell. can be mentioned.”
I looked back at that email thank you note and realized that we had been blind copied. So, even if I wanted to communicate with my fellow bloggers, who will be contributing the actual content, I couldn’t. I did’t know who they were, either.
I get credit for being an AIDS activist, but my health doesn’t allow me that kind of time and energy it takes to get down into the community on a street level. That’s why, instead, I do fundraisers for food banks, like we did for St. Clement’s.
I’m guessing the others on the line were serious grassroots workers for whom time is precious.
Email Girl is going over scheduling. And we have to “deliver” three by a certain date and then two more by a certain date.
After Legal Girls’ fifth, “We’ll get back to you on that,” I gave up listening. Bla bla bla, they went on, but that was it for me.
Finally, the call ended.
I haven’t heard from them since.
And I still have no idea who they were.