CALL OF THE DAY: my caller with advanced Parkinson’s, aka when my listening skills are of no use
I groaned when she gave me his name and number. I donâ€™t know what to do for this guy, I said.
â€œDonâ€™t ask him any questions,â€ said the dispatcher. â€œJust go straight into a story, something basic, a blow-job or girl-on-top.â€
My own sparse notes about him say something differentâ€”ANAL, in big bold capsâ€”which only underscores my point. But how do any of us know that weâ€™re doing it right?
â€œWe donâ€™t,â€ and I can almost hear the dispatcher shrugging as she says it. â€œAre you ready?â€
I say yes, but in my head Iâ€™m thinking, NOOOOO.
Doing phone sex with someone who wonâ€™t speak is one challenge, but doing it with someone who Âcanâ€™t speak is an entirely different and more frustrating matter. This caller has Parkinsonâ€™s disease, apparently, and itâ€™s advanced enough that he canâ€™t articulate well at all.
I googled around on Parkinsonâ€™s and sex, and all I got were stories about how some kinds of medicine used to treat the disease can lead to a rise in compulsive behaviors, including sex.Â I think I was googling the wrong thing, but I donâ€™t know how to phrase this question with search-term conciseness: how do I discover what this client really wants and likes when I canâ€™t see him and canâ€™t understand his speech? It’s not actually a question about Parkinson’s, it’s about working around serious gaps in our ability to communicate.
If we had a rapport built up, I could probably ask him to play the 20 questions game, with grunts for yes/no, but we donâ€™t have that relationship, and he is not shy about hanging up when he gets annoyed, which … I get and don’t get. I mean, surely he must know by now that many people find his speech difficult to understand, especially over the phone? Maybe not.
And knowing something like that doesn’t make it any less frustrating. I can imagine that the yes/no approach feels condescending. Maybe it really bothers him. Personally, if people had a hard time understanding me, but I really wanted to get off, I think Iâ€™d be relieved if someone proposed a simple non-verbal method of getting to that outcome, but I donâ€™t know. Maybe Iâ€™d just be pissed all the time.
The first time I spoke with this caller, I made the rookie error of asking him an open-ended question and I didnâ€™t understand a single word he said. (I donâ€™t know where the ANAL note came from, but it wasnâ€™t from him.) Since then, he frequently does talk to me, at the beginning of the call, but generally stops after I get rolling into whatever narrative Iâ€™ve chosen for the call.
We go the full length of time that heâ€™s purchased, usually, but I canâ€™t tell whether heâ€™s comeâ€”his breathing is normally pretty laboredâ€”and there is no goodbye, just the prolonged noisy clatter of hanging up the phone when oneâ€™s fine motor skills have gotten blunted. To be honest, I have a few other callers who barely give me more than this. But they are at least able to say yes or no.
Since this caller doesnâ€™t normally hang up when I launch right into a randomly chosen narrative/position/activity, I suppose thatâ€™s passive consent. He wouldnâ€™t keep calling the company back if the service he gets wasnâ€™t working for him. Whatever doubts or anxieties I have about doing calls with him, however much I wish I could get more clarity about what he wants, in the end I have to accept that those are about my needs, which are not the actual point. The actual point is whatÂ he needs, whichÂ I will never know for sure.
It burns, and itâ€™s not just about wanting to make this callerâ€™s experience better. This is a blow to my professional pride. I like that I know how to get to peopleâ€™s hot buttons. I think that I know how to do this with just about any caller. Itâ€™s a skill, and I have it, but it is of no use here, with this caller.
I will always have to stumble clumsily through a monologue that I donâ€™t know is actually wanted. I will never know.
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