The Art of Professional Eavesdropping

I eavesdrop for a living. I get paid for it, and people are thankful for it. So, what exactly do I do? Well, I won’t have to kill you if I tell you, because I don’t work for the alphabet soup. No CIA, NSA, FBI or any other shenanigans like that. So…


I work for a captioning service for the deaf. It’s not TTY relay, it’s way faster, and much more spiffy than that.

I can’t go into the exact details, what with non-disclosure agreements and threats of crocodile dismemberment (poor crocs…) and whatnot, but I can do a quick overview.

A call comes in, I hear one side, repeat it into a speech to text program as that person is saying what they’re saying, and it shows up on the users phone. It’s really cool, and really fast. It’s also very rewarding for me.

You have to have a doctor’s referral to get these things, which means that you have some sort of significant hearing loss. A lot of these people can’t have a phone conversation without our services, and I love providing that service for people, but sometimes it gets really interesting.

There is nothing that we can censor, nor is there anything we can report. Nothing at all. General conversation, racist comments, happy birthday calls, plans to murder someone, over-the-phone prayer meets, talks of suicide, conference calls, phone sex (oh so explicit phone sex 0.o), drug deals, it all happens, although some things are more rare than others, like planning to murder someone’s face.

You have to say everything that is said in these calls, and that’s not always easy. Sometimes you’re laughing to hard, sometimes you’re trying to figure out how to jump through the phone and strangle someone until they’re the same color as Violet Beauregarde.

Other times, the person your are talking for doesn’t talk, and it gets really boring, and you may occasionally start falling asleep… But don’t let my boss know. It’s actually such a big deal that they harp on it in training. I know it sounds bad, but have you ever tried having a 20 minute conversation with someone who doesn’t say more than 4 words? I bet you’ll go to sleep too. When they talk, it’s always fun, because it’ll scare the shit out of you, since you don’t even know you’re starting to doze off.

There is so much death, trauma and sadness involved with this job.

That’s probably the hardest time I have. I can deal with repeating what the assholes have to say, and I can deal with being scared shitless when someone wakes me up to say “Yep.” all loud in my ear. It’s a whole lot harder to deal with the sadness.

As you can probably guess, a good portion of our users are getting up there in age. So you end up getting lots of calls about detailed descriptions of constipation… I’ve realized that these people just don’t give a shit.

Unfortunately you get a lot of calls about someone having just died, about to die, losing the cancer battle, just got cancer, wasting away, lonely and isolated, family doesn’t visit. It’s absolutely heart wrenching and there are times where I have to get off the phones because I’m crying. These calls hurt the most, but I am also the most glad for them.

I get the chance to help them get in touch with the outside world, and be able to bring together family and friend support. I’m grateful for the opportunity to help people do what they can to ease their suffering, and I will gladly take the days that make me cry to continue to do that.

It’s certainly not all sad though. I mean, you do get things like the demon frog sex call lady. Which is a really entertaining story that I can’t get into, because you know, poor crocodiles.

This job will mess with your head in ways you never thought.

See, because of the program, you have to relearn how to pronounce certain words. One of my problem words was garage. I found this out the hard way when my screen said something about parking his car in her crotch.

Oh. Shit.

I didn’t say crotch, I said garage, but the program isn’t perfect. I say garage and the next thing I know, this program thinks some guys doing a muff run with a mustang. So no… Not good, and quite surprising for the customer at times, I’m sure.

Not only do you have to learn how to pronounce things differently, but you have to actually say the punctuation. So you go from “Hey Betty. So, how are you doing today?” to:

“Hey Betty (period) So (comma) how are you doing today (question mark)”

That means that you have work speaking mode, and the rest of life speaking mode, and sometimes they mix. There are times things like this happen:

Husband: “What do you want for dinner?”
Me: “I don’t know (period)”
Then he just looks at me odd for a little bit, and we end up not eating dinner, because I never know.

This job is an introverts wet dream… If the have wet dreams about jobs… Hey, whatever floats your boat.

There is never any customer interaction at all. You are essentially a ghost. You are nothing but a tool to get the communications from verbal to written. They can not hear you, and you can not under any circumstances reach out to them. It’s a pretty cool deal, but sucks when you know someone is being scammed.

By the way, if the call starts off “I’m with Windows, calling about your computer.” Hang up and run.

At the end of the day, this is the single most rewarding job I have ever had. We never realize just how important our phones are, until the moment we can’t use one. I get the chance to help these people reconnect to the rest of the world through their telephone and it’s a beautiful thing. Except for the excess talk of bowel movements. That’s not beautiful. That’s shitty.

Go out and help someone. You will both be better for it.


5 thoughts on “The Art of Professional Eavesdropping

  1. Sometimes I can’t believe this is what I do for a living! Great article, great insights about an unusual job that is really just another way to help behind the scenes…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And that…. is why I am so much less stressed not working there. There was one day I captioned a mom basically telling her kids (todder age) the equivalent of a suicide note and I was like aaaaaahhhhhhhhh and I can’t report it……….

      Liked by 1 person

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