We’ve all experienced them: dinner hour phone calls from people trying to sell us things, inform us of new products, or otherwise try our patience with sales pitches for services or products we don’t really need or want. Our privacy is invaded on a daily basis- and it seems our options are limited…but there are ways to fight back. For instance, we might say, ‘This is a bad time for me; give me your name and your home phone number, and I’ll call you back when it’s more convenient’- an approach which allows us in a gentle way to express your irritation at being disturbed. However, these strategies are not always fail-safe. Thus, the opportunity exists for a more creative approach.
Mike Royko, the late Chicago newspaper columnist, once wrote an amusing piece about being interrupted at dinner by an unsolicited phone call from a stockbroker wanted to pitch the market’s latest ‘sure thing.’ Royko pretended to be very interested, and said, “I’d like to buy 1000 shares- on one condition.” The broker, happily imagining the fat commission he’d earn, asked the condition, and Royko responded. “All I want is for you to promise, in a written, notarized contract, that if the stock fails to go up the way you said it should, you agree that you’ll kill yourself in the manner I specify.” “What!?” shouted the broker. “Are you crazy!?” “No, not at all,” Royko explained. “It’s just that I don’t know you, I didn’t contact you, and I’ve never spoken to you before. You want me to take all the risk by investing some of my hard earned money; I might lose some or all of it, but you’ll get your commission no matter what happens. I just think it’s fair that you should have something riding on this, too; if your life is at stake, I can be sure that you have the incentive to give me the best possible advice. So, what do you say- do we have a deal?” Needless to say, that stockbroker never bothered Mr. Royko again.
Instead of getting angry at callers who invade our privacy, we can have some fun at their expense. There’s nothing to be gained by yelling at them (for after all, they are presumably trying to make an honest, if annoying, living), and we certainly don’t need extra stress or a higher blood pressure; instead, a more effective approach might be to make them hang up in frustration. In that playful spirit, I offer the following list of possible responses to telemarketers (one of which is sure to fit your interests and personality).
THE “QUIZ MASTER” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak to Mr. Smith?” “Is this a sales call?” “Yes, it is.” “Good. Here’s my policy. I’ll ask you a question; if you can answer it correctly, then I’ll listen to your sales pitch. Ready?” “I guess so.” “Ok. In the classic World War II movie, ‘Stalag 17,’ what were the names of the two American prisoners killed by the Germans early in the movie while trying to escape?” “Um, I have no idea.” “Oh, sorry. Their names were Manfriedy and Johnson. Better luck next time.” Click. (This is one of my favorites; it allows you to take immediate control of the conversation. Your trivia questions can be on any subject of interest to you; you can even keep a list near your phone for this purpose. Of course, if the caller somehow does manage to answer your question correctly, you’ve already promised to listen to the sales pitch- so it’s a good idea to make your questions as obscure as possible).
THE “CHATTERBOX” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak with Mrs. Johnson?” “Oh, you want to talk to me? Thank you so much; that’s so kind of you! I don’t get many callers; in fact, I don’t get to talk to many people, period, so this is going to be wonderful. Mrs. Milliguddy next door always used to stop in to see how I was doing, but now with her gout she isn’t able to get here anymore, and because I’m pretty much confined to home, I really don’t have much of a chance to talk. My son does stop in twice a week to see if I need anything, but he’s also so busy- you know how that goes- so he isn’t able to visit very long. I keep telling him to bring Marilyn- that’s his wife- and the kids over to see me, but they never seem to have the time. Just between us, I think he wants to, but Marilyn won’t let him. She’s never liked me, you know, at least not since their wedding reception when I made that innocent little remark about her gown being so skimpy. After all, it wasn’t my fault that she looked like a shameless hussy- and on her wedding day, of all things!- and I don’t know why she and her mother and sister were so offended. People are so touchy these days. Why, do you know, just last week…(By this point, most telemarketers- after several fruitless attempts to interrupt- will have hung up in frustration).
THE “LONG LOST FRIEND” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak to Mr. Wilson?” “Fred? Fred McDonnell? It’s great to hear from you! What have you been doing, guy?” “No, sir, my name’s not Fred; I’m calling for…(Interrupt:) “Fred, I just can’t believe it! How did you ever track me down? I haven’t seen you since third grade back at St. Mary’s. Say, do you remember Sister Lucretia Ann? Boy, she really seemed to have it in for you; in fact, I recall her saying you were the most likely kid in class to end up in a state prison.” “Sir, I’m trying to tell you that you’ve mistaken me for someone else; my name isn’t…” “Hey, Fred, remember that time Lisa Samuels got sick after lunch and threw up on you; Sister made you go to the boys’ room and take off your pants and wash them in a sink, and you had to hold a towel around your waist until they dried- and it was just before our class pictures were going to be taken that day, and you looked so sad I was sure you were going to break out crying.” “Sir! Please let me explain!” “Oh, no need to explain, Fred; everyone always knew there was a black cloud following you. That’s why I wasn’t surprised when I heard about you filing for bankruptcy after your wife left you a few years back. I suppose it had something to do with that shady real estate deal you put together that I read about in the paper. Say, how’d you manage to avoid doing time for that one?” “Aaarrgh!”
THE “EVANGELIST” APPROACH
“Hello, may I speak to Ms. Tringgold?” “Sister, not only can you speak to me, but I’m going to do you one better- I’m going to help you speak to the Lord God Almighty Himself. Yes, girl, that’s right: you and I can do some heavy-duty praying right here on the telephone. But first, I need to ask you: Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” “Um, Ma’am, I’m just calling on behalf of…” (Interrupt:) “Oh, that’s all right. You don’t have to confess your sins right now; that’ll come later. Now, tell me, you poor, wretched creature, are you tired of being the plaything of the devil and a slave to iniquity? Are you ready to give up your life of wickedness and debauchery? Have you finally come to see the error of your filthy and degraded way of living?” “Excuse me, Ma’am, but you don’t understand…” “Oh, I understand more than you know, Sugar; I’ve been there myself. In fact, let me give you my personal testimony of salvation; that’ll make it easier for you to open up and pour out your soul to me. Way back in 1968…” Click. (This approach, of course, isn’t an attempt to make fun of religion, and certainly shouldn’t be used in such a manner- but because many people are uncomfortable talking about religious subjects, if can be an effective way of closing off a conversation…and after they hang up, you can say a little prayer on their behalf).
THE “SPACE CADET” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak to Mr. Brown?” “Are you cleared to use this frequency?” “What?” “Your code name and Federation I.D., man!” What’s your code name and I.D. number?” “Uh, sir, I’m calling for Acme Tours, and this month we’re having a special on Caribbean cruises. For just $599…” (Interrupt:) “Oh, well why didn’t you say so? You can never be too careful these days, you know, not with all the eavesdropping the Martians are doing on us earthlings. You probably didn’t hear about that, did you? I’m not surprised; the government’s keeping all that hushed up, just like they did three years ago with the radioactive pink dragon. Anyhow, you were saying?” “Well, uh, we have this special cruise…” “Oh, yeah, the cruise! You know, it’s been a long time since they let me near a boat; I still say that packing my luggage with plastic explosive would have been an effective way to scare off monsters that were waiting for us down in the Bermuda triangle. I don’t know why the Coast Guard and FBI were so angry; I guess they were just mad at me that they didn’t think of that idea first. If you ask me, four years in prison was a big overreaction to a harmless little misunderstanding. I don’t mind telling you, if it wasn’t for those secret midnight visits of Astro the space leprechaun, I’d have gone crazy for sure. Anyway, I’d be interested…Hello? Hello? Are you still there?
THE “HARD OF HEARING” APPROACH
“Hello, may I speak to Mr. Marshall?” “Sure, just a minute.” (Pause a moment while pretending to come to the phone, then say in a loud voice:) “HELLO, WHO’S THIS?” “Mr. Marshall, I’m calling for…” (Interrupt:) “HELLO, IS ANYONE THERE? I CAN’T HEAR YOU. THIS BETTER NOT BE ANOTHER ONE OF THOSE CRANK CALLS. WAIT A MINUTE. IS THIS JIMMY BENNETT? YOU LITTLE PUNK, I’VE TOLD YOU BEFORE NOT TO BOTHER ME WITH YOUR STUPID PRANKS.” No, Mr. Marshall, no, you misunderstand. I’m calling for Diamond Mortgage Company…” “COMPANY? NO, I DON’T HAVE ANY COMPANY. WHY DID YOU WANT TO COME OVER?” “No, sir, that’s Diamond Mortgage Company…” “I SPOSE YOU CAN COME OVER, BUT YOU BETTER BRING YOUR OWN DRINK. I’M NOT SHARING ANY OF MY ENSURE- THAT STUFF’S TOO EXPENSIVE.” “No, sir, I’m calling to see if you need a second mortgage on your home.” “MY COMB? OF COURSE I HAVE A COMB. I MAY NOT HAVE MUCH HAIR LEFT, BUT I KEEP IT NEATLY COMBED. WHAT’YA THINK, THAT I DON’T HAVE ANY PRIDE IN MY APPEARANCE?” “No, sir, I wasn’t saying that…” “FAT! NOW YOU’RE CALLING ME FAT? LISTEN, JIMMY OR WHATEVER YOUR NAME IS, SOMEBODY OUGHT TO TEACH YOU SOME RESPECT FOR YOUR ELDERS. BACK IN MY DAY, YOUNG MAN, SOMEONE LIKE YOU WOULD HAVE ENDED UP IN REFORM SCHOOL, WHERE…HELLO? HELLO? ARE YOU THERE, JIMMY?”
THE “PSYCHIC HOTLINE” APPROACH
“Hello, may I please speak to Chloe Reinsdorff?” “This is Madame Chloe.” “Uh, Ms. Reinsdorff, I’m calling for…” (Interrupt:) “Wait! Don’t tell me; I’m very good at knowing these things. Yes, yes, I’m feeling a strong psychic vibration; your inner self is being laid bare before me, and I’m peering in your soul. I sense that you need to talk to me about something regarding a financial matter- am I right?” “Well, yes, in a way…” “I knew it! I told you, I have a very strong sense of what people need. Just stay quiet for a moment, sir; let me see what I can pick up as I read the energy force that surrounds and unites us. I’m sensing some confusion and bewilderment on your part, and right now you’re thinking…Why, young man! Shame on you! I told you, I can read your thoughts! It’s lucky for you that no one else knows what you were just thinking. We won’t say anymore about that sort of thing, I can assure you!” “Ma’am, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and besides, I just wanted to tell you…” “Madame Chloe knows what you want, child; she’s aware of your insecurities and your desperate desire to overcome the deep self-loathing that’s crippled you for years, being stuck in a dead-end job like this…” Click. “…that forces you to match wits with gifted, intelligent people like me. Poor thing; ha, ha, ha (and I can just imagine what you’re thinking right now).”
These are some fun and creative approaches to talking with telemarketers; others might include the “NO COMPRENDO” APPROACH (in which you speak in Spanish, Italian, or any other language of your choice- perhaps even one you make up on the spot- thus creating a “failure to communicate”), the “POLITICAL ACTIVIST” APPROACH (in which you explain that you only do business with people who support your pet causes, and then ask a long series of “yes” or “no” questions on contemporary issues), or the “HARRIED PARENT” APPROACH (in which you keep interrupting your telephone conversation to shout at your imaginary children for alleged misdeeds of a mind-boggling nature, leading your caller to think she’s dialed a madhouse by mistake). Various one-liners might also have their place (“Could you get off the line, please? My wife just fell off the roof of the garage and I need to call 911,” or “I’ll buy whatever you’re selling, as long as I can pay for it with the pink suede currency my space alien friends gave me.”). These ideas are offered for your enjoyment and possibly for your own use- and perhaps they’ll help you come up with even better ideas of your own. Have fun!
P.S. If you’re a telemarketer and find this article offensive, and want a personal apology, I’ll be happy to comply. Just send me your name and home phone number, and the time when you normally eat dinner, and I’ll be sure to call.