I recently made a shocking discovery: It is now possible for me to eat an entire meal without the phone ringing even once.
It doesn't matter if I eat dinner at 5, 6 or 7 p.m. The phone stays blissfully silent, and when it does ring, I know I can pick it up without running into the living room and checking our caller ID to see who's calling. And to think I owe it all to the Federal Trade Commission and its do-not-call list.
Mixed with my immense relief is a twinge of sadness. Now that I have the FTC's muscle backing up my wish to be left alone, I've lost the opportunity to practice one of my favorite sports. It's called "Bait the Telemarketer."
This is a game where you do your best to throw the telemarketer off stride. AT&
T asks you to switch long-distance carriers, you tell them you don't have a phone. A contractor tries to convince you to renovate your home, explain that you have a deep-seated phobia of straight lines and flat surfaces, and ask if they can redo the house so it doesn't have them any more.
For a while I told telemarketers that I bill my time at $200 an hour, and if they wanted to continue the discussion under those terms, I would be happy to talk for as long as they wanted. Oddly, not one ever took me up on it.
My piece-de-resistance came a few months ago, when I received a call from a woman I'll call Sharon. I was at the point where I normally would just hang up, but for some reason I was feeling whimsical and decided to have fun.
"Doesn't this job get to you?" I asked after she had introduced herself and only just started her pitch. "I'm guessing that a lot of people hang up on you or just get really rude, don't they?"
"Well, yeah," Sharon admitted. Her voice had been lively and animated when she had started her pitch, but now it was more plaintive, what you would find from co-workers commiserating about an awful workplace.
"And I'm willing to bet you don't even like what you do," I added. "Most people can't stand to get telemarketing calls, and I'm willing to bet you don't either."
"Well," she admitted. "Not really."
"Do they pay you enough?"
The silence told me everything, even before she said, "No, they don't."
"So what you're telling me," I said, "is that you have a job where you're unhappy, you're doing something you don't like, and you get grief all the time from the people you call, and they don't pay you well enough to put up with it." I paused, and went for the throat. "Sharon, I think you and your co-workers should form a union and fight for better working conditions."
Sharon thanked me for listening to her problems, said she would have to consider it, and hung up.
I never did find out what she was selling.
Despite great moments like that one, I don't miss telemarketing calls enough to ask that my name be returned to the roster. Given its misuse of the First Amendment to annoy me at home four, five and six times a day, I doubt I'll shed a tear if I never hear from a telemarketer again, even if the product they're promoting really is as revolutionary as they say.
What troubles me is that a number of companies apparently are using telemarketing agencies from outside the United States. Labor is cheaper, and the FTC regulations apparently don't affect calls from abroad, even on behalf of a domestic company.
If that happens again, I already have the perfect solution. My 4-year-old daughter is at an age where she loves to talk on the phone.
I can only imagine the conversations she'll have.
Copyright © 2003 by David Learn. Used with permission.