Aren’t we getting just a LITTLE tired of these calls? They get you at dinner mostly, or when you’re on the phone with somebody really important, like Dolly Parton or Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, or maybe Elvis – yes, finally Elvis calls and is about to tell you exactly where he is, for real – and the phone rings and it’s some telemarketer for a magazine or MCI or a cold caller from one of the brokerage firms (“I don’t have anything right now, but if some time from now an attractive investment opportunity crossed my desk, would you like me to let you know?”) – and you couldn’t tell in advance who it was, because you have Call-Waiting and, yes, Caller-ID, but not the newfangled phones with Call-Waiting Caller ID, which display the caller who’s waiting – so you put Elvis on hold (because you have Hold) – and by the time you’ve depressed the Flash button to switch back, Elvis is gone and you’re . . . just . . . so . . . angry.

Well, I’ve come up with a solution. It’s not practical and it won’t work, but I offer it anyway.

Instead of politely waiting for some break in the script to interject a firm, “I’m really glad you called – I know you have a tough job – but let me save us both some time, because I’m definitely not interested, by hanging up [CLICK]” . . . how about this: See how long you can keep the caller on the phone. Make him/her hang up on you. Ask a lot of questions. Tell some nice stories. Ask some more questions. Keep your eye on the clock and each time try to break your personal record. Ten minutes? Twenty? An hour? Just don’t commit. “Oh, I don’t know. I’m pretty close to the limit on my credit card. Gosh, where would I be without those credit cards? I was once this close to starving to death, because of the layoffs, you know?, and then I remembered I could get a cash advance on my Visa, so I went down to the . . .” and just keep going until finally the telemarketer has no choice but to hang up on you.

Don’t think of this as a waste of your valuable time. Think of it as a game, like any other game that you spend hours of your valuable time playing. If the whole world did this, every telemarketer would go broke in a week. No more dinner-time interruptions.

OK, OK. The people who call are, for the most part, just kids trying their best to make a buck. They don’t run these businesses or write the scripts. It’s one thing not to bite at the pitch, another to try to punish some stranger for doing his or her job.

Still, most of these calls really are an intrusion. Better to make the offers on TV, in print ads, or through the mail. At least with junk mail you can make all but instant determinations from the outside of the envelope as to whether you have any interest. And the mailman doesn’t interrupt you in the middle of dinner or beep you in the middle of a conversation with Elvis.

What to say to the complete stranger who calls hoping you’ll entrust some goodly portion of your life savings to him? Leo Cullum had a great idea in his recent New Yorker cartoon. He drew an obviously-not-wealthy man watching TV, legs crossed comfortably, beer in hand, on the phone. “Oh, I’m really sorry,” he has the man saying. “I just placed three million with some broker who called five minutes ago.

 

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