Talk of the Town - The telemarketer always rings twice August 07 2003

Here's to pre-emptive nostalgia

"July is carpet-cleaning month!"


"You've won a cruise through the Appalachian foothills!"

"Not interested."

"Do you want a thicker, greener, lawn?"

"Actually, I want a thicker, greener retirement plan."

Ah, telemarketers. Jangling bane of 5-to-9 existence in after-work America, they bore into our dinner hour, our private lives and our fevered brains. Now, to general hosannas, the National Do Not Call Registry threatens telemarketers with extinction. Some 20 million strong and griping, registrants are promised an end to the ceaseless wiles of pitch-folk.

"Hi, how are you this evening?"

Always a telemarketing tip-off. No one I know — or am related to — is that polite.

The no-call website has several interesting features, such as the "privacy and security" section. This is a real concern, because the registry is a telemarketer's dream. A vast stratum of PC users, with time so valuable they don't want it interrupted by mewling hucksters? What a juicy demographic!

Then there's the "En Espanol" section. If you can read this part of the site, you've already got a perfect out. "No hablo ingles" will put los skids to the vast majority of telemarketers, most of whom can barely speak English, much less a second language, without a script in front of them.

And that script has The Pause. Subtle but there, like the sound a safecracker hears when that last tumbler clicks into place. It's the point when the telemarketee can decline the service being offered.

Sometimes it's a service you already have — such as my lawn service. Once a month, they sprinkle 47 cents worth of chemicals on my third-of-an-acre and charge 35 bucks. If that isn't enough of a profit margin, they hit me up for "extended services" such as aeration. This means putting little holes in my lawn, dislodging countless dirt plugs the size of chihuahua waste, and charging 95 bucks.

It gets confusing. Most lawn care services — aggressive telemarketers all — have the word "green" in their title. To complicate matters further, I've hired and fired a half-dozen of them across the years — because my lawn still resembles a proving ground for Hellfire missiles.

So when GreenGro calls, are they my current lawn service? Or is it GreenStuff, with GreenGro the company I used three companies back, in between GreenHornet and AlGreen? Doesn't matter. With all the rain, fire ants have taken over the lawn.

Be very careful when fielding phone calls from a bank. Is it some nuisance credit-card offer, or the lending institution that financed your home? Telling people who hold your mortgage to blow it out their patootie is not the way to go. So in the interests of caution, I try being civil to telemarketers.

But there was the evening, punctuated by numerous idiotic sales pitches, that I cracked like the makeup on a grinning dowager. A woman, her voice full of enthusiasm, tried to explain the merits of donating my used car to a worthy cause.

I didn't even wait for The Pause.

"I am not interested in giving you my car. It's paid for, and it's the only one I have. And I need it to drive 12 miles round trip for a quart of milk because I live in a neighborhood that was recently a cow pasture. Furthermore (Who ever uses "furthermore" in a friendly way?), I resent your calling here this late. Take my name off your list and leave me alone!"

A few hours later, before turning in, I saw that the call had been picked up by my answering machine. Playback revealed the earnest pitch, followed by my Patrick Henry speech and a thunderous click.

The telemarketer, young, surely inexperienced (Was it her first day on the job?) had been stunned by the depth and breadth of my condemnation. After I rang off, her stressed breathing could be heard. And a brief indignant postscript, spoken to the non-corporeal me, indeed to all cranky householders whose abuse is ladled onto hapless telemarketers the world over.

"Well @!#& you!"

By now, I'm feeling regret — not to mention nostalgia — and the telemarketers aren't even gone yet. Because at my age, I don't get many personal phone calls. My old friends are married and reading bedtime stories, or divorced and back in the dating trenches. They don't have time to talk. Telemarketers, on the other hand, have all the time in the world. In a weird way, they validate my existence.

So do I really want to join the No Call Registry? Do I want the telephonic silence that will be my lot in life each night thereafter? Can I handle the quiet and isolation?

Even more to the point, do I want a thicker, greener carpet?


i>GreenGlen Slattery is dodging fire ants the size of chihuahuas in Alpharetta.