Too bad you can't bottle and sell him: the human telemarketer repellent

April 21, 2002|By Susan Reimer

Telemarketers are the scourge of domestic tranquillity, and Americans have reached a level of irritation with telephone solicitation that is approaching road rage in its potential for violent language and damaged equipment.

Not me, and not in my house.

When the phone rings, I have my husband answer.

It is not that he is some powerful brute who intimidates with the sonorousness of his voice. He is actually a very sweet person.

But I employ him to answer the phone because he can bore paint chips off the wall with his interminable monologues on current events. He can drive telemarketers to hang up on him.

Recently, someone called to offer him a trial subscription to something or a free sample of something or a 30-day free examination of something, and my husband politely declined.

But rather than terminate this phone conversation, my husband took advantage of this new audience and said:

"No. Can't say as I am interested in anything like that. But you know what? I've been here in the kitchen watching ESPN 2 highlights. That Barry Bonds has hit four homers in two games. Can you believe it?

"Do that math with me here," my husband continued. "Over a 162-game season, that's 324 home runs. Now, I don't expect him to keep it up. Nobody does. I mean, that's not realistic.

"But how many homers do you think this guy is capable of? 90? 100? 150? I mean, this guy is amazing."

At that point, my husband put the phone back on the hook, turned to me and shrugged, "I guess he hung up."

They all hang up. Wouldn't you?

I've walked away from this human Week in Review more than once myself, but he never seems to get the message.

I've gone into the bathroom, shut the door and started brushing my teeth, but he seems not to notice. When I emerge, he is still talking to me about whatever obscure headline caught his attention during his morning reading of four newspapers.

I've had busy friends drop by with a quick errand, only to find themselves trapped by my husband in some conversation about the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic church or whether the recent melting in the polar ice caps should be viewed with foreboding.

The man actually follows my friends out to their cars, and is still talking as they start their engines.

So when some poor minimum-wage telemarketer calls to sell him something (other than another newspaper subscription, apparently), he takes the opportunity that a fresh pair of ears presents.

"The Middle East. Are things a mess, or what? I don't know if they will ever resolve it. I mean, I don't know what side I'm on here. A plague on both their houses. You know what I mean?"

My husband is not always so serious in conversation. His sense of humor is subtle and dry, and it can be unexpected, as some telemarketers can now testify.

When the phone call came offering a subscription to Sports Illustrated , the telemarketer used the sensational swimsuit issue as an inducement.

"No, no," my husband responded, never bothering to mention that we already subscribe. "That wouldn't exactly be my cup of tea.

"You see. I'm gay. But if you've got Architectural Digest on your list, I'm willing to listen."

Apparently there was an awkward silence before the telemarketer did what we all want them to do: He hung up. And, no doubt, crossed our phone number off of his list.

My friend Mary says this is a cry for help from my husband. He craves my attention, she says. Our tag-team work schedules have left him lonely.

Mary may be correct, but it is hard to feel desired when you know your husband could happily talk for 20 minutes about Colin Powell's status among the other power brokers in President Bush's administration without noticing that I have left for the grocery store.

"These are not conversations," I told Mary, emphatically. "These are debriefings, ventings, purgings, downloads. I am not sure what they are, but they don't require a human response. That's why they work so well with telemarketers."

However, my husband is inclined to side with those who think his need to connect with anonymous telemarketers is symptomatic of emotional abandonment by his wife and children. (My 16-year-old daughter would be good against telemarketers, too. "Dad," she says in a no-nonsense tone. "Don't start. I have homework.")

And he has made it clear that if we don't start cracking those State Department briefing books so that we can hold up our end of the conversation, his next step could be a desperate one.

If we don't starting listening to him, he has said in a thinly disguised threat, he will find people who are eager to hear all about him. Feigning hurt, he leaves the room, muttering for our benefit:

"Hello. My name is Gary. And I am an alcoholic."

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