Guilt-laden pleas at the door? I'm not buying it

Janet's World

August 03, 2008|By Janet Gilbert

Every few months, I get a prerecorded telephone solicitation from a guy who wants to meet me at a hotel near an airport. He speaks in a clipped, instructional manner with televangelist overtones.

"I want you to get a pencil, now, and write this down," he says authoritatively.

"The airport hotel lounge, this Sunday, I'll be there from two until four. You won't want to miss this," he advises with a folksy drawl. He is the millennium version of the classic carnival elixir hawker.

He goes on to say that I'm not alone in my quest for financial independence. Yet only a few, special people are invited to this meeting where he is going to reveal the secrets of achieving great monetary wealth. With no effort at all. He looks forward to seeing me.

"Write this down," he instructs, leaving a toll-free number. "You must register."

Why? Because the real secret to achieving wealth with zero effort is to be the guy who charges a $59.95 registration fee for his airport hotel lounge course on achieving wealth with zero effort.

God Bless America.

This is a country jammed from sea to shining sea with people intent on making money off other naive, ill-informed, or possibly just plain stupid people.

Thankfully, I was born with the Janet's World insincerity-O-meter. Its needles are in the form of the hairs on the back of my neck, which stick up anytime someone is trying to con me out of anything. And the con can take many forms, from intimidation to guilt to something bordering on fear.

Look, whether it is frozen high-quality meats from the back of your truck or miracle polishers or instant carpet-stain removers, I'm not interested.

But I'm more than not interested: I'm frequently offended by your guilt-laden appeals.

Just last week, a pleasant young man rang my doorbell. He complimented my house, asking if I was the "queen" of this "castle." The insincerity-O-meter surged. He then looked me in the eye and delivered a flawless speech about not selling anything - that he was just going door-to-door to practice the effective communication techniques and life skills he learned that help him earn an honest living and keep him off drugs and off the streets in Baltimore.

And wouldn't I like to see Baltimore's youth off the streets, off drugs, earning an honest living? Well, if I just ordered a few magazines. ...

Impressive. I buy magazines; he gets some surge in self-esteem that causes him to say no to drugs. I think I'll call the professionals at Narcotics Anonymous to alert them: The key to preventing drug addiction in Baltimore is door-to-door magazine sales.

I thought for a moment. And then I used the effective communication techniques and life skills I learned that help me earn an honest living and keep me from becoming a bored alcoholic in suburbia.

"Listen," I said. "I'm a columnist for a newspaper, and I don't have to tell you how that business is going. So I also have another job writing advertising. But I'm not selling anything. I'm just a working parent helping fund two college tuitions, while keeping the ol' minivan with 100,000-plus miles running. I work hard and am grateful for my life, and that's why I'm here today, editing brochures and cleaning my own bathrooms and, in my spare time, volunteering at the public school. But wouldn't you like Americans like me to get a break before we have a breakdown? I'll tell you how you can help. You can pick up my son from summer school and fold these four loads of laundry while I finish my project. And then you can fix this broken screen and paint the front hallway. And prune the overgrown hedges."

He interrupted to say that he would come back at a better time.

"How about next week?" I said, smiling. "We're sealing the driveway."

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