Sometime in late summer, we’re told by the powers-that-be in Washington (which seems to include just about everybody these days), all of us will be free of one of the most heinous crimes of the 20th century and a little bit of the 21st. Telemarketers no longer will be allowed to call us at home if we say they can’t.
It only took 227 years since the founding of our country to get to this point (or whenever the telephone was invented, which ever came first), and it’s certainly about time. Telephonic home invasion by sales people has made a lot of us really question the wisdom of Alexander Graham Bell, especially since those rumors persist that the first words he ever uttered down a phone line were really “come here, Watson. You’ve just won four days and three nights in Lazy Springs Resort in Marina Del Ray, but you must act quickly.”)
I don’t know about you, but I know exactly when the evening news comes on by these telemarketers. (I like to call it the Brokaw Rule.) Sitting down to dinner at 7, the first call comes in. By 7:10, there’s the second call. By 7:22 comes call no. 3, and at about 7:25 when Tom is into the light feature stories, the fourth call tolls. Luckily, for several dollars monthly I do have Caller ID, which means I only actually have to answer about 1-in-10 calls received. (It’s amazing to think how much money the phone company makes with all of us paying for Caller ID. You don’t think the phone company and the telemarketers are nah, that couldn’t happen, could it?)
My phone also notes all the phone calls I get in a single day. Each night after dinner the phone has logged 14 calls. Why 14? Not a clue, but on most evenings there it is 14 “Unavailable” calls all duly listed. Of these 14 daily calls, at least 12 are telemarketing queries. But wait, it gets worse. In years past, most telemarketers rarely spent the time to actually leave a message, perhaps thinking that if anyone was actually stupid enough to return a message from a salesman, not even they would want that person’s business.
But now more and more of these marketers leave both live and recorded messages. And some of them are worthy of Oscar nominations. One call I get at least weekly is from someone named Christy (That may be with a “K,” she didn’t say) who sounds like I’ve known her since high school: “Hey, John, hi! It’s Christy and, well, I tried in vain to catch you at home. But listen, I won’t keep you but we noticed that your mortgage could really benefit from re-financing. I know you just did this three weeks ago, but with today’s interest rates you can refinance and we will actually owe you money every month! Take care, and try to catch you later. Ciao.”
Now here’s the thing. Christy leaves this message in my voicemail every week, month after month. And here’s the other thing the message is always identical. She kind of sighs halfway through it, apparently because she’s so frustrated she can’t give me a deal of a lifetime. And that sigh, and the message is always exactly the same. Always.
So, is she not aware that I have already memorized her message by now, and that when she gets to the “take care” part, I’ve already mumbled her words before she does with “and try to catch you later, ciao”? I saved one of her many identical messages and play it for friends, and their reaction usually is, “Boy, how long have you known this Christy and what’s she look like?” (Well, to be honest, only male friends ask this.) Christy, by the way, never asks to speak to my wife. (It must be one of those funny little one-way telephonic chemistry things.)
And while I’m at it, to the guy who’s selling that lawn service, to that woman from the long distance company who pretends she replying to call I never made, and to those people who still want to install a new home security system in my house for no money whatsoever, I’m still not buying. Not even for free.
Alas, there will be exceptions to the rule. Charities and some financial institutions apparently get a free pass. But where there’s an exception, there’s always a loophole. So don’t be too surprised to still get some calls starting at 7 p.m. nightly, which prompts something like “Missions of Hope” on the Caller ID screen, and those friendly, recorded words: “Hi, Mr. Marenelli, sorry, Merlin? Merelli? I’m calling from Missions of Hope in California. We’re a charitable organization, sir. Have you ever wanted to spend four days and three nights at a rustic mission overlooking the Pacific, within walking distances of shops and bistros? Sir, for a generous donation of only $349 plus tax, this all can be yours. Hello? Is Mrs. Merrilluci home?”
John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected].