Last Call for Telemarketing


  It was a story no media outlet could resist. Apparently the National Do Not Call List had its own do-not-call list, and it included almost everybody. The federal government finally established a registry that would prevent telemarketers from contacting unwilling customers, and the public was eager to sign up. But most of those attempting to place their phone numbers on the national registry last September were unable to get through – nothing but busy signals and unresponsive websites. Call it the revenge of the low-interest credit card offer. I haven’t tried to sign up to the Do Not Call List myself. It would seem like a betrayal. There are people who make a living on those calls, and once upon a time I was one of them. To be exact, I made my living showing up for Mom’s meals on time – I was still in high school. But a teenager needs discretionary income. Summer hitchhiking trips were funded by time spent selling coupon books and making appointments for vacuum cleaner salespeople. To each according to his talents; I was a slow, plodding type, reliably fired from every dishwashing or busing job as dishes piled dangerously high around me. But in the jungle of minimum-wage job competition, I had one saleable attribute, inherited from my preacher daddy: a pleasing, sonorous baritone. Telemarketing jobs were about the only ones I could keep. Those were the golden days of Canadian telemarketing. Back in the ’70s, people were not yet accustomed to being called by strangers and generally assumed there must be some good reason for it. Eventually I landed a booking gig with Filter Queen. In exchange for a set of steak knives or planters or some such, homeowners would be subjected to an in-home pitch by a sales rep, possibly lasting several hours, aimed at convincing them to buy a Filter Queen vacuum (which, in the dollars of the time, cost as much as some used cars). My success was measured in appointments booked, and the easiest targets were lonely old people who needed the company. The results of those appointments were often bad for everybody, with pressured pensioners agreeing to buy vacuums they couldn’t afford and would never actually pay for. It was creepy work, and the people I worked for were, frankly, creeps. But I still retain some sympathy for people trying to scrape out a living at a thankless task. Not that I indulge them. These days the computer dialing systems generally used by telemarketers leave a gap of two or three seconds between the time you pick up the phone and the time the caller comes on the line – enough time to hang up before actually having to blow off an actual person. Another little tip: I am listed in the phone book under another name. Let’s just say I am listed as Mr. Duckworth Puddlefoot. Anybody who needs my number will have it anyway, so the phone book listing serves no real purpose except to strangers. So now when anyone calls and asks for Mr. Puddlefoot I simply say he has stepped out for a little swim. If they persist, I say I am a burglar who has stopped by only to rob Mr. Puddlefoot’s belongings and that they should call back later, when he will probably need to buy some new stuff. Once upon a time, I used more extreme measures. When carpet-cleaning companies would call to pitch offers, I would reply that I would certainly listen to their spiel if they would grant me equal time to talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Predictably, the strategy backfired eventually. A delighted evangelical carpet cleaner was only too happy to meet a soulmate. I was forced to say that my carpets were as immaculate as Gabriel’s wings. It’s simpler to just say no. Unless, of course, you need the steak knives.