As I sat down to lunch – anyone who knows me understands that I consider any meal with fried potatoes to be a very sacred affair – the telephone rang. The number of the caller wasn’t known to me; but I reluctantly put down my first bite of fried potatoes and picked up the phone anyway.
Good day, is this Stormwise? Mr. Stormwise, I am calling on behalf of blah-blah energy company and would like to talk to you about your electricity bill. How much are you currently paying for your electricity? …..
I listened to these words with only half a mind, as I stared at my beautiful fried potatoes (in which I use Danish-style roasted onions, cayenne pepper, a touch of sharp paprika … but here I go, getting distracted again). Jerking myself back to attention, I told the man on the telephone that I really had no time to entertain him as I was just beginning my lunch. At this point, a sane telemarketer would have excused himself and hung up the phone – or perhaps asked to call back later. But, no, not this one ….
Mr. Stormwise, I can understand that your time is limited. I would like to tell you about our special ways of delivering low-costing energy blah-blah ….
My potatoes, I noticed, weren’t steaming like they were before I picked up the phone. While I love potatoes with a passion – especially fried potatoes – I detest cold potatoes almost as much as I detest reheated ones.
blah-blah-blah … and if you would just take this short survey, it only takes a few minutes ….
At this point, I decided my meal was not going to be totally ruined. The potatoes would be eaten while still passably warm; and I was going to enjoy some cost-free entertainment while I was at it!
Clearly communicating that I had been distracted the whole time, I said, “Huh? Um – oh, yes, energy bills … I’m sorry, my lunch was looking really good and I got distracted for a moment. Would you mind repeating yourself, please?”
Certainly, Mr. Stormwise … where should I start?
I asked Mr. Potato-Hater to please start from the beginning. I apologized for having been so distracted, and informed the man that I was simply very hungry after a hard morning. He laughed, having taken the bait, and proceeded to repeat himself from the beginning. While he did this, I started eating my lunch. The typical noncommittals, like ‘uh-huh,’ and ‘mmm-hmmm,’ I allowed to be mixed in with my mouth full (horrible manners, I know); so that they sounded more like ‘mmpf-mmm.’ I wanted him to know that I was eating while listening. I asked a few inane questions to slow him down and give me the chance to eat a little more of my lunch while he explained. When he got to the point about the survey again, I stopped him with an exclamation: “These potatoes need more salt! – Excuse me, please, I need to get some more salt for my potatoes, would you mind holding on a moment?”
Not so eagerly, Mr. Intrusive agreed. What he had no way of knowing was that I was raised by a military man … I eat very quickly. My potatoes didn’t need salt, they were done. What I needed was another liter of water from the refrigerator. This I drank in the kitchen – away from the dining room and the telephone. I can also drink quickly, when motivated to do so; but this was not one of those moments. Just for flavoring, I periodically, in a voice loud enough to carry to the phone, muttered about where the salt may have been hiding and how I could never find anything in my kitchen (far from the truth). After a couple minutes of doing this, I allowed myself a colorful explanation of shock, and went back to the phone, and in a feigned, out-of-breath voice asked if Mr. Patience was still there. To my great delight, he was. He asked me if everything was okay and if I’d found my salt; to which I acted as though I thought it surprising that he knew I was looking for salt.
Less patiently, he asked if he might tell me about this survey. I asked him to proceed, but that he would have to explain his survey very carefully – especially since I was having some difficulty understanding him in the first place. It’s funny, how when you tell someone you don’t understand them, as often as not, instead of speaking more slowly, they tend to speak more loudly. Anyway, just before agreeing to the survey, I exclaimed again: my cell phone was ringing in the background! I needed to go check to make sure it was not an important call.
This time, I went to the bathroom to floss and brush my teeth. Not surprisingly, when I got back to the phone, the telemarketer had hung up the phone and moved on to someone else. I give him credit for tenacity … but at the same time, I am not as practiced in this routine as I once was. Which routine, you might ask? It’s called the ‘Anti-Telemarketer Game.’ I first read about it in the late 1990’s and fell in love with it. The idea behind the game is that every minute you can tie up a telemarketer on the phone costs the telemarketing company resources and eventually money. Their callers are usually paid by the hour; and every minute you can keep them tied up with no intention of buying anything from them becomes a minute less for them to go harass some other poor soul. According to the game’s philosophy, if more people would play on a regular basis, telemarketing would eventually be too unprofitable to maintain itself.
So the idea is, rather than instantly hanging up on a telemarketer, to keep your telemarketer on the line for as long as possible, using any number of creative techniques. Tried and true is, “the baby is crying – would you please hold” … then when you get back, sound as flustered as possible, and ask the telemarketer to repeat his or her self. Do this more than once, to see just how long you can string the telemarketer along. For every minute you keep the telemarketer on the phone with you, award yourself points. If you can escalate the conversation and get the telemarketer to put his or her supervisor on the phone, you enter a bonus round where you can double your points for every minute the supervisor is on the phone. Keep a journal of your points and start identifying which techniques seem to return the most number of points for you. Improve your game. If you don’t have much time, you can always play really out of touch, start screaming elatedly, and shout to make-believe people around you that you just won the lottery. This way you can get a little play-time in without committing yourself to a long game.
I’ve been out of this game for a while; which is part of the reason why I think the phone conversation didn’t last nearly long enough today. I forgot to act rich and ditsy. It’s also possible that telemarketers are now coached to spot this game (it has been around a while) and are thus given a time limit before they hang up and call elsewhere. Usually, they don’t hang up on me – after a while, I just start laughing and tell them how fun the call was, that I’m not interested in their product, and to please add me to their do-not-call list before I hang up on them. Today I was rusty. I was also distracted by really tasty potatoes. But now I have my game face back, and next time I will be ready ….
Oh, and you can award yourself points for getting other people to start playing this game, too, I might add ;-)