Telephone solicitors? Keep ’em guessing…

I have the deepest sympathy for the harried Vacaville reader who recently wrote to complain about being badgered by as many as seven telephone solicitors a day.

Alas, I know of what he speaks. I’ve had that many telemarketers call me at dinnertime alone.

I used to try to be sympathetic. I’d listen to the spiel for awhile and politely decline a complimentary septic tank inspection. After all, everybody’s got to earn a living.

But do they have to do it in the middle of my reheated lasagna and spinach dip?

Eventually, my patience got on a bus for Reseda. One can only remain polite for so long, particularly after some nitwit has interrupted a good cigar and the latest episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and then has the audacity to cheerfully ask, “And how are you doing tonight?”

Hmmmmm. Exactly how am I supposed to be doing? I just dropped a burning cigar in my lap and don’t know if Buffy got sucked into the Void by a Chaos Demon.

No sale tonight, pal.

I used to try saying “No, thank you” and hanging up the minute I detected a sales call, but that just seemed to make the telephone solicitors more persistent.

I tried responding with long, meaningless jokes about the three drunk waiters from Minnedosa and the farmer’s daughter, but my dinner still got cold.

Finally, I decided to take the offensive the minute I picked up the telephone. No more Mr. Nice Guy. In fact, no more Mr. Anybody. I became an anonymous – and somewhat threatening – voice representing a nonexistent agency somewhere near air or water.

Feel free to try this yourself. Here’s how it works:

Answer the phone with an immediate and authoritative “Air-Sea Operations – are you reporting an emergency?”

The solicitor will probably fumble this one, come up with a lame “Uh, is this a business?” or ask to speak to someone with a last name vaguely similar to yours.

Don’t waver. Don’t let ’em get another word in edgewise.

“This is Region Eleven Air-Sea Rescue. ARE YOU REPORTING AN EMERGENCY?!”

(Try to imagine yourself as a unshaven, cigar-chewing chief petty officer who doesn’t suffer idiots – or salespersons – gladly.)

Keep repeating this in a menacing monotone until the caller realizes that he or she is going to be in big trouble if they ever tie up this line again with one of their silly sales routines.

They will be intimidated.

They will apologize.

They will go away.

And, with any luck, they’ll remove your telephone number from their call list forever because nobody wants to mess with an irritable bureaucrat from an agency they’ve never heard of.

Although this is an amusing way to bamboozle telephone solicitors, I have to admit it has some drawbacks.

Because your fictitious agency’s no-nonsense dispatcher has to answer immediately and in character, your friends and family are going to think you’re a little weird whenever they call.

And, no matter how fast you talk, your dinner’s still probably going to get cold…

Originally published March 25, 2001