I hate it when the telephone rings at dinnertime. People often complain about junk mail, but at least catalogues don't find their way to your house unless you want them. Don't buy from the catalogue company. Toss them at the post office, or in the trash in the garage. Keep them out of the house, if you like. But, the phone is a hardwired Trojan horse of a home invasion that doesn't wait for an invitation.
Some of us imagine suppertime as a golden moment of peace and reunion. Everyone's home. Homework's done. Kids are seated at opposite sides of the table to avoid bloodshed. Father anticipates the chattery review of the day's events, the disciplined and edifying debate over the budget deficit (federal, not domestic), the general praise for the good job he's done grilling the chicken.
Would that it were so. One evening, long ago, before I was disabused of whatever hearth and home illusions I had nurtured and just as I prepared to jam just one miserable Brussels sprout down Christian's throat, if only I could pry his jaws open, the phone in the kitchen went off. And isn't that just the way?
Who is it? It's a telemarketer offering a credit card. Or, she is asking if the head of the household would answer some survey questions. Or, perhaps the deal of a lifetime has to do with long distance service. Or, perhaps the head of the household would be interested in investing in the latest hot stock. Never mind that I never heard of the company or the brokerage which is cold-calling me.
That pause, before a voice comes on the line, is the tip-off that this is an unwanted marketing call. That pause means that an innocent computer, not an obnoxious and interfering human, has dialed my number. The human, a pimply, teenage marketer out to pick a pocket or two, snapping his bubble gum as he prepares to tell me what a deal he's got, is watching his computer screen to see if he got a hit. He did. Me.
I say, no thanks, don't call again. People tell me that does no good. Ask to be taken off the call list, I'm told. There are federal and state mechanisms to get you off the telemarketing lists. Right, but of course, they don't work, or they're more trouble than the calls.
I've been advised to take a more aggressive approach. Unscientific inquiries reveal several nominally foolproof techniques. Let the answering machine handle the call. You do that anyway so your old girlfriend and your new one don't interact in phonespace. Or, hang up the minute you suspect it's one of them. Or, don't hang up at all. Leave the phone off the hook, leave the telemarketer dangling.
A favorite and common answer from some folks who have obviously given the matter great thought: ask for the home telephone number of the caller so you can return the call after dinner. But, of course, it's not a two-way street.
When I was a kid there were no telemarketers. The phone was a heavy, sculpted, Bakelite object, which sat on a small corner shelf attached to the wall on the landing at the foot of our steep stairs. Once, I fell down the stairs rushing to answer it. As I ended my descent in a heap below the phone, it toppled off its tiny shelf to land on my head.
Hello, I said groggily. Wrong party, the voice said. No telemarketers, but it was a party line. Not really a party-party, if you know what I mean. There were three households on the same line, and you had to wait before rushing to answer, until you had heard whose ring it was.
My dad answered the phone with a growl. He was suspicious of it. He didn't like its looks, and he very much didn't want to find himself accidentally in the middle of some party line neighbor's private conversation, if he got the ring wrong. It may have been a party line, but Dad was no party animal where telephony was concerned. Had there been telemarketers, he would have made things pretty hot for them.
After he died, my mother kept him busy for several years, until she followed him along the celestial pathway, calling out (I imagine), Arthur, I've got a chore for you. She put him to work when she received a telemarketing call. She invoked his spirit.
Is the man of the house at home, the voice asked.
No, he isn't, my mother would reply.
When do you expect him, the telemarketer asked.
My mother: I don't know.
Is this a good time to reach him?
Telemarketer: Can I speak to you?
No, but I'll let him know you called.