from July 4, 2003
Dear Orville Slack IV,
I am continually besieged by telemarketers. I recently changed my phone number and had it unlisted, but that doesn’t seem to do the trick. What does Slack advise?
—Irritated in Illinois
Slack advises against over-reliance on the answering machine as a protection against the telemarketer. First of all, an answering machine will tend to irritate the friends among your callers. Second and most importantly, it goes against his First Principle: Use all such opportunities to enjoy yourself.
Slack also offers another bit of advice. Don’t enroll in any “do not call” service offered by any government. He bases this counsel on his First Principle of the Art of Begging Off: Enjoy yourself! He reasons that the widespread use of this service will drive the telemarketer toward those of us who valiantly and wisely refuse to take advantage of any such service, thus multiplying our enjoyment at the expense of those who put their trust in government services.
One simple but entertaining way to deal with the telehuckster, suggests Slack, is the phone-off-the-hook maneuver. When a stranger calls, mispronounces your name, inquires about your health, and asks for a few moments of your time, do not hang up. Do not even politely say you aren’t interested. Simply sound interested. Say “Oh, tell me more!” in an excited voice and let her launch into her sales pitch. Then simply place the receiver on the table or other flat surface and go about your business. A few minutes later, she will realize that she has become her own customer and hang up.
Of course, you’ll have to return to the scene of the crime in order to replace the receiver. But in Slack’s view, this trivial inconvenience is well worth the pleasure of imagining her irritation.
Slack counsels caution, however. A widespread use of this tactic will lead to the end of phone solicitation as we know it, thus permanently depriving us of one of life’s small joys.
A more innovative approach, recommends Slack, is the turn-the-table technique. When the stranger calls and requests your cooperation, report that you’re in the midst of performing some complex task. Show interest in her product, but emphasize the urgency of your current business. Suggest, but do not promise, that if she helps you solve your problem, you will be free to consider her kind offer.
A good candidate for this ploy might be the preparation of Chicken à la Kiev. Or, even better, the installation of a new software program. If she pleads ignorance on the subject you’ve chosen, ask to speak to someone in her office who might possibly have expert knowledge of the intricacies of your problem.
If you are fortunate enough to be working on some actual problem at the time of the intrusion, you should of course take the opportunity to request help in solving it. Remember, however, that you are under no obligation to purchase the product being offered. In fact, if, after half an hour, the problem is solved to your satisfaction, it is quite possible that the caller will have forgotten the purpose of her call. If not, feel free to revert to the phone-off-the-hook strategy.