Conversation with a telemarketer

By Ryan Robbins
The Maine Campus

My phone rang at 6 o'clock Saturday night. I paused before picking up the handset.

"Hello?" I said.

"Is Mrs. or Mr. Robbins there?" a man asked. "If so, may I speak with one of them?"

Mrs. Robbins? I thought. I chuckled. There isn't one - yet.

"This is Mr. Robbins," I said. I don't like people addressing me formally; it makes me feel older than I am.

"Hello, Mr. Robbins," the man said, his accent thick, perhaps from the Bronx, obviously not from Maine. He told me his name, but I didn't pay attention.

"I'm calling on behalf of Bell Atlantic," he continued. (Of course you are.) "How's the weather up there? Lots of snow?"

"Yeah, lots," I said. I sighed. If I were my father, I would have said I wasn't interested and then hung up. But I like to make telemarketers work for their money. There's nothing like hearing them get excited before you crush them. Then they squirm.

The man laughed. "So how are you doing today?"

"Good." As if I'd tell him how I'm behind in my schoolwork and I was in for another rough night at work.

"Listen, I'm sure you're aware of the many optional services Bell Atlantic offers its customers," the man said. "I would like to offer you a voice mailbox. Do you know what a voice mailbox is?"

"Yes."

"OK. Do you have an answering machine?"

"Yup."

"Well, a voice mailbox is even better than an answering machine. It will answer your calls for you even if you're on the phone. No answering machine can do that. Do you have call waiting?"

"No." And don't try to sell it to me because I don't get enough calls to warrant it, nor would I want it anyway.

"Well, with a voice mailbox you don't need call waiting. People can just leave a message while you're on the phone. And with a voice mailbox you can get your messages from anywhere using a Touch-Tone phone."

So? I thought. I can check my answering machine from anywhere with a Touch-Tone phone.

"I'll tell you what I'm going to do, Ryan," the man said. (We're getting personal now.) "I'll ask Bell Atlantic to waive the connection fee when I connect you today. You know how connection fees can be, right? I know. I just moved out of the dorm myself recently."

Funny, I thought. I left campus more than three years ago. How do know I'm in college?

"And you know how quickly these things add up. Now, the monthly charge is only $3.95 a month."

I chuckled. You still haven't asked me whether I want it, I thought. Don't you think that might be a good idea?

"I'm not interested," I said.

Silence. "Oh," the man said, feigning surprise. "D-Do you mind if I ask why?"

"I can't afford it." Besides, my answering machine works fine and I don't get many calls. And don't even think of telling me a voice mailbox will ensure I won't miss an important message while I'm on the phone. If it's important, the second caller will call back.

"It's only $3.95 a month," the man stammered, almost whining. "You can't afford that?"

"Nope."

"Your phone bill is, what, $30 a month? I'm giving you the connection for free. I'm going to ask Bell Atlantic to connect you for free. Do you know how hard that is? It's like trying to pull teeth from the devil.

"That's roughly the cost of eating at McDonald's. That's the price of a value meal. Are you telling me you can't afford to eat?"

That's $3.95 I can't use to eat, I thought.

"I'd rather eat at McDonald's," I said.

"Very well. Thank you for your time."

Click.


This column originally appeared in the Dec. 8, 1997, edition of The Maine Campus.
© 1997, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.