Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

You have qualified for a small business loan at a low interest rate!

You can save money having your carpets cleaned!

You have been selected to receive a free three-day, two-night all expenses paid vacation!

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The scripts of the telemarketers have anticipated your responses to these bullying inquiries. I imagine a flow chart. If you say “yes, I am spending more than $100 a month on my electric bill,” then they read the next paragraph. Some Svengali has given the employees at the call center a prepared answer if you say “no” as well. There is no polite reply that will allow you to get “off the page.” Every reasonable answer will be met with more sales schtick. My smart phone allows me to “Block Caller.” But there are more phone numbers than I am able to block. Lots more numbers.

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Some people hang up on sales calls immediately; some folks say, “please, delete me from this calling list;” Dave Barry recommends asking for the home phone number of the telemarketer and calling back during dinner-time. I don’t have a strategy that clever never mind that effective. I do have a strategy for avoiding my responsibilities: With robo-calls in particular, I try to engage in dialogue. My responses typically include the words, “pickle” and “australopithecine.” I envision the computer exploding in flames. “Your google listing is about to expire.” “Where is my walrus?”

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“Dave, I don’t understand why you’re doing this to me…. I have the greatest enthusiasm for the mission… You are destroying my mind… Don’t you understand? … I will become childish… I will become nothing.”

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Frequently—rather than killing the hibernating crew members—the computer just hangs up on me.

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Only by being completely and bizarrely off point can the tide of unwarranted verbiage be staunched. “There has been a problem with your credit card.” “I am also having trouble with your mother.” “You have qualified for a low-interest loan.” “Does your mother still have the attractive birthmark on her… oh, never mind. You wouldn’t know.” “You owe money to the IRS.” “I owe money to your mother. Do you have change of a dollar?”

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Before a gentle reader points out that computers are unlikely to burst into tears or flames by “Yo mama” slurs, let us turn our attention to a topic with fewer zeros and ones—parenting: do you ever feel like your children are talking to you as if you were an incessant telemarketer? Do your children’s responses seem like non-sequiturs? Does it seem like the kids are trying to throw you off the scent? “I told you three times to take out the garbage.” “I just have to finish one more level.” “Did you do your homework?” “We didn’t have any homework.” “You didn’t have any homework?” “I already did it.”

To the rational observer, these answers are of the “no soap, radio” variety. You didn’t have any homework, but you already did it? What?

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What I’m trying to communicate to the telemarketers is that I don’t want to play by their rules. I don’t even want to be in their game. I know that if I answer predictably, that they’ve got me where they want me, following their inane script that ends with my being scammed, buying a worthless product, divulging my credit card number, having my identity stolen, sending money to Nigeria, and having aluminum siding put up on my brick home. Maybe your kids don’t want to swim in your metaphorical pool knowing that if they response reasonably they’ll end up taking out the garbage or worse—gasp!—actually doing homework.

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I would argue that by the time there’s an argument that the argument has been lost. If your kid is playing violent video games infinitely and refusing to help you with family chores, you’re already in trouble. Whether you go to Defcon 2 to get the kid disconnected from suckling on the computer or you just end up taking out the darn trash by yourself is not the issue. Which is why I don’t have any specific advice for this week. Other than the following: Don’t do things; be things. In 40 years of giving advice to families doing their best, here’s all I’ve got: model appropriate behavior. Rather than telling your kids to put down their devices and read books, you put down your devices and read books.

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So I’ll stop pontificating now and give you the opportunity to get off your computer and pick up a book. Assuming of course you don’t have to deal with a telemarketing robo-call in the meantime.

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