Wednesday 26 Oct 2016

Charity Begins at Home
Sjef Frenken

Jack and I were sitting in the food court at the Bayshore Shopping Centre. He was having something Greek; what I was having doesn't really matter. Oh hell, let me be honest and admit that I'd succumbed to temptation and was eating of the forbidden fruit: actually forbidden french fries.My bad cholesterol, blah blah blah. I salved my conscience with the fact that at least they were advertised as having no trans-fat.

Jack had just told me that he'd been late on account of a clever spiel by a telemarketer.

"I know what you mean," I said. "I've had as many as a dozen calls in a day. And it's usually a fine mix of calls for funds from charities, for subscriptions from newspapers, for seasons' tickets from the NAC, for free trips to Florida, and God knows what all. It's got to the point I'm not even answering most of the long-distance calls; I'm letting the answering machine do the talking."

Jack said: "Why not have a little fun with them?!"

"How so?" I said.

"Well," said Jack, "string them along! For instance when someone offering a subscription to the Citizen or the Sun calls, I go into a long explanation that my eyesight is getting worse, and that I can't read even with my reading glasses AND my magnifying glass at the same time. Even in full sunlight"

"But what," I said, "If the NAC calls, say, with an offer for a subscription to a concert series?"

"In that case," said Jack, "at the end of their spiel, I ask them to repeat it, on account of my hearing not being all it used to be. 'Speak up Sonny!' I interrupt all the time. After a while they give up."

Jack was warming up to his subject.

"When I get a call asking for Mr Jack So-and-so, and that I've won a prize even though I haven't entered a contest, I tell them that they must be wanting to talk to my dad. But he isn't in at the moment, he's chasing after some babes in the old folks home down the street. Or sometimes I tell them that I'm incapacitated and that I can't move around any more, and that I hope the prize includes the care of a full-time nurse, a physiotherapist, and someone to lug me around from place to place. Let me tell you, they lose interest very fast."

"And then there's always the Seinfeld ploy," continued Jack.

"What's the Seinfeld ploy?" I asked.

"In one of the episodes, Seinfeld is busy with something, when the phone rings. He picks it up, and there's a telemarketer at the other end. Seinfeld says 'listen, I'm busy right now, give me your home number and I'll call you back around supper time.' That's very effective."

"That's all very well and good," I said, "but I can't help feeling for the people who have those telemarketing jobs. I don't mean the pushy, in-your-face, sales pitchers, but the nice people just trying to feed their family, who don't like doing their job any more than you do listening to them, but for whom this is their only possible employment. So I listen and then politely tell them that I can't use their services or don't have the funds for them at the moment."

"You're just being a softie," said Jack.

"Maybe you're right," I said, "maybe I'm just wasting their time listening; maybe they'd be better off if I hung up, and they had the extra time for a call that might bring in a sale. On the other hand, I don't like to be rude."

"Did you ever contact the telemarketers' association and asked to have you name put on the list of numbers not to be called?" asked Jack.

I said that I had, but that it hadn't made any appreciable difference. Maybe those callers were not members of the association.

At that point a man sitting at the next table, who'd been quietly eating his lunch, turned to us and said:

"I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. I hope you don't mind."

Both Jack and I said: "No problem."

The man continued: "This is how I deal with those calls. I pick up the phone and read from a piece of paper I've scotch taped to the wall -- 'Hi, you've reached 555-3574. If you are a friend of the family or a relative, or if any member of my family has ever called YOU, please stay on the line. All others, at the sound of the tone ... please hang up.' And then I whistle a tone. It works like a charm. Sometimes I also say: 'This call is being recorded for quality purposes', and that's a big turn-off for them too, even though they use it on us all the time."

Both Jack and I thanked the man and said we'd give it a try.

Maybe you should too.

Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.

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