Which Part of No Don't You Understand?

Which Part of No Don't You Understand?
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

Erik is out of the office this week, so we are firing up the WayBack machine and reprinting a column for 2003.

It's not something I like to talk about, but when I was in college I did something I'm not proud of. I was a telemarketer.

Okay, I was only a telemarketer for about three hours, but it was still pretty traumatic.

It was my last summer in college, and I was looking for a part-time job. I called a company I found in a classified ad, and I was hired right over the phone. I should have been suspicious when I was hired based purely on how I sounded. There was no application, no background check, and no questions about whether I became easily disgruntled or owned any guns.

The "business" was a single room in an office complex with three folding tables, six folding chairs, six phones, and two windows that didn't open. And I was the only one who didn't smoke. Everyone else smoked like the New Jersey Turnpike.

My job was to call local businesses from a stack of index cards and get donations for the Fraternal Order of Police. I was supposed to get paid 50 percent of any donations. But I realized the deck was literally stacked against me when I got all the small businesses, while my boss's buddy got all the big businesses and previous donors.

I coughed and hacked my way through three hours without a single donation and enough smoke in my lungs to set off a fire alarm. So when I left for lunch, I didn't go back.

That experience left a bitter taste in my mouth for the rest of the week, although it may have been the second-hand smoke. After that, I've had mixed feelings about telemarketers.

On one hand, I feel sorry for the people who try to earn a living by calling complete strangers. On the other hand, it bugs the crap out of me when they call my house.

So I'm torn: do I put myself in their tobacco-stained shoes and be as kind as possible when I say no? Or do I hang up as soon as they stumble over my name and start reading their script?

It's not that I get annoyed that they call me at all. It's that some telemarketers are so pushy they won't take "NO!" for an answer, even when I've said it 37 times.

One guy even started talking louder when I tried to explain that I wasn't interested in new windows for my house, considering it was less than five years old.

I finally said, "All right, you've convinced me. I'll listen."

He stopped talking. "Really?"

"No," I said, and hung up.

My problem was solved when the Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communication Commission launched the national "Do Not Call" list, which you can join if you VISIT www.donotcall.gov or CALL (888) 382-1222 RIGHT NOW. (Not that I'm trying to convince you to stop unwanted phone calls from sales pests. I'll let you decide that on your own.)

But the telemarketers aren't happy that people would REGISTER at www.donotcall.gov or CALL (888) 382-1222. They think that if you CALL (888) 382-1222 RIGHT NOW, it's an infringement on their First Amendment rights.

According to an Associated Press story, Tim Searcy of the American Teleservices Association said ". . . the FCC ignored its obligations under the federal law and the Constitution to carefully balance the privacy interests of consumers with the First Amendment rights of legitimate telemarketers."

What Searcy doesn't seem to understand is that the First Amendment only guarantees the right to free speech, it doesn't mean that I have an obligation to listen. Especially at dinnertime.

It means I don't have to sit through TV commercials, listen to protest groups, or read literature pushed on me by radical cults. And it certainly doesn't mean I have to listen to pushy telemarketers asking me if I'm interested in getting new windows for my house. It means I can VISIT www.donotcall.gov or CALL (888) 382-1222 RIGHT NOW, and get rid of unwanted pests.

So I have a painful, but much-needed message for the telemarketers: We. . . how do I put this. . . ? We, uhh. . . we just don't like you like that.

I'm sorry. It's not you. It's not you at all. It's us. We need our space. We like our privacy. That's why we will REGISTER AT www.donotcall.gov or CALL (888) 382-1222. So please don't call anymore. Maybe someday, when we're both older and more mature, we can try again. But until then, we want to talk to other people. So don't call, don't write, and don't send email.

In the meantime, we'll use our caller ID to screen "Out of Area" calls. Or we'll dial *77 on our touch-tone phones to reject anonymous calls.

But we'll be thinking of you. Especially in five years when our registration expires and we have to VISIT www.donotcall.gov or CALL (888) 382-1222 to get you to LEAVE US ALONE.