Don’t get between me and my dinner!

Last night the phone rang at supper time and, foolishly, I answered it without looking at the Caller ID display.

“Hello, Mr. Whyte, and how are you today?”

I’m quite sure you’ve already recognized the overture. It hits you like the voice of doom every time, just when you least expect it, and suddenly you remember what the Creature from the Black Lagoon looked like. Your hand tightens and you almost crush the ‘phone.

So, quickly, what’s your next line? You’d better have one, because irrespective of your initial reaction time to the dreaded question, you’ve got about three seconds to nip this call in the bud before your importunate Svengali launches into his or her spiel, and once that’s started, you can grow a long, white beard waiting for a pause that’s long enough to let you interrupt its flow.

Of course, you can always be rude and hang right up in the pitcher’s ear, but most of us have a natural reluctance to be that crass.

They know that, these callers. They bank on it. They rely on your committing the fatal error of responding politely with some inane phrase like “Fine, thanks,” and waiting for them to continue.

Should you be foolish enough to say something like, “Wonderful, thank you, I’ve had a great day, so what can I do for you?” there may be a silent pause on the line—though never for longer than two or three heart beats—as the person on the other end tries to grapple with the fact that all of his or her birthdays seem to have come at once.

As soon as you say something silly like that, admitting your humanity, you’re dead meat. One moment of weakness, a mild spasm of politeness, and you’re on the hook for whatever it is they’re trying to nail you for, and by the time the dreaded spiel is over, you’re going to feel all kinds of guilt for even thinking about saying no.

I’m case-hardened by now. As soon as I hear the warning question, which never varies in either tone or delivery, I say, “I’m having problems, like everyone else, and I don’t accept telephone solicitations. Write me a letter and I’ll consider your cause. Goodnight.” And I hang up.

I stopped feeling bad about that a long time ago, because I’m letting them off the hook easily.

What I really want to say, every time, is, “Did you know we have a “Do not call” law in Canada and you are breaking it?” But there are so many exceptions and special-interest exemptions pertaining to that law that it was a toothless joke even before it came into effect, so there’s no point in even citing it.

If I really told them the truth, though, I’d be screaming, “No matter how good my day might have been to this point, you benighted halfwit, you’ve ruined it now with your tasteless interruption of my home life and your insulting assumption that I’m naive enough to be conned by your fake concern for my welfare, when we both know you couldn’t care less how I am today.

“You’re calling me at supper time,” I’d say, “because you and/or the people who pointed you at me believe that this is the optimum time to hit your target; to sell me something; to solicit a contribution, or extort a donation on a pseudo-personal basis by making me feel really bad about all the privileges I enjoy, and by taking advantage of my natural reluctance to be gratuitously offensive to a complete stranger.”

I’d probably pause for breath there and lower my voice before going on, “I couldn’t care less whether you’re offering me reduced rates on carpet cleaning, or an opportunity to provide personal computers to underprivileged troglodytes. Now get off my line and tell your boss I intend to make a point of never using any more of your organization’s goods, services or benefits between now and when Hell freezes over.”

That’s the way my mind works when I’m mad. But really I have to wonder, as a writer, who writes the stuff these people learn by rote? Somebody is obviously making a living training them, judging from the number of clueless twits who stick religiously to their badly-scripted, formulaic spiel as they blunder into my wrath.

In my mind I see the promotional blurb: “Learn the secrets of success in Telemarketing from the people who brought you “Have a Nice Day!””

Oddly enough, my wife thinks I’m a soft touch and I suppose I am, if the approach is original and the pitch strikes me as being genuine and heartfelt. But the people who get my bucks all seem to be smart enough not to phone me at supper time.