Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

I got a phone call from a moocher this morning. Stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign, or make the most of technology and call me on the phone; either way, you’re just a moocher if you’re begging me for money.

It was so unusual for the phone to ring any time before nine o’clock that I picked it up, in contravention of my rule never to answer the land-line because only telemarketers call us at that number. We keep a land-line only because I’m stuck in the past and have an old rotary phone. I can dial it, and the handset has the reassuring texture and heft of bakelite that can’t be faked by any plastic phone. Also, it’ll work when the power goes out, and it weighs in at about ten pounds. Clock somebody over the head with that and they’re going down! You may be able to tuck a cell phone in your pocket and use it to make calls from anywhere, but as self-defense weapons they suck.

Anyway, I answered the phone even though I knew in the back of my mind that I really shouldn’t have. The caller asked if My Darling B was home, and I gave the usual response to that question when asked by a voice I wasn’t familiar with: She’s not available right now. May I take a message?

“Are you a member of the household?” There’s another red flag that you’re talking to a telemarketer. But I thought I’d play along with him for the moment, so I said yes.

“Well, then I can direct this call to yourself,” he said cheerily. Sounds like somebody didn’t pay attention in English when they were studying the use of the reflexive, assuming students even study English in school any longer. A lot of the e-mail I get seems to suggest they haven’t for years, or, if they do, the bar is set so low that Tyrion Lannister would have trouble limboing under it. (Geek joke, sorry, couldn’t help myself.)

“I’m calling on behalf of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” he began, “and this call will be recorded for training purposes. Did you know that for only twenty-five dollars —”

I stuck with him that long only to make sure I wasn’t missing out on an opportunity to take part in a national poll, which I wouldn’t miss for anything, given they’re much more significant than my one paltry vote. As soon as he flipped up his little cardboard sign (I WORK FOR POLITICIANS PLEASE HELP GOD BLESS), I dropped the handset in the cradle without a word.

You need twenty-five dollars? Go ask your lobbyists.

moocher | 9:51 am CDT
Category: current events, daily drivel, entertainment, messing w/telemarketers, play, yet another rant | Tags:
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Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

Just as I was sitting down to lunch, the phone rang and I picked it up without screening it first. I’ve got to stop doing that. Wasn’t thinking this time. I was half daydreaming, my mind long-lost in the days when a ringing phone meant that somebody you knew was calling. Remember when?

Actually, I was expecting B to call me. I’d left her a funny story on her voice mail and I was sure she would ring back to comment on it, so I really did think I was getting a call from somebody I knew. Silly me. It wasn’t B at all, it was Austin from Something Something Home Mortgage Brokers, who wanted to know if I had given any consideration to refinancing my mortgage.

As it turned out, I had, just a few months ago. “And I’ll tell you something that’ll make this a real short conversation, Austin,” I told him, “unless you can offer me a rate of less than four percent, a refinance just isn’t in the cards for us, thanks anyway.”

“Really? Why’s that?” he asked. I’m pretty sure he knew the answer, but he couldn’t just let it go, could he?

So I gave him both barrels. “Because home prices have tanked in this neighborhood, Austin, and we still owe quite a bit on the principal balance. Our rate is already pretty low, so unless your company will offer a rate of less than four percent, or no closing costs, we can’t even consider refinancing.”

“Well, what’s your rate right now?” he asked.

Wait, what? What part of my explanation didn’t he get? I thought I laid it out pretty clearly, didn’t I? Was there anything in my explanation that would have lead you to ask me, Well, what’s your rate now? What’s that got to do with it?

Okay, Austin, let’s see what you’ve got. “The rate on our mortgage is six and a half percent.”

“Well, we can offer you a thirty-year with a rate locked at four point eight,” he countered.

“And what kind of closing costs?” I shot back.

“I’m not the loan officer, so I couldn’t say –”

“Ballpark figure,” I prodded.

“Really, I can’t quote closing costs because I’m not a loan officer.”

“I’m not trying to be short with you, Austin, really I’m not,” I cut in, “but if your company’s closing costs are typical, then we can’t afford refinancing our home mortgage with you if the rate is greater than four percent.”

“Maybe we can work out some points,” he said, changing tack. “Are you a veteran?”

Work out some points? “Yes, I’m a veteran,” I answered. “We can’t afford to pay for points either, Austin.”

“Oh, you are, good,” he said, ignoring the second part of my answer. “Thank you for your service. It’s a great thing to serve your country and so many people forget to say thank you to our veterans, even on a holiday weekend like this one. My dad’s a veteran, too, from the Vietnam war, blah de blah et cetera and et cetera …”

Okay, first of all: Austin knew I was a veteran the same way he knew I had a home mortgage: He looked up the recorded mortage at the register of deeds office, and the mortgage papers were made out by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Sort of a huge giveaway, there.

Second of all: I don’t like it when other people play the veteran card to wheedle money out of me. Offering a hand in thanks, then trying to sell me something while still holding my hand, is about the weaseliest kind of thanks anyone could give. Makes me a little, um, cross.

And third: He was still trying to get me to refinance my mortgage! He asked me how much the balance was on our loan, he asked how much we made a year, and he wanted to know where we worked. It’s like he wasn’t listening to me at all, except to mine me for more information he could use to keep his sales pitch going.

So when he asked me how much I made and where I worked, I figured, Screw both barrels, that’s kid stuff. I’m shooting you in the face with a bazooka, Austin.

“Actually, my position was eliminated. I’m currently unemployed.”

Crickets. “Ah,” he said. Awkward pause. “So sorry to hear that.”

Finally got your attention, Austin, didn’t I? “So you see why we can’t afford to refinance right now?”

He allowed as to how he did, and said he would update the system and call back in maybe six or eight months to see if our situation hadn’t changed by then.

Hey, that worked pretty well. I’ll have to remember to use that on the next guy.

Down In Flames | 9:15 pm CDT
Category: adventures in unemployment, daily drivel, messing w/telemarketers, My Darling B, O'Folks, work
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Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Dear Democratic National Committee: You’re pissing off the independent voters with your telemarketing script. Two of them, anyway.

Mister McChuckletrousers called Our Humble O’Bode on behalf of the Democratic National Committee this afternoon and My Darling B picked up the phone on the second ring instead of screening the call as we normally do. We get calls from telemarketers all the time, even though we’re theoretically on the don’t-call list and we tell every single one we speak to that we’re not interested in their products. We don’t try to be rude, we just tell them no, thank you. You’d think they’d take the hint after a few of those, but they keep calling back, so we screen ninety-nine percent of all the calls we get.

But B was expecting a call so she picked up … and was treated to a hard-sell pitch from Mr. McChuckletrousers. When she could get a word in edgewise (we wait until they take a breath to jump in, rather than rudely interrupt) she told him thanks for calling but we wouldn’t be able to make a donation today.

I’ll say this about most telemarketers and solicitors: Nine out of ten times, that works. You tell them you can’t make a donation and they thank you and move on to the next call in their queue. They’ve got a quota to meet, after all. This dorkwad from the DNC, though, wasn’t going to be put off so easily. “We’re not asking everyone to make large donations,” he said, “a small donation would help us out, too.”

Not that it was any of his business, but B explained that money was a little too tight in our household right now to make a donation of any size to his cause.

“Whatever you could afford would be just fine,” he said. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want the Republicans to get control of Congress again, would you?”

Whoops. Wrong thing to say.

“Look, buddy,” B told him, “I’m an independent. I vote for whomever looks like the best candidate, so don’t assume who I would and wouldn’t want in office.” And it’s not exactly like the Dems have done a bang-up job changing anything after pumping us full of hope, either, she wanted to add, but didn’t. “My husband just lost his job and we’ve got to pay the mortgage on what I make, so we won’t be making a donation, okay?”

You’d think that would have pushed him back a bit, but you’d be wrong. “Well, there are other ways you can contribute,” he said, changing to a new tack and taking a big breath to launch into who-knows-what.

“Thanks,” B jumped in, “I’m expecting a call, so I’m going to hang up now.” And she did.

I don’t know if this would make anyone in the DNC re-think their hard-sell, but here are my two cents:

I can see why the DNC might think we’d be a soft touch for a donation or two. We’re both rather progressive when it comes to our politics. I think the federal government should provide basic health care for everyone, for instance. I don’t know how, but I sincerely believe it could be done at no great increase in spending, and without too much bureaucracy. I also think we should get our military the hell out of Afghanistan and the Middle East. Lend them whatever diplomatic help they need, but pull out our soldiers and refuse to sell them arms.

I said I think these things could be done. I even had some hope we would be seeing changes like these after the last federal election. I know it’s hard, bordering on impossible, to make big changes considering the political climate in Washington and across the nation, but so far I’m not overly impressed by the changes the Dems have made. And my opinion of the Dems sinks even lower when they call Our Humble O’Bode on Sunday afternoon and try to shake down my darling bride for money after she politely tells you we haven’t got any to spare.

If you must call, please don’t call on the weekends. We like to relax on the weekends, and the clanging of telephone bells all afternoon makes us cranky. Cranky people don’t give any money to anybody.

And, when someone tells you, politely, that they won’t be able to make a donation, don’t suggest making a smaller donation. That makes us cranky, too. See above for the result of making people cranky.

Dear Donkey | 8:00 pm CDT
Category: daily drivel, entertainment, messing w/telemarketers, My Darling B, O'Folks, play, story time, yet another rant | Tags:
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Monday, February 22nd, 2010

I’d been sitting beside the phone for about an hour waiting for a phone call from the technician who’s supposed to come fix my dish washer. At some time this morning he promised to call and tell me when he’d be on the way.

When the phone finally rang, it turned out to be a telemarketer who wanted to pitch her special offer from Charter Communications. “No, thanks,” I said, as soon as she paused long enough to let me politely butt in.

“I understand you don’t have Charter service right now, but we do have several options…” she continued.

I didn’t wait for her to draw breath this time. “No thanks,” I interrupted, “I’m not interested.”

That took her aback. She sputtered a bit, grappling for a line from her script that she could use in a case like this. “How about telephone or internet service?”

“I’m really not interested, thanks,” I explained.

“Uh, okay…,” she allowed, stringing out the “okay” as long as she could, perhaps to keep me from just hanging up. I would just like to point out that I was still saying “please” and “no thank you.”

“Could I ask why you’re not interested in even listening to this offer?” she asked, dropping all pretense of offering me a service and segueing right into making demands.

Well, Charter Communications, not that I feel compelled to answer your questions, but when I want your services, I’ll call you and ask for them. That’s what phones are for, for me to make phone calls to you. You are not supposed to call me unless I’ve already called you and asked for service. Only people I would call friends are welcome to make my telephone go ting-a-ling-a-ling. You, Charter Communications, are not a friend, and despite the recent Supreme Court ruling I do not even consider you a person. There’s probably a bullshit first amendment argument to be made for your right to call me whenever you feel like it, but the fact is that I paid for the phone line so it’s not a public venue protected by free speech, it’s my phone line and I wish you’d stay off it, just like it’s my front stoop and you should keep your sales people off that, too.

But I didn’t say that. I was trying to be polite to the telemarketer who was not Charter Communications, she was just some working schmuck like me, probably trying to make enough money to pay her rent, buy groceries and maybe have a little left over for a beer or cigarettes or some other guilty pleasure. So instead I told her I was waiting for an important phone call. And to her credit, she was nice enough to accept that and hang up after giving me Charter’s 800-number in case I woke up in a cold sweat after realizing my terrible mistake at passing up Charter’s amazing offer.

But that’s not going to happen, Charter Communications, so you can just stop calling me.

IN THE COMMENTS: A representative from Charter Communications left me this message: “I can certainly appreciate not wanting to get sales calls at home. If you will e-mail your Name, Address, and Phone Number to Umatter2Charter@chartercom.com, I can have you placed on our “Do Not Call” list which will prevent future calls or mail solicitations. Have a great day!”

I’m still trying to decide whether to be well and truly creeped out that Charter is apparently employing a web bot to search blogs for all mention of their corporate activities, or to be truly amazed at the awesome power of technology to respond to my rant so quickly. Truth be told, I’m feeling a little of both.
I e-mailed my name, address and phone number to the address he gave me and asked them to put me on their “Do Not Call” list. I received this reply within a few hours: “We’ll be more than happy to add you to our do not call list. However, we were unable to find an account under the name and phone number you provided. Can you please send us the following so we can add you to the list?”

Maybe I misunderstood. Do they really mean to imply that I would need an account with Charter to be on their Do Not Call list? Whatever, I told them I don’t, and gave them my contact information again. It remains to be seen whether I get fewer calls from Charter, or they launch an all-out overkill assault on me via phone, snail mail and door-knocking salesman.

creepy bot | 9:53 am CDT
Category: entertainment, messing w/telemarketers, play, yet another rant
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