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All They Want Is a Hearing

September 16, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | Aurora Mackey is a Times staff writer

"Good evening. Is this the lady of the house?"

Now, this is only my own opinion, but personally I think this is a line that telemarketers intentionally throw at you to make you more compliant. What, after all, are you supposed to say to such a question?

Do these people really think you'll tell a stranger on the phone that no one has called you a lady for a long time?

Your kids--as you screamed at them to finally pick up their rooms, and looked like a crazy woman in the process--certainly wouldn't refer to you that way.

And your mate, who frequently comes home from work and finds you sprawled out on the sofa looking like an auto-crash dummy, would be the last person to call you that.

Of course not. Obviously, the telemarketers know you'll take the easy way out.

"Yes, this is she," you answer. (Sometimes this, too, is the wrong thing to say, since a lot of them will assume you're an English teacher who will want to buy their educational materials.)

But no matter what you answer, now they have their in; you're waiting to hear what they'll say next. Invariably, this is when they will attempt to be polite.

"Is this a bad time?" the telemarketer asks.

Oh, heavens. What possibly could make them think that?

It's only been 10 minutes since you walked in the door after an exhausting day, the kids still have to be nagged to do their homework, and you've just thrown a few hamburger patties into a hot skillet--which at that very second is sending billows of smoke toward the smoke detector.

There's also the little matter of the telephone cord, which isn't long enough for you to get to the stove.

But being a polite person yourself, you do not mention this. Instead, you ask the person to hold on just a second and cover the mouthpiece with your hand.

"Kids!" you yell into the other room. "Could you please turn up the TV a bit louder? I can't hear it over the stereo and the Nintendo!" And then, back to the telemarketer: "Now, what can I do for you?"


Sometimes, the people calling are clearly new to the job. Their voices are stilted, as if they're reading cue cards. If you ask even one question, you can almost picture the person on the other end rereading the card to get the information.

That, or you are asked to hold on a minute while he or she asks a "supervisor."

There's also the nonprofit type of telemarketer, who clearly doesn't do this regularly. This person has a certain naivete, a kind of enthusiasm, that's almost endearing.

I stress almost .

"Uh, yes, we're putting on a program that will benefit local high schools and will help keep kids away from drugs and gangs and involved in wholesome activities that will create a well-rounded person who will grow up to be an upstanding citizen and a part of society that is part of the solution and not the problem. . . ."

"How much?"

"Twenty-five dollars. Can we send someone over to your home tonight for a check?" Uh, sure. Just as soon as my lotto ticket comes in.

Then there are the real pros. Their voices are modulated, almost like American versions of BBC announcers. A couple of these folks have called me up to see if I'd like to subscribe to the Ventura County edition of the Los Angeles Times.

"Well, actually, I read the paper at work," I answer.

"You do?" they ask, as if truly interested. "That sure sounds like a fun job."

"It is."

"I wish I had your employer."

"You do."

They apologize, and then call me back a few weeks later.


I know these people are just trying to do their jobs. Telemarketers probably don't like calling up total strangers and trying to sell them products or services any more than most people like for them to do it.

Still, there is a limit. And maybe some of you have noticed the same thing I have: There have been a lot more dinner-time calls lately.

This, I learned recently, is not just my imagination.

A couple of nights ago, an extremely pleasant woman called me up to sell me an amazing new home security system that she said actually had been developed by a telephone company. When I asked her how she got my number, she was very cheerful and told me.

"Well, what these telemarketing companies do is choose one city at a time to saturate, and right now we're saturating Simi Valley," she said. "We just go through all the numbers, and when we're done, we go on to some new ones."

That at least made me feel a bit better. Everyone has already probably called me at least once.

And I didn't do what could have ended up being the biggest mistake of my life.

I didn't change my number.

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