Thursday, January 24, 2013

"UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER"



“UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER” reads the caller ID. Do I pick it up? I do. But only because my beloved is traveling on the other side of the planet at this moment and all his calls come in with this title. The calls from credit card companies, non-profits in need of my financial commitment, and energy companies enticing me to make the switch also come in with this label. During the school day I feel compelled to answer these calls because my children’s schools come in under the heading of UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER. As you can imagine I field more than a few solicitation calls. It tries my soul.

Most times, I pause long enough to catch the background noise of a call center and quickly hang up. Or if the silence on the other end goes on a few seconds too long as the caller fumbles for his head set I will punch the call end button firmly. Is this rude? It seems more honest than listening to the long, pleading pitch delivered in one breath allowing no room for my protest. As I offer one creative excuse after another, the caller volleys back with more options for a lesser commitment. The duel goes on interminably until I either hang up out of sheer mental and emotional exhaustion or I commit angrily to the minimal donation knowing I will recycle the envelope as soon as it arrives.

The other day a charming policeman from one of the multiple organizations that fund injured, out of work, and retired officers managed to catch me. He kept me on the line so long that I spun him a tale of my many years of unemployment, my overbearing husband who won’t let me promise checks to telephone solicitors no matter how nice they are or how worthy their cause, and finally to simply say, “I gotta go,” which is what I should have said in the first place.

I am sympathetic to our public servants who have risks their lives and their family’s well-being for my safety. I am. It’s just odd to me that these organizations have a budget which allows them to pay a perfectly nice police officer to call me incessantly and then when I finally accidentally answer, spend an inordinate amount of time finagling $10 out of me. Seems like the call cost more than that. Wouldn’t it be better if they paid the poor guy not to call me? Call me a Democrat, but I think we should just pay them a living wage and provide them with proper benefits and retirement so they don’t have to hassle me.

When my youngest child is bored he will often answer the call of UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER and give the caller a few minutes. This child is now ten, but has always had a deep voice and it’s rare that the caller will ask for a parent. He listens for a few minutes and then hangs up when he’s tired of listening. As a parent, should I correct this rude behavior? Or is it simply rude that these people call us at home and badger us in the first place? My older teens enjoy coming up with funny lines to deliver to UNKNOWN NAME, UKNOWN NUMBER. Sometimes my oldest will simply answer the phone, “Unknown name, unknown number!” which typically confuses the caller and inspires them to hang up assuming they’ve reached a less serious audience.

In the past, before we had caller ID, I instructed my children to tell anyone who was obviously a solicitor (anyone who asks for Mrs. Achterberg in one of the several thousand ways you can mispronounce our lovely name) that their mother was busy and ask to take a message. This seemed perfectly honest because I am busy. Always.

I read an article yesterday that said the best response is to tell the caller, “I’m sorry, we don’t accept telephone solicitations.” This seems fair, but it’s a mouthful. Plus it doesn’t stop people who are calling to gather my opinion through a series of 600 questions. I’m thinking that a simple, “No Thank you,” should work.

I received two UNKNOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER calls today. One was my husband traveling in Taiwan who knows he better start talking fast if he doesn’t want me to hang up on him. The other was a scripted call from a politically affiliated interest group. I waited for the caller to pause so I could politely say, “No thank you,” like I had mentally rehearsed, but by the time she did I had already added several logs to the fire, called the dogs in from barking at the neighbor’s visitor, and begun folding laundry. Her sudden silence after the lengthy monologue stunned me and I stuttered, “Sorry!” before hanging up.

Many of my friends avoid all this drama by simply doing away with a land line and using a cell phone exclusively. I don’t do this for three reasons. First, my kids need phone access and I’m not prepared to buy them a cell phone or share mine with them. Second, I’m still not convinced that the 911 operator can find my house if it is on fire and I’m calling from my cell phone and collapse because of smoke inhalation (assuming I know where my cell phone is and it’s charged).

And third, I hate talking on cell phones. Everyone is always cutting each other off.  It’s impossible for me to have a long, relaxed conversation on a cell phone. Plus, whenever I try to balance a cell phone on my shoulder and carry out the things I always do while talking on the phone – laundry, dishes, dusting, cleaning up cat pee, carrying the things to the basement that are piling up in the hallway – I inevitably drop the phone. It just won’t stay balanced between my ear and shoulder the way a regular phone will. Cell phones don’t bounce well.

Until cell phone technology advances, I guess I’m stuck dealing with the UNKOWN NAME, UNKNOWN NUMBER. So, if your number is unlisted, just be sure to start talking fast as soon as I answer so you won’t get hung up on. And if one of my creatively minded children happens to answer with one of their more colorful creations like, “Mortie’s mortuary – you stab ‘em, we slab ‘em,” please don’t assume you’ve dialed the wrong number.
This cartoon has nothing to do with this post,
I just ran across it while looking for an appropriate
picture and it made me laugh.

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