101 Damnations

The Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells

Edited by Michael J. Rosen

Thomas Dunne Books

101 Damnations: The Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells
Circle 1
New Items in the Devil's Workshop
A Damnation, Directed Toward Telemarketers
Tim Carvell
Let us imagine a domestic scene. A husband--whom we shall refer to, for purposes of speed and dramatic clarity, as Husband--is addressing his wife, Wife. "I've been thinking," he says, "and I feel like we really ought to switch our long-distance service. I'm certain that there must be a cheaper alternative out there."
"Yes," Wife replies. "If only we knew where to find one! If only there were some way for us to learn about the range of long-distance providers, and their charges for various services!"
There is an awkward pause. Then the telephone rings. Husband scrambles for the receiver, but Wife beats him to it.
"Yes?" she says. "Why, what an odd coincidence, we are interested in--you don't say! You don't say! You don't say! Gracious, we'd be delighted to switch to your fine, fine long-distance service."
We shall have to content ourselves with imagining such a scene--a moment when a telemarketer calls at exactly theright time, offering precisely what one needs--since, reaching back to the dawn of humankind, such a moment has never ever taken place. No, the history of telemarketing has been an ignominious one, consisting, I am positive, entirely of summoning individuals from their beds and showers and forcing them to aver their lack of interest in magazine subscriptions, timeshare condominiums, or term life insurance.
I am not certain at what moment in the telephone's history it went from being a tool of communication to being an implement of annoyance, but the two seem so inextricably linked that I would not be surprised to learn that they were born, like a pair of Siamese twins, in the same damp instant. I harbor a dreadful suspicion that the telephone companies--all too aware of the bad reputation that the speed-dialing sell-weasels of the telemarketing conglomerates have given them--have heavily edited Alexander Graham Bell's first telephone call, which originally went, "Watson, come here, I need you to consider what would happen to your loved ones if any mishap were ever to befall you. For just ten dollars a month, Watson, you can purchase peace of mind."
I have employed various means of coping with telemarketers, which tend to track nicely with Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of grief: anger ("How dare you call me at home?"), denial ("Please take me off your list at once"), bargaining ("If I buy something from you, will you leave me alone?"), and depression ("You're the only person who'scalled me all week."). I have now arrived at the logical end point: acceptance.
By "acceptance," I do not wish to imply that I am no longer irritated by telemarketers and their nefarious schemes. Nor do I mean to imply that I don't spend my idle time fantasizing about getting my hands on the home telephone numbers of various telemarketing companies' CEOs and calling them at all hours to regale them with tales of my personal life. By "acceptance," I simply mean to suggest that I have ceased to fight the incursions of telemarketers upon my life; I now choose to view them as one of the many irritating yet irreducible facts of being alive--like sore throats and sunburns, measles and Miss Marisa Tomei--which have no redeeming grace save for one: they soften and sweeten the knowledge, ever present if rarely acknowledged, that one's days lead softly, inexorably to the endless silence of death.
TIM CARVELL is a writer and editor based in New York City.
101 DAMNATIONS. Introduction and compilation are copyright © 2002 by Michael J. Rosen. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.