Rocky’s Bridal Boutique

Earlier this week I commented that I try not to be angry at callers on the telephone. They can call at inconvenient times, such as during meals or when I’m watching TV. Sometimes caller ID works and I know who is calling, so I don’t always answer if I don’t want to talk to them. (“The Red Cross is calling again? Don’t answer the phone—I don’t have time to donate more blood this week.”) Many times, though, caller ID will display just the number. Even though I don’t recognize it, I will take the call, because sometimes it is a family member or friend calling, even though the telephone didn’t recognize the caller.

I was a telemarketer when I was in graduate school—the job helped pay for my classes and textbooks. My job was not high-pressure sales; the company was offering to place magazines in churches for the members to purchase. I talked with a lot of pastors, a lot of church office secretaries, and various other people. Once I made a sale merely because I pronounced the pastor’s name correctly. Very rarely was anyone rude to me, even when my call interrupted more important things.

In 2014 I became more involved in politics. Every time a telemarketer called to conduct a political opinion poll, I was happy to answer all their questions. I took a lot of calls like that in 2014; it seemed like every week someone wanted to know my opinion. It was as if I was on a list of people who were willing to answer questions. Last winter I decided not to talk to polltakers on the telephone. After a few calls, they stopped. No one asked for my opinion in the spring or summer or fall. I’m not surprised the polls failed to predict the outcome of the election—the sampling clearly is skewed by their focus upon people willing to talk to them.

One time, a caller did manage to make me lose my temper, but I recovered. I was working at a church. One day the phone rang at 8:30 in the morning. I answered, but no one spoke to me; after a second or two, the caller hung up the phone. That happened the next day, and the next, and the next. (This was before caller ID was common.) The day it made me angry was when the silent caller made me run from the bathroom to answer the phone. But then I realized that making me angry might be the reason for the calls. (Another possibility is that someone felt compelled to check, to see if I actually was showing up to work.)

I decided that, rather being angry, I would have some fun with the situation. The next morning when the phone rang at 8:30, I answered with “Public Library, Children’s Department,” instead of the name of the church. The next day, I used, “Police Office, Vice Desk.” Every day I tried to use something unique. My favorite line was “Rocky’s Bridal Boutique.” I used that one more than once.

One day when I answered the phone with one of those lines, a voice responded to me. It happened to be a telemarketer calling the church. We both had a good laugh, and then I listened politely to the sales pitch before saying no. Oddly, the silent calls ended at that very time and never returned.

I am generally polite with telemarketers, but sometimes I try to have fun with them. Those men with south Asian accents who want to sell me software to correct imaginary problems with my computer probably think I’m an idiot. As they instruct me to press a certain button on the keyboard, I stall with questions like, “Does it matter which hand I use to push that button? Would it work if I used my nose?” If I’m not in a playful mood, I tell them that I have googled the name of their company, and I know that they are a scam. They haven’t called in a while either.

The telephone can be a useful device, even though most of the time it’s an annoyance. Even when it annoys me, though, I try not to let anger build. Life is too short for that kind of anger, and the people who are calling are just trying to earn a paycheck. Except for the times that the caller is a machine. J.

Capturing all fifty

Yesterday morning I rode the elevator with a young woman—with bright blue hair and tattoos, not that any of that matters—who, after saying hello, was staring intently at the device in her hand. Evidently she was about to capture a Pokemon right there in the parking garage.

I remembered the days when telephones had to be plugged into the wall, when they had a headset connected to the main part of the phone with a long coiled cord. You couldn’t do much more with a telephone than talk to another person; about the most exciting app phones had was a number where you could hear the correct time and the temperature. Dick Tracy had a wristwatch that could do amazing things, and Maxwell Smart had a cell phone hidden in his shoe, but Star Trek communicators were going to have to wait until the twenty-third century… or so we thought.

Even in those primitive days we had a game that was as exciting as Pokemon Go. We generally played the game only on vacation road trips, but in theory it could be played around town. The goal was to “capture” license plates from other states by seeing them clearly in traffic or in parking lots. Complete victory was won only if at least one plate from each of the fifty states was spotted during the trip.

I suppose everyone has his or her own special rules for this game. As far as I am concerned, license plates only count if they are on private vehicles. Eighteen-wheel trucks, delivery vans, rental vehicles, and the like don’t count—basically, the plate is disqualified if the vehicle has any writing on the side.

Nearby states and states with large populations are easy to spot. The small states in New England and the sparsely-populated states in the west are harder to find. Delaware and Hawaii are among the hardest. The game was easier to play when each state had one unique design. Now most states have a number of special plates, and sometimes the modern plates take on similar designs and colors. Minnesota, Iowa, and Missouri all have the same shades of blue in different combinations. Massachusetts and Arkansas are almost identical.

I’ve played the game starting on January 1 to see how long it takes to spot all fifty states. I’ve played the game starting over each morning to keep track of how many I see each day. Once I played the game trying to capture the fifty states in alphabetic order. That took close to three years, with Rhode Island requiring more than half a year to “capture.” When we were on a road trip, I mentioned the game to the children in the car and told them I was going to win when the next car passed us. One of them deduced, “Wyoming must be one of those states that has plates on the front of the car as well as the back,” which is correct.

On a good day, I can capture ten or more license plates. This morning I captured only seven. I didn’t spot any in the elevator of the parking garage. J.