It was uncommon for a prospect to become belligerent on the phone, the ordinary response from those annoyed was a loud click followed by a dial tone. Being kicked aside with malice was always preferable to having my humanity questioned by some self righteous dweeb with too much time on their hands and an omnipotence complex.
"Look, you interrupted my dinner, it's too late to just hang up on you so I'll tell ya what I'll do."
He had a deep tone and a slight rasp; I envisioned a mid height fat guy who'd screamed at too many football games from his La-z-boy, spewing out already chewed chips he'd not had the good sense to swallow before shouting in anger at a failed play he'd never have called on third and six.
"I apologize about your dinner Tom..."
Rule one, after having made introduction as in "good evening Mister Barlow, my name is Carl Stent," use first names only. Mister Barlow denotes distance, reaffirms the fact that we are strangers and takes too long to say as compared to: Tom, the name a friend would use, comfortable and intimate, a commonly used manipulation in all cultures and so, rarely offensive. The simple use of a person's common name is a velvet crowbar that pries apart most objection by stroking the listener's ego, dissolving discomfort with the unknown and creating a short lived window of opportunity.
Rule two, give the prospect reason to believe he is in charge by apologizing for any perceived indiscretions...say, interruption of dinner.
"I could call back in twenty minutes if that would better fit into your schedule."
"You're not listening friend, I said it's too late now, my dinner is lukewarm as we speak."
His voice had raised a half octave within the first few minutes. On one hand that meant he was falling out of control and would be easier to pluck, as angry people who stay on the line are 70% twistable; and I'm one of the best twisters in telemarketing. On the other hand if his heart rate advances in time with his pitch, he'll be sounding like Minnie Mouse in five minutes, just moments before having a fatal myocardial infarction; and it's hell selling a mortgage refinance to a dead man...though it does open the door to a grieving widow suddenly in need of financial security.
"Again, I'm sorry about the food Tom; perhaps I can help you with your money situation and that would make up for my bad timing."
"I don't have any money problem son, I don't know where you got that idea. In fact the only reason I'm on your list is because I have a credit rating that meets your company's criteria which means I have so much money I don't need you at all."
"One can never be in too good a financial position Tom, that's why what I have to offer in the way of information would help even a self made wealthy man such as yourself."
There was a pause, and no click attending. He was thinking. Now normally, that would be a good sign, notice that I'd struck a blow, carved out a little territory, dented his armor enough to whittle away at the chink until I'd found his on switch; and then linked yet another cash stream into the 'Wisden Financial Group's Favored Customers Network.'
"Here's the deal Carl, here's what I want..."
I had him; his signature pen was poised and my hand was on his wrist, pressing his ink toward the dotted line.
"You admit to me that you're just trying to psychologically influence me with this first name crap, and that you're actually trying to sell me something in deference to the lie that it's some public service you're doing, and I'll listen to your pitch. I'll still say no at the end, but I'll let you practice on me since you get paid by the hour anyway."
You might think that was the line that set me off and running. But I'd heard his sort of offer before. Just another wise ass trying to out finagle a genetically elite finagler.
"Tom, I'd love to take you up on your generous offer. But the truth is that I'm not trying to sell you anything, that I really am only here to help you because that's what my life is all about, helping people."
In response, his voice leapt another octave soprano-ward, he was a tough sell I had to admit. Most people when they get angry will slam the phone down and stomp around their living rooms for a few minutes. But this guy was tenacious, goading me, trying to get me to admit I'm a liar and scoundrel in front of my co-workers and probably in the ears of my supervisor who no doubt was listening into the call.
"Carl! You're telling me you're a missionary on a quest? If you want to help people why didn't you join the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders for fuck's sake; you really expect me to believe you're personally inspired to commit financial samaritanism on unsuspecting strangers? Did you come to this planet willingly? Or did the aliens capture you at birth and feed you full of their intergalactic nonsense."
He was beginning to annoy me, not only for his saying the "f" word, but for impugning my altruism. Even though I knew he was more right than wrong, this creep had no reason to imply I was a mythomaniac. Whether he was correct or not wasn't the issue, the fact is he didn't know me from Adam and here he was making me out to be a con man. I was just trying to make a living like a million other phone monkeys; we’re just doing what we have to do to survive and sometimes that means stretching the truth a bit. Like everyone doesn’t do it. That’s hardly lying.
“Tom, I understand how you might not have a desire to learn from me the many options you have at your fingertips for making your life better in the blink of an eye; but there’s no reason to be personally insulting. If you don’t want to hear about your ship coming in, the golden opportunity I have waiting for you and the chance of a lifetime rolled into one, then by all means let’s say our gracious goodbyes and hang up like civilized folk.”
I’d not thought it possible for the vocal chords to squeeze so tight as to simulate the effects of helium; I’d assumed only the anus and each lip to be that powerful a muscle. Yet, Tom sounded positively mousey.
“Civilized! I’ll give you civilized you fucking moron punk! You don’t have a fucking clue you......”
And on and on he went as I tried to calm him by repeating his name over and over in a soothing tone, something I’d seen on “ER” once as the operating room docs were working on a crazed junkie who kept pulling his anesthetic drip out of his arm while screaming “It burns, it burns!”
Yes, I should have hung up long before I did, and were it not for my perfectionism, I would have. There’s always some positive trait that gets in the way of my success and in this case it was my never letting go a potential sale before every last no has been scraped from it’s owner‘s barricade, revealing yet another, thicker brick wall of no’s beneath.
It’s when Tom hit on my mother that I finally let loose my anger, blasting him with verbal buckshot as penalty for calling the woman who raised me an “ignorant, lie spewing whore”. He had no call to do that and I was just in the process of telling him so when my super slammed my line and took the conversation right out from under me, apologizing to Tom the vulgar ass for my disrespect...MY DISRESPECT!
Within fifteen minutes I was turning in my headset and collecting my things. Maybe if I’d begged instead of tried to convince the boss I was the victim here, I’d have still had a job. But I won’t beg; one more of those positive traits that comes between me and my happiness. Besides, it was Tom that was in the wrong and for me to say otherwise would have been untrue. I may be only a telemarketer, but I’m no liar, and I’m not about to start now.
It only took about an hour to find Tom in a hacked reverse directory, his house wasn’t but a dozen miles from mine so I packed a few things and went to take a peek at the man who had just ruined my life when he could have just said no thanks and saved me the misery of eating Creamettes and butter while engaged in another long, tedious, rejection filled job search.
I had to smile once I’d found the window past which old Tom was seated in plain view; He was fat though a little shorter than I’d imagined, and he was busy yelling at the TV as I spied. It’s funny how right I am sometimes, as if I’d been gifted some heavenly power to know the future, visualize the invisible and determine right from wrong in a most perfect way. I stayed at the dining room window for some time, thinking about what I’d say if I’d had the guts to ring Tom’s bell and let him know I’d been fired for his little prank. There was nothing to say really, I knew how the guy would react by this time; now we were pretty fair acquaintances and not strangers at all...now that he’d stripped me of my livelihood.
His garage was open as was his car. Rifling through his glovebox and back seat gave me the impression that he lived alone. There were no girlie clues lying about, no neatly folded kleenex, no stray lipstick covers that had jumped from a wife’s hand while she painted her face and drove at the same, dangerous time. And there was no cell phone nor attachments, notepads, battery chargers or anything of the sort, leading me to think that not only was Tommy boy not married, but probably pretty unpopular as well. It was easy to understand, what with the man’s proclivity to enrage, his smarmy demeanor and his propensity to take out his anger on innocent workers just paying their way through college by calmly chatting on the phone.
One more pass around the house was all I needed to make my decision, I’d have to speak to Tom whether I was comfortable with the idea or not. For one, his front door was hidden from view by evergreens he’d stupidly planted too close to his stairway, so anything we had to say to each other would be private unless by some unlikely chance a neighbor would be walking his dog at 10PM and just happen to line himself up directly parallel with the door’s line of sight. And for another, the man had hurt me deeply by his insulting the most important woman in my life, the only woman in my life in fact, not that it matters, and for his over reaction he needed to pay a price; if no other, simply to be forced to understand that personal insult is both unnecessary and sometimes surprisingly costly, and that mothers are always off limits.
He had one of those funny old fashioned doorbells, one that sort of buzzed and rang at the same time like my grandmother’s would when I was finished mowing her lawn and wanted her to unlock her door so I could grab a sandwich as my fee. It took more than one ring to get his attention, in fact it took a few as I finally succumbed to popping at the button with my finger as if it were a pipe organ key and I was playing the Danse Macabre for an adult Halloween party. Ba ba ba ba bada bum, bada bum, bada bum. I had to chuckle, music was never my strong suit.
It worked out better than I’d hoped, with Tom stepping onto his porch in his underwear without first turning on a light, his obnoxious bravado giving me a little shadowed anonymity in which to make ready my speech. He only noticed my purpose at the last moment, perhaps from the glint of a streetlight’s errant beam washing across two barrels of blued steel. But however he’d seen the future, his look of surprise was priceless as the nylon gym bag slipped from my right wrist revealing the shotgun.
It was really quite pointless to have queried “Whose mother’s the whore again?” as I pulled the triggers, sending Mister Barlow airborne and back into his messy dining room. I’d have loved to have hung around to see whether the man tried to get to the phone before he died; the instrument responsible for delivering his death then becoming his only lifeline was an irony that made my stomach churn that good churn, like when your parents send you a check for a couple hundred dollars for doing nothing beyond being a good son. But I had to run, there was no sense in my suffering punishment for ridding the world of one more pompous ass. My whole life has been about helping people. Taking me off the street just makes the earth a sadder and less compassionate place, I want to be an example of how people could be if only they believed in the power of kindness and truth, in being your brother’s keeper especially when your brother gets out of hand and needs to be put in his place.
Well, enough about Tom Barlow, I guess I need to grab a paper and start the job hunt. I’m sure there’s another company out there just screaming for someone like me to help their customers in my special way.