One of my many slightly odd character flaws is that I seem to be a perpetual target for pushy solicitors who don’t know me from Adam and want to sell me some ridiculous product. Some of these guys are so aggressive. Another personal flaw is that I cannot resist messing with them. Something just goes off in my brain that says, “It’s time to have a little fun with this pest.”
I know what you’re thinking: Why don’t you just politely hang up, delete the email or walk away from the guy on the street trying to shove a flyer into your hand? Of course, that’s what a normal, mature person would do. And then there’s me.
While on vacation in Rome, my wife and I were strolling towards the Vatican, when out of nowhere, dozens of street vendors bombarded us, pitching identical guided tours of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Each assured us that his was the absolute best tour and the only one that would bypass the long lines.
My initial strategy was to avoid eye contact, a tactic I realized was futile after the 25th assault. So, I put on my best foreign accent of indeterminate origin and started excitedly pitching to the next vendor MY own incredible guided tour. Every time he described some unique aspect of HIS tour, I exclaimed, “That’s amazing! MY tour offers the exact same feature!” Then I proposed to purchase his tour if he’d buy mine. A tour swap. I wore him down with my friendly but unwavering badgering until he finally shuffled away in utter confusion.
The key is to always feign enthusiasm. You need to appear über excited about whatever annoying offer they’re pushing on you. For example, a while back, a telemarketer told me I was selected to win a fabulous five-night – two-day stay at an exotic tropical resort destination. Sure, most people would have cut them off with a curt, “I’m not interested.” But what is the fun in that? Though I could tell it was a time share pitch disguised as a free vacation, I started shouting to my wife, “Hey, honey, we won two whole days and five whole nights at an incredible resort!”
As the rep continued to read from their script, I gave off obvious buying signals: “Wow! How do I sign up for your unbelievable offer?” When they went for the close, I paused, and said, “I’m not sure those dates will work. Let me see when my parole hearing is scheduled. Hmm, nope. Looks like I won’t be out of the joint for another three years. Sorry.” That wrapped up the call rather abruptly, I must say.
Another intrusion I experience with disturbing frequency is the phone survey. “Good evening, sir. I was hoping you could take just a few minutes to answer a brief survey on how you feel Donald Trump is doing to Make American Great Again.” Oh my, I think to myself. How can I possibly resist such an opening? “Sure, happy to help. Let me start by saying I think President Trump is the greatest leader since Adolf Hitler. He is doing an incredible job of protecting our nation by rounding up those dangerous five-year-old Mexican kids and locking them in cages, where they can’t hurt us. And thank God he’s sending all those nasty Muslims back to Syria.” That’s about the time the caller figures out I’m being sarcastic and interrupts, “Um, thank you. I appreciate your time. Bye.”
I have a special place in my heart for brazen scammers. My column is called View from the Bleachers. So, when a few years ago, a fraudster emailed me in fractured English, inquiring whether he could purchase some bleachers, of course I felt compelled to oblige this potential customer. After all, this could result in a highly unexpected financial windfall. The fact that I don’t actually sell bleachers at this humor website in no way deterred me from my mission. I immediately wrote back – in my own heavily fractured English, “This week we do big special of pink bleachers. I throw in cup-holders free for you, boss. We have deal, yes?” That began a delightful series of emails back and forth until he finally gave up in frustration.
Then there is the classic email scam in which a highly placed Nigerian Prince has died and your name miraculously surfaced, apparently in the Nigerian – American Yellow Pages, as a reputable person to turn to, to help them get the money out of the country by depositing it into your bank account for safekeeping. When I recently received this urgent plea, I waffled, then remonstrated myself: What kind of Good Samaritan would I be if I refused my assistance in their hour of need?
So, naturally, I graciously replied that I would be delighted to help any way I could. I gave them my (fabricated) name, social security and bank account numbers, and just for good measure, I provided a detailed, heartwarming back story about myself, which bore an eerie resemblance to the plot line from Forrest Gump.
When two days later they emailed again to inform me that the social security and bank account numbers I had provided did not work, I apologized profusely, explaining that I had not been wearing my reading glasses at that time. I then furnished new account numbers, which I conjured up using a Ouija board. I never heard from them again. Not even a Christmas card.
So, the next time a phone call from a suspicious number interrupts your family’s dinner to inform you that you’ve won a too-good-to-be true vacation in Cabo, just know that it is. But don’t hang up. Be polite. Hear them out. Then, in a warm, friendly voice, explain, “Before I accept your incredible offer, one question: Do you know anything about CPR? My grandfather just collapsed on the floor and he’s not breathing. What do you recommend I do?” You’ll be back to your dinner in no time. Trust me.
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Check out Tim Jones’ latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time