Could the annoying phone guy be ‘people’ too?

I have my share of faults—if you doubt this I can certainly put you in touch with someone who will set you straight—but I believe one of my virtues is that I’m open to random things affecting me in surprising ways.

Very surprising ways.

Someone sent me an audio recording during the past week. It was entitled “the greatest prank call ever.”

It was a sharp, slick talking guy completely turning the tables on one of those annoying telemarketers, you know those people who call as you’re re-tacking the carpet or changing the baby or drifting off to sleep.

You always fall over the cat, or bang your shin on the end table to get to your phone.

And when you find out who it is, you’re outraged, feel like your personal space has been violated, your blood pressure goes up and you want to tell them off. Well somebody turned the tables on them. It’s a guy named Tom Mabe who is a professional prankster/comedian.

Tom turns this telemarketer every which way but loose, makes him think the guy he’s calling is dead and he could be a suspect in a murder investigation.

Just the kind of thing, I’d ordinarily like for its well-crafted sense of humor and its undeniable wit and smartness.

Except for one thing. For a couple of months a couple of years ago my college student son was a “telemarketer” of sorts, making those kind of calls at random.

He hated every minute of it. The young man’s no dummy, he knew he was needlessly intruding into the lives of the people on the other end of the phone.

As soon as he was able—that means “was of fered a better job”—he quit.

So when I listened to the greatest prank call ever, I heard the scared young man on the other end of the line—whose name happened to be “Mike”—as my son. Or, at least, somebody’s son.

And I thought, you know Tom, Mike just didn’t suddenly sit down and say “hey, I think I’ll call Tom and annoy him with some dim-witted sales pitch today.”

No, Mike, and almost certainly dozens of other Mikes, are sitting behind a bank of phones because they were hired by some company to work for very little money and no benefits whatsoever, at a souldeadening job trying to sell some gadget or service to people who don’t need it.

So, Tom, if you want to scare the fat cats who hired Mike—at one point he offers to let you talk to his supervisor and you refuse—I’m all with you.

I’d really laugh and applaud if they thought they were about to get a visit from the police.

But forgive me if I don’t laugh while you frighten a young man who almost certainly dreaded making the call which put you in touch with him, and every other call he’s ever made.

A young man who actually might be a pretty decent sort. Some of them are, you know.

I asked my son what it was like, if he got hung up on (a lot), cursed at (some) and warned never to call again (fine with him).

But he said he wouldn’t forget some people he talked to, people who were nice, even though they rarely took the survey he was offering. Those kind made the experience almost bearable.

He especially remembered one elderly lady. “I know she was just lonely,” he said. “She was so glad to have somebody to talk to. She kept telling me about every little thing. I think it made her day, just being able to talk to someone.”

“I hope you talked to her all night, long,” I told him.

“I don’t think I made my quota that shift,” he said.

I try to be cynical because sometimes reality requires it, but I’m just not of the breed. I guess it’s because I’ve met so many interesting and decent and good people in the 38 years I’ve been doing this job.

And I think of something one of my mentors, the late William F. Buckley Jr., once said: “I can think of good reasons for executing someone, but none for hurting their feelings.”

So, Tom, I wish you hadn’t done that to Mike. I didn’t find it amusing at all.

And neither did Mike’s father, whoever and wherever he may be.

Oh, and one more thing. Tom, I went to your website and you sure are a smart and successful guy.

In fact I see you even promote your comedian/prankster business. Your site says “Tom will also customize a video for your company, starring pre-selected employees, delivering lots of laughter for your entire team.”

Tom, doesn’t this kind of make you a telemarketer, too?

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2012-05-10 digital edition

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