The phone is the bane of my existence. It rings all day long, especially at work. And since I’m the one charged with answering the phone, I have to stop whatever it is I’m doing to answer the damn thing.
Yes, I know I get paid for this, but it’s still frustrating. I’m thinking. My mind is at work. When the phone rings, it breaks my concentration. Sometimes, when we’re busy, the phone rings ten or fifteen times an hour. When this happens, I begin to curse.
Even at home, the phone bugs me. Send me e-mail! E-mail does not interrupt my work flow. I can answer it when I have the time. The phone requires my immediate attention. (Obviously, I don’t mind calls for certain things, but come on: a lot of things are better suited to e-mail.)
All of this is preface to another story.
J.D. and the Yellow Pages
Once upon a time, I had a bad experience with a company that publishes a Portland-area telephone directory. Before this time, I had basically been polite and patient with telemarketers who called about their various phone books. (And who knew there were so many? It’s crazy!) Since then, I’m an asshole, and I don’t care.
Just yesterday morning I received the third call in as many days from somebody with a thick Indian accent offering to update our free listing in the U.S. Business Yellow Pages. The first two times I politely asked to be removed from the list. Yesterday I was not so polite. I’m not proud of my behavior, but hey — I’m only human.
Anyhow: on Monday, Nick received a call late in the afternoon. It was a fellow named Raymond. He’s taking care of our account this year at the one telephone directory in which we choose to advertise. (There’s a new account rep every year, it seems.) Raymond was all chummy with Nick, telling him how much he looked forward to meeting all of us. Nick hates stuff like this. He told Raymond to call me Tuesday morning, but then he couldn’t get him off the phone. (Nick is not assertive.)
On Tuesday, Raymond called me. He told me that he had a lovely chat with Nick on Monday, and that he was pleased to be talking to me. He asked if he could come out to go over our yearly contract and to tell us about the company’s internet directory. “We’re not interested in the internet directory,” I told him.
“Oh, I think you’ll be interested in this, J.D.” he said. Whatever. I gave him directions to find the place. “Oh, I’ll bet it’s gorgeous out there,” he said. “I’ve never been out there. I look forward to seeing the country. And I look forward to meeting you.” Whatever.
Yesterday Raymond called just before our schedule meeting. “J.D., I’m running behind,” he told me. I said that was fine. I’d be here. Hoping the telephone would let me write in peace. “Great,” he said. “I really look forward to meeting you.”
“Man,” I said after he hung up. “That man is obsequious.”
“What does obsequious mean?” asked Jeff.
“Brown-noser,” I said. “Ass-kisser. He’s full of false flattery.”
Nick agreed. Then he had an idea. “Uh, I’m going to town,” he said. “I’ll, uh, run in the deposit. Bye.” He had no desire to be in on the meeting. Taking a hint, Jeff grabbed the loppers and went outside to prune trees. (Trees that have never been pruned before in nearly two decades.)
Raymond arrived. “Wow,” he said. “This is gorgeous country, J.D.. What an amazing drive. It must be special to work out here.” I gritted my teeth, first because of his painful saccharine-sweetness, and then because the grip of his handshake was hard enough to crack walnuts. We sat down.
“J.D.,” he said, “I want to show you our internet directory.”
“We’re not interested,” I said.
“I hear you,” he said, “but I think you should look at the changes we’ve made, J.D. We’ve had 60% growth in the past year.”
“That’s nice,” I said. “But we’re not interested. Nobody I know even uses an online telephone directory. They all use Google.” Even as I said that, I knew I’d make a mistake. I’d given him a concrete rejection, given him something he could reply to.
Raymond held up a finger. “Hold on. Let me show you something, J.D.” He leafed through a binder, hunting for a page he wanted to share. He couldn’t find it. He leafed some more. He leafed some more, and then turned the page a quarter of the way toward me, as if letting me look (though I could not see a thing). “Our customers have shown tremendous satisfaction with our online directory. It lets you target locally.” Blah blah blah.
Raymond talked for five minutes about his stupid internet directory. I just let him go. I sat there and nodded, but I was really thinking about my blogs, and about what I would write in the afternoon, if the phones ever stopped ringing. Blah blah blah.
“Now doesn’t that sound great, J.D.?” Raymond said, wrapping up the spiel.
“Look,” I said. “I told you before: we’re just not interested. We have no interest whatsoever.”
He was about to reply to this when there was a knock at the back door. It was the Schwan’s man. Actually, it was the substitute Schwan’s man. He’s a bozo, and I know it, but I was in a passive-aggressive mood. I played happy and cheery J.D. “Hi, how’s it going?” I said. “We don’t need anything this time. I’m sorry.”
The Schwan’s man said okay, and then he told me all about the awesome grilled cheese sandwiches they’ve begun to sell. “They’re great,” he said. “I love them. I ate a whole box by myself the other day.” (And he looked like it.) “If I could, I’d sit around and eat these cheese sandwiches and play video games.” He paused. “But my wife wouldn’t like that.” I laughed heartily, but not because I thought it was funny. I was just being mean to Raymond.
As I returned to the office, the telephone rang. It was a customer with whom I could joke and chat, so I played happy cheery J.D. again. But when I sat down to talk with Raymond, I was dour, serious J.D. He seemed to get the point.
“Well,” he said. “I guess we should sign the contract.”
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” I said.
I signed and initialed a couple pages. When we got to the last page, he said, “Now you’re sure you don’t want to consider the internet directory?” I had to look at his face to tell if he was being serious. He was.
“No,” I said. “We’re not interested.”
We finished the deal, and I led him to the door. “Thank you so much, J.D., it was a pleasure to meet you. It was great to get out here and see this beautiful land. You sure have a great business. Take care!”
I sat at my desk to process some quotes. I had been working for about five minutes, and was getting up to use the fax machine, when Raymond appeared at the door.
“Pardon me, J.D.,” he said, “But I thought I should let you know that you can change your mind at any time about the internet directory. It’s not like the print directory where there’s a deadline. We can insert your listing into the online directory any time.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
He left. I finished my quotes and wheeled over to write up a weblog entry. I had been writing for twenty minutes when all of a sudden Raymond was by my side. “What the hell,” I thought to myself. What planet was this guy from?
“Pardon me, J.D. But I forgot to give you these flyers. This flyer describes your contract. It’s the same one you get every year. And this flyer describes the internet program. It’ll give you a better idea of what it can do for you and your business.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. “Look,” I said. “We’re not interested. That’s it. We’re just not interested.”
“Oh, I understand,” he said, though he clearly did not.
About five minutes later, Nick returned from town. “Is he gone yet?” I whispered to him.
“Who?” he asked.
“The phone book guy. He keeps coming back. He won’t take no for an answer.”
I told Kris this story this morning as we were getting ready for work. “Who’s going to take care of crap like that if you leave?” she asked.
I thought for a moment. “Nobody. Custom Box will just have a listing in the online yellow pages.”
Nick just came to interrupt my writing to read the following quote, which is from his favorite film of all time, As Good as it Gets. (Which apparently is not very.) Simon has just knocked on the door of Melvin, a writer who does not like to be interrupted.
Melvin Udall: Never, never, interrupt me, okay? Not if there’s a fire, not even if you hear the sound of a thud from my home and one week later there’s a smell coming from there that can only be a decaying human body and you have to hold a hanky to your face because the stench is so thick that you think you’re going to faint. Even then, don’t come knocking. Or, if it’s election night, and you’re excited and you wanna celebrate because some fudgepacker that you date has been elected the first queer president of the United States and he’s going to have you down to Camp David, and you want someone to share the moment with. Even then, don’t knock. Not on this door. Not for ANY reason. Do you get me, sweetheart?
Simon Bishop: It’s not a subtle point that you’re making.
I’m under the impression that Nick believes I’m like Melvin lately. He may have a point.