I Wasn't Trying to Give Her a Bad Time, Honest!

by Tina Blue
August 31, 2002

          My hearing loss is caused by a condition called Meniére's disease, which means that the loss is progressive.  I get deafer as time goes by.

          Over the past year, I have noticed that it is harder and harder for me to use the telephone.  I used to do surprisingly well on the phone, considering how severe my hearing loss is, but now I find that about 20% of the time I simply can't understand what is being said to me.

          I don't think it's entirely my fault, though.  I think part of it is that many people now use cell phones, and since cell phones are smaller than they used to be, the mouthpiece is no longer anywhere near the speaker's mouth.  I really need the person to speak directly into the mouthpiece if I am going to understand on the telephone.*

          That is also a problem when people are using a headset when trying to talk to me on the phone.  The mouthpiece on a headset is too far from the speaker's mouth, so I just can't understand what is being said.

          Who uses headsets?  Well, mostly that would be telemarketers.

          Last week, I got an "unknown caller" phonecall on an unlisted number that is piggy-backed onto my regular phone number.  Normally I won't even pick up the phone if the caller ID says "unknown caller," because it's bound to be a telemarketer.  But if the piggy-backed number rings its distinctive double ring, I will pick it up.  You see, very few people have that number--close friends and family, mostly, so I know that it is likely to be someone I want to hear from when the phone double rings.

          Sometimes one of my kids will call me from a pay phone, which causes "unknown caller" to show on the caller ID, so I will pick up, as long as it's a double ring.

          And once, a few weeks ago, Reader's Digest called to confirm the veracity of a little filler item I had sent in that they are thinking about using.  My friend Michael picked up the phone that time, because I was in the bathroom getting ready for an appointment. 

          He was very curt and unfriendly to the person on the line, naturally assuming that she was a telemarketer.  But when she said she was from Reader's Digest, he became quite cooperative, as he knew I had submitted a few items for consideration there.  Of course, when I submit something for publication, I give them my special double-ring number.  (I do wonder, though, why Reader's Digest shows up as "unknown caller" on caller ID, which is bound to make most people assume they are telemarketers and refuse to pick up the phone.)

          After that little incident, I was even more careful about picking up the phone on an "unknown caller" double ring, though I still won't on a single ring, which is my listed number.

          So when the phone did an "unknown caller" double ring last week, I picked it up.  The woman on the line said she was calling from "blahblahblah."  I couldn't understand at all what she was saying, so I explained that I am very hard of hearing, and I asked her to speak a bit louder, more clearly, and directly into the mouthpiece of her phone.

          It didn't help that she had a difficult to understand drawl, and I thought it sounded as if she was using a headset.  But the Reader's Digest lady had also used a headset--Michael said he could tell--so I didn't automatically assume telemarketer this time.

          I kept asking her to try to make her words clearer for me.  But I couldn't understand her at all.  She claimed to be practically yelling (I don't think she was), and she was obviously getting exasperated.

          Finally, she hung up on me.

          But I was concerned.  What if she was from one of the places where I had submitted an article?  Or what if she was from one of my credit card companies?  Sometimes I miss a payment because I am scatterbrained and terribly busy and I misplace a bill or assume I've sent it out, when in fact it is sitting on the cabinet by the door.

          When that happens, the credit card companies will call, and I will have them do an electronic transfer from my checking account.  Unfortunately, though, credit card companies also show up as "unknown caller" on the caller ID, so I sometimes don't pick up on them, not because I don't want to pay the bill, but because I assume it's a telemarketer.

          In this case, though, there was an actual number that showed up on the caller ID.  Not an identification, but at least a number.

          So I called back.  I wanted to know if the call was about a bill I had forgotten to send in, or maybe even about an article I had submitted.  I didn't want to miss either kind of call.

          When the woman answered the phone, I said, "You just called me a minute ago from this number. Is this about a bill I owe?" 

          She said it wasn't.

          Then I asked, "Is this about an article I have submitted?

          No, that wasn't it either.

          So I said, "Look, I really need to know what you are calling about," and I insisted that she spell out the place she was calling from, very slowly and clearly.

          Well, that did the trick.  When she got to the "R-E-S-OR-T" part, I quickly said, "Oh, no thanks.  I don't want anything like that," and hung up.

          It was a telemarketer after all.  Although my double-ring number is unlisted, those computerized autodialers that telemarketing companies sometimes use will occasionally come up with my special number.

          No wonder she had hung up on me when I kept asking her to speak more clearly the first time.  They are required to make a certain number of calls per hour, and if someone holds them up without being a good prospect for a sale, then they are set way back on their quota.  I had wasted quite a lot of her time.  And then, to add insult to injury, I had called her back and wasted even more time.

          But I can't feel bad about it.  It infuriates me that I can't even pick up my own telephone, which I pay for, because telemarketers hijack it to make commercial pitches that I do not want to hear. 

          I'm hoping that one company at least has me marked down now as a singularly unproductive call.

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