Monday, March 31, 2008

Stress Ball

HALLIE: It's morning, prime writing time. I'm working away and the phone rings. I race across the house to get it, pick up and hear "Hi there! I'm looking for the woman of the house." "She's not here," I snarl and shoot the receiver back in its cradle (our house phone,believe it or not, has a rotary kids' friends don't know how to use it.)

Before I'm back in my home office, my office phone rings. A different woman's voice is on the other end: "I'm calling from the Patriot Ledger." Before she can go on, I say, "I'm not interested in getting the Ledger," and smack the phone down.

Instant remorse. Within seconds I'm agonizing--have I have just mouthed off all snarky-like to a reporter calling to interview me about my latest book? Probably not. But still, it's one of those lessons I've learned the hard way...even when you don't feel like it, BE NICE! Because you never know which call or event or person will turn out to be THE ONE who gives your career that little extra noodge. Not to mention the fact that there's entirely too much negative energy floating around in our universe, why add to it?

Sometimes you've just gotta suck it up and smile 'til it aches. Have you found that it pays to always always always play nice, and that breaks can come from the least expected places?

JAN: When I was in high school, I took a six week job telemarketing for the local paper. It was the hardest six weeks of my life. I'm always nice to telemarketers, even as I dismiss them. I'm a little harder on people looking for charitable contributions -- especially police or fire organizations -- since I've done a lot of stories about fraudulent charities and paid soliciters who get 75 percent of the take. I ask A LOT of questions and sound like a hardass, but I still try to be civil.

And yes, I think the world has enough negative energy in it to fuel a power plant. I think that both negative and positive energy are sort of contagious. So why not spread positive energy --even if it isn't even related to a big break.

I should add that I think its equally important to stand up for yourself. And not be "nice" when you need to be direct and honest. Ah,but determining which way to go.... that's the fine art.

HANK: The voice on the phone says--oh so casually, and friendly-like--is John there? My husband's name is Jonathan, and no one calls him John. So this ain't no friend. My hackles go up. Suspicious.

No, he isn't, I say. Hissing. May I take a message?

When they say no, I stop them. Who is this,I demand? And it's always someone raising money, and pretending to be someone Jonathan knows in order to get him to come to the phone. I truly hate that.

But when there's a little voice on the phone, a tentative person who's a telemarketer, I say--look. I know you're just doing your job. But I'm never never never going to buy whatever you're selling. SO you'll be better off calling someone else.

And if someone calls to ask me to take a survey, I always do it. I'm such a dupe. But I think they get money if someone answers the questions, and I figure, why not. They might be--a poor college student. And I am lucky and happy. So many times, you do something, and then it turns out to have roots and legs and ramifications. And you wonder--wow. What if I had...or hadn't...

But, yeah, Hallie. I can see where you would have a moment of wondering--was that the book editor who wanted to do a big article on me and now he/she is calling (insert competitor here) because I was rude? It wasn't, of course. (And a reporter would have called back, right?) But it may have been the universe sending you a little signal. So thanks for passing it on. We can all use it.

ROBERTA: Here's my new screening technique: When someone I don't recognize asks for me--or my husband--I say we're not home and can I take a message. The telemarketing types say they'll call another time. What are they going to do, insist I'm really me? And Hank, I never answer surveys unless it's related to a product I already bought. My life seems to be so full of tedious little time-wasters these days. And that makes me a little crabby...and that makes me rude when interrupted...which isn't good for the universe's energy...

I think I'd better go pop my yoga tape in right this minute.

RO: I had to laugh...I'm in Charlottesville VA now for the VA Festival of the Book. I called my husband last night and he picked up the phone and snapped "Don't call here!" I thought..that's it, he's finally sick of me and the endless tour..or wait a Bambi there? Did I interrupt something? Of course I called right back and he explained that he had gotten 3 telemarketers in a row and he was convinced I was a fourth.

Generally when there's a half second of silence before someone asks to speak to me, I just say no..assuming it's a telemarketer. I hate to talk on the phone anyway. I'm much more of an email person.

HANK: May I just add? If you call me at home I probably won't answer. My husband and I always have a litle flurry of--you get it. No, you get it. No, it's going to be your mother. No, it isn't. Then we let it go to voice mail.Why should we do what the phone tells us to do? (Hallie, how did we get to talking about this instead of about being nice?)

HALLIE: Because we're all stressed, and besides, it's so much more fun to talk about being snarky.


  1. I did teh telemarketer thing for the local paper for abt 11 months in grad school. I always appreciated if the person was nice when they rejected me, or if they asked to be put on our do not call list, which was good for 6 months. Hey, if you're not gonna buy, I don't want to talk to you...although I did like talking to the chatty lonely elderly men and women. A hint--if you pick up the phone and it's silent for a few seconds, it's because you were the first to get the auto-dialer, (someone else out there thinks they have a hang-up), and the operator hasn't heard your voice yet. I always hang up before they can say anything. My big pet peeve--hey, Rajiv from Mumbai--don't pretend you're "Steve" from Dallas--I'm glad you have a good job, and I don't care where you're located, just don't lie to me :)

  2. ..ooooh, Hank..I think I'm pretty nice...I just don't feel the need to be nice to anonymous telemarketers...or people who cut me off on the Merritt Parkway..or people at the airport baggage carousel who come and stand right in front of you as if you weren't there waiting for your bag, too. (Can you tell I just came from the airport?) I will say I've gotten much nicer since I got married (and no cracks but just needing a little, umm...loving..) I think some of my husband's good nature has rubbed off on me. ;-)

  3. I always laugh when someone calls and asks for my ex-husband--when my keeper husband answers his stock answer is "He's a bum and hasn't lived here in years."

    I answer surveys, too.

    (Hi Ro--it was so fun to meet you in VA!)

  4. One of my favorite movie quotes is from Elwood P. Dowd in "Harvey":

    "My mother used to say, 'Elwood'--she always called me Elwood--'in this life you can be oh, so clever or oh, so pleasant.' For years I tried clever. I recommend pleasant."

    I do find that pleasant people at the store or the bank or on the phone do lighten the day. Mostly, I try to be one of them. I try to be friendly, but firm to phone solicitors, but if they perist in going on to page 2 of the script, I just hang up. Since I'm on the Do Not Call list now, it's mostly charities. The only ones I feel like getting snarky with are the guys supposedly calling from the police, the fire department or a veterans group. This is the only time you get that "I'm from Southie and I smoke a pack a day" voice. They never call about public television, Make a Wish or the American Lung Association.


    P.S. In one of the books in the Hero's Journey course, the serial killer worked in customer service at a department store and targeted bitchy customers. One woman unwittingly saved herself by coming back to apologize!

  5. Oh, Mo, I love it. I can just hear Jimmy Stewart's voice saying that.. and remember when Mr. Wilson looks up pooka in the dictionary, and there's a picture of Harvey (isn't there?) and after the definition, it says: ...and how are you Mr. Wilson?
    Ah, you had to be there. I love that movie.

    Sometimes I tell baggers in the grocery that they've done a good job, (if they have), and they always look at me so happily, it almost makes me cry.

    Leah, thanks for the info about the autodialer. I wondered about that.

    And Judy--yeah, you know? Part of it is because they need you to answer. But part of it, I'll readily admit, is that I'm so curious to see what they're calling about .And what if it's something that by answering a certain way, I can change the world?

  6. I can almost always get out of phone product surveys because I mention immediately that I work in the advertising field. I'm always so relieved when they agree that I can't answer the questions, because I am not the type to want to get a working stiff in trouble, either! Once the caller answered by saying, "Oh, in that case, I'll have to terminate you!" Despite the wording, I am SURE it wasn't intended to be a death threat.

    Hank, I would think you could have similar clout. Would they want you to answer questions about products you've investigated?

  7. Well, John, sure. And it's a good one. I always say I'm in TV, but usually they don't care. Which I agree, is sometimes odd.

    I did get approached by a person with a clipboard, once, in a shopping mall. She wanted me to take a survey "upstairs" and I realy wanted to go to see what was up, but I told them I was in TV and they "terminated" me.

    Which was too bad, and I considered sending my producer in to see what was happening "upstairs."

    But I didn't. However, I have just thought of a good plot thank you so much.

  8. Hey!

    I got to try a new cereal "upstairs" once, and weigh in on the name. The cereal ate like sugar-crusted patent leather (ref. earlier shoe post) and had a lackluster name like 'Frosted Squares'. Did it ever hit the shelves? I wonder. Did I ever buy it? No.

    And I got to watch twenty minutes of Lake Placid way back when and say whether I thought it was a comedy or a drama. Apparently they were debating the poster tagline.* Apparently they weren't sure, themselves.

    Funny doins, "upstairs". And sometimes they pay good money if you'll sample some new thing of questionable nutrition, like a Sponge Bob Frozen Breakfast Pizza Smoothie, with Real Fake Chocolatey Chips and Neon Fun Berries, a ready-set-meal in 60 seconds, frosted the color of nuclear apocalypse.

    Say yes to the man with the clipboard! What's a little indigestion in the face of 20 bucks?

    *You'll Never Know What Bit You