15 April 2018

Kranky Kalls
Telemarketing Tales 1

Judy Hopps © Zootopia
Zootopia • Judy Hopps © Disney
My phone rang at 08:01 this morning, waking me up. In my house in Florida, 8am qualifies as ‘middle of the night’, but more about that later.

“Hey, is Diana there?”

“Nooo…” I say cautiously. “Diana won’t return until tomorrow.”

“In that case, maybe you can help me. I’m with the First Responders Philanthropy Foundation, and we’re collecting for police and firemen in your area.”
In three sentences, he’d told me three lies. His question about ‘Diana’ had thrown me off. The real Diana is my housekeeper who doubles as den mother. His ‘Diana’ was of course mythical. So was his phony soi-disant charitable foundation and collecting for rescue officers. According to telemarketing reports, the vast majority of police ‘charities’ and all but one military assistance organization vary from fake to fraudulent.

Notice the salesman’s generic use of “in your area,” instead of looking up where his targets lived. All said, he’d actually committed four deceptions. His caller ID number was faked, or in internet parlance ‘spoofed’.

I’d fallen out of practice. If I’d been on my game, our conversation would have gone something like this:

“Hey, is Diana there?”

(sharply) “Who are you and why are you using this line?”

“Maybe you can help me. I’m with the National First Responders Philanthropy Foundation, and we’re collecting for police and firemen in your area.”

“This isn’t funny. Get off this line immediately.”

“Sir, I can assure you I’m collecting for our fine first responders…”

“Sure, sure. You thought it would be funny to screw with an op. Where are you located?”

“Kansas City, but…”

“Your fake caller-ID says Jacksonville. You think interfering with federal surveillance is funny?” (muffled aside) “John, trace this idiot, find out where he’s calling from.” (back into the phone) “All right, clown, what’s your name?”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’m hanging up now.”
Asleep at the Switch

This ‘story-telling’ began long ago when I designed software packages. Typically I worked nights when all was dark and quiet, I could concentrate, and I had Westinghouse’s computers all to myself.

A substantial part of our business came from Europe. As part of the deal, I had to be prepared to take phone calls from overseas and the Americas during the day… my sleep time. As a professional, I had to instantly snap awake when the phone rang… I’m still pretty good at sounding awake… even when I’m not.

That wasn’t the downside– the real bane was telemarketers. Post-Millennials who encounter phone solicitation only every week or two might not believe we endured multiple calls a day hawking encyclopedias, dubious diamonds, water softeners, and religious donations.

Telemarketers were the phlegm of phones, the bunions of business, the hemorrhoids of humanity. They interrupted family dinners, high school homework, television dramas, tender love moments, and possibly a romantic proposal or two. One day I fought back.

I had fallen sound asleep for the third time one fateful morning when yet another call came in. I snapped awake, prepared to deal with a tech problem in Sacramento, Senegal, or Switzerland, and I heard the following…

Kustom Kleaning
“Good morning, sir. We’re Kustom Kleaners and we’re offering to clean three rooms, yes, three rooms of your choice for only $29.95, and additional rooms for only $19 more plus tax, a real bargain. What do you…”

“How dare you.”


“How dare you. Let me guess. You saw the news and thought calling would be funny? Have a giggle while others listen in? Record this for a laugh with colleagues?”

“Sir, I have no idea…”

“Sure, right. The blood isn’t even dried and you thought you’d have a yuk, you and your so-called Kustom Kleaning caper, right? Never gave a thought to the victims, not even buried yet, eh?”

“Sir, I assure you…”

“You sick bastards, trolling families in their time of crisis, blood still everywhere, my wife sobbing, you sacks of…”

“Sir, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I won’t bother you again, I won’t. I promise.”
I settled back to sleep until…

Kustom Kaskets
“Good morning, young man. I’m Fred of Fine Funeral Financing. Have you thought ahead about your loved ones, their grief at your final passing? That’s why we offer prepaid-burial services. Mega-Mortuary membership allows you to choose every nuance of your funeral arrangements, paid in small monthly increments until your passing. No detail is overlooked by our fine professionals. How does that sound to you?”

“Every detail? I pick out my own casket?”

“Of course, sir. We carry a fine line of hand-crafted Kustom Koffins, highlighting hand-rubbed lacquered woods, polished brass or even precious metals. Each vessel to the beyond is lined with the most comfortable of satin or other exquisite materials. How does that sound?”

“Wonderful. If I may ask, is it possible to purchase caskets with crosses on them?”

“Right you are, sir. Crosses are among our most popular adornments for one’s heavenly crossing.”

“This is really important to me. Can you mount the crosses upside-down?”

(long pause) “Sir, why would you want to do that?”

“It’s part of my belief system, an inverted cross is really important to me. Let’s write it up now, I’ll grab my credit card. Can you take the first installment over the phone?”

“Uh, sir. I’m not sure I can do that.”

“Why not? You said your coffins are the finest woods and the crosses come in brass. When the time comes, I need your guarantee each cross will be positioned upside down, one on each side and one on the… do you call it a lid or pop top?”

“I’m uh, I don’t think we can…”

“Can you ring up the total?”

“Uh, I’ll have to call you back, sir.”

“Okay, you have my number. I’ll be waiting.”
Kranky Kraftmanship…

Each evening, I related these tales to my girlfriend who worked for Disney. At lunch, she shared my phone misadventures to a growing audience. A fan club of sorts developed. Disney artist Mark Chichiarra suggested the Kasket salesman would have really freaked out if asked to bury a buyer face down. Mark said, “Leigh thinks fast on his feet, doesn’t he.”

“On his feet? Probably not. Flat asleep maybe…”

Still the calls rolled in.

Coming up, a cottage industry of …

Kold Kalls


  1. Love it!

    I admire your inventiveness- I usually hang up as soon as I hear the sounds of the call center.

  2. Leigh, where can I get that SleuthSayers Police badge? Must have!

    Great piece. I used to toy with telemarketers or yell at them or do other nasty things like blow air horns into the phone -- of course that hurt my ears too. But these days we just don't pick up about 99% of calls that come in. Keeps the blood pressure more in check.

  3. Janice, sometimes it's fun to mess with their heads. I must have known one day I'd write these articles.

    Paul, you reminded me of my Aunt Rae. She kept a Navy whistle by her phone. One day she received a call. After a moment of listening, she began rattling off the most graphic and biologically questionable sexual activity descriptions my young ears had heard. After saying, "Hello? Hello? You still there?" she explained callers want to offend or shock. By out-doing them, it took threw them off their game, messing with their lonely little evening.

    I think we should order the real badges, Paul.

  4. Love, love, love it!
    I generally just hang up on the bastards. Sometimes, I play with them. My favorite line to give is, "Oh, thank you for calling, I was beginning to wonder if the voices were lying to me. Aristide, I've missed you so much, I've been waiting for you, and I'm so happy to tell you that Vogon isn't going to come after your pancreas..." and more of the same. So far, none of hung on past Vogon.
    It's such fun, isn't it?

  5. Leigh, you gotta love a good con when you're the one conning the con guy. I've had my fun in the past, seeing how long I could keep them on the phone, much like Rob Lopresti would do. A different story plan for each incoming con. Play with their mind, get them to cuss me out and then convince the caller that was improper business conduct and see if I could get them to apologize. And then we'd start over again.

    But these days, there's so many calls that now I am like Paul and don't bother to answer the calls. Interestingly enough, our new landline phone system shouts out the number of the incoming call which helps decide on answering or not. What are these telephone numbers that start with a "V"?

  6. A former boyfriend in New Jersey worked for RMH Telemarketing. I used to call it Royal Money Hogs because no one knew what it stood for. RMH made calls all over the place for different clients under contract. Once they were trying to sell aluminum siding for Sears over the phone, calling people in Hawaii. The boss knew Hawaii time was different from Eastern by five hours, but he thought it was later in Hawaii. A real genius ... so they called people starting at 8:00 a.m. Eastern which was 3:00 a.m. in Hawaii. Turned out there were many lonely ppl there sitting up at night, who were happy to get a phone call & often would buy the product. So they had a very successful campaign for a stupid reason.

    It's so fun when you get a chance to turn the tables on the telemarketers!

    What I hate the most is the ones with the recorded voice calling to wheedle a credit card number out of me to sell us "credit protection". Sometimes the voice even identifies itself as Elizabeth. Not!!

  7. Eve, you've given me a thought for a new thread… involuntary organ donors. Hmm… I wonder how I could work that in. Aristide could be in trouble.

    RT, for some reason that reminds me of the guy who fires up a recording of him saying, "Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yes, I see. Uh-huh," over and over again. I think he got death threats from India.

    Elizabeth, that's too weird! I'm starting to understand how some politicians get elected. Siding appears in my next installment, one of my earliest take-downs. That salesman probably thought me mad, mad, I tell you. Probably right, too.

    That credit protection is a nasty scam. I hope Dante keeps a nice warm place for those schemers.

  8. I used to enjoy abusing unwanted callers, but these days it seems to be a robocall more often than not. I don't want to encourage them by picking up.

  9. They're pretty clever around here, using my area code. I have adult children so I don't ignore calls which could be from a hospital. I usually answer and say nothing. When they start up their spiel, I hang up and block the number. Faster that way. They always start talking as soon as I answer.

  10. The New York Times used to call me regularly to ask if I would like to subscribe. I would listen to the pitch and then ask "Do you have comic strips yet?" The caller would respond with a "Uhh, no . . . ." to which I would reply "Call me back when you have comics," and then hang up.


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