“Hello?” (Long pause.) “Hello?!”
“Hello, is Mr. Schneider home?”
“Snider. And this is he.”
“Mr. Schneider, my name is ShaThayd Jones, and I am calling in behalf of Worthless Products International. How are you today, sir?”
“Well, it’s 5 in the morning –”
“Good, sir, glad to hear it. We are calling only a select number of customers in your area who, like yourself, are concerned about the high cost of squirrel maintenance. Do you have a squirrel, sir?”
“A what? A squirrel?”
“Excellent, sir. I know you want to keep that squirrel maintained at a high level of efficiency and beauty, but you don’t want to spend a lot of money. Am I right?”
“Well, I wouldn’t want to spend ANY money on a –”
“Of course. That is why we are offering a new product called Squirrel Friend, which can keep your squirrel looking great and functioning efficiently, all at a cost of only $1,999.95. And the best part is, you and your family can try the Squirrel Friend in your home for 30 days absolutely free. We are confident you will find the Squirrel Friend everything you hoped it would be. Imagine, grooming your squirrel in just a few pleasurable seconds instead of several torturous days. And cleaning your squirrel’s teeth is a breeze, not a dangerous chore requiring shots. But if for any reason you are dissatisfied, you may return the Squirrel Friend to us within 30 days for a complete refund, minus the shipping and handling, which is $80,000.95. Simply follow the easy-to-read return instructions, which we will fail to include with your order. Now, if you choose to keep the Squirrel Friend, you will automatically be billed $19.95 each month until your death, even though — and this is important — you will not receive any additional products or services. Now, how will you be paying for the Squirrel Friend?”
“I won’t be paying for it at all. I don’t want it. In fact, I tried to hang up on you five times during that speech, but for some reason I couldn’t. What’s going on?”
“I can understand your hesitance, sir. You have probably tried similar products before and been unhappy with the results. Perhaps your squirrel was damaged by an inferior product. That is why I have been authorized to throw in, absolutely free, a case of squirrel polish, as a gift to you. This squirrel polish is yours to keep even if you return the Squirrel Friend. Now, to begin processing your order, I just need to –”
“But I don’t want ANY of it. Why can’t I hang up the phone?”
“Before you make your final decision, sir, let me remind you of the offer: You will receive the Squirrel Friend and a case of squirrel polish, all for only $1,999.95 and an additional $19.95 each month until the time of your natural death, at which point your next of kin will be required to take over the payments, in perpetuity, until such time as the Earth ceases to exist. Also, because you are a valued customer, I have been authorized by my employer, Satan, to call upon his powers and destroy you.”
“Yes, sir, only $19.95 a month!”
“No, the Satan thing.”
“Oh, yes, sir, I have the powers of the Evil One in full force behind me. Though I never graduated from high school, cannot read, and, ironically, have a job that requires me to do nothing BUT read, as a telemarketer, I have strength far beyond that of ordinary human beings. Even as we speak, I am gathering dark forces to use against you.”
“I feel cold and clammy.”
“That’s normal, sir.”
“I feel alone and frightened, as if all goodness and virtue has abandoned me.”
“That, too, is typical, sir.”
“Why are you doing this to me!”
“It is easy to stop the torment, sir. Simply verify your mailing address for me, and we’ll have the Squirrel Friend shipped to you in 7-10 business days.”
“So c-c-cold. So v-very c-cold.”
“Excellent, sir. Will that be Visa or Mastercard?”
I was asleep one Saturday morning at about 9 a.m. when the phone rang. It was a telemarketer. I quickly dismissed him and went back to bed. In the few moments before I rejoined my slumber, the cares of the world began to seep into my consciousness, and I remembered I needed a column idea for the following Wednesday. Nothing came to me. I fell back to sleep.
About 20 minutes later, the phone rang again. Another telemarketer. Again, I became aware of practical matters such as writing a column, and before I could think of anything, I was asleep again.
An hour later, I woke up for real and thought, "I should write a column about telemarketers."
The character name of ShaThayd Jones refers to the urban legend about an illiterate woman naming her child S***head, but pronouncing it ShaThayd. You probably know someone who claims to have met poor S***head, but trust me, that person is lying or kidding. S***head doesn't exist. Well, people exist who SHOULD go by that name, but it's not really their name.