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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

I ♥ Caller ID

Caller ID has been around for decades, but it only came into our home after Voice-Over IP with free long distance became cheaper than paying 3 cents a minute to Barney’s Long Distance, Live Bait and Video Rentals, Inc., our previous provider.

I have grown to love caller ID. At first I had to train myself to actually look at the display on the phone, which up until the time we had VOIP, would just say, “Incoming Call.” (Oh, incoming call! Is that what all that ringing was for?) Inevitably, every night from 5 pm through prime time we received infinite pesky telemarketing calls, even though we were on the Do Not Call list, which I believe is just a black hole where phone numbers are collected and rolled into fireplace logs.

The WORST offender of telemarketing abuse is my alma mater, the University of South Florida. Those pests have followed my every move since the day I received my obsolete sheepskin from them. I am convinced they do a monthly background check on me to make sure I haven’t slipped from their grasp. Even when we moved back to Florida and lived in a temporary apartment, USF was there waiting for us with unlimited mail and annoying calls.

“Hi, this is Brandon from the University of South Florida Alumni Association. Am I speaking to Mr. Wiley?”

This was the thirty-eighth call, because on the prior thirty-seven tries I would say, “No, he’s not here right now; can I take a message?”

“No I’ll just try another time. Is there a better time when I can reach him?”

“Yes, weekdays from 9 to 5:30,” I said, reciting my work hours.

“Awesome,” said Brandon, who was probably a pimply-faced, underprivileged white freshman boy whose partial tuition was gratis because he solicited old men with antediluvian undergraduate degrees three nights a week.

But after lying to Brandon scores of times, I finally decided the only way to get him off my back was to listen to his solicitation.

“Mr. Wiley, I see here that you graduated in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in English. I’m sure you agree that obtaining that degree has been at least partially responsible for a successful career, am I right?” Brandon read, trying, I’m sure, to maintain a straight face.

“Yeah. Well, if you call working 20 years at Sunglass Hut a successful career,” I quipped.

Brandon continued, “Well, Mr. Wiley, many of your fellow classmates who, like you, have degrees which buoyed them to success have found that a monthly credit or debit card donation to the USF Alumni Association is a great way to give back to the community, and—”

“Really? Which classmates? The only classmates I ever knew from that school were the three people I used to carpool to school with. One is a single mom. One works at Starbucks, and the other is my manager at Sunglass Hut.”

“—Give back to the community and support other students. As I’m sure you probably know, the USF Alumni has a scholarship fund that assists with tuition for highly-rated students who have difficulty affording today’s tuition costs.” (“People such as myself” is what he meant.)

“Why can’t they get a job to pay their tuition? That’s what I did.”

And on and on it went, as Brandon asked for $100 a month, then $75, then $50, then $25, until he was forced to offer me the economy plan, the bottom-line, one-time donation, which I, claiming homelessness, refused to attach myself to.

I’m assuming that by now Brandon has graduated with a degree in telemarketing and is working at Telemarketing Hut. I still get frequent mail from a constituent of his, but thanks to Caller ID, I no longer have to talk to him and tell him I’ve been unemployed for fifteen years because I am a quadriplegic with anger management issues who receives dialysis three times a week.

Caller ID is the ultimate couch potato accessory. When I’m watching TV and the phone rings, the number of the caller flashes up on the TV screen, which eliminates the need for the strenuous 90 degree rotation of my head to read the display on the phone. I love any kind of technology that replaces exercise, which is why I almost exclusively use my iPad instead of having to lug around that hefty three-pound laptop, and also why I have water that dispenses from my fridge, because turning a faucet can be so ergonomically taxing.

I regret now not biting the bullet and paying for Caller ID earlier in life. I tend to wait years, even decades to pay for advanced technology, mainly because I paid $1000 for a VHS recorder in 1977, when there were only 3 channels to tape from. You’d have thought that by now Caller ID could also walk my dog, do the laundry, and make me a sandwich.

But sometimes what you see is whom you get.

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