Sunday, February 21, 2016


Telephone scamming goes on everywhere, I imagine, but somehow the Academy of Telephony and Thimblerigging (AT&T, by coincidence) has pinpointed our community for extra effort.
We are supposed to be intimidated by a voice coming over this newfangled talk box, or senile enough to be convinced that we all have grandchildren unjustly jailed in Mexico. Some of us are, unfortunately, and are taken for varying sums of money despite weekly warnings in our community newspaper. Others succumb to threats that their electrical service will be cut off unless they pay ransom immediately.
For this latter scheme to work, the voice must be authoritative, and fluent enough in the language to sound like a representative of a major utility company. That’s one side of the industry, and it has no redeeming features.
The other branch, while even more annoying, does serve a social function. It provides entrée to the job market for recent arrivals. Almost all the calls I get, and at times there can be two or three in a day, are from people to whom the language is obviously of only recent acquaintance.
That creates an extremely frustrating situation: you can’t insult the operatives who call you. I’ve tried. I’ve used every obscenity I know, suggesting feats of physical insertion I know to be realistically impracticable -- but they don’t understand. They plow ahead with the sales story, not realizing that they’ve been told off in terms a native recipient would respond to with, if within reach, a poke in the speaker’s eye.
What use, then, are the carefully hoarded obscenities you so seldom get to use if not to tell off a telephone scammer? Yet what should be the satisfaction of letting loose to verbally demolish an adversary becomes in this case a futile gesture. You have brought up your most devastating linguistic artillery but the target, armored with unknowingness, doesn’t feel a thing. New arrivals should be required to take classes in Obscenities, especially if they’re going into telephone work.