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Just a Kid at Heart: Lying to the phony solicitor (part one)

By Steve Maanum

Does anyone even have a dial telephone anymore or are they all sitting in museums across the country?

The changes that have taken place within our lifetimes are like scenes from a James Bond movie.

Well, growing up in Benson in the ‘50s and ‘60s meant that most households had one telephone and it either hung on a wall or it sat on a counter or desk. It was the era of ‘party lines.’ When you picked up your phone to call someone, you may have found yourself unintentionally (or intentionally) eavesdropping on a conversation between two other people. Of course, the telephone company offered the option of having a ‘private line,’ but that was not included in my parents’ monthly budget.

Fast forward to 2021. Rotary phones and push button phones stepped aside to make room for mobile phones. Bag phones were replaced by flip phones and flip phones were replaced by smart phones. When our son calls our daughter-in-law, she does not retrieve her phone from her pocket; she just bends her elbow and answers him by talking to her watch.

Yes, telephones have come a long way since those early years in Benson. Even the ringtones have changed. From the days of everyone having the same sound that announced an incoming call, we can now program our phones to a variety of tones and different tones can be used to identify different callers. Being the nature nut that I am, my ringtone is the sound of our state bird. It does cause me to get strange looks when I am standing in a checkout line and a loon begins calling from inside my pocket.

A particularly useful advancement in phone technology is the ‘caller I.D.’ feature. It allows you to make the decision to answer a call or ignore it. I could have benefitted from that feature back in 1998 when our wall mounted push button phone rang, and I rushed over to answer it.

It was the advent of the phone solicitation – all those annoying, unwanted calls from complete strangers that were meant to disrupt your day.

So, let me ask you a question.

When you answer the phone and there is a pause or the person on the other end stumbles while attempting to pronounce your name, what is the first thing that comes to mind? ‘Phone Solicitor.’ If you are like me, you are torn between hanging up immediately or politely listening to their 10 minutes sales pitch before declining the offer and then hanging up.

One day at lunch a group of us were talking about the explosion of phone solicitation and how annoying it has become. One of my co-workers stated, “I just hang up on them.”

“I hate to be rude.”

“Rude,” the co-worker echoed. “The rudeness is on their part when they call at suppertime or continue to ramble on even after I’ve already told them I’m not interested.”

Another co-worker added, “When they ask for me, I just tell them I’m not home.”

Hmm, an old fashion lie; less time consuming, less painful, and it can be said in a friendly voice with no rudeness intended. Heaven may have a sublevel section for phone solicitor liars, but I just might chance it, if the opportunity presents itself.

Three days later I hurried home from work, changed clothes, and was heading out the door for a meeting when the phone rang. Part of me said, “Let it ring” while my responsible side thought it could be my wife trying to get in touch with me for something important, so I answered the phone. There was a pause, followed by a little stumble over my name. “Is this Steve Maanum?”

Oh, no, I do not have time for this; rudeness or lie . . . rudeness or lie?

Lie. “He’s not here right now. May I take a message?”

“Oh, is this Scott?”

This is where I must pause and explain something to you. We have two kids: a son, Scott and a daughter, Carrie. Both were away at college. Scott would be the only other masculine voice in our household and the person on the other end of the phone had just mentioned him by name. Conclusion: This is no phone solicitor. It is someone who knows us. I have not only lied but worse yet, I have been caught in that lie. My predicament was, do I say, “Oh, sorry, this is really me,” or do I continue with the lie and say that I am Scott? Do you see my problem?

Now back to the story.

“Is this Scott?”

After a hesitation and some quick soul searching, I said, “Yes.”

“Hi, Scott, this is Jeff Stone,” (Scott’s summer boss). “I didn’t know you were home from school. Is Carrie there?”

“No, she’s not.” I knew Jeff was familiar with Scott’s voice, so I kept my answers short, but I noticed my voice getting higher with each response.

The gist of the conversation was that Carrie had applied for a summer job and Jeff was calling to have her come in for an interview. My wife, our son, and now possibly our daughter would be working for Jeff’s business and here I was, lying through my teeth to him. When I hung up and went to my meeting all I could think about was how I had gotten myself into this mess and how I was going to get myself out of it. I felt so guilty my night was not restful. Instead of counting sheep leaping over a fence I was seeing St. Peter at the Pearly Gates with a long line of mortals stretching back through the clouds. As each mortal approached, St. Peter would ask a question. I was too far back to make out what the question was, but I noticed that upon answering, some were let in, and others were stamped on the forehead with some label and then directed toward a down escalator. After, what seemed like hours, I was finally close enough to make out the message stamped on those who were escalator bound – Phone Solicitor Liar. I awoke in a cold sweat.

The next day I called to apologize. When Jeff answered I said, “Hi, Jeff. This is the real Steve Maanum.” I continued by explaining that I had thought he was a phone solicitor and lying seemed to be appropriate at the time. Once I realized who it was, I was stuck in the lie and was too embarrassed to admit it. I had since seen the light. After Jeff stopped laughing, I asked if he still wanted Carrie to come in for the interview. I was hoping he would not hold my bad habits against her. He said he still wanted to talk to her so when she came home for the weekend, I informed her about the interview. I neglected to tell her about everything that lead up to it. I did not have to live through that embarrassment again.

Jeff did not let me off the hook that easily. At the end of Carrie’s interview, he asked if I had informed her about the mistaken identity episode. When she looked puzzled, he proceeded to fill her in with all the humiliating details. It did not really require a response from Carrie, but her speech and drama background just could not leave it alone. As she got up to leave, she glanced seriously at Jeff and stated, “Dad has joined a Liars Anonymous support group which meets twice a week. The family has hopes of a full recovery within six months.”

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