The 49ers were having a tough time putting points on the board when the phone rang. It startled me because it rarely rings so I considered letting it go to voicemail because whomever was calling was no one I knew. All my friends were dead, not calling, or both. Nevertheless, out of curiosity, I got off the couch and picked up the receiver.
“Yes, this is Heather with Higgins-Collins Research and I just want let you know we’re not selling anything as well as to let you know we apologize for calling you at this hour but this is the hour best determined by research to obtain research information and am I reaching you at home, at the office, or elsewhere?”
“Um, at home.”
“That’s great and is this number your main phone number and if so, is it a home phone, business phone, or cellular phone?”
“It’s a home, wait, yes, it’s my main number and it’s a home phone but if I ever had some business to conduct I suppose I’d use this phone to conduct said business.”
“That’s great and is this a landline number?”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you and I need to ask, since it’s a state law, are you over the age of 18?”
“And to verify this information, may I ask how old you are?”
I shaved off a few years out of vanity or habit. “I’m 38.”
“That’s fantastic and now, I need to ask you….”
She was talking fast and I noticed I was still standing, half bent over the phone on the floor because I’d planned on saying “not interested” or “sorry, my sister was just taken hostage by Columbian rebels in South Carolina and I really need to prepare for the ransom call.” But I didn’t. Before I could say anything, I was a vital part of research for businesses in my area to help them better understand their demographic customer base in the community.
Her voice was strong but not aggressive, tough with an undercurrent of compassion. She didn’t want to be calling but she had a job to do. Then she hit me with some information that let me know I was in it for the long haul.
“And in the last six months, how often did you shop for computer related goods? Frequently, occasionally, rarely, or never?”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you. By the way, on a personal note, I really appreciate your time. This won’t take long and I just need one more completed survey before I can leave tonight so you’re helping me out more than you know.”
“Seriously? Well, I gotta say, few things make me happier than being needed. Please, fire away. I’m glad to be of service,” I said, sitting down, getting comfortable.
I pictured her in college, like me; half my age, like all of them. It was a Thursday night and I figured she didn’t have class tomorrow so she’s probably aching to get out of the cubicle, the office, the building, to meet up with friends, smoke weed in the car on her way to a party where she’ll drink too much to remember how she ended up in an unknown room, wondering when it was she started blacking out three times a week.
“Thank you. Now, for these questions as well, you can answer frequently, occasionally, rarely, or never. How often in the last week did you shop at a sporting goods store?”
“How often did you shop at a home furnishings store?”
“How often did you…”
“How often did…”
I started laughing because the emptiness of my life began to surface.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t mean to laugh and I’m not laughing at you. It’s just that I’m not a very good consumer.”
“That’s perfectly fine. I know some people who aren’t good consumers and they’re still good people.”
It was a good line. I didn’t understand it but I liked it all the same. I wasn’t a good consumer and as such, I felt I was not a good American. I should be shopping at home furnishings stores with an age-appropriate girlfriend who understands our need for new home furnishings. We should be at the local mall frequently or occasionally, seeing movies in theaters, patronizing local dining establishments, and taking out home loans from qualified lenders. We should be shopping at –
Neiman Marcus? (No.)
TJ Maxx? (No.)
JC Penney? (No.)
I shouldn’t be home alone on the phone with a telemarketer only to realize it’s the longest conversation I’ve had in three months. I stopped laughing.
“In the last month, have you attended a country music concert?”
“I most certainly have not.”
She laughed. “I understand and I can definitely enter that for you.”
“Have you attended a rock or pop concert in the last month?”
“When it comes to music, can you tell me, as broadly as you’d like, what kind of music you listen to?”
“I listen to Throbbing Gristle. I’m allergic to everything else.”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you. You said throbbing what?”
“And how would you categorize that type of music, sir?”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you. Now, in the past month, have you purchased a DVR?”
“A DVD player?”
“A CD player?”
“Not that I can recall.”
The 49ers put up a touchdown somewhere between sporting goods and kitchen appliances but I hadn’t noticed. They were up by four and the third quarter was coming to a close. I needed a cigarette but I didn’t have the heart to tell her to hang on a minute while I retrieved my ashtray from the other room. We were in this together and I was crucial in getting her to that bong, that bottle, that boy. I was a poor consumer but maybe she was right; maybe I was a good guy capable of helping other people chase the desires of their lives.
“We’re almost done, sir, and I appreciate your time. I realize how annoying… Hang on. Ok, I realize how frustrating it can be for busy people like yourself… (I heard a piece of paper being turned) to give of your busy time and we thank you. Now, for the purposes of research and demographics, are you married, single, widowed, or divorced.”
I wanted to say widowed because it sounded tragic.
“I understand and I can definitely enter that for you. Are you currently living in a house, an apartment, a mobile home, or some other dwelling?”
I thought about other dwellings. In a tree? Under a car? In a bunker, like Hitler, with a cyanide capsule and a loaded pistol by my side?
“Do you rent or own?”
“Do you live alone?”
“That fine, sir. And who do you live with?”
“Nothing. Two houseplants named Norma Jean and one stuffed cow named Myrtle.”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you.”
“Would you say…?”
“Once since the D.C. Sniper attacks.”
“Do you believe…?”
“If I lived in Burma, I might.”
“Is it possible…?”
“Not without coercion.”
“Would you say you are a Republican, Democrat, or Independent?”
“When I determine the difference, I’ll let you know.”
“That’s great and I can definitely enter that for you. Well, that concludes our research and I just want to say that I’ve enjoyed talking to you; you were very helpful and entertaining.”
“Really?” I asked, leaning forward.
“That’s great,” I said, “and I can definitely enter that for you. I’m just kidding around, but, seriously… I’m glad I could help because sometimes it seems as if I’m not living the life I should be living with the requisite relationships and purchases or even with my going to college at this late age with so little direction that…”
“One more thing. Do you have any questions for me about this research, where the data goes, or anything else?”
“Oh. No, I don’t suppose I do.”
“Thank you again, sir.” Click.
The 49ers had a first down and ten on their own 35 yard line. I held the receiver to my ear, just to make sure. It went to dial tone. I hung up. Heather. Her name was Heather. Quarterback Alex Smith threw an incomplete pass to Michael Crabtree down the right sideline. It was second down and ten. There were seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. There were three days left until my next class. There were thirty years left until the nursing home. I curled up on the couch, pulled a blanket over me, and settled in for the long haul.