Trolling and Taboo

A coup d’état in the collective unconscious

My father loathes telemarketers. It’s not such a big deal anymore now that my parents don’t have a landline, but when I was growing up I used to race to answer the phone, with its pink cord and handset, to avoid the inevitable: my dad yelling at the telemarketer to never call us again. He was angry whenever I let slip that we were indeed the Renner household. He put us on the Do Not Call list. Even so, a few rings seeped through. So he came up with a way to prank them.

One day when I came home from school—I was 9, 10, 11—he showed me three sheets of notepaper filled front and back with a handwritten monologue. It was to be read in any order, starting anywhere on any page, whenever a telemarketer or wrong number called. The pages sat next to the phone, ready at all times, and went something like this:

But did you talk to Mary yet? Because she talked to Kevin and apparently he called the whole thing off. No, no, not that Kevin. Kevin with curly hair. So I say to Mary, “Look, Mary, we’ve got a problem! You can’t just go around treating people this way! When you say you’re going to do something, you’ve gotta do it. Don’t flake out on me. I don’t care what Kevin says.” Oh oh oh, you want to speak to Mary? No, Mary’s not here. I don’t know where she lives now, she just up and left one day, took all her suitcases and poof. How inconsiderate, with the kids and everything. But back in the day when she was dating Kevin we used to see her all the time. But where was I . . .

And so on—fictional gossip, contentless drama, automatic writing. Pretending he had called them. Telemarketers, it seemed, were the perfect target: they were not allowed to hang up, so you could launch into a monologue they were helpless to escape. It was hilarious. I was too chicken to read it myself, but when my father read it I was thrilled. We were testing the limits of customer service. Slowly alienating the marketer was, I thought, better than outright hostility or abuse.

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