I recently was attacked by an unseen force, a sudden phenomenon that robbed me of all powers of retaliation.
No, a witch’s spell was not involved, but an encounter with something that seems even more formidable. For while this Halloween season can be full of black cats and goblins, the accompanying political season has the dreaded Robocall.
Robocalls, of course, are those automated telephone calls containing recorded messages urging you to vote for various and sundry political candidates.
Getting these calls on a constant basis can be irritating in and of itself, due to the unwanted interruptions in the peace and tranquility of one’s home. But they enter the realm of the truly disturbing when they literally take over your telephone.
The other day, for example, I received a call that began with a woman’s voice offering a friendly greeting. As soon as I realized that this was only an automated call making a political pitch, I attempted to disconnect it by pushing the little button where the handset goes — only the persistent voice remained.
I even hung up and waited about 10 seconds, only to pick back up and continue being subjected to the message that seemed even louder and more shrill — not unlike a horror movie about a monster that can’t be killed.
If an emergency, such as an attack by an ax murderer, had occurred at that very moment and required use of the phone to summon help, I would have been chopped into bits.
Fortunately, I escaped by going to work, and was elated to find the robocall finally had ended by the time I returned home that evening.
However, in its place was something just as annoying if not as disturbing: several recorded messages left on my answering machine on behalf of political candidates.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I arrive home after being away for a spell, it’s always exciting to find several voice-mails waiting. Sometimes the imagination runs wild. Maybe the person who left a message is the attorney for a long-lost uncle who has died and left me a fortune, I’ll tell myself, or someone is calling with a dinner invitation.
Nahhh, not lately! The only messages I have been getting are those pesky robocalls seeking votes for Joe Doe as insurance commissioner or whatever.
Finally, I could take it no longer, so on Thursday I decided to strike back — by first dialing the faithful operator. This proved to be just as touch-and-go as the robocall’s takeover of my phone line, however.
After dialing “0” and choosing from the following menu, I eventually got a real person on the line who advised me to call a 1-800 number where someone could help with the problem. But no one answered that number, so I had to again check with a faithful operator, who gave me a totally different 1-800 number that she said was for the business office of Company X, my service provider.
“They can tell you how to block it,” she said with sympathetic assurance that the antidote for the robocall menace was close at hand.
When I dialed the second 1-800 number, and again selected from the following menu, I miraculously got another live human being who said that yes, indeed, I could stop political robocalls — but only by visiting a certain state government website. It allows consumers to add their telephone numbers to a registry to block political solicitations, the customer service representative said, with more sympathy expressed toward us innocent robocall victims.
“Because it’s really fast and furious, especially the closer we get to the election,” she added. “Everyone is getting bombarded — we’re so sorry.”
When I finally accessed the state government website (while wondering what people lacking computers can do about the robocall problem), I found that North Carolina’s do-not-call registry refers specifically to telemarketers, but there is no mention of recorded political messages. This made me question whether it would do any good to sign up, but I attempted the blocking maneuver just the same — and we’ll see what transpires.
By then, I was so burned out by all the effort I had devoted to this mission that I really didn’t care.
In the meantime, I do have a message of my own to political candidates who use robocall tactics: Don’t waste your precious campaign dollars on recorded telephone messages, especially those that commandeer people’s phones.
This is not going to get me to favor you as a candidate, but produce the opposite effect instead. I will listen to your message only long enough to hear your name so I can make a point of voting for your opponent, while also urging others to do likewise. So if I don’t know you and your campaign doesn’t call me, at least you’ve got a 50-50 chance.
Just telling you dear readers about this problem has left my face contorted in agony — and Halloween isn’t even here yet.
Tom Joyce is a staff reporter for The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.