Ball point pens and political messages

[Old guy reminiscence alert!]

In the late Forties, my father worked as a sales rep for several different companies. Also in the late Forties, a marvelous new gadget showed up in the marketplace: the ball-point pen.

All new gadgets — plows, political candidates, computers — are released in beta form: they perform a few basic functions, but lack the luster, elegance, and efficiency which usually settles in around version 3.0. Those first ball-point pens, for instance, tended to skip, smudge, and leak. Still, they were interesting and potentially useful gadgets. (They were more than a novelty; they were a completely new writing system, or so they seemed to me, whose early school years were spent at a desk which incorporated a functional — and necessary — ink well.)

About my father and the ball-point pens. One of his companies sent out boxes of new (beta release) ball point pens, to distribute as Christmas gifts to favored customers. The pens were expensive and attractive. And they leaked. My father examined a few, then tossed the whole box into the cellar. He would no more give someone a defective gift than he would sell him a defective product. It wasn’t just honesty, it was good business. The project manager whose new white shirt has an indelible stain around the pocket will not welcome the approach of the salesman who gave him the leaky pen.

That lesson

seems not to have made its way into contemporary political campaigns. I’m not talking about the sleaze and the attack ads; those are grist for a later milling. I’m talking about the blizzard of political phone calls, both personal and robotic.

Example. Three, in fact. Between two and four this afternoon (November 3, the day before the election) I received three political phone calls.

Call one: Phone rings. I pick it up and say, “Hello.” Dead air. Once more I say, “Hello.” A slight pause, a couple of clicks, then a recording begins. “This is Senator Chuck Schumer. I’m calling–” At which point I hung up. Schumer’s a Democrat, and I intend this year to vote for every Dem in sight. (That Schumer is also a pompous gasbag probably hastened my response.)

    The robo-call is a pain in the ass anyway. I don’t want robots giving me political advice; I take enough shit from them just trying to navigate the telephone system at the credit union or the medical center. So even if the goddam thing responded instantly when I picked up, I’d be pissed off. That it has to click and whirr for three or four seconds before acknowledging — that’s too much. But to the previous point: Don’t fix the gadget. Get rid of it.

Call two: Phone rings. I pick it up and say, “Hello.” Dead air. Once more I say, “Hello.” A slight pause, then a man’s voice — live, not recorded — saying that he’s calling on behalf of local candidate X. At which point I hung up. As before, the delivery — not replying directly once I answered, was annoying.

    This is different from the robo-call, but not enough different. The background audio evidence strongly suggested that several numbers had been dialed, simultaneously or in quick sequence, by some gadget, and that the caller had switched as quickly as he could to the first one to answer. The only way to fix this gadget is for callers to dial one number at a time. They won’t hit as many that way, but they also won’t piss off as many.

Call three: Phone rings. I pick it up and say, “Hello.” A woman says, “Hello, I’m calling from Democratic headquarters–” At which point I interrupted to tell her that I already planned to vote for every Dem in sight. She said, “Thank you,” and we both hung up.

    This could have been from the same gadgetry as the one above, with a quicker-witted caller, but I think not. It sounded as if she meant to call me, understood my answer, and went on to the next call. It’s the only sane way to do it.

Two betas, and a version 3.0.

Two leaky pens, and a good one.

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