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Humanity could defeat its greatest scourge if everyone would repeat the phrase: "Hold on, please."
Three simple words, enough to change the world. Whenever a phone solicitor calls in the middle of dinner, don't get sore. Don't slam down the receiver. Don't hang up. Just say, "Hold on, please." Then gently set the receiver on the table and go about your business.
Why will this change the world? Because the solicitor will hold on, too. While the solicitor is on hold, he cannot bug other people in the middle of dinner, can he?
No, he can't.
For years, I have employed the Hold On Please technique. The mathematics behind the HOP technique are truly amazing. Phone solicitors make money because one or two saps in every 100 calls actually listen to the sales pitch and buy something. But what if each unsuccessful call took the solicitor a few minutes instead of a few seconds? What if a phone solicitor could make only a dozen calls per hour, instead of several hundred? Then it would no longer be cost-effective to bother people in the middle of dinner, would it?
No, it wouldn't.
A small idea, invented by me. My gift to the race. Simple, like the wheel.
(Some minutes later, after the solicitor decides you are not coming back and hangs up on his end, you will hear the distinctive wah-wah sound from your receiver, meaning it is OK to hang up your phone.)
Developing the Hold On Please technique is my way of atoning for an abysmal night I spent years ago in Oakland as an honest-to-God phone solicitor. The taskmaster of this enterprise -- a smarmy guy in used-car-salesman boots and mustache -- had jammed dozens of us youngsters into a cramped, stuffy room above a pizzeria. Each of us got a huge list of phone numbers, along with a script. (The charity that I was trying to raise money for, it turned out later, would only get 30 percent of the take -- the phone soliciting company bagged the rest.) Most of the time, I never even got to finish saying, "Hi, my name is Steve Rubenstein and I'm calling on behalf of . . ." before I would hear the Click.
Every few seconds, another click. Over and over. Click, click, click, click, click. We newbies were getting plenty frustrated. The head guy came over and said not to be discouraged, because quick clicks, as he called them, were a phone solicitor's friends. The true enemy, he said, were lonely people who kept you on the line for five or 10 minutes, and still didn't fork over any dough.
After an hour of the phone calling, after bugging dozens of people during dinner and being justifiably cussed at, screamed at and having my ancestry challenged in unsettling ways, I quit the job. The guy paid me my $5, not even 30 pieces of silver, and I slunk downstairs to the pizzeria for a beer and a sausage pizza to assuage my guilt. (Sausage can assuage, but Budweiser is wiser.)
It was then I came up with the Hold On Please technique. I mentioned it later to the head guy, after he came down for a beer of his own, and the edges of his used-car mustache seemed to droop. He said if everyone in the world did it, he'd be out of business.
Don't tell anyone, he pleaded. Just between you and me, he said. OK, I promised. So much for honor among thieves.
So there you are. It is nearly spring, a time of renewal, of rebirth. A time to give the world a fresh start.
Three simple words can do it. Remember, all great movements started small.
This article, which was published in the San Francisco Chronicle on February 11, 2002, is reproduced with the kind permission of its author.