(Editor’s Note: This post is part of a monthly feature in which Ryan takes an actual letter written to “Dear Abby” and answers it himself. For further background see the introductory post here, or maybe also here. Please note that the advice in this column may be less wise than it appears.)
Reading back over my past Dear Abby is Off Today columns, I’ve noticed they all tend to cover the ubiquitous topics of love and romance. That’s all fine and dandy–I’m especially partial to dandiness, after all–but like “Abby” herself I’m more than just a Love Doctor. My advice goes beyond the sphere of relationships. It extends into the ellipsoid of manners and etiquette, and often into the three-dimensional rhombus of good-old-fashioned common sense. So in an effort to showcase my advice columnist flexibility (and dandiness, don’t you ever forget my dandiness, dammit), I present you with a non-love advice letter to Dear Abby, published on July 23:
DEAR ABBY: How does one politely but firmly turn down door-to-door salespeople? How should I respond to salespeople who become rude once I tell them I’m not interested? Many of them become hostile once they realize I can’t be persuaded to buy what they’re selling. — NO THANK YOU IN LONG BEACH, CALIF.
DEAR NO THANK YOU: I’ve never been to Long Beach and so am not terribly familiar with the area or its rules and regulations regarding door-to-door salespeople, but it is curious that you seem to be subjected to a constant barrage of hostile solicitors. Again, I’ve never been to the region, and after reading your letter, probably never will. But let me offer my three-pronged strategy for dealing with this bevy of unwanted visitors.
The best defense is a good offense, so your first line of attack should involve scaring salespeople away before they can penetrate the premises (heh). Here is a tried and true strategy, successfully undertaken by the source of one-half of my genetic advice-giving ability: my dad, a.k.a., Dear Abby is Off Today Senior. In his condominium complex, you have various wireless internet connections flying around that you can tap into to avoid paying your ISP overlords. The more people who hop onto your connection, the slower it gets, so you need a password to keep the freeloaders out. Still, that can be a pain when people visit, they want to connect to your wireless network, and you forget which child’s birthday you included in the password (pick me, dad, pick me!). So Dear Abby Sr. came up with a simple yet elegant solution: screw the password protection, leave it open, but name your wireless network “Identity Thief.” You’ll have your network all to yourself, humming at maximum speed without a freeloader in sight. True story. If you don’t believe me, just leave your name, address, social security number, and mother’s maiden name in the comment section and I’ll send you documented proof.
So how to apply this to solicitors? Easy. A little tactic called “Shock and Awe.” When a salesperson comes to your home, a cold shiver should run down their spine as they weigh the true value of their potential sales commission. Remember that scene in Home Alone when former child star/current drug-aficionado Macaulay Culkin used a bunch of props to make it seem like there was a massive Christmas rager going on, thus scaring off his would-be burglars? Add a dash of Psycho, and you’ll be solicitor free! Here’s how: Get an old rocking chair, decrepit mannequin, and an old lady wig. You see where I’m going with this right? After you set up your “scareperson,” place a faint light source behind them to project “mother’s” eerie shadow. Bonus points if you can hook the rocking chair up to something that makes it automatically rock back and forth. Triple bonus points if you can find a Bates Motel sign.
Now, your creepy scareperson may not take care of all potential salespersons–even farmers who use scarecrows deploy landmines as a back-up–so you may need to up the shock and awe factor. If you have a lawn, there should be absolutely no trace of grass. If some stubborn blades push their way through the surface of your wasteland of a lawn, such grass should be long dead and evidence of extreme negligence. Your yard should be full of various objects that have no logical connection to each other, e.g., children’s toys, household appliances, and a toilet bowl with a hose connected to its tank. Also, a lawn jockey is a good idea, but make sure it’s been torn down and something resembling a pirate flag is planted on the stump where its legs once were. Now comes the coup de grace: you must have Christmas ornaments and decorations out year round. Ideally they should be old and dusty, like those 1950s-style multi-colored bulbs that were the size of a jockey’s head. It goes without saying they should never actually be lit. Oh, and depending on the neighborhood, maybe throw in a nativity scene with a black Jesus.
Now, some veteran door-to-door solicitor may not be fazed by this, so you’ll need a second line of defense. For this I draw inspiration from a source even nearer and dearer to me than my dad: myself. From my years riding the rails and offering my advice booklets to any town with a train stop and de-mined corn fields, I learned that if you want the row to yourself, you can’t just put your bag in the empty seat next to you. People will still ask whether the seat is taken no matter how much English you pretend not to speak. So now I prepare for the train by looking as sketchy as possible. This involves growing an unkempt beard, stuffing some pieces of hard candy inside it, wearing a bandana and/or knit cap (the latter especially effective during the summer), and rocking gently back and forth as I hum songs from Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. Then if some brave soul still tries to sit down next to me, I just turn to them and ask if they’re satisfied with their long distance service. Row all to myself. Mission accomplished.
With your solicitors, you want to do the same exact thing: freak. them. out. Under no circumstances should you be wearing a shirt when you answer the door. Ladies, doing this will actually have the opposite effect for you, so I’d recommend answering the door in a wedding dress (men feel free to try this as well). When the doorbell rings, before they see you shirtless and/or left at the altar, bellow something disconcerting from across your house. For example, “Dammit Ma I told you I ain’t going to no doctor about this rash!” Or if you can’t do an angry voice, try the opposite. Respond to the doorbell wistfully, “Is that you Santa? I knew you finally got my letters!”
Once you make it to the door keep it closed but whisper to the salesperson through the mailslot, “can you move two steps to your right please?” If that still doesn’t work and you have to open the door, apply the same rule you would when confronted with a bear in the woods: maintain eye contact at all times. Actually try not to blink if at all possible. Make sure to keep your hands where the salesperson can’t see them, or if that’s not possible, constantly rub your chest in clockwise circles while answering questions. Absolutely do not rub your chest in counter-clockwise circles. That’s bear code for “dinner is served.”
Now, let’s say you have a salesperson made of steel and they have penetrated your first two lines of defense (again, heh). Enter line of defense #3: the “play possum” strategy. Act extremely interested in whatever they’re selling. Invite them to sit with you in the living room. Serve them tea. Give them cookies. In that exact order. If they refuse any of these bawl uncontrollably. Ask them questions about their product. In this case there are no dumb questions, only tedious ones, and the more tedious the better. If they’re selling you knives, ask them what they’re for. When they tell you they cut things, ask about the difference between knives and scissors. When they’ve given their nuanced answer, nod politely, smile, and with a vapid stare, ask again what they’re selling. If by chance they ask you a question, respond simply, “nevermore.” If your salesperson shows remarkable stamina in the face of your insipid interrogation, play this strategy to the extreme. That’s right: play dead. In the middle of their sales pitch, just keel over like you’ve died. You might have a hefty ambulance fee to pay for this trick, but at least that salesperson won’t be knocking at your door anymore. As the saying goes, “dead men buy no cutlery.”
Now I know I said this was a three-pronged strategy, but there is a fourth you may be forced to deploy, or at your discretion, may use as a substitute for playing possum. I call this method “fighting fire with fire.” When they come to your door, greet them with “oh great you’re here! Hold on one second!” Then offer to sell them Girl Scout cookies, magazine subscriptions, or whatever else you can think of. If they say they don’t want Girl Scout cookies, ask them if they want Boy Scout cookies. If they say there is no such thing as Boy Scout cookies, tell them they’re the same as Girl Scout cookies but made by transvestites who have a thing for sashes.Try to barter. Tell them you’ll buy their set of knives if they buy 60 boxes of your Transgender Scout cookies. Remind them that your cookies come with an option for an extended warranty. If for some reason they say they don’t want your cookies or whatever you’re trying to sell, ask them if they know anyone who would. Then have them write down these people’s names, addresses, social security numbers, and mothers’ maiden names. Then choose one name from that list that most annoys you–like Fred, I’ve never met a Fred I liked–take out a credit card in his name, and buy a damn electrified fence.