Sometimes opportunity calls on the phone - Ed Brock

I was a teenage phone solicitor.

There, I said it. It's not something I'm proud of, but I'm tired of keeping that dusty old skeleton in my psyche's closet. I have plenty more to stuff in there and I need to make some room.

So yes, if you lived in Mobile, Ala. between 1984 and 1986 and received a call asking you to by some window stickers to benefit the Mobile County Law Enforcement Association, it may well have been me.

What can I say, I needed the money. Sorry if I called you in the middle of dinner or mourning the death of your dog or in some intimate moment with your intimate partner. We were poor, and anyway my brother got me into it.

Originally I took the job because I wanted to take karate lessons. My parents were in dire financial straits at the time and, with five kids to support, the older three of us, including my older brother, one younger sister and me, had to make our own money to buy anything beyond food.

I needed parachute pants and other clothing with unnecessary zippers and shiny buttons everywhere. I needed Metallica concert tickets. I'd like to say I needed money for girls, but alas, I was also a teenage nerd.

In case you ever wondered what kind of people take such a horrible job (I think we rank just above lawyers in society's hierarchy) I'll admit that most of them were either kids like me or, well, slackers. I mean, it was a real slacker job.

What's most frightening is that a good 15 years later my younger brother took the same job with pretty much the same agency and one of the guys I worked with was still there. That, my friends, is being stuck in a very deep, dark rut.

It's not exactly challenging work, either. You go in and grab a list of phone numbers and start calling. If you're content with working for the meager salary, which fortunately I was, it didn't really matter how many packages you sold. But still, it felt good to have the occasional night where you move a personal record or, as I believe I did one time, the highest number of sales in the room.

The rejection never really hurt us, by the way. All that griping and moaning you people handed out over the phone went in one ear and died of boredom before it got to the other side. We were hard and there was no "Do not call list."

The worst calls were those to lonely people, young and old, who wanted to talk but would never buy. That was a waste of precious time and rarely was it entertaining.

I did have one person ask me to come to church with them. I told them I was beyond salvation.

Anyway, now that I've let you in on the dark side of my adolescent years, let me give you small business people a tip. Often in my current position I am mistaken for one of the dreaded solicitors when I call people for some story. Often some people seem to decide that they are just too busy to come to the phone and they leave it to their employee to just get rid of me.

That is a mistake. Most often when I'm calling people randomly it's for some positive feature piece that offers the opportunity for free front page advertising.

So don't be so quick to drop that receiver back into the cradle. Make sure you don't assume something that will make an ass out of you and, well, you.

Ring, ring, it's opportunity, baby!

Ed Brock covers public safety and municipal governments for the Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 ext. 254 or at ebrock@news-daily.com .