When I reflect upon the evil I’ve inflicted upon the world (from consternating cuckolds to crash-testing the careers of my rivals) I’m forced to accept that, at times, I’ve been a one-man-misery machine. This is nothing compared to my pre-career dalliance with the dark arts of telemarketing.

I’ve ruminated upon this herpe besmirching my resume here before, and will likely again, just as the tinnitus that tortures my ears with ceaseless ringing echoes that of the phone rooms where I once did the devil’s dialing.

Sure, I could claim that I was weak and naive, a callow youth, during my protracted fall (or would that be “call?”) from grace. But even from the tender years of 15 to 22, I knew what I was doing. And I was good. I sold everything from alarm systems to theater subscriptions and even did serial dialing for a chimney sweep. Cold calling from a phone book is in itself bottom feeding for leads. Serial dialing takes it further down the food chain. Armed with only an area code and a working city prefix, the telemarketer sequentially adds digits, from 0001 through 9999, ringing every phone along the way. It’s the telephony equivalent of a scorched earth campaign.

After that bounty of dead cold leads is spent, you start rolling the digits on the prefix. And after that, well, I presume you go straight to hell. The romantic in me would like to think I was one call away from booking a room in the Hades Hilton before I split the biz and went legit as a newspaperman. Well, as legit as one can in the fishwrap racket. I found the skillset, at least during interviews and especially phoners, is essentially the same. The only difference is the people I chat up are trying to sell ME.

It is seldom that I’m afforded an opportunity to work off some of my karmic debt. On the rare occasion I get a call from a telemarketer, I get a churlish thrill out of torturing the poor “lord of the rings” before one of us (usually them) finally hangs up.

I up the ante considerably when I get an outright scammer on the line. Then I downshift into pure, delicious sadism. The first sign I’ve got a scammer on the line occurs when they butcher my name. It’s admittedly hard to pronounce but when someone is actually trying to sell me something, they bother to learn it. When someone is merely phishing, chances are they’re rolling calls on some sucker list and want to play. So, when the so-called “Federal Treasury Grant Program” rang to congratulate me on the $7,000 it was going to reward me for being a “good citizen,” the con in my hands-free set made my name sound like the phonetic equivalent of a pretzel.

Next clue – if such a program existed, which it does not – the federal government wouldn’t outsource their call center overseas so a guy with a foreign accent as thick as chowder, mysteriously calling himself “Brian,” and offering to give me its money.

The beauty of this particular scam was the phishing aspect – first they call, congratulate you on your award, request cursory information, then ask you to call another number with a confirmation code. They let the suckers self-select. Or, in my case, it was an invitation to wreak some havoc. As advised, I called 202-657-6729 with my code, LA248, at the ready. Another party answered the phone with the same accent, requested my code and then explained that they needed my bank information to transact the funds. Undoubtedly, somewhere along the line, a security deposit would also be requested whilst my banking information was sold to identity thieves. Of course, I didn’t let it get that far. Instead, I took the opportunity make a few requests of my own.

First, I asked for their address which “Dan Williams,” as he identified himself, said was, as if by rote, 200 Independence Ave., which is actually the location of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. Points for effort, Dan – you bothered to Google a vaguely-applicable-but-totally-bogus location.

Next, I asked what the weather was like. This question, which should take a nanosecond to answer, elicited the reply, “Partly cloudy with a chance of rain” about 30 seconds later. Enough time to look it up online but too much time to be honest.

Then I asked if he liked coffee. He said yes, so I asked for the name of their nearest coffee shop. This stumped Dan, whose voice rose an octave as he rapidly and repeatedly asked why I was asking, then hung up.

A few minutes later, my caller ID indicated an incoming call from 202-657-6548. I answered as the Federal Treasury Grant Program, “Dan Williams speaking.” This caused Dan to temporarily lose his mind and merely squawk, “Ack, ack, ack” before he killed the call. Then I proceeded to call back every time the urge struck me for the next several hours.

Sufficiently spooked, Dan, Brian, et al, began answering the phone – if they answered at all – with a meek “Hello?” You know, just like our Federal government does. If our government’s phone protocol is so informal, does the White House answer “Barry’s joint?” By evening, the numbers rolled into a voicemail prompt, inexplicably with an English accent. “The party you’re trying to reach is unavailable.” I’m pretty sure that seven grand is unavailable too. Damn. And I was feeling like such a good citizen.

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Call upon Daedalus Howell at dhowell.com.