When I Pretend I’m Not Me

Josie Leavitt - April 17, 2013

Okay, I’m going to be really honest with all of you. I need to confess something. Sometimes, when I answer the phone at work and someone asks, “For the owner or manager,” I pretend I’m not here. Is this terrible? Yes. Would my grandmother be horrified? Most definitely. Why do I do this? I’ll tell you why.
Working in a bookstore can be a frustrating day of not quite getting in the right rhythm. I can come to work with the best intentions to get a project done or do some orders, and all it takes is one customer to derail my solitary work because I’m on a quest to find an eager student teacher the perfect book for a unit on algae or help another customer with just the right book for her budding artist granddaughter. This spontaneity is one of the joys of retail, because you just never know who is going to walk in with a request that’s challenging but so much fun to track down.
I don’t like solicitors calling and taking up my time. Each call starts the same way asking for the owner or person in charge of paper supplies. If I say, “Why yes, I am the person who makes decisions about copy paper,” I can kiss the next fifteen minutes goodbye. And whenever someone cold calls and says it’ll only take five minutes, they’re wrong. It takes far more than five minutes for them to explain what they’re selling and for me to politely say I’m not interested at the moment. I have nothing but respect for folks who have to make cold calls all day. I can imagine nothing worse sometimes than to get hung up on over and over again.
There is a way people who don’t know the owner or manager ask for the owner or manager that let’s me know I can punt this call or suggest they send an email. I punt the call by saying I’m neither the owner nor the manager. I know this sounds horrible, but this way I don’t get stuck on a call that’s not important and I give the caller a better way to get the information to me. This is a good theory until someone asks for the manager for an event.
This has only happened once. The phone rang, this lovely woman asked in a halting way for the manager. I said I was not the manager but would happily take a message. She got halfway through her message about wanting us to sell books for David Sedaris when he came to Burlington. I had to sheepishly confess that, well, in fact I was the manager. Thankfully, the woman had a sense of humor and didn’t think I was a total oddball.
We had a wonderful event and I learned a valuable lesson: don’t answer the phone.

7 thoughts on “When I Pretend I’m Not Me

  1. Kathy

    Back in the day, right after Ma Bell broke up, we got hundreds of calls from long distance company solicitors. We invented an employee named Shirley who was in charge of our long distance service. Whenever a solicitor called we would say “Shirley’s in charge of that and she’s not in right now.” They would thank us and hang up. Whenever they called back and asked for Shirley, we could truthfully say “She’s not in right now.” They would thank us and hang up. It took maybe thirty seconds instead of listening to the inevitable 15 minute spiel. For a while there Shirley was a really popular lady.

  2. Carol Chittenden

    I just sit here offering my standard, “Thank you for calling but we have that all taken care of,” and thanking my lucky stars that I don’t have to make cold calls in order to eat. But my brother offers, in a voice of great fervor, a chance for the caller to find salvation through the Church of the Black Lab. His congregation remains small, but his karma is OK.

  3. Nikki Ehlers

    I’m the director of a small public library. Once when I pretended that I wasn’t in charge, the salesperson called back to report me to my supervisor! If I pretend that I’m not me, it seems that the salesperson just calls back over and over. My standard reply is “Thanks so much for calling, but we just can’t buy over the phone. Please take us off your call list. If you will send me something in the mail, I will be glad to consider your product.” Then I hang up. That way I’ve saved the salesperson the time he/she might have spent calling back and I’ve gotten our phone number off the list. I feel guilty that I’ve just foisted the irritation off on my staff who might answer the phone the next time if I don’t end the relationship once and for all.


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