NOTE: Melvin is on vacation until October 19. Most of this column first appeared in March 1996.

     I was in the bathroom the other day when the phone rang. Expecting a call from a friend, I rushed out to beat the answering machine.

     It was a saleswoman. She asked whether I'd be interested in buying a burial plot.

     "Funny you should ask," I felt like saying. "I've been dreaming about owning a burial plot for many years. Do you have one I can try out?"

     But I was so annoyed, I hung up abruptly.

     It's a good thing you can't shoot people through the phone.

     Telemarketers might turn me into a serial killer.

     I'd be featured on America's Most Wanted: "The telephone killer is armed and dangerous. If you need to dial his number, use a speaker phone and stand back."

     Far too many times, the telephone wakes me up. And it's usually a salesperson -- someone who can't pronounce my last name, but wants to give me a special deal.

     The conversation goes something like this:

     "How are you today, Mr. Dryer?"

     "I'm broke."

     "We have a special deal for you today, Mr. Dirty."

     "Is it free?"

     "No, but it's a deal we're offering only to special customers, Mr. Droopy. ..."

     Then comes a spiel, about 500 words in 30 seconds.

     When I finally get a pause, I say, "No thanks and please don't call me again, even if you run out of suckers." Click.

     I've never bought anything over the phone. But the calls never stop.

     The other day, I received a call from a company trying to sell me a wake-up service. Like I need more people waking me up.

     One of my friends received calls from a loan service three days in a row at 8 a.m. Someone please lend them some sense.

     This is an issue Congress should be tackling. Let's bring our troops back from Bosnia and ask them to round up these telemarketers. Let's lock them up in a cell and surround it with hundreds of ringing telephones.

     We may also need to create laws that forbid companies from calling people at home, unless the people have signed forms declaring themselves extremely lonely.

     Just in case Congress takes too long to pass this law (it's been known to happen), I'm going to get one of those answering machines that companies use to filter calls.

     First message: "If you're calling from a credit card company, please press '1' now."

     Second message: "I'm sorry, I can't come to the phone. I'm on a shopping spree, maxing out my credit cards before the government deports me to my native land of India. Please send all my bills to my best friend, Bill Gates."

     The message for people selling burial plots: "We're sorry to inform you that Mr. Durai passed away this week. Though he had set aside a million dollars for a burial plot, we couldn't find one nearby and had to cremate him. Please send memorial contributions to his favorite charity, the government."

     The message for other salespeople: "We're sorry, Mr. Durai is busy with another salesperson. But please stay on the line. Your call is important to him. He likes to buy stuff he's never seen."

     Meanwhile, I'd be fast asleep. I'm excited just thinking about it.

Melvin Durai, a graduate of Towson State University and a former Baltimorean, is a humor columnist at the Chambersburg, Pa., Public Opinion.
Write to him at or 77 N. Third St., Chambersburg, Pa. 17201.

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