It's a rare afternoon at home alone, and I answer the ringing telephone. Within the first two seconds, the caller's inability to pronounce my fairly phonetic name establishes that we have a stranger on the line, either sales or survey. Five more seconds (it takes her a while to be certain that I am, indeed, fine today) and the range of choices has been narrowed to "survey." Yes, I am the Lady of the House and, yes, there are teenagers who reside with me.
At the other end of the line, I can hear the survey girl rubbing her hands with glee. I am the perfect candidate to answer "just a few questions."
This is the moment when the conversation could have been terminated. Clearly, the caller missed her chance. "Are you the person in your family who is primarily responsible for doing laundry?" she asks.
I bypass an endless number of sarcastic one- liners in favor of, "Yes." Years of experience have taught me that playing it straight is faster.
"Do you use laundry-spray pretreatments?"
"Would you say you use them: (a) every time you wash, (b) one to four times per month, (c) less than once per month?"
"Every time I wash."
"Do you buy these products: (a) monthly, (b) once every one to three months, or (c) once every three to six months?"
"No," I say.
"No what?" she asks.
It is easy to envision her fingers hovering above a computer keyboard, anticipating the response that will let her move on to the next question.
"I haven't bought laundry pretreatment spray for....," I pause to count on my fingers, "at least four years."
"Four years?" she repeats.
"That's right," I say. "My daughter was in fifth grade when she picked a science-fair project on which spray removes stains best. We bought them all, and I'm still working on the supply. She's a freshman now."
The survey-giver is silent a moment. "So would you say that when you buy these products you are most interested in: (a) value, (b) convenience, or (c) quality?"
"Well, honestly, we were only interested in variety. She had to have at least six to make a good comparison."
Her keyboard remains quiet.
"Let's move on to hair-care products," she says. "Have you purchased shampoo and/or conditioner for any member of your family in the last six months?"
Once again I quell a rising tide of more creative responses and answer, "Yes." There is an audible sigh of relief on the other end of the line, and a few happy clicks on the keyboard.
"Please consider only your most recent hair-care purchase: Was it for yourself or for another family member?"
"It was for my daughter."
"Would you say you purchased these products based on: (a) advertisements, (b) value, or (c) past experience with the products?"
"I bought it because my daughter's friend suggested it."
"So it was recommended to you?"
"Sure," I answer. "It was recommended."
"Was your daughter: (a) very happy with the product, (b) moderately happy with the product, or (c) less than happy with the product."
"She was less than happy - C," I say, pleased to find a correct response among the choices.
"Was that because the product left her hair: (a) unmanageable, (b) too dry, (c) too oily, or (d) other?"
"Could you explain that?"
"A second friend with even prettier hair than the first suggested that she try another product, so she gave the original product to me, and I think it's great."
"So you would buy it again?" she asks.
"I doubt it," I admit. There's always a fresh bottle of the girls' last reject waiting for me. Buying the same thing again would seem a little extravagant, don't you think?"
There is silence at the other end of the connection, followed by what can only be knuckle-cracking, and then more silence. "Thank you for your time," she says weakly, and hangs up.
Strange, I think. I thought for sure she'd want to have a chat about breakfast cereals.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society