A telephonic Canterbury tale with a happy ending

The Canterbury Society is not, as its name suggests, an academic coterie of religious or Chaucerian scholars. It is in fact something quite different. More on that later. As its symposiarch (more about that later as well), I recently succumbed to a mail-order offer and purchased 100 pens with the society's name inscribed thereon ... and thereby hangs "A Canterbury Tale."

Before the pens were even distributed, the pen company began to bombard me with other offers - date books, calendars, key rings, refrigerator magnets, and more. When I resisted, the pen people, perhaps in retribution, sold my address to other mail-order types.

I was inundated with offers: magazines, goods, services, credit cards.

Take the credit cards, for instance. I have not kept a running account of the aggregate amount of money for which the Society is eligible, but it would be no exaggeration to say that the credit available to it runs into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

I have kept better track of the titles under which I have received the myriad mailings. My latest count is 22, including: small business owner, chairman, president, director, secretary, production manager, safety manager, athletic director, media director, food-service director, purchasing agent, awards buyer, graphic designer, editor, public relations associate, and training and conditioning coordinator.

If that weren't enough, somewhere along the way I lost my identity and gained a new one. At first I got mail addressed to me by name with one of the foregoing titles, Soon "George Hanford" disappeared from the incoming envelopes and the mail started arriving for the Society by title only. Then a new player arrived: Hanford George. Now he gets a mailing or two a week and even an occasional phone call.

It was one of those calls that brought the whole experience into focus.

"Hello, is this the Canterbury Society?"

"Yes," I replied.

"Is this Hanford George?"


"But this is the Canterbury Society?"


He said he was representing a well-known credit bureau and "would like to get some information about the Society for our listing. May I ask what your name and title are?"

I told him my name and added that I was the society's symposiarch.

"What's that again?" he said.

"Symposiarch: One who presides over a symposium,"

A pause.

"Is there someone with another title I can talk to?"

I pondered offering the option of any one of the 22 titles I had accumulated. Mercy conquered temptation and I replied, "No. The Society has only one officer. And anyway, if there were somebody else, I don't think you'd want to talk to him or her either. The Society is composed of all those men and women who have played goalie for a Harvard ice hockey team. It's named after legendary coach 'Skeets' Canterbury. It meets to drink and eat once a year. Its means are meager."


"I doubt you're interested in listing an enterprise that has only one officer, has an annual budget of $850, and maintains a bank balance on the order of $3,000."

That is the only time I have been hung up on by a telephone solicitor. A happy ending to "A Canterbury Tale."

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