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Phony Phone Calls
Reach out and avoid someone

By Jeanne Marie Laskas
Sunday, February 24, 2008

Finally, a cellphone service available to everyone, everywhere -- free! No overage charges, no hidden fees, no contracts and no dropped calls, ever. Probably thousands of people have already been using it, but I just discovered it, so I'm going to claim it and also name it:Fake Foning.

The technology has been working well for me at the office, but there are infinite applications. The grocery store. A singles bar.

Virtually any public space.

Say, for instance, you work at a humongous university in an English department with zillions of fascinating but often very talky faculty members -- not to mention talky students -- buzzing about. So, say you're in your office, with the door firmly shut because that is the only way you can get any work done. Now, say you need to use the rest-room. The trip down the hall will, you know, take approximately one hour. Because a person can't walk into the fray of talky people without getting pulled aside for a question, a bit of gossip, a new read on a certain line of Paradise Lost. It gets to the point where it's not even worth taking the trip to the restroom, but then, of course, you could run into health problems.

So, a cellphone. Any cellphone. Even a pretend one. Just pick it up. Don't dial. Just hold that phone to your face and start talking. Walk confidently down the hall engaged in fake conversation, making sure to tailor both the tenor and content to the person standing before you whom you are trying to evade.

For standard colleague avoidance, I suggest fake chatting about fake business:

"Yes, and that's why I'm glad you called, because we really need to hammer out the details. What's that? Yes, I read Page 12, but if you look at the bottom of 4, I think you can see that the problem begins right there. Exactly! Oh, we sure do have our work cut out for us."

Be animated. Be engrossed in your fake fone conversation.

Make eye contact with the people passing, nod to them, gesture keen interest in talking to them at a later time, point to your phone, shrug and move on.

(Rude? Conniving? Look, if we have to live in a world where what passes for etiquette allows people to walk around talking on their cellphones all the time, we might as well take advantage of it.)

I suggest a slightly different content strategy if you are trying to avoid bosses who make mean eyes at you for being so rude as to be talking on your cellphone while they have something important to tell you. On these occasions, you have to go personal, and you have to go emergency:

"Our attorney? What? Oh, honey, this is a disaster! He actually believes they have a case? No! I don't have the records! Did you tell him they got destroyed in the fire?"

Put one hand on your head, tug at your scalp, look upset. The boss will happily slink away.

Shoppers should consider fake foning anytime they spot a talky neighbor in the produce department pinching unripe peaches. Without your phone at your face, you'd be in for a good 20-minute tirade on how terrible the world is, what with the state of peach picking. Singles feeling shy about entering a bar to meet the cute potential mate sitting in the window should fake fone their way into that bar, fake chat their way right toward the cute one, using fake fone conversation such as: "Thank you. Yeah, I feel really good about the award. I know, it's a lot of money. Maybe I can buy that houseboat! Just kidding. I'll donate the first million to the refugees who so desperately need it, then invest."

You'd want, of course, to carry this fake conversation on at a high volume as you approach the cute one. And then you should pretend your fake caller has to go, leaving you abruptly alone. Look sad. If the cute one starts up a conversation with you and asks you about the award or the refugees, well, you're on your own.

One important caution about fake foning. This should be obvious, but it wasn't to me. I was fake foning my way past a colleague one morning, and he was actually following me to get my attention. I knew he wanted to ask about a project I had not yet finished, and I was trying to buy myself some time, so I continued fake foning with my doctor about a mysterious medical condition I turned out not to have. "Normal? So I don't need the operation? Oh, doctor, that is the best news."

And then: Brrrrrrng! Brrrrrrng! Brrrrrrng! My phone started ringing, right there while it was planted on my face, right in the middle of the news of my fake medical miracle. My colleague looked at me, and I at him, and naturally I gasped. "What is the matter with this thing?" I said, pulling the phone away to look at it, and then putting it back to my ear.

"Hello? Are you still there?"

Oops.

Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is post@jmlaskas.com.

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