BROOKE GLADSTONE: But as they say, "turnabout is fair play." Nowadays the annoying phone call is primarily the province of telemarketers who call you when you're in the bathtub or eating dinner or sleeping or otherwise attending to needs far greater than listening to a sales pitch. Frustrated and heretofore unrecorded country singer Tom Mabe decided to fight back by torturing those unwanted callers with a variety of outrages.
WOMAN: We're a non-profit organization--
TOM MABE: Mm-hm?
WOMAN: -- and we're calling you today in hopes that you'd be willing to help someone less fortunate than yourself.
TOM MABE: Uh-- oh! You just hit my heart, you know - I do so much charity work; I pay the conjugal visits down at the prison -- don't get me wrong - some of these guys just need to be held.
BOB GARFIELD: Tom Mabe, I guess the question that all of America is asking is what the hell is the matter with you?!
MAN:[LAUGHS] I got tired of MCI calling me more than my friends and family did. You know I'm financially embarrassed waiting for the phone to ring, you know, being a musician and working on a house -- and it kind of -- well I got this, you know, I'm like -- I like having fun. I just started -- on my little thirty-seven dollar answering machine I hit the memo button and - and started recording.
BOB GARFIELD: What's your favorite one?
TOM MABE:Low self-esteem - the first cut is kind of like my Sweet Home Alabama -- everybody knows me by that cut, you know, hey yeah that -that's the - kind of the hit off the CD.
TOM MABE: Hello!?
WOMAN: Is this Mr. Mabe?
TOM MABE: Yes, it is.
WOMAN: This is Cheryl [BEEP] calling on behalf of [BEEP]--
TOM MABE: Tell you what, ma'am - I just got a call from my, my boy at school - his school counselor called up and said that he-- he had low self-esteem and-- he needed more encouragement at home. And I tell you what - I try to encourage him all the time to be half as good as his brother, but go ahead.
WOMAN: Okay, sir. The reason for my call-- [NOISE]
TOM MABE: Ooooo!
WOMAN: -- is as a valued card member in the next two to three weeks you will be receiving a thirty day no risk trial of--
TOM MABE: Thirty days no risk trial? Well what the hell they had that kind of guarantee on my boy--
WOMAN: Is he sitting right there with you?
TOM MABE: He's right next-- [SHOUTING] Sit down there! Quit your crying and be quiet!
WOMAN: Sir, maybe he needs a little more encouragement--
TOM MABE: [SHOUTING] I told you - encouragement! I encourage him all the time to be half as good as his brother!
WOMAN: Well, sir I, I am a mother of three, and--
TOM MABE: [....?....] three?
WOMAN: -- they are - you are talking to him is, is not very encouraging--
TOM MABE: [LAUGHS]!
BOB GARFIELD: To get to-- you know I, I know there's a lot of musicians who-- they come up with a hit -you know - a top ten hit and then they get sick of singing it--
TOM MABE: Oh, yeah.
BOB GARFIELD: -- for the rest of their careers--
TOM MABE: Mm-hm.
BOB GARFIELD: -- do, do you feel that way about Low Self-esteem?
TOM MABE: [LAUGHS] Yeah, kind of - you know - and plus I, I signed a five record deal with Virgin, and the thing is telemarketers are catching on to me now and so you know I have to go to the state fair and just sign up for everything, you know, register to win and get my name on some lists again, cause they're not calling as much.
BOB GARFIELD: Why does this strike such a chord, such a resonant chord with listeners?
TOM MABE:Well because right now when people are listening to us there's, there's a lot of 'em being interrupted by telemarketers. I mean -trying to feed the baby - trying to have dinner - I mean geez, they call at the most inappropriate times.
BOB GARFIELD: Was there a single moment, a single moment of inspiration that you're most proud of that you feel like God touched you?
TOM MABE: Yes. First CD -- it's called "Tom Fires A Telemarketer."
WOMAN:Before we continue I need to tell you that our supervisors periodically monitor these interviews to ensure quality and courtesy. Do you currently have a paid job?
TOM MABE: Oh, yeah! St--
WOMAN: And are you--
TOM MABE: -- I'm a porn star!
WOMAN: [LAUGHS] That's funny - I'm surprised I haven't met up with you cause I'm a porn star too.
TOM MABE: Are you really?
TOM MABE: What movies have you appeared in?
WOMAN: All of 'em.
TOM MABE: All right then!
WOMAN: Okay! [PHONE RINGING]
WOMAN: [....?....] Candisi - can I help you?
TOM MABE: This is Dr. Thomas Mabe; I'm trying to get a hold of an employee of yours -- Theresa Merfeb [sp?].
WOMAN: Oh, hi. She won't be in till one o'clock.
TOM MABE: Okay.
WOMAN: Doctor do you have her home number?
TOM MABE: No, I do not have it on me - that's why I'm calling her work.
WOMAN: Okay, so let me - I can give it to you.
TOM MABE: Okay, thank you so much.
WOMAN: Okay. So let's hold on one second-- here we go - okay - and her number is 5 6 3 --
TOM MABE: Okay--
WOMAN: -- okay?
TOM MABE: Thank you so much. [....?....].
WOMAN: [....?....]. Bye bye.
TOM MABE: Bye bye. [DIAL TONE]
TOM MABE: Woo!! [DIAL TONE/INPUTTING NUMBERS] [PHONE RINGING]
TOM MABE: Theresa?
TOM MABE: Theresa, this is Tom Wrightson; I'm calling from [....?....] Research Corporation?
TOM MABE: I work in a quality control p--department. We had monitored a call that you had a couple of weeks ago-- where you were claiming to be in the porn industry and the company has a problem with that because the name is representing you with the porn industry, and we can't have that.
WOMAN: I don't remember saying that.
TOM MABE: Well we have it on tape and-- unfortunately we're going to have to - we're going to ask you to - not to come in to work [....?....].
WOMAN: My God! You're serious aren't you!
TOM MABE: Yeah, absolutely! Yeah!
WOMAN: Okay. Bye.
TOM MABE: Then I had to call her back and say hey - just - just a prank.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, and, and now-- I understand that you feel like you - you have this spirit of vengeance that's underpinning this whole exercise, but do you ever feel bad? You know these are people just - yeah, they have a job that's very unpleasant to you, but you know that's - they're just making a living. Do you ever feel guilty over it? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
TOM MABE: Yeah, you know my cousin - my cousin sells drugs and he tells me the same thing - I say man, you shouldn't be selling drugs! He says hey, I gotta make a living. I mean if you could see the death threats I get - I mean these are morons!
BOB GARFIELD: Death -- threats ??
TOM MABE: Death threats.
BOB GARFIELD: Tell me.
TOM MABE:I'm a single mother - I'm just doing my job and you'll - you'll die soon! Things like that. I mean I've actually handed a four e-mails to the FBI -- all kinds of stuff -- just totally, you know, you will die. That you -you will die soon is the one that sticks out in my head.
BOB GARFIELD:I can see how that might. You - there's one of your pieces on the second album - it's cut number seven on your second album and it's about the-- the telemarketer calls -- you happen to be in the bathroom.
TOM MABE: But did - you know - it-- they don't care!?! You, you sit there and tell you're in the bath - I was seeing how far I could push 'em! I'm just on the toilet right now-- well sir, reason why we're calling-- I mean you just get [GROANS!!] -- well sir, and it get - I mean they [LAUGHS] - it doesn't bother them! [LAUGHS]
BOB GARFIELD:Do you have at, at long last a certain grudging admiration for the persistence of some of these people who go right through the flow chart, go right to the next question--
TOM MABE: Oh!!
BOB GARFIELD: -- and seem completely unfazed by your theatrics? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
TOM MABE: They're - they - the-- they are so happy that I'm staying on the phone with them, because the average telemarketing call is - as you get that 4 second pause and hi Miss-- I'm going to mispronounce your last name and - and you know - and you just click. So they're just so happy I'm staying on the phone with 'em that they'll do anything.
BOB GARFIELD: Is it your goal to get them to hang up on you?
TOM MABE: Yeah. Yeah, a tele-- if I hang up on them it doesn't make it - it doesn't make the album.
BOB GARFIELD: And what happens when this is-- when this is played out and how long do you think it'll be before this is all played out?
TOM MABE:I think there's one more CD before people just get tired of it. I, I'm going to have to do something else - like Revenge of the Drive Through Windows or, or something. I mean I, I get tired of hearing it.
BOB GARFIELD: Tom Mabe! Thanks for joining us!
TOM MABE: Hey, thanks for having me on. I appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD: Tom Mabe's second album is called "Revenge on the Telemarketers, Round Two.