Opportunity to practice your improv skills

I've been getting upset lately about people calling twice or three times a day from India (or Nigeria?) telling me there's something wrong with my Windows computer, or that they have a report that someone in my family has been taking blood thinner medicine and I can get in on a lawsuit. Surprisingly there seems to be no change in the frequency of these interruptions from angrily telling them to take my number off their list and to stop calling me.

I think I found a way out today that I can share. If you'd like to practice your improv skills and get such a call when you're doing something that doesn't require your full attention (potato peeling: OK, potato cutting: not OK) act like someone a few bricks short of a load and see how long you can engage them before they hang up. I think I got over two minutes just now. Prolong pauses, back up, riff off what they say. Eventually they will hang up when they realize it's hopeless, but if you show just the right amount of potential you may be able to string them along and beat the other members of your group's top scores. For example, the caller says that he's been told that someone in my family has been using blood thinner medicine. You ask if it's the doctor's office that is calling. The caller says no, they are an independent agency that's gotten a report from a medical group that you've been taking this blood thinner medicine. You say you were in about two weeks ago to take a blood test but haven't gotten the result. Do they have the results yet? They say they are not the doctor's office.

In theater improv a basic approach is "Yes, and..." meaning that you avoid contradicting your partner's suggestions that would kill the line they hand you. Like if they say "Have you seen my elephant?" you don't want to say "No", or "You don't have an elephant!" since that would break the flow. Instead you answer with something like "Yes, she just left to go to the football game but should be back this afternoon. Should we prepare a surprise for her?" This is how you get along with other people. You can nurture your capacity to follow another person's lead during these phone calls by honing your ability to seize on opportunities to twist what they say on the phone, all the while being amused by observing their growing exasperation as their patience runs out.

I was telling my daughter about this, and we came up with a number of variations. You could start doing different voice imitations, slip in and out of lucidity, have someone pick up a second phone extension and start ordering pizza, or like I used to do when people came to the door to try to sell me something, reach for an item (like one of my self-produced CDs) that I left by the front door for just such an occasion, and turn the tables and try to sell them something. I think I'll add it to my list of things to do while waiting to come up with a scam that I could try to pull on people who call about my Microsoft Windows computer needing a security upgrade or my history with blood thinning medicine. Until I think of something good perhaps I'll start interviewing them to see if they would like to do telephone sales for my company, Lovely Thinking, who has a need for skills and ambition like theirs. I'm starting to worry that I've teetering altogether too close to the edge on this one, or maybe have already slipped over, but then my younger brother told me that the "No problem" response is his wife's pet peeve, too, so maybe there is something to it. I told him I was considering starting a performance art piece where I'll say "No problem" at inappropriate times in order to start wavelets of consciousness as other people wonder why I said that in that particular situation, and then connect the dots and become more aware of how it's slipping into common usage. Like when someone tells me they like my shoes, or points out how nice the sunset is  I can come right back with a cheerful "No problem!" My brother warned me that while it could be satisfying in the short run, it could have an undesireable longterm effect. People might start saying "No problem" more often, and not just in the service industry. Imagine my teenagers saying in an ironic tone, as only teenagers can, "No problem, Dad" when I ask them to scoot over on the couch so I's can sit down, or to go turn off their bedroom light if they're going to be downstairs watching TV.

There are three basic ends to this phone improv session. In most cases the caller will just give up and stop talking to you and hang up without saying goodbye. As your skill develops you may start to sense that time is about to run out, at which point you can either say "I'm just messing with you man/lady. Thanks for playing along" (knowing that you're risking them answering with "No problem"), or else just quietly hang up the phone.

In addition to exercising your listening and improv skills, this also works as an outlet for tension for passive/aggressive personalities.