Sometimes life can get a little irritating. Like when you find out that the traffic jam that you’ve been struck in for at least 45 minutes was caused by rubbernecking drivers who seem to be intensely interested in the guy on the side of the road who is innocently changing his flat fire. I can understand a little rubbernecking when an ambulance is on the scene or when the car looks like a crumpled tin can. But unless the guy on the side of the road won international recognition and acclaim for his incredible technique in tire repair, I’m really not interested.

Or how about when you see a young athlete leap out of a car that is neatly parked in a handicapped parking spot? You look around and there is not a handicapped person in sight. I guess old-fashioned guilt does go very far these days.

We can all point to a few things that get on our nerves. Here’s my personal nomination for the most irritating moment in life. It’s 7:30 p.m. As I listen to my wife describe how her day went, I start to delve into my pork chop smothered in applesauce. Life is good and all is right with the world. But then the phone rings. Who could it be? Could it be Mom, Dad, or a good friend? A return call from the tree trimming service? Nope. It’s a script-bound telemarketer who first tries to butter me up with words of concern about “how I am doing tonight” before going in for the kill. He tells me that he is offering me a special deal on some new and improved product that I have never heard of or thought I would ever need. He’s running though the script like a well-oiled machine. I am then forced to throw a wrench in the gears and interrupt the telemarketer with my patented statement: “I am not interested, thank you.” I can once again resume my life on my terms. My pork chop is getting cold. But we know that the ever-solicitous telemarketer will be back.

There may be help on the way. Now pending in the California Legislature is SB 771 (Figueroa), which would require the Department of Consumer Affairs to maintain a “do not call list” containing all of the telephone numbers of residential and wireless telephone subscribers (excluding their names and addresses) who don’t want to receive their unsolicited telephone calls. SB 771, known as the “Do Not Call Bill,” is modeled on similar programs that have been enacted in 24 other states. State legislatures are acting because the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, which gives subscribers, during a telephone solicitation, the option to request that they be put on the solicitor’s “do not call list” is not strong enough and not adequately enforced. The option to be placed on the company’s “do not call list” can be exercised only after one’s privacy has already been invaded and can only be done on an ad hoc, company-by-company basis. Further, a recent investigation, published in the industry’s trade magazine, “Teleprofessional,” revealed that only 35% of the investigated companies were in compliance with federal law.

An intense battle is now taking place over whether SB 771 emerges from the Legislature and is signed into law. Powerful business interests want to continue to have the “right” to solicit your business over the phone. Governor Davis has not taken a stand.

Our elected officials should, when considering action on SB 771, keep one fundamental thought in mind. The telephone is the essential and indispensable means by which we communicate with our family and friends about the important things in life. We find out that Grandma broke her leg and is in the hospital via the telephone not the snail mail. When the telephone rings we either have to answer it or screen the call. Telemarketers should not have the total and unregulated “right” to choose when we want to be “consumers” and when we don’t. At dinnertime, I want to talk to my wife and not my new best friend, the ever-solicitous telemarketer.

September 14, 2001.

Postscript: SB 771 was signed into law by Governor Davis.