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OCTOBER 5, 1998:  1-800-KISS MY ASS: Of all things, we were actually grateful when an AT&T rep called our house one evening last week. See, in late August we installed a home-office line separate from our residential line (though both are unlisted and unpublished numbers). So imagine our surprise--well, not really surprise in these jaded consumer times, but unexpected annoyance bordering on outrage--when this sprightly representative informed us we'd recently switched to another carrier, prompting their "call to express their concern."

Quickly we tallied the number of credit card applications, long-distance phone solicitations, mail-order catalogs and coupons we'd thrown away over the past several weeks. Never mind the fact that we hadn't hung up on any actual phone jockeys. We hadn't bought anything by mail or over the Internet; we hadn't answered any surveys--hell, we hadn't even used the new phone which had on this evening rung for the first time.

So what the hell was this guy talking about?

Take note: If your local service provider is U.S. West, their Carrier Service Bureau (1-800-922-1879) can not only tell you who slammed your long-distance service, they'll credit your bill for the switch-fee ($5 to $10), restore your original provider, and put a freeze on your phone line (if you so request) so that no carrier can change your service without your explicit, written consent.

So who was the perp? In this case, it was a corporation that calls itself The Phone Company (cute, ay?), a subsidiary of that terrifically service-oriented entity (gag!) America Online. Thank God for catchy marketing--the unforgettably bright yellow junk mail envelope had arrived some weeks previous, and left an indelible mark on our memory: Now we specifically recalled ripping it in two and throwing it away without even breaking its seal. Big mistake, apparently.

While the service bureau could only tell us the date of our change in service, and not the form in which it arrived, we suspect the marketeers have finally caught up with the politicians--these days, reflexively saying no (or nothing at all) can now be construed as a yes. Non-buyers beware. (Or just call the Carrier Service Bureau or your non-U.S. West local provider and ask them to "freeze your PIC.")

LIFE'S BETTER HERE: Being a savvy consumer takes more than information these days; it requires creative problem solving. Take unwanted phone solicitations: You've tried asking them to delete your name forever from their lists (hah!); you've tried being polite, lying, getting indignant, peremptorily hanging up. Nothing works.

A source close to The Weekly has undertaken a careful experiment in the art of stopping telemarketers dead in their tracks in as few minutes as humanly possible. His first approach was subtle: It's called "Alien Abduction Decoy," and it starts like this: "Thank God it's you...you're the only one who can help me!"

Unfortunately, all telemarketers surveyed continued undaunted, even when their potential "sale" screamed that "They" were in the living room, and had come to take him away.

This approach, while initially therapeutic, proved way too much effort in the long run.

But after some weeks of brainstorming, trial, and mostly error, our mad social scientist has hit on new ruse that's proved 100-percent effective so far: "Operation Obscenity."

No, it does not consist of verbally abusing callers. Rather, it's to turn the solicitor into the solicited: "You have a really sexy voice," our man replies to the latest offer for legal services and a complimentary drafting of his living will.

"Uh, thank you," the telemarketer replies before continuing her spiel. But the note of fear was unmistakable, and our man knew he had the upper hand.

"What're you wearing?" he asked lasciviously after the next round. His only answer was the "click" of a phone call abruptly cut short.

Us 1; Them 0. Rematch?

INTERNET DECENCY BILL: According to one of our fave reports on publishing trends (http://www.bookflash.com/), after Congress made the sexually explicit Starr report available on the Internet, the House Commerce telecommunications subcommittee passed the Child Online Protection Act, which could make posting such information on commercial sites illegal. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Oxley. A similar bill by Sen. Dan Coats (R-Indiana) is also on Congress' plate. Get a glass of water, kids. It's time to swallow our national irony supplement.

And while the White House scandal has been a boon for some in the publishing business, not all have prospered: Apparently nobody's flocking to hear Monica Lewinsky's side of the story. Although word on the street some weeks ago was that Fornigate was commanding $6 million at the booksellers', publishers aren't admitting any interest (even though young Monica's agent has been shopping the book in earnest). Some publishers reportedly contend that "Starr has already provided the public with the shocking details that would make the book sellable."

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