Monday, November 28, 2022

Two weeks abroad on an annual summer vacation can be somewhat disorienting when you return stateside. My recent trip to Israel where my wife and I spent those two weeks based in Jerusalem overlapped by chance with both the Republican and Democratic conventions. These distinctly American events were in fact global in their impact. Given a seven-hour time difference, we watched the afternoon sessions with great interest and were awakened early morning by the prime time coverage. Rather than rely on the commentators and panels spinning their skewed webs of misinformation, we instead followed closely the “Whatsapp” commentary provided by our five children and their spouses who seemed to make much more sense than the aforementioned professionals. During this time abroad we were asked by many friends, acquaintances and even strangers in Israel whom we would be voting for in November; the inquisitors seemed to know that their question would be difficult to answer. Though not Americans, they were aware that the two presidential candidates in 2016 seemed uniquely unsuited for the office to which they aspired. Both were considered untrustworthy by close to 70 percent of the electorate. Second, one candidate seemed to possess the seemingly contradictory qualities of “putting his foot in his mouth” on alarmingly numerous occasions while simultaneously stubbing his toe with an inane remark. The other candidate, while serving in several governmental positions, some elective and other appointive roles, has not particularly distinguished herself in any of the former tasks and arguably disgraced herself as Secretary of State, if not been guilty of at least misdemeanors in her conduct of that office. Her assertions of innocence on the latter charges and claims of exoneration from any wrongdoing are just the latest in a litany of falsehoods and half-truths emanating from that candidate’s campaign. Taking responsibility for one’s actions or inactions seems sadly to be a quality lacking in both candidates.

So there we were in Israel, being asked what our take was on the upcoming election. You can only imagine how quickly we tried to change the subject. A shrug of our shoulders, a look of bemusement, following which we asked our questioners some questions of our own on a different topic. Soon our trip came to its end and as we drove to Ben Gurion on the morning of our flight, we wondered if the conventions we had observed from afar had in some significant way changed the landscape in the U.S. Remarks from the Republican candidate had almost single-handedly converted his lead of three points in the race to a deficit of 10, if you believe the polls. As we landed on the runway at Liberty Airport 12 hours later, it appeared the party of Lincoln was in a death spiral.

I was home 24 hours when I got the first inkling that, despite the conventions, nothing meaningful had changed in America over our vacation. I was sitting in my recliner, catching up on the financial markets, when my cell phone rang. A voice at the other end stated:

“You’ve been selected to receive a special offer of home improvements. Please stay on the line so we can collect information from you so we can best assist you.”

“I don’t have any need for any such services,” I interjected. Only then did I realize I was talking to a pre-recorded message.

A second voice—this time, a live caller—came on the line:

“We provide many kinds of home-repair services: roofing, siding, painting, heating, cooling, plumbing, etc. Which ones appeal to you?”

“We made a large home renovation last year, in fact,” I vainly tried to interject.

The caller would not be stopped:

“We use the best contractors available. And our prices are most reasonable. We also provide financing at low rates. Does that appeal to you?”

“Not really,” I weakly replied, my jet-lagged mind clouding my response. “I don’t need your services, thank you. I don’t want your services either.”

“You’re absolutely certain we can’t help you?” she countered.

At this point, sarcasm and fatigue took over:

“Only by hanging up,” I said.

Abruptly ending the conversation, I looked at the screen, only to discover my favorite stock was now down an additional 2 percent; I was inclined to blame the decline on the distraction of the unsolicited phone solicitation.

“Back home in America, nothing new here,” I thought.

I got up five minutes later to make some lunch when my phone rang again. This time I sat down at my dining room table to respond.

“Hello, this is your lucky day. We have determined that you may be among a select group of people whose debts may be eliminated because your lender has violated the Fair Credit Lending laws. Press 1 to hear how we can help you eliminate your debt. Press 2 to have your number placed on the “don’t call” list. I was feeling confrontational at this point so I pressed 1. After some seconds, a live caller began her spiel in a friendly tone:

“Good afternoon. Is this Joseph Rottenberg I am speaking with?”

“Actually it’s Rotenberg,” I corrected.

“So sorry, Mr. Rothenberg, I’ll make a note of that.”

I didn’t correct her this time.

“What exactly is this call about? The message said you can eliminate my debt totally. Is that right?”

“Absolutely. Eliminate your debt,” the caller insisted.

“Now you don’t mean you’re just proposing to refinance my debt, like charge me a lower interest rate than I’m now paying. You mean paying off my debt for me?”


“Wow, this must be my lucky day,” I crowed.

“It sure is, Mr. Rosenberg,” she continued. “By the way, how much debt do you owe at this time and what interest rate are you currently paying?”

“Why do you have to know what my current interest rate is? I thought you said you’re going to pay off everything at this time.”

“Yes. By Christmastime, you won’t owe anything. Santa Claus is going to make you a present of all that you owe.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Santa Claus is going to make me a present. I’m not so sure. You see, I’m Jewish. Do you really think Santa’s going to pay off all my debts?”

The caller insisted: “By Christmas you won’t owe a penny. Santa will pay it off even if you’re Jewish!”

Maybe the caller knew something I didn’t, but I politely ended this call with:

“Tell Santa not to bother. I’m sorry. I’m not interested.”

I quickly returned to my recliner, tired from the back and forth of the two calls, now feeling, finally, as if I were safely back in America. Though the electoral times were hazy and confused, as long as the law allowed humorous and annoying unsolicited phone calls in equal proportions, it would remain the country that I loved.

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