by Thomas Davidson

Telephone terrorism is on the rise! That sound you hear is not a dial tone. It’s an incoming missile. Defend yourself!



The Art of

Telephone Ju-Jitsu

An Insider’s Guide to Thwarting Telephone Attacks & Cell Phone Assault (or How to be a Telephone Fundraiser)

[Warning: asterisks denote unwarranted, volcanic language from potential donors with mood disorders.]


Fundraising is based on a single, cheerful principle—everyone is a billionaire, so demand Heaven and Earth. You may raise money for Mother Teresa’s Calcutta Crash Pad, but how you suck in the bucks suggests a plumber’s snake. A toilet jack. The telephone line is the sewer line. You run a snake through the wires, break past the crappy objections clogging your way, and head toward a credit card like a man-eating eel.


Start small, be reasonable. You insist their $25 donation to the Dump Truck Foundation (“We dump love across the globe!”) will prevent World War III and forestall the Apocalypse. A hefty $35 donation will topple the Antichrist’s ascension in the West, arms outstretched, emerging from a steamy sewer pipe in the Bronx. And, for goodness sake, don’t be crude. Avoid the word “money.” Whisper: “gift,” “donation,” “contribution,” or “the mother’s milk of our miraculous mission of mercy.”


What follows are fundraising hurdles. You, an Olympian athlete, leap over reasonable objections, such as long-term unemployment, crushing medical bills, or homelessness. Your job is to interrupt a family supper (“You’re calling me at nine o’clock at night, you f****** moron!”) with the kids. Urgent issues are the ammunition to get “the gift.” So petrify folks with imminent doom. Sound like a breathless prophet having a panic attack.

“Yo, Mrs. Kowalski? Hang onto your hat. This is Nostradamus with a red-hot update.”


Nostradamus: “Will that be VISA or MasterCard?”

As any novelist or screenwriter can tell you, the key to storytelling is conflict. No conflict, no story: total snooze. As Aristotle (history’s first one-name celeb?) pointed out in 335 BC, while working at an Athenian call center and developing his theory of deductive phone-calling, “Every fundraising call consists of three parts: Exposition (torture) Rising Action (guilt), Climax (donation or refusal).” If this sounds like theatre, it should. If your fundraising call isn’t pure theatre—one-part comedy, two-parts melodrama—then it’s time to see your supervisor for another coaching session.


Aristotle, the ultimate, mad-dog fundraiser;

known as “Full-Throttle Aristotle”

C’est la vie. Let us proceed—and save the planet.


EXPOSITION (torture)

Ring, ring, ring.

FUNDRAISER: “Hello, my name is Theodore Bundy, and I’m calling on behalf of…”

Beware of BEHALF. The nanosecond you hear “behalf,” drop the phone and run through a brick wall. But let’s face it, you’re partly to blame. You saw the Caller ID readout: ANONYMOUS CALLER. Yet you picked up. You thought—what? The lottery commission was calling? You willingly joined this dance of doom. Buck up and take responsibility.


FUNDRAISER: “I’m sure you’re aware of the recent extreme weather patterns. A tornado squeezed through an air-conditioning unit and ripped across the 84th floor of Bank of Kokomo. It destroyed six staplers; a big box of pink layoff slips set to be delivered; and a secret, 100,000 square-foot, 9-hole, executive golf course hidden behind the cubicles. Two pencils are still unaccounted for. During a July snowstorm in Pennsylvania, lightning exploded an Amish nuclear power plant, which supplies electricity to all of North America, including hospitals and animal shelters.”

Urgency is paramount. The fundraiser, fighting to save the Milky Way, gathers financial intelligence.

[NOTE: “generous past supporters” are phone-whipped every two months for the rest of their lives, and into their next reincarnation. Get used to it. When you give to charity, you will get no charity. Pssst, you knew that going in—stop whining.]

FUNDRAISER: “And Hurricane Skippy unleashed its fury on a duck pond in downtown Las Vegas. A hurricane in the desert? Environmental endtime is nigh. Unless donors, like yourself, stop Earth’s Armageddon…”

High-pressure words pour through the line. The phone may explode. Tough noogies. Charity starts with waterboarding. You’re a high-level detainee drowning in guilt. This triggers a gag reflex. You can’t scream, “Geneva Convention!” You can’t get a word in edgewise with a crowbar.


The call induces panic by forcing you to hear reports of Satan-sightings on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, ever since House bill H.R. 666 was introduced to ban public prayer inside the Grand Canyon. Adverse psychological consequences can manifest themselves after the event (why did I pick up the phone—oh****me!), while financial effects can last for years after the fundraiser flattens your bank account with an unaffordable monthly-sustainer. But thanks to your $20.14 donation (symbolic of the stellar work we’ll achieve in the year 2014), we will dropkick and shit-stomp Satan with attack ads and defeat the godless H.R. 666.



a/k/a/ telephone ju-jitsu


[NOTE: Miranda Rights, are you kidding? A potential donor’s objections WILL be used against him. This is telephone ju-jitsu. The fundraiser’s rebuttal begins with repeating the objection, followed by “I understand.” Then the objection is rotated, twisted like licorice. In a flash, it boomerangs back through the phone. The illogic is so dazzling it disorients the donor, who, beaten silly by the verbal barrage, lunges for his/her credit or debit card. This is called: shut-up money.]

FUNDRAISER: “With your help, Mr. Hartwell, we can stop Satan. We appreciate support at any level. Our top level has been $10,000. Can you come in at that level?”

Mr. HARTWELL (the potential donor): “Holy cow. I lost my job six years ago.”

FUNDRAISER: “Only six? I understand. I lost my job back in 1973. Perhaps you can come in at $9,500.”

[NOTE: the fundraiser, born in 1993, never lost his job back in 1973. Creativity is key. The donor’s objection is your rebuttal.]

Mr. HARTWELL: “I’ve been living in my mom’s basement since 2008.”

FUNDRAISER: “Only 2008? I understand. How about $8,002? It’s symbolic of the year 2008, the year your life improved.”

Mr. HARTWELL: “It’s so cold down here—sheesh!—I was hospitalized for frostbite.”

FUNDRAISER: “I understand. I hear the nuance of your verb tense. You’re back in the basement. On the mend, the upswing. How about $666? Symbolic of the mark of the beast. $666 will help us stop Satan in his tracks. With your help, we can return the Lord’s Prayer to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.”

Mr. X: “You deaf? I live in my mom’s god**** ******* basement!”


CLIMAX (donation or refusal)

Same call. Two hours later.

FUNDRAISER: “I don’t know if $10 is something you can do?”

Mr. HARTWELL: “I don’t know if putting a harpoon through your forehead is something you can do?”


FUNDRAISER: “Will that be Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover?

Mr. HARTWELL: “If I surrender five dollars, will you take my name off the ******* list?”

FUNDRAISER: “We’d hate to lose you, Mr. Hartwell. May we put you on our annual donor’s list? We promise to only call you (…stifled laughter…) once a year.”

Mr. HARTWELL: “Take me off the list! Who are you, god******? I’m reporting you! I demand to know your name? Lemme talk to your SUPERVISOR!!!”

FUNDRAISER: “Will that be Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover?”



(loose ends tied up) 


The next day at the call center.

FUNDRAISER begins his 100th call of the day: “Hello, I’m calling on behalf of…”

Across the room, the front door of the call center bangs open, falls off the hinges. Someone stomps inside. Next, a heavy duffel bag drops onto the floor. Thud. A pale stranger, wearing coke-bottle glasses and a 1980s Slayer t-shirt, stands at the edge of the room, arms crossed against chest. Terror sweeps the center. A gunman?


STRANGER IN BACKGROUND: “Listen up! Hartwell here! I asked politely—TAKE ME OFF THE F****** LIST! But would you? Answer: Negative. So I brought a friend.” 

All eyes in the room focus on the lumpy duffel bag. The air is electric with hasty prayers. Heaven’s switchboard is jammed.

Mr. HARTWELL: “No, not the duffel bag, you nitwits—this dude here!” Hartwell turns, flicks his thumb. A devil sashays through the doorway in a ball of red smoke. “What Satan has in store for you, there ain’t no rebuttal.”


Satan nods, slit-eyed, real cocky. The fiend waves a hand in the air as if tamping down the applause. He lifts a red pitchfork in the air—bingo—black storm clouds appear beneath the office ceiling. A crack of thunder deafens the room. A lightning bolt shoots through a ventilation duct and strikes. A chair explodes. Fundraisers scream.


Satan shrugs. The Dude of Darkness doesn’t care and gives everyone the finger. “Boys and girls? You been busier than a centipede in a shoe store. Tsk, tsk. You be bad little shitbirds.” His Dark Dudeness raises his hand, wags his red pinkie finger in slow motion. “Mmm…mmm…mmm. Gonna take you off the list.”

Suddenly the carpet rips in half. The floor cracks open, releasing smoke and steam. The employees look down and see stairs to Hell.

“Them there, them are steps,” Satan says, eyes twinkling, “but they sure as Hell ain’t no fire escape.”

A fundraiser faints into a pile of pledge cards. A stack of cards, with return envelopes, falls through the crack and catches fire in midair.


“Ready?” Satan claps his hands twice. “Chop, chop. Come on, single file. No need to bring your jackets; you won’t catch cold. Let’s go. Pushing and shoving is allowed. So is taking cuts in line. Rioting is encouraged. Feel free to push people over the railing on the way down. After all, we are going to Hell. Holy smokes!”



Thomas Davidson is the author of two quirky thrillers, THE MUSEUM OF SUDDEN DISAPPEARANCES and PAST IS PRESENT, and a new collection of humor, BOTCH CASSIDY & THE SUNDUNCE KID. He screens phone calls near Boston. Click below for his most recent post for ALL THINGS CRIME.

World War III (Beneath the Christmas Tree): The Little Drummer Boy Saves Christmas

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twitter litter — @TomDavidson99



8 Responses to The Art of Telephone Ju-Jitsu (An Insider’s Guide to Thwarting Telephone Attacks & Cell Phone Assault)

  1. Darcia Helle says:

    Brilliant! I laughed all the way through this.

  2. Albie Young-Pabon says:

    Comic relief.

  3. Lise Lasalle says:

    Thanks for making me laugh. I will share it on behalf of Satan.

  4. Rick says:

    Very amusing post, Thomas! I could really relate to it, since one of my first jobs was as a telephone solicitor for the Police Protective League, and later, for my university’s alumni fund. Solicitation was a difficult job 30 years ago and undoubtedly has grown even harder with the increasing scarcity of our free time, the FTC “Do Not Call” list, Caller ID and answering machines, and the general decrease in civility. I’m thankful that I no longer have to make a living by phone solicitation (or door-to-door fundraising).

  5. Tom Davidson says:

    Darcia, Albie, Lise & Rick –

    I thank you all on behalf of The Dark Dude. At the moment, he’s napping. He escorted the crowd (the bad little s***birds) down more than 50 flights of blazing stairs to get to Hell. The pushing, the shoving, the bad language – it wore him out.

  6. Patricia says:

    HA HA HA :o) Loved it. I do find that the beat way to avoid ‘them’ is to not answer the phone for any unknown caller.

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