Last week, I had a call from a lady claiming to be soliciting members for a focus group. Normally, I would not have answered the call, but my gatekeeper, my personal assistant, my secretary, my call-screener, aka my thirteen-year-old son, The Pony, was on vacation. In my basement lair, next to my computer, I have an antiquated land line. I don't mean to brag, but my phone would put the shoebox-sized cordless phones from the early Seinfeld episodes to shame.
My phony albatross is ivory and upright, with a gray, six-inch rubber antenna projecting toward the floor. The floor of my bedroom upstairs. Lest you forget that I'm a subterranean dweller when I'm in blogging mode. There is no caller ID, no panel in this phone that displays the number of the caller. Without The Pony shouting, "Grandma!" or "Unknown!" or "It's Dad!" from his couch position near the more modern receiver in the basement proper, I am in the dark when my phone starts ringing. I answered. Because it might have been my mom for the fifth time that day. Or Hick. Or the boys.
The woman identified herself as Marci Gillerman. I give her name, because I figure anybody calling people trying to recruit a focus group is not counting on remaining anonymous. She was very polite. She got her verbal foot in the door of my ear, and forged ahead like there was no tomorrow. My issues are not with Ms. Gillerman specifically. But with her type.
Let me apologize in advance to those of you who dwell in an urban environment. I don't mean to lump you all together under the umbrella of city people. But we simple folk out here in the boonies are tired of being lumped together as well. So if you do not treat people in this manner, don't get your city noses out of joint. I mean you no harm.
Our conversation went a little like this:
I am looking to start a focus group on your area. It will pay $75, plus a free dinner. It is on June 16, in your area. Are you familiar with what a focus group does?
What do you do for a living?
I'm a high school teacher.
Oh! I have five teachers already! A retired teacher, a social studies teacher, a special ed teacher...you must have a really good educational system down there!
We have many school districts in this area.
Our focus group is trying to find out your opinion on several issues. If you know how a jury works, people give their individual opinions, and then discuss all options that might have been mentioned.
I have been on a jury.
Oh! That's even better! But you know how a jury can drag out...and this is only three hours.
I'm sorry. I don't think I'm interested.
Again, let me emphasize that Ms. Gillerman was very polite. I'm sure she did not intend to sound condescending, or even realize that her words might have been taken that way. She was only trying to round up people for her focus group. However, the cedar chip on my country shoulder caused me to perceive the exchange differently.
First of all, the town she kept mentioning is a good 15 miles from my town. So it is not my area. (She kept naming that specific town. It has a completely different telephone exchange than my town. So I'm not sure where she got off thinking I lived there.) We are not some Hooterville with Sam Drucker letting us each run a tab at his general store. We have three Walmart Supercenters, by cracky! The county population is over 60,000. We have three state prisons. And there are twelve school districts in our activities association. No wonder she had so many teachers on her list already. Education and the department of corrections are pretty much our main employers. So...don't be thinking we have a really good school system just because it's summer and some teachers are willing to give up three hours for $75. We have several good school systems because people care about their kids and make them go to school and back up the teacher if Johnny isn't performing to his optimum level.
Maybe I'm just touchy about that education thing. It's not like we're all Zekes and Cletuses sitting on the porch in rocking chairs, whittling new corncob pipes in between slicing off hunks of chaw and zinging the spittoon.
Of course I understand how a jury works. I attended a really good school system, you know. (Plus, I was valedictorian!) I managed to disqualify myself from two juries in the jury pool stage, because I had done business with one of the attorneys, and did not know if I could be impartial. They nailed me on the third one, though, and I had to spend two days hearing a case on eminent domain. Even though I told them up front that I was not a fan of eminent domain, because the state took part of my pappy's homestead. I mean, my dad's land, to put a highway through there. Just like the case I would be hearing.
I know what a focus group does, because I do not live under a rock, and I've been on one before. The focus group that lassoed me was the Herbal Essence shampoo conglomerate. They roped me in while I strolled through South County Mall, and forced me to watch four commercials and fill out a checklist about how each one made me feel. I don't remember much of the discussion, but I do remember the wheelbarrow load of free product that was proffered for my time. I suppose I sold myself cheap. I am a now a loyal Herbal Essence customer.
No, I did not wish to join this focus group. The $75 will not even fill the tank of my SUV. I value my time more than the cash. And even more than a free dinner. Besides, that's the night of the next meeting of that local writers group I discovered by accident last month. I'm still thinking about attending.