Family matters · Government & Politics · On Writing

Why County Clerks Suck

[Here’s another classic rant from 1998. I’m pretty sure county clerks are still selling your name and phone number to telemarketers. And they still suck. Interesting, back in ’98 I was bitching about telemarketers disrupting my Saturday morning tea-and-writing sessions. Now weekends are packed with kids, chores, kids, errands, kids, home improvements, and kids. But I’m not bitching about it. It’s pretty awesome, actually.]

yell at phone
“Sorry to complain, Ms. Tomlin, but I wish the county clerk’s office wouldn’t sell my personal info to telemarketers!”

The phone is ringing, but I’m not going to answer it.

It’s a quiet Saturday morning. The dogs have been fed and walked. I’ve got a steaming mug of tea next to my computer, and I’m settling in, preparing to write a column. I’ve got a good, juicy topic —

There goes the phone again. Ignore it.

Anyway, the column is about Passaic County office workers selling the names, addresses, and phone numbers of local residents to junk mail companies. Evidently it’s a longstanding and lucrative side business for employees in the County Clerk’s office and the Register of Deeds. There’s nothing illegal about it — the records are public. Instead of hiring an outside researcher to gather the names, it’s quicker and easier for marketing firms to have people on the “inside” who can funnel the data to them as soon as it comes in.

Ugh, the phone again. This is the third time in 40 minutes. This time I answer it.

You’re Talking To An Idiot


“Hello. Is this Robert … Ferrera?”

My middle initial is F (for Francis – hey, no laughing!). People who are reading my name off official documents often merge Robert F. Errera into Robert Ferrera. It’s a dead giveaway I’m talking to a salesman (or, as they say in the ’90s, “customer service representative“).

“Yeah, this is Robert,” I say, because I am an idiot.

“Mr. Ferrera, I’m calling today to offer you five cents per minute on all your weekend long distance calls …”

This continues for a full three minutes. The perky female on the other end of the line is good, barely pausing for breath as she chronicles the amazing deal she is offering. Finally, there is a lull in her diatribe and I see a chance to get a word in edgewise.

“Uh, thanks but I’m really not interested.”

“But Mr. Ferrera, with this select plan, you can save up to 50 percent on all your long distance calls…”

She goes on for another full minute, picking up momentum and showing no sign of slowing.

“Look, I’m really not interested,” I say, way past annoyed.

“But why, Mr. Ferrera? The service is free for 30 days and you can cancel at any time…”

These are the last words I hear before hanging up. Considered me canceled.

Cold Calls Make Me Hot

Back at my desk, the tea has cooled. I plow through the first two paragraphs of this column before the phone starts ringing again. I’m beginning to see the irony here. A glutton for punishment, I answer the phone.

complaining on phone
“I’m not Mr. Ferrera, you twit! Now stop calling me!”

“Hello, is this Mr. Ferrera?”

“He isn’t in right now, can I take a message?” I’m so clever.

“No, this is just a courtesy call. We’d like to offer Mr. Ferrera the opportunity to upgrade his windows before winter arrives. Do you think this is something he might be interested in?”

“I don’t know, and frankly it’s not my place to authorize any home improvements. You’ll have to call back some other time.”

You can see where I’m going with this. If county workers hadn’t sold my personal information to a bunch of marketing firms, maybe I could get some work done. I’ll never begrudge someone the opportunity to make extra money—lots of people, myself included, need it to make ends meet. But by doing their part-time job, these county employees have made my part-time job more difficult. The moonlighting county workers say they aren’t paid enough, and need extra income. I say quit disrupting the lives of the residents who employ you, and find a new part-time gig. (After this column, I’m sure there are plenty of county workers who’ll wish the same for me.)

The phone rang two more times since finishing this column. I didn’t answer it. The dogs bark at the postman, and I check to see what he’s brought. The mailbox is overflowing with junk — leaflets advertising aluminum siding, carpet cleaning, and discount pizzas.

In the distance I hear the demonic cackle of a county worker.

Ha-ha, Francis.


Reprinted courtesy of WAYNE TODAY, December 1998.

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