Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Survey Straightman

This afternoon, I did a phone survey. For some reason I get a lot of these survey calls, and these aren’t normal survey calls about political issues. I’ve never gotten one of those. No, they are always strange, usually several sets of questions each on a separate and unrelated issue – often about whether or not I like a corporation.

I have no idea why we get these calls. I think, because MamaGoof has a serious grown-up job we perhaps appear to be in a significant demographic. At the same time, I work from home a lot, so if I’m not busy I will actually answer these calls – so they just keep calling back. As a graduate student in public policy I am curious what is behind these queries. As an extrovert who works alone, I am happy for the human contact. As a former comedian, I enjoy working with such an unwilling – virtually straightjacketed – straight man.

Years ago I took a call where the questioner was extremely interested in my thoughts on salmon. I told him I thought it was delicious, which is true but I wanted to be encouraging since the questioner’s job seems pretty tough (if not outright soul-crushing.) But that wasn’t what he wanted to know.

Salmon Council Mercenary: How would you respond to the statement that eating salmon makes you smarter?

Me: I think I’d have to be pretty stupid to think that eating salmon would make me smarter. First of all they are fish – what fish is smart, besides mermaids? Second, salmon are not even the smartest fish. They swim upstream to mate, how sharp can that be, by the time they get there they are all tired out and don’t look their best? Maybe that weeds out the weaker ones, but then if they were so smart, they’d evolve out of tasting so good. If I wanted to eat something that made me smarter I’d probably eat physicists.

SCM: Right, I’ll put that down as a negative response. Do you ever have trouble finding salmon at the supermarket?

Me: Nope, it is usually right there in the fish section. Well, there was one time I found it with nuts, which was pretty weird…

SCM: Great, thanks I think that’s all we will need.

This afternoon’s call was extra strange. First I was asked about America’s aging water infrastructure. I explained, “Truth is, I didn’t know we had an aging water infrastructure – although it doesn’t surprise me. Everything ages, I mean that’s inevitable. What would be interesting to me would be if our water infrastructure weren’t aging – then it would truly be a fountain of youth!”

Then he asked if I thought I was familiar enough with the issue to discuss it with my neighbor? Now here I was a little serious. As a public policy student, I know that very bright capable people spend a lot of time on water issues and that addressing them requires planning, data, and a broad range of analytical and managerial skills. Thus, I do not consider myself equipped to discuss this topic.

Then we talked about healthcare. They kept asking my opinion of hospitals in cities where I don’t live. Why would I have opinions about them? Presumably, there could be very nervous people that scout out the medical infrastructure of other cities on the off chance something happens to them when they travel there. But for me life is too short. So I offered no opinion about Case Western Health Care or Ceder-Sinai. I did give a thumbs up for the Mayo Clinic, because everything is better with mayo (I told the pollster this) and a thumbs down to U Penn Health Care because they are in Philly.

Then it got weird.

Pollster: Do you think advocating for changes in the healthcare system is an appropriate method of health care systems to improve healthcare?

Me: Huh?

The pollster repeated the question.

Me: Sure, ok.

Pollster: Do you think providing quality care is an appropriate method of health care systems to improve healthcare?

Me: Isn’t that what they do? I wouldn’t want them to provide lousy care, that wouldn’t improve the healthcare system at all.

Pollster: Do you think having meetings with stakeholders…

Me: Mmmm. Steakholders, gggggrrhh.

Pollster: Sir, do you think having meetings with stakeholders is an appropriate way for healthcare companies to improve the healthcare system?

Me: Absolutely not, no way. Never!

Pollster: And your reasons?

Me: I like to mix things up a bit.

Pollster: Our next set of questions is about Starbucks.

Me: Excellent, this is a topic on which I am well-informed. I was at two different Starbucks just yesterday. Hit me.

Pollster: Are you familiar with Starbucks’ corporate efforts to help the US economy.

Me: Their coffee gets everyone all jazzed up. I know I get great ideas when I’ve had their coffee. In fact the first time I went to a Starbucks….

Pollster: This is about a specific plan, Starbucks has a $5 million dollar program targeting unemployment that…

Me:Let’s see, there are about 15 million unemployed, so that comes to maybe 35 cents for each – that should really help.

Pollster: Sir, it is a grant. Then customers can purchase wristbands at Starbucks locations that fund local start-ups.

Me: So the Starbucks economic plan involves me buying cheap crap that I don’t need – sounds brilliant.

Pollster: Sir, does knowing about this plan make you more positive or more negative about Starbucks or does it not change your opinion.

Me: I mostly go to Starbucks for the coffee and they usually have coffee. I’m good with them and this plan doesn’t change anything.

Pollster: Our last set of questions is about natural gas. Do you believe that America should be more reliant on domestically produced natural gas?

Me: You are just setting me up now. Sure, especially after multiple visits to Starbucks.

Pollster: Thank you for your time sir.

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