A Supposedly Free Thing I’ll Never Do (Or, How Donald Trump Finally Turned Me Off to Free Cruises)

I was sitting in the kitchen with my son, Ben, when our land-line phone in the living room rang on Saturday afternoon. We get a lot of marketing calls on that number, so we basically screen everything with caller ID or our “old-fashioned” answering machine that allows us hear the beginning of someone’s voicemail.

So when the phone rang over in the living room I just sat in the kitchen and waited to hear what the caller would say. About 75% of the time, I’d guess, some marketer or fundraiser just hangs up.

Not this time. This time, the robo-voice announced that I had won a free cruise and, “as is usually the case with cruises, it is an inclusive, all-expenses paid cruise.” I have not been on a cruise before, but I for some reason find myself deeply ambivalent about them. On the one hand, three things come to mind when I think of cruises:

1) This

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2) This

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3) And David Foster Wallace’s “Shipping Out: On the Nearly Lethal Comforts of a Luxury Cruise,” better known as “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again.”

So those things would lead me to ignore the call about the free cruise.

On the other hand, there’s that word, “free.” Also the word, “vacation.” “Free vacation” has always motivated me to pick up the phone and even to do stupider things than that. Like the time that someone called and said I had won a free car, a free vacation, or a free “32-inch television.” For a graduate student, which I was at the time, any of those things would be terrific, but I really wanted the vacation. My wife, Becky, and I just had to show up that evening and listen to a spiel about timeshares, and then we could claim our prize. So we did. Never mind that it was Becky’s birthday and we had to cancel all of our plans for the night. So we sat through a film about some timeshare plan and then sat at a table with a series of salespeople who grew increasingly frustrated at our declining their offer. We were there for almost two hours. While they were growing more frustrated, we were growing more excited as we got closer and closer to discovering and claiming our prize. Would it be the car? The vacation? The TV? After we said our final “No,” we headed toward the door where we were invited to draw a ticket from a basket – a strange way to win my vacation, I thought. The ticket read, “Congratulations, you’ve won a free 3.2-inch television.” We turned down the tiny TV. Worst. Birthday. Ever. It wasn’t a vacation. And whatever it was, it wasn’t free. It cost us the night.

Despite this cloud that hangs over “free vacation” calls, I still occasionally pick up when a telemarketer calls about a free stay at a new Hilton or Marriott, or a free cruise. They never work out, but I pick up. Because free vacation.

So on Saturday when I heard “free cruise,” I picked up the phone. Ben waited to hear whether we would be taking a free cruise.

Robocaller: “Do you and your family want a free all-inclusive cruise? Press ‘1′ for Yes, ‘2′ for No.”

Noah: Did you say free cruise? Presses 1

Robocaller: “Do you think that Donald Trump should be the next president
of the United States? Press ‘1′ for Yes, ‘2′ for No.”

Noah: What do I press for “never?” Presses 2

Robocaller: Do you and your family plan to take a vacation in the
next 12-18 months? Press ‘1′ for Yes, ‘2′ for No.”

Noah: Presses 1

Robocaller: Do you believe that illegal immigration is a threat to the
livelihood of your community? Press ‘1′ for Yes, ‘2′ for No.”

Noah: Presses 2, almost breaks phone

Robocaller: “Do you want to hear more about a free cruise? Press ‘1′ for Yes, ‘2′ for No.”

Noah: Hangs up.

Ben: “Are we taking a free cruise?”

Noah: “No, Ben. I don’t know if there even was a cruise. And whatever it was, it wasn’t free. It sounds like it could’ve cost us a lot. Remind me never to to do that again.”

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