By Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler, Times Staff Writer
Published October 9, 2005
This guy has been snubbed by the Rejection Hotline, a 4-year-old telephone dissing service that recently added an 813 area code number to its list of numbers for cities from Miami to San Francisco.
He sees an attractive woman across the room. He approaches her, drops what he thinks is a smooth line to get the conversation going.
She is bored. He is not her type. She finds him to be kind of annoying. But she doesn't want to be completely rude, so she feigns vague interest in his incessant chatter, hoping he'll move on soon.
Instead, he drops the dreaded question: Can I have your number?
His friends are watching this awkward courtship dance from across the room, and she doesn't want to create an embarrassing scene. That would just be too mean.
So she jots down (813) 273-8160 on a piece of paper, smiles and walks away. His friends are impressed; he feels like he has just scored a major coup.
But when Mr. Casanova calls the number the next day, this not-so-subtle message greets him:
"Hello, this is not the person you were trying to call. You've reached the Rejection Hotline, provided by RejectionHotline.com. The person who gave you this number did not want you to have their real number. We know this s - - - -, but don't be too devastated.
Tampa's rejection number launched in March. In six months, the number of calls has gone from a few thousand a month to more than 35,000 a month, according to Rejection Hotline creator Jeff Goldblatt.
He concedes that the bulk of those calls are people who hear about the service and dial just for a laugh, then tell their friends to do the same. But for hundreds of other Tampa Bay area residents, the fake number provides a much-needed service, Goldblatt says.
And not just for the person doling out the dud digits.
"We like to think we're offering a public service to the rejector and to the rejectee," says Goldblatt, 28, an Emory University graduate who lives in Atlanta.
"The rejector has a way to get someone to leave them alone, and the rejectee can find out later - in private - that the other person wasn't interested."
People have no doubt been giving out fake numbers for as long as there have been telephones, but the Rejection Hotline numbers deliver a clear, unambiguous message.
"A fake phone number could allow someone to cling to the hope that they were accidentally given the wrong number," Goldblatt says.
The Rejection Hotline's numbers now get a total of 1.6-million callers a month. There is even a Rejection Hotline fan club, 28,000 members strong.
Not bad for something that started as a joke among friends.
The joke began in 2001. Goldblatt and his buddies were in a bar in Atlanta, witnessing a very humiliating and very public rejection.
"Picture a guy who looks like a cross between George Costanza from Seinfeld and Peter Griffin from Family Guy," Goldblatt recalled. "He was real drunk and hitting on a real attractive blond girl. First we felt bad for her. Then we felt bad for him when she stood up and told him and the whole bar what she thought. It was really painful to watch."
Goldblatt went home and put the rejection message on voicemail, then told his friends to call. Those friends told their friends.
Within weeks, so many people called, the voicemail system crashed.
"We've crashed several voicemail servers with several companies over the years since then," Goldblatt says.
Today there are rejection numbers for more than two dozen cities, and this month the Rejection Hotline will add 25 new numbers.
Goldblatt isn't sure what will come next for the Rejection Hotline. He just hopes people use his service responsibly.
"We do not encourage people to use this as an offensive weapon," he stresses. "We consider it a last-resort maneuver."
Goldblatt, by the way, is single but has not yet been a victim of his own joke.
"No," he laughs. "Since I have started this, I definitely think twice about asking someone for their phone number."