There are those who think that New Yorkers fill their leisure hours with an ever-multiplying, increasingly costly succession of entertainments because they want to. Nothing could be further from the truth.

True, they seem to be enjoying themselves as they swan through SoHo, puffing on $80 cigars and drawing chinchilla-trimmed coats snug around their personal-trainer-honed clavicles. They seem content as they scoop up art and antiques at auctions, stride into sold-out Broadway musicals where scalpers' tickets go for $1,000 a time, buy a Rolls-Royce or two and book suites at the St Regis for $3,000.

But the real reason so many New Yorkers are on the town lately is that they are afraid to go home. A plague of phoneline flacks and flackettes, known as telemarketers, has hit town, seeking to capitalise on the flood of disposable income that has soaked the streets in recent years.

As a result, any New Yorker who is at home of an evening, morning or noontime finds himself victim of a stream of phone calls from longwinded, thick-skinned salespeople, who will swallow any insult in the interest of forcing charity tickets, public radio sponsorships and protracted service evaluations upon the captive phone audience. It is true, as Fitzgerald wrote, that the rich are different: they can't answer the phone. And so it is that well-heeled New Yorkers who wish to maintain contact with their friends have taken to the streets.

No one questions the good sense of the telemarketers. In a season in which Ted Turner has thrown a billion at the UN, while George Soros has personally subsidised Russia, it is clear that there is money fit for burning. But those who have it generally prefer to light the match themselves. The difficulty with the telemarketers is that it can take a good two minutes after niceties have been exchanged, before the answerer realises that the person on the other end of the line, who addressed her by name and seemed curiously familiar with her habits, was not a foggy acquaintance after all, but a huckster with a headset and a personal financial profile.

Troubleshooting groups have formed to help New Yorkers cope. One, Private Citizen Inc, was founded by the author of a book called, So... You Want to Sue a Telemarketer. Another, on the Internet, calls itself the "AntiTelemarketer Source," and offers "Telemarketer Tormenting Techniques". And someone has invented the "Phone Butler", a device that answers the phone in a haughty British accent and informs the caller that the resident cannot be disturbed.

But most New Yorkers attempt to discourage the pests unaided. Luckily, New York ad-man turned comedian, Tom Mabe, has produced an album called Revenge on the Telemarketers, which provides a dozen of his successful huckster-deflecting rants. In one, when a carpet-cleaning service calls to offer its services, Mabe responds, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe you called. Look, can you guys get blood off the carpet? I got blood all over the place, man, over the drapes, over the couch... can you come over right now," until the terrified caller begs to get off the phone.

In their furs and limos, homeless New Yorkers will soon be lining up to hear Mabe's secrets at Caroline's, the comedy club, and before long the lights will go back on in the duplexes and penthouses of Park Avenue and Madison, SoHo and Sutton Place.