Yesterday two men knocked at our door. They represented an auto glass replacement company. I pointed to the car in our driveway and said, “See the windshield. There’s nothing wrong with it.” One of the salesmen opened a binder and showed me pictures of chipped car windows. He explained that my car might have micro fractures and chips that would gradually expand until the windshield collapsed. I found the magic words to make him leave. I said, “I just bought that car in November. It’s new.” My wife Judy asked me what I was doing as I stood by the door and watched the men cross our lawn and head down the street. I turned away after they walked out of sight and told her, “They want to sell me a new windshield. I watched them leave to make sure we won’t need one.”
Years ago a man surprised me as I swept leaves off the driveway. He told me that he represented a pest control company and asked me if I had any problems. I told him that carpenter ants invaded from time to time. They congregated on the kitchen ceiling. He offered to treat my house, but I told him that my wife didn’t want poisons sprayed inside. We had small children. The man paused for a moment to size me up, and then faked hysteria. He cried, “But what are you going to do if you find ants in your house??!!” “Squish ’em,” I deadpanned. He laughed, gave me his card and walked away.
Another man strode up to my porch–big gait, expansive gestures, everyone’s buddy. I saw a pick up idling at the curb behind him. A large cooler rested on the truck bed. I knew this bit: guys drove around town with steaks, lobsters, and shrimp on ice and sold them cheap door to door. I never bought anything off a truck, so I tried to cut to the chase. I met him before he could pound on my door and said, “We don’t want any.” “But sir!” he cried. “You don’t even know what I’m selling. I’ve got the finest steaks, filet mignon and–” “I don’t care what you’re selling. I’m not buying.” I said. “Hey, buddy. That’s just rude,” he sputtered. I could see him building up self-righteous rage–it was bad form to not let him deliver his spiel. “Okay, I’m rude,” I conceded. “But I’m not buying anything and it’s time for you to get off my property.” “Mister, that’s just–that’s just—” he stammered. “Go,” I said. He balled up his fists and took a step toward me. Then he thought better of it and stalked off across the yard. He yelled to his friend in the truck, “Go to the next one. This jerk ran me off!”
A teenage girl rang our doorbell one night right after we cleared the dinner table. She belonged to an organization that helped disadvantaged youths better themselves. She tried to sell us magazines and told us that the kid with the best sales record won a prize (cash, a scholarship?). When she saw that we had lost interest and sympathy she threw back her shoulders and declared, “Someday I’m going to be somebody. I’m going to succeed!” She studied us as she waited for a reaction. She hoped, apparently, that we would feel pressured into helping her achieve her ambitions. We didn’t. I walked outside a few minutes after she left and saw teenage boys and girls canvassing homes along the street. A school bus parked down the road had a sign on it that read, “American Dreamers”. A man with a money bag and clip board stood by the front bumper. He collected checks and cash from his crew, clipped order forms to the board, and directed out going kids to new targets.
I got a call several months after we moved into our home from a woman offering a free water quality test. A middle aged salesman with a frizzy brown mustache came the next evening. He set up a display case of powdered chemicals, beakers and test tubes in our living room. He poured tap water and orange crystals into a test tube, and the mixture turned yellow. A white precipitate fell to the bottom. He held up the “test results” and said, “See?” We didn’t. My wife Judy and I had taken chemistry in college and could recognize a Mr. Wizard flim-flam routine. The salesman saw that he hadn’t impressed us and said, “You know that there’s an EPA Superfund site just up the road on Forsyth.” I knew that our water company pumped out of the Florida Aquifer, not out of a shallow well nearby. The salesman shifted gears and told us that the expensive water filtration system his company sold would save us money because…BECAUSE his company threw in jugs of super efficient laundry detergent as a bonus. We didn’t bite. Then he held up the test tube with the white precipitate again and glared at my wife as she held our son in her lap. “What about the kids?” he seethed. “Don’t you care about your kids?” Judy started to cry. I squared up to him and told him to leave. He packed his case in a hurry. But before he left he said, “You’ve got a gift coming for letting me test your water.” I said, “We don’t want anything from you, ” and shut the door behind him. The next day we got a call from his company. A manager asked, “Why didn’t you accept your gift? Was there a problem with the salesman?”
Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and assorted evangelicals frequently make the rounds in our neighborhood. They want to know if I am saved, believe in the Bible, know what will happen to me after I die, and whether I’d like to join their happy fellowship. The brightly colored illustrations in their pamphlets show Jesus curing the sick, happy clusters of believers breaking into song, and throngs of ecstatic souls gathered on flowered meadows in heaven. I sometimes tell missionaries that I have a faith of my own and am satisfied with it. If they follow up and ask, “What faith is that?” I say, “Religion is a private matter.”
But sometimes I don’t answer the door and let them mill around on my front porch. They peer into my picture window and spot me going about my business. They knock again determined to save me regardless of my indifference. (How far would they go if I did open the door?) They eventually leave with defeated looks on their faces, but their visit has not been fruitless. They’ve inspired me to reach out and communicate with the Beyond: as I watch them retreat I offer a prayer of thanksgiving. I pray, “Thank you Jesus for the steel bars on my front door.”