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Witness Protection
By Scott Saltzburg

There was a short time (OK, an eternity) when I was employed by a law firm as a court researcher (OK, a messenger). The pay sucked but the hours were great, leaving me plenty of time to go off at night and pretend to be a writer.

My job consisted of two vital areas of responsibility: 1) waiting in an endless set of lines to file papers, and 2) waiting in another endless set of lines to photocopy papers. I became an expert in waiting. I can now out-wait anybody. Go ahead. Try me. I'll wait.

Anyway, as I rushed (OK, strolled) from line one of my job to line two, amid the teeming freakshow of humanity that is the Civic Center in downtown L.A., I often noticed an oddly out-of-place individual. He was a meek man in his late 60's, the kind you picture having just hit retirement age from his insurance job in the Midwest. You know the uniform -- Sears-issued short-sleeve button-down, polyester slacks and striped clip-on tie. Each time I saw him, Mr. Insurance-Man-From-The-Midwest would find a spot with busy foot traffic and simply hold up a clear plastic folder filled with magazines. He then would quietly say one word, over and over:


For the uninitiated, Watchtower is the official publication of the religious organization known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. I passed by this resilient little preacher month after month, but always noticed that nobody ever approaced him. I, what with my thriving messenger career, would watch and mentally critique the man mercilessly for his woeful lack of salesmanship. "Come on, you're saving people's souls, for chrissake!" I chided. "Where's the fire and brimstone? Let's hear some enthusiasm! Say it loud and say it proud!"

Despite my telepathic pleas, the man never changed his technique, and never once did I see anyone stop for a magazine. It wore on me. My scorn slowly morphed into pity. Perhaps that's why, on a day when I got some particularly good waiting in, I saw the man in a different light as I crossed the street. Suddenly, I didn't see a pathetic creature who had substituted blind faith for rational thought. No, instead I saw an earnest soul who sought nothing more than to feel he was helping the betterment of his fellow man.

I stopped and looked at the magazines in his hand as the man softly mumbled, "Watchtower."

Why not? I thought. I mean, look at the guy. Just think how happy you'll make him if you just take one.

I toyed with the concept over and over in my mind as I organized my filing papers.

This is a good thing, I reasoned. It's the right thing.

Plus, I thought, there was an added bonus: He'll be happy because he's converting me, and I'll have fun when I take the magazine back to my buddies and we goof on it.

It was thus decided -- this was a classic 'win-win' situation.

I confidently strode up to the man as he was in the middle of his sad little sales job.

"Excuse me, sir," I said in an even voice. "I'll take a Watchtower."

For the first time ever, after all these months marching by him, the man actually stopped and looked at me, our eyes meeting for a torturously long split second before he abruptly said:


I just stood there, stunned.

I couldn't have heard that right -- could I?

Something must have been lost in the communication. Because of all the multitudes of possible responses I had swimming around in my brain as I approached him, the one thing I wasn't prepared for was outright and complete rejection. Woozy, I finally conjured up the following pithy response:

"Excuse me?"

The retort clearly shook the man, as he then stumbled over his words, finally blurting out, "Ah, um, no, you see, I can't, I, uh, I… I don't have none left."

I looked up at his hand holding his plastic folder. Inside, at least a dozen Watchtowers were clearly visible. I couldn't believe this supposed man of God was just a dirty liar. A really bad dirty liar. And unfortunately for him, I've never been one to shy away from a fight with somebody who is clearly weaker and can't physically harm me. Off I went:

"Sir, you obviously have plenty of magazines right there in your hand."

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