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
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:
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 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
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