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  • Writer's pictureCaren

conversational dexterity


"Do you ever think that the American family is suffering a crisis. When you look around you, do you see the family falling apart. I know I do, and I'm sure you do, too. I am here to tell you today that the problem lies in the foundation. If we were only to live by God's standards, the problem could be solved. Now doesn't that sound interesting."

That must have been where the text told him to pause and look up at me, because that is what he did. His eyeglasses were horribly outdated. Behind him, at the bottom of the steps, stood an older woman. His mother? Gray hair, red lipstick, hat. He was probably in his thirties. They were both dressed in dark church clothes. He was still looking at me, hesitating, waiting for me to say something.

Uhm. Uhmmm. It was kind of a lot to take in: the ring of the doorbell, two black people in Cresskill, his atrocious negligence of the question mark, and the glasses. Those glasses I had seen on my dad in the 90s, when they were already an artifact, and which were now worn with a certain tongue-in-cheek attitude by high school kids and Parisians. Those glasses were bombarding me first thing on a Saturday morning.

But he was still looking at me. What had he said? "Doesn't that sound interesting." Well, no, not really. My mind was still working at half speed, drawing leisurely lines from "not really" to "probably shouldn't say that" to "wow, the buttons on his coat are very shiny." I blinked hard a few times, refocusing. He was talking again. The woman at the bottom of the steps was talking, too, but to him, telling him to speak up, talk louder, even though I could hear him fine through the screen door. Each time she said it, he would flinch, clear his throat, and repeat his last line with the volume adjusted. I was still looking at his glasses.

Finally I found some words. "Um, thanks, but I don't want to... talk about this?" (dammit, who put the question mark in the teleprompter?)

"Well that is fine, but I would like to--"

"Speak up! She can't hear you!"


"Ooh, okay, that's fine," I said. Thinking, leave the pamphlets and go. Please. Or we'll be standing here staring at each other all day, volleying improper intonations to and fro. I cracked open the screen door and took the two pamphlets, a Watchtower and something else. He looked uncertain about what to do next, so I seized the opportunity, said "Thank you!" as brightly as I could, and began closing the door. Right before it was closed, he said, "What's your name?"

"Caren," I called through the slit, and then shut the door.

Yes, I shut the door on his face. I couldn't think of what else to do at the moment. Lacking in conversational dexterity, especially when confronted by pushy people, or rather, people pushed by pushy people to push something onto me. It gives me bad memories of being made to pass out tracts or descend upon witless pedestrians, which I did defiantly and apologetically. What you need is a relationship with Christ. When my own relationship with God is so hard to explain, so confusing, sometimes bizarre, and often mundane... yet I am supposed to sell it like CutCo knives or the Encyclopedia Brittanica, the solution that you never knew you needed. I'm sorry to bother you, but do you know Jesus?

Speak up... he can't hear you.

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