take one

'please,' he said. 'please, take one. take one.'

usually, i'm curious. i want to know what inspired someone to expend the resources to produce stacks of flyers, to commit a cold afternoon standing on a street corner engaging with strangers. but rarely is this corner occupied by someone whose message i want to hear. from half a block away, i could hear him, and i could see that no one took any of the plain white printouts from his gloved hands.

'no thanks,' i said, in the nicest voice i could manage. i found his carefully neutral demeanor distasteful, i found the feather in his had distasteful, i found his tan wool coat distasteful, i found his insistent offer to every single person distasteful.

'what's this all about, then?' said one of the old ladies who stacked up behind me at the crosswalk.

'about the passover, ma'am,' he replied in that same cardboard cutout smile voice. 'all about the passover, and christ.'

'oh, no. no, we don't want that,' she said, wrinkling her nose.

it's a public sidewalk, i remind myself. we all have the right to stand on a street corner and proselytize, i remind myself. that's part of the deal.

we also all have the right to find it distasteful, that a charming middle aged-man in small glasses and quiet clothes would walk up and down a block that connects several temples and ask the jews to consider that his beliefs are better than theirs.

years ago, on this same corner, a young man stood with a clipboard, asking everyone who passed by if they were registered to vote, and offered to help fill out forms for anyone who needed it. 'are you just looking for democrats?' accused an ornery old man.

'sir, i help anyone register to vote,' he said calmly. 'do you need to register?'

and before the old man could counter, an old lady stepped between them, raising the handle of her folded umbrella.

'don't go starting trouble here!' she demanded, staring the old man down until he backed off. 'don't go picking fights!'

'i'm registered already, thanks,' i said as i passed. i gave him a smile, and a nod. the turnout on election day is only around a fifth of eligible voters. i don't understand why it's so low.

15 March 2018 15:00

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