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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, September 13, 2007

I have come down with a case of the Costanza

If you were ever a hardcore fan of Seinfeld, you may remember the episode in which George Costanza suspects that people close to him are being brainwashed by a religious cult disguised as a carpet cleaning company.

So George "offers" himself up as bait to the cult. He hires them to clean his carpets at work. But the cult ignores George and instead converts his boss Mr. Wilhelm, who changes his name to Tanya. The harder George tries, the more the cult ignores him.

Not to suggest that any mainstream religion is a cult, but you'll get this analogy: The platform near my house where I catch the train to work a couple of days a week has lately been blanketed with Jehovah's Witnesses in the mornings. Not knocking them. They believe something. I believe something different. You believe something. They believe their something enough to get up early and try to share it with grumpy commuters. More power to 'em.

So when I arrive at the platform in the mornings, I notice the JWs approaching virtually every passenger on the platform and offering a Watchtower, a religious pamphlet, and asking if they can share a few words about their faith.

They never approach me.

I swear, they've set up shop at my platform for weeks now. And they won't even look at me.

At first it didn't bother me. I was grateful for being able to read my paper in peace, while waiting for my train. But then a couple of times they approached and chatted up the person sitting on the bench right next to me. And still, not even a glance in my direction!

I know I don't stink. I'm pretty damned fresh-smelling in the morning. And I know I'm pretty. I admit I do frown a lot, but more often than not I wear a neutral facial expression, a gentler version of the poker face, if I do say so myself.

This morning the elevator doors open and I'm about to step on so I can cross the tracks to a different platform. Two JWs step off the elevator. They're chatting and laughing. They look up and see me, and I swear they stop laughing for a split second. They give a brief, obliging smile, and then continue walking to the other side. Their chatting and chuckling resume. By the time I get to my side and sit down to wait for my train, they're walking up to a guy directly across from me, offering him reading material, laughing with him, and chatting him up.

What gives? Am I not worth reeling into Heaven to these people?

Here's the funny thing - I'm not looking to be proselytised or converted to anything. But the vain side of me hates not being wanted. Why won't they try to convert me, already? Yes, I would say I'm not interested, or I appreciate it, but I'm happy with my belief set. But at least try me. They don't know I'm unavailable! I know. I'm a sick man.

In case you never saw that episode of Seinfeld, in the end a frustrated George finally confronts the carpet-cleaning cultists and demands to know why they haven't tried to woo him.

Their answer? We're just not interested.

I'm afraid to ask.

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  • James,

    I felt the same way recently when I was in a small crowd with Sen. Barrack Obama and he made a point of shaking hands with the middle-aged white woman standing next to me.

    Hmmm, maybe they fear you or hate you but surely that's better than being treated like lawn furniture?

    By Blogger matthew, at 2:18 PM  

  • Part of me would be extremely happy not to have those folks confront me but yet, at the same time, it would give me (as it is doing to you) a bit of a complex about "Hey, what's wrong with me anyway?" This is one time though I think I'd take that as a good thing - to be ignored, ya know. Still hurts the ego a bit when we're ignored though.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 2:36 PM  

  • Matthew, it's interesting. I know it's not a race thing, 'cause they talk to everyone (else) on the platform, as far as I can see - white, black, Asian, Latino, Martian, young, old, male, female. Maybe I really do have like an aura of meanness about me or something. If so, I gotta work on that.

    Jeni, I hear you. Regardless of the religion, I should probably be grateful that I'm being left alone. On the other hand it is puzzling to me - funny, but puzzling, that I'm apparently not worthy of being recruited.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:25 PM  

  • You're just like me. I'm not gay, but I get pissed when one doesn't want me to do him up the butt.

    By Blogger Lightning Bug's Butt, at 3:35 PM  

  • Ha! LBB, I'm not sure I would have framed it like that, but your analogy is correct. It's like "What? I'm not good enough!"

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:47 PM  

  • hee hee hee...I'm sorry this is just too funny b/c its so ironic...but I'd feel the same way! Maybe you're just too cool?

    By Anonymous ruby, at 4:23 PM  

  • This is how I feel when ugly/stupid men ignore me. Maybe we're all crazy?

    By Blogger WNG, at 4:53 PM  

  • Maybe you have a look about you that says, "I'm not a lost soul. I'm comfortable with my chosen faith"?

    In other words, you project an air of religious self-confidence.

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 4:53 PM  

  • ruby, that's what i'm going with. i'm too cool!

    wng, it is true we're all a little crazy. I don't mind copping that as the reason i'm not wanted by the church folk.

    sarc, I like that. my faith shows already. that's why they haven't recruited me! this is the one i'd use to explain to my mom why church folk didn't want me.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 5:06 PM  

  • What about tomorrow you forget to bring a newspaper and approach one of the JW's saying... 'hey, would mind if I had a look at that Watchtower?' Turning the tables could be fun... OR they could end up trying to follow you home...

    By Blogger CrystalChick, at 5:41 PM  

  • I remember once trying to work in my front yard, and it would be on a day that the Witnesses, the Mormons, and some evangelical hell-and-brimstone types all went through the neighborhood, one after the other. It's bad enough doing yard work without being gang-preached at the same time.

    By Blogger BobG, at 5:44 PM  

  • Bringing my 'pop culture chops' to bear I'd have to say that maybe

    Thye are just not that into you ;-)

    By Blogger Turnbaby, at 8:13 PM  

  • I need to get some of whatever you have. I seem to have a knack for attracting these types.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 8:41 PM  

  • crystalchick, following me home is the last thing i want. your turning the tables idea sounded fun till i got to that part ;>)

    bobG, that couldn't have been pleasant. ha! you must've felt saintly after that group encounter.

    turnbaby, ha ha ha. i think you might be right. maybe it's my cologne. you know they're making that book you referenced into a movie now?

    grizzbabe, it's all in the pheromones.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:46 PM  

  • Maybe you should try to convert them to becoming Mormons, or becoming Jewish. If you insist on knowing something about what you want them to convert to, make them into Journalists. Be proactive, if they won't approach you, approach them, and get even.


    By Blogger The CEO, at 12:26 AM  

  • Maybe they recognise you, & don't want to appear in one of your columns? Failed there then.

    Or maybe they're using some form of reverse psycology on you. One of these days they'll see your 'lost & lorn' face & jump. Then you'll be sorry! ;)

    By Anonymous bronchitikat, at 6:18 AM  

  • You're a PK and they can sense it. ;)

    By Blogger Christina_the_wench, at 8:25 AM  

  • Monty, sounds fun. But that's too much work.

    Bronchitikat, I'll take the flattering option: they recognize me. But you're right. I'd better not let my face show too sad. I'll get more than I bargained for.

    Christina, you could be right. I've been told you wear the PK scent your entire life.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 8:53 AM  

  • Those Latter Day Saints dudes do the same thing to me too, lol.

    By Blogger Lola Gets, at 9:36 AM  

  • For some reason I'm a magnet for the religious conversionistas (I like that word) of the world. I wonder what about me looks like it needs saving.

    By Blogger jali, at 9:56 AM  

  • Lola, do they ignore you too, or do you get solicited a lot?

    Jali, I could bottle my undesirable convert scent and sell it. You're welcome to a bottle.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:15 AM  

  • Perhaps they know you're a

    By Anonymous girlsnap, at 11:23 AM  

  • girlsnap, that's a good theory too. but i always keep my ID tucked away in a pocket till i get to work, on the off chance someone on the train next to me hates reporters and wants to take one hostage or something.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 11:25 AM  

  • you should find some extremely strange literature, something different every couple of days, and just walk up and hand it to them and say, "let me know if you have any questions". do that a few times and let us know how it goes.

    By Anonymous calmerthanyouare, at 11:47 AM  

  • James,

    How "famous" are you in your end of the world? I think I'd recognize you if I saw you on the street from your past picture posts and the always present mug right beside your blog.

    Is it possible they know you and know it'd be a lost cause? Is it possible they don't want a write up?

    You already answered to the fact that it's not racial (wohoo finally :)). So the fact that they recognize you would be my best "other guess".

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 12:02 PM  

  • calmerthanyouare, i guess i could dig up the assembly pamphlet for my filter/pump assembly in my fish pond. that's good reading.

    and wavemancali, cut me some slack. as a rule, i don't play the race card. in fact, check my archives if i bring race up in a post, i'm either playing devil's advocate in trying to stir debate, i'm presenting a specific, true, example of race relations gone awry, or i'm offering a perplexing no-right-answer-no-wrong-answer scenario for which i'd like feedback. as for my fame, i doubt i have any. there are like 5 million people living down here. can't imagine too many, who aren't co-workers or neighbors, recognizing me on a train platform. it's possible, i guess. i'd love to flatter myself that way, but i'm not so sure i warrant it. thanks though. you've given my ego a boost!

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:09 PM  

  • Maybe your aura is "off".

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 11:39 PM  

  • queen, i'm searching for my mojo right now.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:38 AM  

  • I hate to burst your bubble, James, but many JW's are racists. Even though some are black, they are discriminated against within the church.

    Or else maybe you are just invisible, which is a condition I have striven to achieve my whole life.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:41 AM  

  • I just went back and read your other comments, and apparently my theory is wrong.

    I'm guessing that you project an aura of confidence, and that is probably unnerving to them. They prefer indecisiveness and vulnerability, so you're going to have to develop some if you want to interact with these folks.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:48 AM  

  • I would try and convert you if I saw you on the street.

    Did that make you feel any better??
    O :-)

    I feel guilty that I am annoyed by street preaching. Especially since I profess Belief.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 3:13 PM  

  • Hearts in SanFran, I confess the race thing might have crossed my mind, but I've seen them hitting on other folks of color. So that's not it. I hope you're right about the air of confidence. I don't wear vulnerable well.

    Pamela, thank you. That's sweet ;>)

    I think what makes some folks feel all squirmy about the street preaching - aside from the fact that they may believe something different - is those of us with manners inherently don't want to feel like we're imposing ourselves on someone else. When I was a kid and would join my dad (he has been a pastor for like 20 years, ever since retiring from the Navy) as he visited shut-ins and what not, I always used to feel a little squeamish when he'd start doing his preacher thing during the conversation. It wasn't that I had a problem with what he was saying. I just felt weird seeing people "get told" when they didn't necessarily ask to hear it. But I guess that's what separates passive religious folks from aggressive. Still, I say there's a thin, thin, line between acceptable aggressiveness (whether one's agenda is religious or secular) and being over the top. But that's another blog post.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:06 PM  

  • oh my me! haha. if you only how well spent the money my parents shelled out on my private catholic school education: on sunday mornings, when the JW's were making the rounds in our hood, WE (my sister and I) would meet them at the door, bibles in hand, and would argue with them, point for point, about their beliefs and ours. my sis and i were 9 and 7 years old, respectively.

    trust me, YOU dont want none of that action. even though it is nice to feel wanted....

    later, when we were older, my little brother stood outside the 'Kingdom Hall' in our neighborhood for services to be over, so that we could take polaroids of the attendees and then offer to sell them their souls back. so mean. so hilarious.

    vegas is hot! its re-gosh darn-diculous... but so much fun yes! glad you had a good time in my city!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:19 PM  

  • @JB
    I get igged, big time. Which is ok by me, lol.

    By Blogger Lola Gets, at 10:11 AM  

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