I think we’ve established that in the big scheme of things, Walla Walla is a pretty small town. It’s bigger than Ember, Wyoming, yes, but I’m sure 99.9 percent of the United States has more than 50 people in its city limits. Overall, the few tens of thousands of folks who call Wallyworld home understand that it’s a bit isolated, a bit small, and a bit lacking in big city sophistication.
Even in big cities, there are the door-to-door solicitors, mostly hawking church services in a town known for secular government. I can see why this congregation or that would think that sending out local missionaries is a good idea, but in Walla Walla, most folks are already associated with a house of worship. The biggest parking lots here, after all, have aligned themselves with one church or other. Yes, the lone synagogue has a pretty small parking lot. I’ve looked.
It was easy to turn people away when I lived in DC. Mostly they were Mormons—the young men, in pairs, with white shirts that reflected the humid sun back at everyone around them—or they were Jehovah’s Witness, looking more like they were decked out in their Sunday best. All I needed to say was no thanks, or the gruff, “I’m Catholic,” and they would evaporate off my stoop. Even better if I were living in an apartment building. I could just ignore the intercom and keep on with whatever I was doing.
This is not really possible while living in our new house. Two picture windows on either side of the front door give away most of the the activity inside, and I’m prone to leaving our car at the foot of the driveway instead of way back next to or in the garage. The doorbell is melodic enough, belying the awfulness of the conversation I was about to have.
“Hello?” I look at him, down a half-step from me on the porch. Add to that a height discrepancy of several inches and the fact that he is wearing a bright green coat, and I get the distinct impression that a Leprechaun has come to my house. I begin subconsciously searching for shamrocks, which of course, I don’t discern at the time.
“I’m not a Jehovah’s Witness,” he says, and this strikes me as a very odd way to begin a conversation. It’s a form of statement that maybe had some usefulness when there was a lot of leprosy going around, as in “Hi, I can shake your hand, and you should know I’m not a leper.”
“Okay,” I say, really for want of anything else.
“And I’m not selling anything.” I begin to feel some anxiety that if he keeps listing things he isn’t, we could be here, talking through the screen door, for a long time.
“Why are you here,” I ask. It seems more to the point than asking him to open, sesame. Plus I don’t want to mix my ethnographic mythical figures of Leprechauns and Genies. And maybe I’ve been working on a young adult fantasy novel a little too long now.
“Well, I was wondering if you had a few minutes to answer a brief questionnaire.”
Oh, sweet honey from slate, a Leprechaun has come to my door to ask me questions face-to-face, so I can’t even hang up on him.
“A couple of minutes, sure.” Why don’t I tell him I smell smoke in the kitchen? I tell myself it’s because he can quite clearly see my kitchen from here. Stupid open floor plans.
Had I heard of the free car clinic for widows and single mothers, he wanted to know. Nope. Of Life Radio, station something or other? No. Did I know about the monthly spaghetti supper over at some building that I possibly should have laid eyes on at some point? Nay. I was striking out on his little checksheet of questions, carefully secured to his clipboard. I guess that’s the point of clipboards, after all.
“Is this a good Christian household,” he asked. I blinked, literally. I stood there and blinked. That was a strange question to me, and it was taking my dendrites a long moment to connect up with an answer.
After a dozen years of Catholic school, and my own milquetoast version of Eat, Pray, Love—by which I mean I joined the Campus Crusade for Christ briefly in Syracuse, New York, before coming out as a lesbian and having a few flings with the same-sex sexy set, which I understand is nothing at all like the book, Italy, Asia, or heterosexual romance—I computed 12,739 ways to answer his question. We certainly didn’t have time for 12,739 answers. I needed to reduce my number of hits.
“Define Christian,” I said, a nanosecond before I wished I hadn’t.
The Leprechaun blinked. I’m quite sure no one had ever countered with this.
“Do you believe in God,” he asked. On the horizon, I scanned for a rainbow. I didn’t want to lose any chance at a pot of gold. And you can’t ask me to deny the existence of God. I’m too superstitious for that.
But I was bothered by his question. God and “Christian” are not the same, at least not according to the Bible, religious experts, or most Christian denominational ministers. Muslims and Jews have “God,” too, don’t they? I caught myself before I rolled my eyes.
“Yes, I believe in God.” He made a checkmark on his list. I wondered what it was.
So I was on some list of some mythical creature, having admitted to not listening to Christian radio, attending Christian services regularly, needing nor recommending the services of the Christian car clinic, but calling myself a good Christian household. I wondered what mess they would make of my address when he finished his tour of my neighborhood. Before I could ponder much of this, he continued.
“Do you think our country is on the wrong track and that things are getting worse?”
This was the Walla Walla version of a push poll, in which the questions are rigged to get the answers the survey givers desire. I hate push polls, but I love to try to stymie them.
“Yes and no,” I said. He gave me a look—just a brief flash—that signaled his exhaustion with me. Maybe he’d think twice about leaving the Emerald Isle next time.
“Do you believe in the end days,” was his next question.
“It’s all probably going to end at some point,” I offered, pretending to be conversational so as to prevent a row.
“Do you think they’ll happen in you’re lifetime?”
“Oh, no, certainly not.” I first hoped I didn’t sound flippant, and then hoped I did. If he was some Left Behind Kirk Cameron lunatic, he needed to know we all thought he was on the forgettable fringe.
“Thanks for your time,” he said. Had I made it to the end of the questionnaire, or had my response kicked me out of a series of really terrific questions, had I only agreed that the world was about to end at any moment?
He offered me one of two free books, which looked like they ran about 8,000 words each. I picked the Healthy Living in God’s Grace, or some such. I should have gotten the End Days one, but I didn’t want my mother-in-law, who is visiting, to worry about her daughter’s well being.