Pride and Prejudice

Late yesterday afternoon the doorbell rang. I don’t always answer the door when I am home alone, but I was expecting a delivery of some plants, so I went to get the door. I live in Utah, and most of my neighbors are Mormon, so I don’t get the boys in black suits trying to proselytize me. The neighbors gave it the old college try when we first moved in, we firmly and pleasantly turned down their invitations to ward and stake activities, and we have co-existed in a friendly but distant way. We wave at each other when we drive by, and we have gone to a couple of block parties. We all keep to ourselves.

Yesterday the guy standing on my front steps was dressed in a too large, black puffy coat – it was cold and rainy. He grinned at me and said, “Isn’t it a fine Wednesday afternoon, Mama? You having a fine Wednesday afternoon?”. I nodded. The hook was in. I was engaged. He was very large and very black. Which I am sorry I have to mention, but this is whitebread Utah, where almost everybody is white or Hispanic, so you tend to notice things like a huge black guy standing on your porch, grinning and talking a mile a minute. He rattled off a series of questions and patter, and I stepped out on to the porch with the storm door sheltering me. He told me his name and that he was from Milwaukee, and commented on the mountains around us and asked a bunch of questions that he answered himself, frequently holding his hand out for a knuckle bump or a palm slap. He told me his age and that he was from the “hood”. I managed to cut through it to ask what he was selling – what else would he be doing here on my front steps? This led to a monolog on my fine neighborhood, my fine house, and who cleaned my fine house? Aha, we were getting down to brass tacks. He whipped out a spray bottle from behind him and proceeded to take the tarnish off my brass doorknob. He showed me the check one of my neighbors had given him, mentioned her name and how he’d taken the fingerprints off her appliances. He was pressuring me to define my worst cleaning problem so he could come in and show me how his product would take care of it. Uh uh. No way. Not coming in my house. Sorry folks, I am not letting any strange guy come in my home and inspect my carpets or mildew or windows, even if he is black and the liberal part of me wants to prove I am not prejudiced. I am also not stupid. Part of me detached and watched this whole situation, while part of me managed to stay afloat amidst the jive and chatter.

I am a generally a hard sell. I don’t let phone solicitors or door-to-door folks get very far with their spiels before I turn them down firmly and finally. I have walked out of home refinance deals when they changed some numbers. I have left car dealerships when I felt too pressured. After one bad experience, I turn down the sad looking guys who try to sell me tamales in the grocery store parking lot. I have also, and this is important, fought off an assailant who tried to rape me in a laundromat. I have radar. I have developed a “spider sense”, and I know when a situation makes me uncomfortable, to listen to my gut. My gut was doing spirals and nosedives yesterday. I cut through the bullshit. I said, “I’ll take it”. We did not dicker about the special one time offer and future deliveries. I’d made my stand. One bottle of the stuff. That was it. As I turned to go back in the house to get my checkbook, he said, “What you snackin’ on in there, Mama? Peanut butter and jelly?”. Huh? Did I smell like peanut butter? What was this? Turns out he was asking for food. “Haven’t eaten all day”, he said. I stood there dumbfounded, and then said I had some cheese. “Yeah, cheese and meat, that’d be good”. Like a robot, I went in the house, closed the door behind me, and went to cut some cheddar and put it in a baggie along with some Triscuits and some pepperoni. I took a deep breath and went back outside and handed over the baggie, and sat down on the front steps to write a check. I didn’t have enough cash, and wasn’t about to use a credit card. I told him he was some salesman. I tried to reclaim some control, but it wasn’t easy. I was so done with this whole situation, and now I wanted it over. I noticed the neighbor across the street glance over as he retrieved his trash can. That comforted me. Then we had to go through the whole “would I be around later, when he delivered the goods?” I hedged. We negotiated that he would leave it on the porch. I closed the front door and locked it with a huge sense of relief.

I was not proud of myself in one way, but I was in another. I felt like I had survived a whirlwind, and while I capitulated, I had minimized the damage. I could afford to buy the exorbitant cleaning solution. I had wrested some control over the situation and cut the whole experience short. I knew exactly how I’d been played, and how I felt subtly intimidated, and I didn’t like it one bit. My self esteem took a beating. I had to recognize the fact that the guy was black, put a whole ‘nother spin on the situation. I didn’t like it, but facts are facts. I did the best I could do, under the circumstances. But there I was, alone and uneasy in my home, feeling like I needed to lock doors, floundering around, way out of my comfort zone. Had I been in Utah too long? Was I turning into a nervous, middle-aged white lady? Well, I cut that whole train of thought off at the station. Sometimes it just is what it is. I got in the car and went out to the store, buying myself a little distance and some deli turkey. Gave myself a chance to decompress. On the way home, I noticed another black guy in a puffy black coat standing on a corner with a bottle of cleaning solution. He smiled and waved, and I waved back. Sometimes, it just is what it is. Deal with it.

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