THE PUSHERS MAKE THEIR WEEKEND ROUNDS in pairs, one elder, one younger. The younger often wears a hat. Both have applied fragrances to their Adam’s apples, the insides of their wrists and just above their hearts. They are believers. They believe that these fragrances imbue their souls with certain degrees of credibility, civility, morality. The elder often wears gruesome jewelry — ancient weapons of torture, rendered miniature in precious metal, from back when the death penalty was almost as popular as it is now.
Porch by porch through quiet neighborhoods they prowl, catching glimpses of private family life, processing, judging, armed to the teeth with Truth: ding-dong.
My father’s almost 80. He lives indoors, in a house he’ll soon have to sell to pay for health insurance. (Dear HMO CEO: Hope you enjoy what would have been my inheritance. You’re doing a heck of a job, Brownie! Love, Li’l Davy.) Even though Dad’s retired and recuperating from multiple cancers and heart attacks, he still answers the door on weekends.
“My, what a lovely plant. Hello, sir. My name is Randy Christ Jr., and this is Mrs. Pinochle and her lovely hat. We’re making sure everyone gets saved. Have you been saved?”
My father used to be a clinical psychologist. “You know what?” he says. “I spent 40 years of my life trying to help delusional people. I’m not going to spend any more.” And he closes the door, slowly and softly. Click.
Two hours later, the next pair of pushers arrive. My father sees in their eyes what Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi (1873–1933) called “the fire of ice,” or “icy fire” or something like that. My father can’t quite recall. It’s been almost 60 years since he studied Ferenczi.
“Why are you so concerned about me?” my father asks.
Mrs. Pinochle replies. “Simply lather our immortality product into the affected areas once a week, and you’ll live forever after you die.”
My father’s in a better mood. He explains that he doesn’t have any affected areas, and he’s perfectly content to live just the standard corporeal life. Politely he asks the pushers for their home addresses and telephone numbers, so that instead of dropping in unannounced to promote the glory of atheism, he can call and set up appointments.
The pushers look at my father like he’s nuts. But they leave, for that’s what they do best. Leave to go to the next house, and the next, and the next and the next and the next. Police may drive by, but no one ever gets arrested. No one dares press charges; the cartel is far too powerful to fuck with.
MY FRIEND DANA ALSO LIVES INDOORS, also in a house. One day, Dana saw two conspicuously clean people wearing white shirts, dark ties and backpacks and riding black bicycles. Pushers. People who Care. People who Know and receive tax exemptions for Sharing.
“It was another sunny day in Alhambra,” Dana recalls from his palatial 22nd-floor office overlooking (if only there were a window) the Miracle Mile. Dana is an upstanding community leader. “It’s late Sunday morning, almost noon. I’m just waking up. I don’t have a shower yet, so I’m sitting in the tub, enjoying my late Sunday morning, and the doorbell rings. I get out of the tub, wrap a towel around my waist and peek around the corner, where I can see out the window of my front door.
“I see these two peddlers standing on my porch. I see how they’re dressed. I can smell the drugstore cologne through the door. The younger one’s wearing a bicycle helmet. I know what they are. I know why they’re here. I know the drill.
“My first impulse is to yell. Just yell, ‘Don’t fuckin’ come back here!’ But I don’t act on that. I calm down and figure out what to do, and then I do it. Dripping wet and wearing only the towel, I fling open the door and start slinking in the doorway, rubbing the door jamb in what I intend to be a very queeny way. And I kind of leer at these two guys and say, ‘Well . . . heyyyy!’
“They’re shocked. And then I drop the towel. Shocked and awed, for I am one tremendously hung heathen. The head guy — I figure he’s in charge, because he’s older and isn’t wearing a bicycle helmet — goes, ‘Can you please put your clothes back on?’ And I say, still in character, ‘I’m afraid that’s not how we do things here . . . [slink] . . . Everything you see . . . [slink] was made by your boss. If you have a . . . [slink] . . . problem with it, take it up with him.’
“Then I just stare them down, lick my lips, all that. ?They don’t know what to do. They look at the ground, ?turn around and walk back to their bicycles. I go back to ?my bath.
“About an hour later, I’m sitting in the living room, watching a movie, and I see them again. They’re on the other side of the street now, walking slowly beside their bicycles. They look defeated — like maybe one of my neighbors just pooped on their birthday cake — but they’ll be back. They’ll pump up at the home office, and they’ll be back on the street again.”
MY FATHER DECIDES TO SEEK DONATIONS to raise money for his next heart attack. He wears a T-shirt and jeans, and walks door-to-door with a selection of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy hardbacks by Albert Ellis, trying to convince too-clean, overscented people to stop being such pussies and start respecting life as much as death. He’s routinely shot, beaten, stabbed and spat upon. It’s discouraging, but he’s a man of faith, even if his isn’t tax-deductible.
“What the hell,” he says through the fresh bandages. “If all I can afford is insurance, I may as well use it.”