Last month, I went out to perform magic on the street. Between shows, I noticed a guy standing on a crate about 30 feet to my right.
“We’re having a trivia contest here and we’re giving away cash!” he said. “Free cash if you can answer these trivia questions.”
That’s the kind of pitch that will gather you a crowd. People lingered, wondering what the catch was, and then he would launch into the questions in a loud bark.
“What is money made out of?”
“Paper!” somebody would yell out.
“No!” he would answer.
“Plastic!” another person would yell out.
Audience members would fumble their way through all the possible responses, and then, after a couple minutes, somebody would yell out, “Cotton!”
And the guy would smile and hand out a $5 bill. That attracted even more people. The guy was giving out money!
“What color is the sky?” the guy continued.
“Blue!” somebody would yell out.
After a few minutes, somebody would yell, “Clear!”
And the guy would give out another $5 bill. The guy was giving out money!
After a few questions, the crowd had grown quite large. At that point, the guy would change his tactics a bit. He would address someone in the audience directly.
“Sir, are you a good person?”
“If you can prove to me that you’re a good person, then I’ll give you a $20 bill. Stand on that crate opposite me and answer my questions. If you’re proven to not be a good person, I’ll still give you $5. Is that fair?”
And then the spectator would step onto the crate.
“Okay, first question: Have you ever told a lie in your entire life?”
There would usually be a pause, and then the spectator would answer, “Yes.”
“Okay, second question: Have you ever stolen anything in your entire life?”
“There would be another pause, and then the spectator would answer, “Yes.”
“Okay, so you’re a liar, right? And you’re a thief, right? Do you feel that you deserve this $20 bill?”
“But you’ve already confessed that you’re a liar and a thief.”
That’s when the guy would launch into his sales pitch, which turned out to be pure evangelism.
“But even though you’re not a good person,” the guy would continue, “Jesus was sent down from heaven to take away your sin….”
It was vicious. First, he lured spectators with the promise of cash prizes. Then he asked a representative spectator some personal questions. Then he would twist their answers to imply that the spectator was an awful person. (After all, just because somebody has lied a few times in his life doesn’t make him “a liar,” and the same applies to the thief appellation.) Then he would sell his gospel as if he were selling soap–spiritual soap.
Sometimes, he would point to his golden retriever, which was a darling dog that lingered behind him.
“Isn’t he lovely? Doesn’t he look happy? He is, in fact. Unfortunately, we brought him to the vet a few weeks ago, and it turns out he has a terminal illness. Vet said he has only six months to live. So he’s walking around happy as can be, but unfortunately, a death sentence is just around the corner for him. And so it is with all of you. You may be walking around happy as can be, but a death sentence is just around the corner for you. Will you be ready? Have you asked Jesus into your life?”
I was performing out there for a couple of hours, and the longer I listened to the pitch, the more it depressed me. In fact, I became quite depressed, which certainly isn’t my way. Each time he told the dog story, he would pronounce a different death sentence on the dog: sometimes it was six months, sometimes two months, sometimes nine months.
So, Mr. Soap Salesman, why do you think you deserve my trust when you’re a liar?
After listening to him for a couple hours, I cut short my magic performances. I couldn’t take listening to his spiel any longer. And on the drive home, I felt the weight of humanity weighing on me, disgusted at the lies and truth twisting that people would engage in just to prove that they were right and everyone else was wrong. The only way I could dig myself out of the funk was to think of something lovely.
When I get home, I thought, I can put Lulu on my chest and pet her face.
And when I got home, there her furry white face was gazing at me behind the glass balcony door, gazing longingly in at me, hoping that I would bring her in and put her on my chest and pet her face. And that’s just what I did. It wasn’t a reasoned philological argument. It wasn’t a spiritual accusation. It wasn’t intellectual at all. It was just petting Lulu’s face, which is one of the most wondrous things in the world.