So I get a phone-call from Chick, the

guy who installed my house’s alarm system. He has to stop by and replace some batteries. Remember, the ones that ran out last year? Fine. The next day he does, then says he needs to talk more to me about “something,” could he come back later that evening? Sure. What could he want? I didn’t have a clue. Except this: Chick dude’s company formerly had the word “covert” in its title. Hmmm. Chick was boring, but he knew machines.

Never before has the usually rumpled, frumpish Chick looked so … prosperous, so luxe — from his burnished wingtips to his crisp CEO’s suit, to his tinted black-wired aviator glasses, to his smooth velvety Mennen Skin Bracer cheeks. Suddenly he exuded the kind of smug self-confidence you don’t just get from eating your

“What would you say if I told you that I can make it possible for you to have what you want most out of life?” Chick purrs vaguely, all but ignoring a small stack of notated index cards at his right hand. What does this have to do with

burglar alarms?

I am so dumfounded I say … nothing.

“What can I do for you?” he goes on. “What do you want? What is your

in life, and how can I help you attain it? This won’t work at all unless you have a dream, a goal, a plan!”

Social insecurity
Do strangers dare to talk to each other like this? Speechless, I shake my head.

“You know,

creates success! One woman wanted a Mercedes, that was her dream,” Chick intones seriously, as if reciting Scripture, “a very rare car. Another man wanted to retire at age 45 to

THEY GOT WHAT THEY WANTED!!! Financial independence, that’s why I’m doing this. Five more years, I’m outta here,” Chick confides, giving me a piercing look. “Tell me,” he challenges, wanting to know what I want in life.

Who among us ordinarily reveals their innermost hopes and wishes and dreams to the moral equivalent of a Fuller Brush salesman, on demand? Not me. I’d never do that. Not even on a TV quiz show. And certainly not to him! He was so … tacky, with all the faux empathy of a funeral director. But honestly, what did I want, at that moment, besides him leaving? World peace. An end to global hunger and poverty. Cures for AIDS, cancer, and other killer diseases. Universal health-care. No more “reality” TV series. Yes. But what did I really want for myself? Hmmm, I mused, why tell him? Or, anyone else for that matter. Wasn’t that why I lived alone, to avoid being prodded and poked and pushed and probed?

Downline drive
I don’t know whether this was his hubris, or foresight on my part, but I never could imagine becoming part of anyone’s downline. That’s the string of suckers under the scammer in MLM, multi-level marketing. Chick was wasting his time, wasn’t he? Yet the way he approached me was fascinating. Masterful method. Terrific technique. Initially, he never mentions the name of a company, he just tries to sell me on realizing my own dream, whatever it was pretty clever, n’est-ce pas?

This company gives you everything you need, Chick tells me, dangling — everything.

Listen, Chick, I say, basically I’m a

(but not a Buddhist temple) about money, meaning I’m not into greed. Aha! This plays into Chick’s hands. He sees an opening and seizes it.

Chick’s sincere-looking but manipulative brown eyes light up and moisten. First, he spouts his outdated admiration for “that dead Oregon Swami,”

Yeah, I say dryly, that late great spiritual leader with 47 Rolls Royces. “97,” Chuck corrects me, up on these statistics. “Sexed himself to death,” I add acerbically. “We all have to die from something,” Chuck says, envious. Then he takes another tack.

“When I personally visited the great ‘wats,’ or temples of Southeast Asia, even the monks I met there weren’t really total Buddhists; they ALL wanted something else,” he says pointedly. One he talked to just wanted to go on a simple boat-ride, which they did, after the worship ceremony. Boy, I was relieved that monk didn’t ask Chick for a

Rolls Royce!

Spiritual materialism
Look, Chick, I say, a preponderance of people probably hate their jobs, so your basic persuasive strategy here seems a sound one. Sorry, I shrug, I’m not susceptible to your version of

The American Dream.
But he persists: Wouldn’t you like to be able to stop working? No, Chick, I murmur, I love to work. I remind him how

said the best work is that work which is play. Well, Chick quickly regroups, Then wouldn’t you like to meditate all day? Chick asks seductively. No, Chick, I respond, I really would like to write all day, just what I do — it’s a promise I made to myself when I was 20 and now, finally, I have the chance to fulfill it.

When I ask Chick for a catalog, or a brochure, he tries to distract me, deflecting my interest in seeing printed literature which of course would give away the identity of his company.

Finally, after I continue to press him, he admits his company is …

Amway, that … cult?

“Do I look like a Moonie?” he asks me, head-on. “Do I act like a cult-member?” Here he’s on shaky ground because he has the blinded zeal of a new convert. But he won’t quit. He keeps talking. And talking. And talking. Whether I am too stunned, too hamstrung by niceties, or too open hearted to ask Chick to leave, I am, in effect, trapped in my own home, held hostage by this talking terrorist, forced to nod vacuously and make the most banal of small talk, unable to escape, until TWO HOURS LATER I strongly hint I must immediately go to the health food store before they close to get something, as I am fighting off the … flu.

Bad car-ma
Alas, Chick forgot to turn off the flashers of his powder-blue Cadillac — parked on the sidewalk next door — and so the car won’t start because the battery ran down. And so his huge monster of a car is blocking my entire street — one of those fashionably narrow urban alleys — and my neighbors begin looking out their windows, sharpening their curiosity into annoyance.

It’s garbage collection night, and soon, the trash truck will be coming, which could be a disaster with Chick’s hog blocking the thoroughfare. When the nearby parking lot attendant tries to start Chick’s car, the guy shorts out the cables. A cabby comes along and takes over, gets mad at Chick in mid-jump, muttering and cursing, tosses the cables on the street, and rides away. A sidewalk superintendent buttinski in a suit walks up and says switch the red and the black.

Fearing his precious Cadillac monster-baby will be hijacked out from under him, Chick begins quietly freaking out. A male street hustler materializes out of nowhere, offers to find Chick a car battery for $20; Chick responds with interest, not realizing he too is dealing with a scam artist, before I suggests this is not a wise course of behavior since whatever battery Chick is offered will probably be stolen from another car in the neighborhood. So this means Chick must come back inside my house again, for a nervous cup of tea and two brief visits to my powder room. I have no


The under-towed
Soon the street hustler is knocking on my front door, and I have a fit. Chick rushes outside to head him off. The hustler is proffering an unbelievably beat-up battery which Chick refuses, but the hustler asks for a $5 carrying charge for his trouble. Though Chick gives him only $2, he doesn’t even get beaten up. Eventually a tow-truck comes and successfully jumps Chick’s car. “I feel like I live here,” he says as he leaves.

Heaven forbid! I pray aloud. What a zoo! By now, I have missed getting my echinacea, and, for the first time in ages, I have a bout of my old agita, that awful ache just below my breast-bone I used to get after holding back from expressing what I was really thinking about somebody acting like a jerk. Later I write to a friend, replaying what had transpired: “Tonight I was held hostage in my own dining room by an Amway salesman. It was grotesque. He talked AT me for several unpleasant hours, and then finally when he got around to leave, his car battery was dead, and he had to come back in and stick around and wait here for another two hours.”

All that for listening to a

I didn’t believe.

Naturally, I think of

and dealing with the devil, but in this empty corporate era of ours, I realize that doubtlessly the devil has been outsourced, probably privatized, and definitely replaced by

instead. But more to the point, once Chick launched into his Faustian Filibuster, I realize I should have simply said, “Chick, take a hike.” To protect me from any future eventuality of his return, I am practicing that phrase in front of my bathroom mirror.

I have to remind myself, in a situation like this, there are no

merely collaborators.

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