April 15, 2024
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April 15, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

When you were a kid and someone rang the doorbell, it was exciting. Easily the highlight of your day. And it was always someone you were glad was there. The whole family would come to the door, and all the kids would stick their heads out… In my house, there’d be a row of kids’ heads below my father’s elbow. And if it turned out to be, say, a salesperson, my father had to stuff all the little heads back in before he closed the door. Especially those of the smaller kids, who didn’t know that he didn’t know the person. They were still there, eagerly hoping to find out who this was, through context.

But the world has changed. Nowadays, when the doorbell rings, everybody freezes. Then we all get down and pretend we’re not home until we know for sure who it is.

And the reason is simple: Once they know we’re home, we can’t suddenly pretend not to be. But if we pretend we’re not, and then suddenly we are, it won’t be called into question.

“You can’t fool me. You’re actually not home. I saw before.”

As soon as there’s a knock, I think, “Who could that be?”

I count all my kids.

“Who isn’t home?”

“Well, it’s not one of us.”

Do we know them? And if we don’t, why are they here?

It’s not someone I know. Everyone I know lets me know they’re coming before they come. Who would come without letting us know first? Even in the really old days, people didn’t just appear on your doorstep. They sent letters:

“I will be traveling to you posthaste.”

If it said “posthaste,” you could expect them in eight to 10 business days.

And yes, this sounds like we’re all highly antisocial, but you never know who’s at the door. It could be someone that it’s easier not to deal with.

For example, sometimes it’s a persistent salesperson who won’t let you close the door. It’s not like the phone, where you can just hang up on them. These people know where you live. Now.

When I’m on the phone and somebody’s trying to sell me something, I try to make believe I’m in the middle of a sentence and hang up. And then they figure, “I guess we got cut off. He wouldn’t have hung up in the middle of his own sentence.” But I can’t do that when someone’s at my door.

“Sure! I would love to buy your”—SLAM.

Or it could be a meshulach, and you don’t have money on you. And he won’t believe you, because he tried you in shul, and you patted your pockets to show that you had nothing on you then. And now he’s at your home. What are you going to do now, huh? Are you going to pat the side of your house?

At best, it’s a neighbor coming to borrow something. Or return something. They knock on the door, and I’m like, “Again? You were just here!” and they’re like, “Here’s your bike pump.”

“Oh. I forgot that you borrowed it. I just remembered that you came by.”

So the procedure in your house, when there’s a knock, is that everyone freezes until you can figure it out. Then you silently give instructions, miming everything like a marine.

“Get down. Get down. No movements.”

It’s like the KGB is at your door.

And then you find yourself commando-crawling across the floor so you can get to the door and see who it is. Before you officially ask who it is.

And meanwhile, the knocks get louder. To you, it’s scary and aggressive, because you’re standing right near the door; to the people outside, they’re thinking maybe you’re in a different part of the house. Or they hear the whispering. Especially since there’s always someone who’s late to the conversation—who comes down the stairs in the middle of all this and asks, “WHAT’S GOING ON, EVERYBODY?!”

“Get down; be quiet! Someone’s outside!”

Have you ever stood outside your house with the door closed just to see exactly what you can and can’t hear from outside? You should.

And by the way, the person can tell that you’re looking through the peephole, because there’s a stream of light coming from the peephole that suddenly got blocked for a second.

“Should I turn off the light?”

“No! Then they’ll see it turning off! It’s too late for that light.”

But all this vetting doesn’t really provide a foolproof barrier into your house anyway. Like sometimes one of your kids has a playdate and he doesn’t know the procedure, so he just opens the door of a house that isn’t even his, because he assumes it’s his parents coming to get him. Whoops. A kid did this in my house last week.

“Oops.”

And then he wandered away from the door, leaving it open.

“I don’t know those people. They’re not even Jewish.”

He did not say one word to me; he just wandered away. And I didn’t know it wasn’t his mother. I thought he was going to get his shoes or something. And meanwhile, this person was left in front of a half-open door, because she thought he was going to get his mother. She didn’t know he didn’t live here. So after about a minute, she called out, “Is anyone home?” And I yelled, “Sure! Come in!” So she walked in, and she was definitely not his mother.

I think the look on my face scared her off.

And sometimes you do this yourself. Sometimes you’re expecting someone and you think it’s them at the door, and you open the door without checking, and it’s somebody else. And you say, “Oh.”

If you’re ever at someone’s house and they open the door and say, “Oh,” there’s no better feeling in the world.


Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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