Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An I-Don't-Give-a-Rat's-Ass Epiphany, Part 2

God forbid you should miss Part 1.

As I stood clutching my satchel full of GMO ballot initiatives, I told the armed guard standing in front of the synagogue that I was there to speak at a sustainable living class. He found my name on the list, deemed me terrorist-free and waved me in. "When had West L.A. become the West Bank?" I wondered.

Once inside the foyer area, I saw the ornate, sacred torahs and children’s arts and crafts displayed in glass cases that led to a large reception hall with high ceilings and gold chandeliers. I walked inside, and about 50 people were sitting at several round banquet tables. My eyes immediately clung to a long, empty table I imagined would have been chock-full of rugelach, mandelbrot, macaroons and babkas on a Friday night. But as I cursed my calendar for being a Tuesday, I reminded myself I was there on a mission—not for a nosh. 

A woman in her early sixties, about 4”11 with short brown hair and wire-rimmed glasses came up to me. 

“Are you a member?" she said with urgency, as if some other synagogue were about to snatch me up.”

“No,” I said, in awe of this lady's chutzpah and Jewdar.  

“Would you like to be?” 

“I don’t practice anymore,” I said. 

I wasn’t going to confess to her that I was only in it for the food. So I quickly changed the subject to the task at hand, and before I knew it, I was standing at the podium. 

My fear of public speaking prevented me from opening with my freshly minted Harvey Milk joke. So I said, “I’m with Label GMOs and I'm here to talk about an initiative we’re trying to get on the 2012 California ballot to label genetically modified food.” I was pretty sure that line wouldn't have killed in the Catskills, but now I was on the GMO-free circuit, not the Borscht Belt, and this was no laughing matter. 

As I gave my short spiel, I could tell this was a savvy group of liberals. All I had to say was "we have a right to know what's in our food," and I had them eating out of my hands. Of course with this crowd, I could have mentioned the deleterious health effects of GMOs, and I would've had them at “organ failure.” Between personal liberties and health obsessions, these were my people—the chosen ones. They were not only eager to sign the clipboards I passed around, some of them came up to me and asked if they could collect signatures. Apparently God was in the house.

Joan, the lady with chutzpah, said she’d take five sheets. Gary, a nice guy in his sixties, said he could collect signatures at the synagogue's day care center. Then the two of them thought that if they got permission from the rabbi, I could come back for Friday night services when there would be a lot more people. They could set up a table in the foyer and I could bring some signage. I hadn't been to services in so long, I felt a little nervous. Did they wear jeans or pearls? I guess if the rabbi was on board, I'd find out.  

One day at work, I got a call from Joan.

“I’ve got five pages of signatures for you,” 
she said.

“That’s great! Where did you get them?”

“I tried a few places, but ended up in Trader Joe’s, asking people who were standing in line. It was hard work,” she said, surprised.

“You want some more sheets?” 

“No," she said as if I had just asked her to climb Mt. Sinai with a bum foot. "I said I'd get you five sheets and I did."

I drove to Joan's house to pick up the ballots, and then I got the word.

"The rabbi gave his blessing," she said. 

Friday night, I set up my literature on a long table in the foyer outside the synagogue sanctuary and sat there waiting. A few people came over to me, but I wasn't getting much action. Then Gary showed up, and the schmooze-fest began. He worked that foyer like Bill Clinton at the county fair. As congregants walked by, Gary called each one by name, said a few lines and escorted them over to my table.

"Michael," he'd say. "Have you heard about this initiative to get genetically modified food labeled? We want to know what's in the food our kids and grandkids are eating. It's an issue we feel is very important to the community. If you'll just sign this clipboard here."

I just sat there answering questions, verifying their information and thanking them for signing.

The day before the signature-gathering deadline had come to an end, I drove to Gary’s house to pick up the signatures he had gotten at the daycare center. As I held all the ballots I had collected in my hot, little hands, I realized that even though I did not enjoy this type of work, I had gone out there and gotten the quota I had committed to at the beginning of the campaign. Did it matter that I felt mousy and didn’t do all the heavy lifting myself? Mousy, my ass. A signature's a signature. I was a freaking power broker, an ace recruiter—the big GMO-free, Harvey Milk cheese!

Stay tuned for the gripping conclusion.

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  1. Woo! Sounds like excellent work so far! I am certainly looking forward to reading the conclusion (though, I do sadly know this issues still hasn't received the support it needs from voters and elected officials - darn them).

  2. This is a very good story and I am looking forward to the gripping conclusion. (I love that photo of the jeans and pearls). Am I required to call you Ms. Cheese from now on?

  3. I can't wait for the "gripping conclusion" and I agree that a signature is a signature...

  4. We have to sit down and talk soon. I miss you. XOGREG (of Sippity Sup whom Blogger hates).

  5. Adair -- I loved reading this and can't wait for the finale! :-)

  6. Ill take you out to dinner next time your up here Adair for your hard work