Column, The Movie Diary

The Hard Sell

By Dom Cioffi

My doorbell rang the other night around dinnertime, but I didn’t think much about it since my doorbell rings every night around dinnertime.

Ninety-nine out of one hundred times, it’s one of my son’s friends looking to play basketball, shoot Nerf guns, or zone out in front of the Xbox. But this must have been that one hundredth time.

As I wandered over to the door, I noticed a fairly rotund middle-aged man standing out front. I knew immediately that I was going to have to deal with a door-to-door salesman.

Dressed in khaki, knee-length shorts with a striped green and white golf shirt and black Air Jordans, Nigel was the picture of happiness upon first greeting. And as soon as I was within earshot, he began his sales pitch.

“Good evening, kind sir,” he started. “I realize that you’re probably eating dinner, but I was hoping I could bother you for just two precious minutes.”

Having personally experienced the hardship of sales during a short stint after college, I always make it a point to give folks a fighting chance. Sales is a tough business and the rejection can tear even the strongest character apart.

So, I sat down and listened to Nigel ramble on about his rough and tumble life and how his grandmother raised him and how he never listened. But now he was on the right track thanks to grandma and the good Lord above.

I made sure that I was appearing engaged, but as his sales spiel wore on, my mind wondered if this was all an act.

Nigel talked about his gang life (which sounded legit given the tattoos I saw peppered across his arms and legs), and how he was working hard to leave that world behind. He also mentioned his newborn son and how he wanted to be a good father.

After five minutes of non-stop talking I finally inquired, “Nigel, what exactly are you selling?”

He then launched into another diatribe about working for himself and how he probably walks 30 miles a day from neighborhood to neighborhood and how oppressive the heat can be. Once again, I stopped him and asked what this was all building up to.

Finally, Nigel explained that he was selling magazines, at which point he pulled out a ratty price list and thrust it into my hand. As soon as I began flipping through the pages, Nigel began another sales pitch, this time evoking the name of the Lord on multiple occasions.

He finally concluded with an obviously predetermined question meant to conjure up sympathy (and hopefully a subsequent sale).

“Sir, I am trying to rise above the pain and suffering that I’ve endured in my life. Have you ever faced similar obstacles?”

Now, given this set-up, most folks from suburbia would have to answer “no,” and then, out of guilt, pony up for a subscription. But I had an ace in the hole.

I leaned my head back and pointed to the large scar on my neck left over from my cancer battle. “See that, Nigel?” I asked. “I’m supposed to be dead. Cancer was going to steal my life away.”

I saw Nigel stare at my wound and for the first time since he arrived at my door, he stood in silence.

“I can appreciate your struggle,” I said. “I can appreciate all struggles. But the bottom line is this: I’m not going to buy magazines from you because you made some bad choices as a youth. And I’m not going to buy magazines from you because it’s a tough gig selling door to door.”

Nigel appeared confused since I had disrupted his well rehearsed delivery with a reversal of focus.

“I will, however, buy a subscription from you if you can tell me how you’re going to provide your infant son with a better life than the one you had.”

Nigel stood silent and stared at me. After a moment, he said in a much softer voice and in a cadence that spoke of honestly, “I suppose I’ll do whatever it takes, sir.”

I smiled and told him that with that attitude, he could do anything. I then proceeded to write him a check for 12 issues of “Psychology Today” — a subscription that I really don’t need.

This week’s film, “The Big Sick,” also features a young man facing some uphill battles and who’s also willing to go to great lengths to get what he wants.

Starring comedian Kumail Nanjiani, Ray Romano and Holly Hunter, “The Big Sick” is a heady romantic comedy that relies on a consistent interplay of dialogue to deliver laughs.

Check this one out if you love character-driven movies that evoke subtle, complicated emotions. This is definitely not a mass-market comedy built around gags, so if you’re expecting an Adam Sandler flick, think again.

A transactional “B” for “The Big Sick.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at

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