Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Mr. Sticky

 Mr. Sticky

His name is "Mr. Van Dijk," but, in our household, he has earned the moniker of “Mr. Sticky.” My children, with their imaginative minds, have drawn a parallel between him and a well-known glue that boasts the tagline “Guaranteed to stick.” Unfortunately, I had not forbidden my children from using the nickname.  Here is the backstory.

This particular parishioner is a lingerer. Once he graces you with his presence, he seems to be glued to his seat.

There are others like him, but, usually, there are ways to get them to move along. Mr. Sticky, on the other hand, is a challenge of a different kind. His arrival, often conveniently timed right around dinner time, triggers a flurry of activity. The children exclaim, “Oh-oh, there’s Mr. Sticky! Mom, you may as well put the supper back in the oven!”

A whirlwind of chaos ensues, which I find myself struggling to navigate.

What’s peculiar about this man is his lack of any significant conversation. He arrives unannounced, engages in boring small talk about his wife, the weather, and his views on the future. His favourite topic, however, is illnesses.

“Tough times, Pastor,” he says. And so, we discuss the tough times.

“Terrible weather for those who are ill, Pastor,” and then we discuss the weather.

“Have you heard about that farmer in Bronkhorst?” And then, the conversation inevitably turns to all manner of quack remedies for various illnesses promoted by this farmer.

All my usual tactics prove futile against him. Whether I subtly steer the conversation towards the time or offer him a second coffee—a strategy that usually works with other lingerers—he remains unfazed. He even accepts the second coffee without hesitation, forcing me to abandon that tactic. The clatter of dishes and the clinking of cutlery coming from the kitchen do not deter him. He simply sits there, savoring even the awkward silences in our conversation. After a prolonged silence, he would suddenly say, “Still, he has helped a lot of people.” And so we circle back to the farmer from Bronkhorst.

But then. . .  My youngest son deserves a round of applause. He managed to outsmart Mr. Sitcky, not with cunning or subtle hints, as his father attempted; no, his methods are straightforward and leave no room for misinterpretation.

Mr. Van Dijk had been seated across from me for a full hour. He was as comfortable as if he were lounging on a bed of roses, while I felt like I was sitting on a bed of nails. 

The door to my study swung open, and in walked Henry, my three-year-old son. Any change was a welcome distraction, so I tried to engage him in conversation. But he paid me no mind and positioned himself directly in front of Mr. Sticky. “Henry, give the gentleman a handshake!” I suggested. 

But Henry didn’t budge. It was futile to try to distract him with such trivialities when he was focused on a grand mission. Henry was already zeroing in on his target.

“Aren’t you hungry?” Henry asked, catching us off guard.

I silently applauded him. “Well done, lad,” I thought to myself, “that’s the way to do it.”

Mr. Sticky attempted to salvage the situation by laughing heartily and extending his hand towards Henry. But he was no match for my son. Henry, standing before him like a stern judge, interrupted him. His tone became noticeably more authoritative: “I asked, aren’t you hungry?”

His tactic was working. Van Dijk managed another smile and said, “Yes, yes, little man, you must be hungry too, right?”

Henry then moved towards the door, and his intentions could not have been more clear. He opened the door and stood there, determinedly waiting to usher our guest out.

Mr. Van Dijk had no choice but to take his leave. We looked at one another and chuckled a bit awkwardly, but he stood up to leave.

My older children found the whole episode amusing and were silently cheering on their little brother. As we stood in the hallway, my wife emerged from the kitchen to say goodbye to the visitor. She said, “So, Henry, did you want to see Mr. Van Dijk out?” To which Henry replied in a clear voice, “Mommy, this is not Mr. Van Dijk; it's Mr. Sticky.”

A muffled laugh echoed from the dining room, but Mr. Sticky and I acted as if neither of us had heard Henry’s candid remark—or the muffled laughs.

However, it’s been three months now, and Mr. Sticky has yet to pay us another visit.


From “Plakkon,” pp 87-89, Peper en Zout, M. E. Voilà: Kok, Kampen, n.d.; tr. George van Popta, 2024