Howard was your average guy. He lived in an average home in an average neighborhood. He had an average sized family: one wife, two kids and a dog named Sport. On an average month Howard earned an average income. Some months were better than average, others not. It all depended on how many used cars Howard sold on a monthly average, based of course on the average commission of his average sales. On those rare occasions when Howard sold more than average he would also drink more than average. “I hit the mother lode!” Howard would boast to his belching beer buddies at Buster’s Bar.
Without exception Howard would always sit on the same old wobbly bar stool in the smoke filled tavern. He would drink an average of six and one half beers. He never really knew if it was the seventh beer that made him wobbly or if it was just the stool. So he rarely finished that last drink, even though it was usually a light beer. When the room got too wobbly for Howard he knew it was time to go home to his wife Marge. But poor Howard’s return home was much later than average and Marge would assail him with angry words. But all was forgiven when Marge learned of the mother lode.
Howard believed there is an art to selling used cars. He had the art down to a science or maybe he had the science down to an art. Whichever it was he knew that he had the gift, at least on some rare occasions. Not only was it an art, not only was it a science, car sales was a game, a game that Howard enjoyed because he wrote his own rules. One rule was called ‘con the consumer.’ Another was ‘lock the looker’. It was a game of wit over wallet. “Put ‘em behind the wheel, make ‘em think they gotta’ deal!” is how he explained it to Marge. Howard was especially cunning when elderly ladies visited his lot. They were quite easy to outwit and could not detect your average auto malfunctions.
Howard was unashamed of his deceitful antics. He explained to Marge deception was necessary in order to make a decent living selling used autos. But he never referred to the cars on his lot as ‘used autos’ to his customers, he called them “pre-owned vehicles.” According to Howard, that made them much more marketable.
Things got even more interesting once Howard lured his prey into the sales office. Once the customer was trapped in his lair Howard knew the odds were well in his favor. To the inevitable counter offers, Howard’s response was always the same: “Well, I don’t know if the sales manager will agree to your proposal. That’s about what we paid for it but I‘ll see what he says.” In reality there was no sales manager on this particular lot. Howard would simply disappear into a back room, light up a cigarette and sip some coffee. Then he would return to the office and tell the dupe, “The best we can do is…” and he’d pull some dollar amount out of the air. It was all part of the game.
At work Howard generally wore a bright plaid jacket with shiny white shoes and ties that seldom matched. It was his understanding that this was what your average used car salesman wore. Being the traditional sort Howard would declare with a grin, “I must follow suit.” It was a humorous pun that always gave Marge quite a chuckle.
The average work schedule for Howard was Tuesday through Sunday and he always arrived on the lot at nine o’clock sharp. Every Sunday morning he would stand in the driveway, wearing his plaid jacket and mismatched tie, and watch the cars zoom by. He always kept an eye out for Chet who drove the fancy red convertible sports coupe. Howard didn’t know Chet personally but was very familiar with him because Chet once ran for public office. Howard wished he had a pre-owned vehicle like Chet’s but couldn’t afford such a luxury. He’d really have to hit a big mother lode for that to happen. But that was only a dream.
Unlike Howard, Chet was affluent and respectable. He didn’t earn his wealth through dishonest gain. Chet graduated from university with top honors and climbed the corporate ladder in a dignified fashion. After much success in commercial advertising he became vice president of the corporation. Chet was not only successful in business he had earned a great reputation as a model citizen. He involved himself in community service and earned the title of Head Deacon at The First Community Church, which was just down the road from the car lot. Howard couldn’t remember a Sunday he didn’t see Chet pass by on his way to church. Chet was a very religious man to be sure.
The First Community Church was known for having the finest pipe organ in the state. Its pipes were many and some almost reached to the ceiling above the second story balcony. Everyone was well aware that Chet had donated the funds for its purchase. There was also a nice shiny bronze plaque with Chet’s name on it positioned above the water fountain which he had donated. He had also helped finance the fellowship hall and the youth wing. Chet was very generous with his wealth. Often he was called upon to offer the benediction for Sunday services. On Tuesdays he hosted a men’s prayer breakfast. It was well attended because Chet was well liked and very popular.
One Sunday morning Howard arrived at work with a slamming headache. He attributed it to the beer he had at Busters Bar the night before but he did not offer that bit of information to his boss. Howard was excused for the day so he could nurse his ailing noggin. On the way home Howard noticed Chet’s fancy red sports coupe parked in front of The First Community Church. He saw many other cars parked there as well, some new, some pre owned. Being the curious man he was Howard decided to venture inside. He found a seat in the back pew; it also had a plaque mounted on it with Chet’s name. Howard quickly noticed Chet seated in the very front row.
Minister Mike offered a moving message. He talked about a rich young ruler who came running to Jesus. The young ruler asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This struck a chord with Howard as he had been thinking about that very question a great deal in recent days. Minister Mike talked about the importance of following Christ. He went on to say that the rich young ruler went away very sad because he didn’t want to follow Jesus. This disturbed Howard greatly, he did not want to leave sad.
At the close of the service the church began to empty but Howard remained. Even after the entire congregation had left Howard stayed seated. The words of Minister Mike echoed in his ears and resonated into his heart. He sat there long and quietly as if glued to the pew. The only other person in the building was Chet. He had stayed late to polish the plaque above the water fountain. As he rubbed away at the bronze Chet began to think of all the great things he had done for First Community Church; how he had donated funds for the pipe organ, youth wing and fellowship hall, and how he led a well attended prayer breakfast for the men on Tuesday mornings. Thinking on these things Chet was led to go into the sanctuary and offer a little prayer which went something like this:
“Thank you, Lord, that my life has significance. I praise Thee that I am charitable and that everyone at the First Community Church benefits from my generosity. I give thanks unto thee that the men in this church are praying men as a result of my affective leadership on Tuesday mornings. Lord, you knoweth that thy people worship because of the magnificent organ which I donated. I was happy to do this for You, God. Oh, and P.S. I’m so glad I’m not like that sleazy used car salesman in the plaid jacket that doth stink up thy very pew I donate-eth. Amen.”
Fortunately, Howard did not hear Chet’s prayer. He was too engrossed in his own. Falling to his knees and with tears streaming down his cheeks Howard cried, “Forgive me, Lord, I’m a rotten scoundrel!” Howard left the First Community Church whistling to the tune of Amazing Grace. And he never wore his plaid jacket again.