We’ve all gotten them. The notices that come resulting from the free drawing we signed up for in a moment of weakness against our better judgment.
Usually, the letter comes first. It’s encased in an envelope adorned with exciting calligraphy in brilliant colors and the exhortations that bring hope (“The recipient of this letter may have kind of sort of possibly already won something”).
Often, it’s an invitation to come to a car dealership to see their wares (no purchase necessary), and you are guaranteed to win either a trip for two around the world with all expenses paid (plus $500 each for spending money), a Maserati convertible complete with color-coded floor mats or a scratch-off lottery ticket (Please let me know if you’ve ever won either of the first two prizes. I’m the one that’s normally taken for “a ride”).
And then the phone call.
It confirms everything you were told in the letter, giving the whole matter great credence.
But possibly even more common than that? The free, all-expenses-paid weekend trip for two to some exotic location, subjecting you to a mere 90-minute presentation (no purchase necessary) or better yet, a chance to buy homes that are simply too good to pass up.
My wife and I responded to the latter.
We had not been married long and figured a second (mini) honeymoon would be a great blessing. Besides, Florida was much more exotic than Chicago. We didn’t need a second home, but the thought of free airplane travel, limo rides and complimentary meals were just too good to miss.
She came to our home right on time and blocked our two cars in the driveway. She was good.
She had more energy than someone who had downed a case of Red Bull and smelled like she had been baptized by immersion in Shalimar.
My checkbook began to sweat.
She took out her stand and propped up her 20-pound photo album as she cooed and crowed about how gorgeous the pictures were. She dutifully reminded us we were not under any obligation to buy anything, but if we liked what we saw, we definitely would, right?
Sure — not.
Our United Airlines ticket vouchers came in the mail and the day for our departure arrived. We were psyched.
Before leaving Chicago, we were supposed to rub our thumb and forefinger together to see how much humidity there was where we were. Upon arrival, we were to do likewise and see how “dry” it was there, a scientific experiment that had to have been designed by the good folks at weather.guess. Chicago was drier.
The flight was fun and happily uneventful. We arrived in Orlando, about 80 miles an hour and 20 minutes away from our final stop. I knew we would be picked up in a “limo.” Visions of leather luxury danced in my head.
My visions quit dancing when we saw the older man holding the Linz sign as he stood next to his utilitarian Ford van.
They immediately tried one of the oldest real estate sales tricks in the book — separate the husband and wife so that effectual communication between the two is impeded. In our case, it did not work. We had been married just a few months and still talked with each other. I gave them an A for effort.
En route, we were pumped full of delectable facts, including their conspicuous lack of mosquitoes due to the gentle Florida breeze. This was obviously Eden, minus the snake and sin.
We were told the (now late) great baseball player Ted Williams lived on the premises, and why wouldn’t we want to live in the same neighborhood that he did? Our host enthusiastically proclaimed how he’d seen him out watering his lawn the day before (Wow! And I thought bingo was exciting).
We had our first meal in the dining room and could order whatever we wanted on the (limited) menu. I requested a steak, which was wholly unremarkable, except that it was well done to the tenth power and that I bent the knife blade trying to cut it.
The rest of our stay
The guide, Leo, showed us a few houses before our mutual bedtimes and got us settled in at our “luxury” accommodations, a sparsely furnished house. I had an idea, went to the Yellow Pages (yes, they actually had them back then) and looked up “Mosquito Abatement.”
The next day, I told Leo I had reservations about buying property in a town that was stupid enough to spend hard-earned tax dollars on mosquitoes that didn’t exist.
“Well,” Leo exclaimed, ignoring my observation, “what’s it going to be? House A or house B?”
“It’s like this, Leo. We’re a spiritual couple, and we’re going to pray about it overnight, and we’ll let you know our decision in the morning.”
“OK, great,” he said, “I’ll pick you up for breakfast and you can tell me then.”
“We will see you at breakfast, Leo,” I said, making sure not to say yes to any trial close he lofted our way.
Well, people of our word, we did pray, and the answer was a decisive no.
Cheerful Leo picked us up, uncharacteristically not saying much. Once we pulled out our own chairs and sat down, we barely had the menu cracked before he blurted.
“So what’s it going to be, house A or B?”
“Actually, Leo,” I responded, “it’s going to be neither. We prayed about it as we said we would, and God made it clear to us both that the answer was no.”
Leo looked as though he had been punched in the chest by a brass knuckles-adorned Joe Frazier.
“Well that’s odd,” he said, “because I prayed to God and he told me you were going to buy.”
“It’s obvious, Leo,” I said in all seriousness, “We’re not both praying to the same God.”
Leo regained his composure. Looking like a sick moose with glazed over eyes, he proclaimed, “Well, I don’t know what to say. No one ever told me no before.”
I quickly responded.
“Don’t worry, Leo. You’re a salesman, and you know the more no’s you get, the closer you are to a yes. We just helped you to make a future sale.”
Angelic Leo turned into his demonic counterpart. It was Sunday around 9 a.m., and we would be taken back to the airport around noon. He made arrangements with us to wait for him at an uncomfortable spot outside. No cushy chairs. We basked in the humidity that wasn’t supposed to exist. In a matter of moments, his boss, Mr. Super Closer, showed up.
“Hi,” Mr. Friendly said. “I hear you folks are religious,” feigning approval but dripping with unspoken threats.
“We have a Jesus relationship,” I responded.
Before I could ask him if he wanted one, as well, he said, “You know, I’m a religious person, too, and this reminds me of the story about the man that got caught in a raging flood, and he prayed that he and his family wouldn’t drown. So they went up on the roof, and soon after, they prayed, a canoe came by and the one paddling offered them to come aboard, but they declined because they were waiting on God to save them. A little while later, a bigger motorboat came by — same offer, same declination. Finally, a helicopter came to help lift the family to safety, but they politely passed on the pilot’s effort, too. Soon thereafter, the family drowned. In heaven, they complained to Peter on what they thought was a premature visit. The gatekeeper responded, ‘Hey, we sent you a canoe, motorboat and helicopter. What more did you want?”
Then he asked me what I thought.
My first inclination was why would you want to insult both us and God with such a dumb story (not dumb in general, but dumb, given our situation).
Instead, I answered, “I think that the same God that sent a canoe, motorboat and helicopter is smart enough to know that when he tells us no, he knows what he’s doing. That’s the same God that says, ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no.'”
The silence that followed was deafening. I thought he was going to take a swing at me.
“Fine,” he said angrily. “Here,” and he slapped a couple of tickets into my outstretched hands so we could see the Ted Williams Baseball Museum on the premises (which was pretty cool, I must say).
Well, our departure was at hand, and as we headed off back to the airport, I gave our driver the rundown as to what transpired over the weekend. I don’t think he stopped laughing until we got to Orlando.
The return flight was thankfully as uneventful as the first, and our drive back from O’Hare was equally uneventful.
Humidity and all, Chicago was OK. As for Leo, he could stay in his “lyin’(s)” den.
Les Linz of Seymour writes the “Humor: More or Les” column. For information about Linz, visit his amazon.com author page. Send comments to [email protected].