Several years ago I was conducting a program in the auditorium of the Denver Museum in City Park. An audience member came up to me afterward and said she had once worked for a company where a guy named Henderson had been a record-breaking salesman they still talked about. Was I related to that Henderson? I asked her the name of the company and when she told me I said, “Yes, that was me.”
Her jaw dropped as if that was the last thing in the world she expected to hear. That sort of thing happens to me once in a while. These days most people first encounter me as “Dr. Henderson” in my clinical or university professor role. Then a kind of cognitive dissonance sets in if they learn that I was the “Chuck Henderson” who was one of the nation’s top salespeople.
The purpose of this article is to give a partial history of how I got started in sales, what I discovered that made me so successful, and why I eventually left sales and became a psychologist. I have touched on this in All-In Selling which is available elsewhere.
Anyone with much experience in the world knows that there is a mysterious quality some people have that makes them practically irresistible. They are monumentally persuasive and can talk almost anyone into doing or buying just about anything.
What do these people have, and how do they get it?
That’s what this story is about.
My dad had always suspected I was totally nuts. He became sure of it when in my thirties I gave up a monstrously successful sales career and a gargantuan income to go to graduate school. He knew from my lavish lifestyle and the way I spent money that I earned more by several orders of magnitude than he had ever seen in his life. To his way of thinking—he grew up during the Great Depression—a man who could make the kind of money I did in sales had to be crazy to even think about doing anything else.
He never said it, but I know it made Dad very uncomfortable to see me abandon my “God-given talents,” as he would have put it. “Good salesmen are born, not made, Charlie,” he would say to me, “Don’t squander what you’ve got.”
The fact that I was such a good salesman proved, as far as Dad was concerned, that that’s what God meant for me to be. My people were a simple folk and my home town was smack dab in the Bible Belt of America.
I was a minority kid. That is, Dad was not a farmer. That makes you a minority member in a farming community.
The tiny little town where I grew up was in the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. Its name, Texhoma, was a portmanteau from the fact that the town sat astride the border between the two states. Half of us lived in Texhoma, Texas, and the other half in Texhoma, Oklahoma. Surprisingly there was never much debate about which side was better. You were more likely to hear impassioned arguments about whether Ford or Chevrolet made better pickups.
Texhoma’s population at its bustling biggest during my childhood was around 900. Today it is about the same. I was once told that the town maintains the same population because every time there is a pregnancy someone leaves town. I think they were just pulling my leg. Last year the record showed one registered sex offender living there, for what that’s worth. I think his conviction was for urinating in public.
If you have seen the 1971 movie The Last Picture Show you’ve seen one of the many look-alikes of Texhoma. The southwestern United States has lots of small towns that all look alike. If you want to see what the house I grew up in looks like today, Google 711 n 2 texhoma ok and click on “Street View.” It’s the dark house with the tree and picket fence in front. When I was a kid that house was on a dirt road north of town surrounded by prairie.
When I was about seven I remember my dad’s sister, Aunt Ada, who was visiting from California, standing in the front yard looking around and saying, “You sure can see a long way here.” I thought she meant there was something about being in Texhoma that gave everyone better vision. I recall wasting a lot of time trying to figure out what that was. Later when I was more jaded I realized that even short-sighted morons can see a long way in a flat country with a dry climate. Like the Panhandle. At least on days when the wind is not filling the air with dust, which is seldom.
About the time I was finally figuring out what Aunt Ada really meant it was becoming obvious to me that I did not have much of a future in Texhoma. I would have to get out of there when the time came and get a college education. I was not going to inherit a farm so there was little chance I would end up a sod buster. Those were the only two categories of grown-up activity that I knew about. You were either a farmer or you went off to college and learned how to do something interesting. One thing about it, though, I was determined not to get too smart for my own kind. That was what my folks often said about someone who came back to Texhoma with a college degree. “He went off and got hisself educated and now he’s too good fer ‘is own kind.” Too smart for his own good and educated idiot were also commonly heard locutions. At the time I was perplexed about how a person could be too smart for his own good. However, as I’m sure you know, I did come to realize later that it is indeed possible to be too smart in an enclave of ignorance and narrow minded intellectual poverty. But hey, no place if perfect.
Getting out and getting educated were not going to be easy. Money was scarce and I was not a good enough student to get a scholarship. I discovered that about myself in the third grade when I got my first really significant report card. There was a place on the card for the teacher’s comments about the student. Parents were eager to hear what the teacher had to say about their kid so the teacher had to write something, preferably something positive, about the kid. There were lots of interesting, uplifting, supportive comments on all the other kids’ cards. “Mary Sue always turns in excellent homework and plays well with the other children.” (She changed later.) “Ronnie speaks well and is very popular with the other students.” And so on.
The comment on my report card was different from all the others. It is still indelibly etched in my memory: “Chars is very neat.” That was it. And she didn’t mean neat in the sense of cool. She meant neat as in tidy. It was bad enough that she misspelled my name, but to simply say that I was neat?!?! Talk about damning with faint praise!
I was, however, eventually able to put that comment to good use with a simple change in verb tense. Later, during the numerous times that I was an undergraduate in college, it was fashionable for teachers to help students “get in touch” with themselves. One of the favorite ways of doing this was to have everyone write their own epitaph. I was subjected to this exercise so many times I became rather cynical about it. I adopted as my standard epitaph, “Chars was very neat.” Sometimes people would ask what it meant, but mostly they were too busy getting in touch with themselves to really give a damn.
As for the cost of going to college I was on my own because my family was rather on the poor side. Mom was always pushing education but I don’t recall her ever saying anything about paying for it. The way everyone talked about it when I was young I had the impression that you just went out and got an education. That was the only expression I had ever heard. “Get an education.” “Get your diploma.” Wasn’t it like getting anything else? “Get a new hat.” “Get a job.” “Get screwed.”
No one ever really explained to me that to get an education you had to learn a bunch of stuff. And while you were at it you had to pay a whole lot of money. Somehow the concept seemed absurd later when I realized I would have to actually pay for education with my own money. That was especially onerous because I didn’t even have enough money for the things I really needed like a Lamborghini or a Ferrari, or a motorcycle. Necessities like that.
One thing I knew from the very beginning, though, was that salesmen really raked in the dough. One of the earliest things I can remember my dad telling me was, “Charlie, you wanna do good in life, you go be a salesman. Salesmen really rake in the dough.” I remember the first time he said that because it was right after I had been screwed for the first time. I had hoed weeds all day for two old-maid* sisters and they paid me with a box of onions. A box of onions! What did an eight year old kid care about a box of onions? Like I said, my first screwing. Unfortunately it would not be my last.
Dad also told me that salesmen could name their own hours. I had no idea why hours needed names, but later I figured out what he meant. So, hey, if salesmen named their own hours and really raked in the dough, that was good enough for me. I would become a salesman, then a college graduate, then a doctor. That was what my mother was always urging me to be. “Be a doctor and help people.”
So you can see I was motivated to sell things early in life. My future well-being clearly depended upon me becoming a salesman.
My first chance at the big-time was in cosmetics. One day when I was about eight I asked Aunt Pete—my wealthy great-aunt Pauline—if she had any odd jobs I could do to earn some money. I figured if I did any hoeing for her she would pay me with real money, not onions.
Aunt Pete was the local Avon distributor. She had a basement full of Avon merchandise and a lot of order pads, so she gave me one and some samples and told me to go forth and take orders. She paid me a commission of five percent on all the orders I brought in. Screwed again, although I did not realized it at the time.
Years later I learned that for every dollar in commission Aunt Pete paid me she made over 12 dollars. She was one of the wealthiest people in Texhoma. Small wonder.
I banged around with the Avon thing for about a year selling cosmetics to old women. (When you are eight, any female who wears a brassiere is old.) I didn’t make much money at it—I don’t know why not, at five percent commission—but that didn’t really have much meaning for me at that age. The important thing was that I was in sales and ipso facto on the way to the good life where I could name my own hours and really rake in the dough. (I didn’t learn stuff like ipso facto until much later.)
Grow up in the Bible Belt of the US—where life is a seemingly incessant round of church service, Sunday school, choir practice, and revivals—and you learn to keep a conservative appearance. Take haircuts, for example. God did not like long hair, and if it touched your ears in any way, it was long. So haircuts were an important part of a good Christian’s grooming, and I got mine at Gus’ Barber Shop.
For as long as I could remember there had been an old, unused shoeshine chair in Gus’ shop. One day when I was about nine I asked Gus about it. He said lots of kids had tried to make a go of shining shoes over the years, but none of them had ever been successful enough to stick with it for very long. He said I could give it a try if I wanted to. My “rent” would be to keep the shop clean, keep the hair swept up, and deal with the towels. I would be expected to be there for two hours every day after school and all day on Saturdays.
It sounded like a swell deal to me so I accepted Gus’ offer and graduated from part-time Avon order taker to big time shoeshine boy. The going rate for a shoeshine was 15 cents so I figured I was about to start… you know… really raking in the dough.
It didn’t take me long to discover why no one had ever made a go of it. Very few of the farmers and cowboys coming in for a haircut asked for a shine. For one thing it was strictly a matter of faith that there actually were boots or shoes under all that mud and manure. During my first week I doubt that I shined more than two or three pairs of shoes and, no more than I knew about shining shoes, that was probably a blessing.
Gus’ shop was directly across the street from the Texhoma Hotel, a perennially derelict and frequently closed establishment that, like the rest of Texhoma, had seen better days. At this particular time the hotel had been recently re-opened by a hunch-backed professional gambler named Perry. Mister Perry, that is.
According to the received wisdom of the more knowledgeable townspeople, Perry was a disreputable, godless, whited sepulcher. He was also a slender, dapper guy whose shoes, I now noticed, were always beautifully shined.
Perry’s mien scared the hell out of me. He had a kind of sinister look about him, and it wasn’t just the hump in his back that made him seem so threatening. He had jet black hair pasted to his scalp and a thin, sharply-chiseled face that made him look like a Hollywood version of a river boat gambler. In truth he looked more like a Mafia hit man (Hollywood again), but I didn’t know about that sort of thing until later when I was learning stuff like ipso facto.
Perry’s countenance probably worked well for him at the poker table, but it did nothing to encourage this kid to bother him with silly questions about things like how he got his shoes so shiny. But I sure wanted to know. It quickly became an obsession with me. I was just sure that my shoeshine business would blossom if I could just get a pair of shoes to shine like his. In my youthful solipsism I had no doubt that my education and the rest of my life—maybe even the future of Western civilization—depended upon my possessing the secret to Perry’s shoeshine.
My desperation finally conquered my fear. One day, sometime in the second or third week of my growing humiliation as a failed shoeshine boy, I screwed up my courage and determined to ask. I crossed the street from the barber shop, entered the hotel and walked right up to Perry, who was sitting in the lobby reading a newspaper. “Mister Perry,” I asked, “how d’ya get your shoes to shine like that?”
“I spit on ’em,” he growled.
Shazam! It was like I had been struck by a bolt of lightning. My face got hot and probably very red. I think I might have gulped. I started slinking toward the door to make my exit. Then Perry said, “You wanna know or not?” Much to my surprise it appeared that Perry was glad I asked.
I would not realize until quite a bit later that that was one of the first major pivotal points in my life.
It turned out that Perry had been a shoeshine boy when he was a kid. “I know the ropes, kid,” he said, “and I’ll teach ’em to you.” Until that day I hadn’t even known there were any ropes. Now I was going to learn all about them. I was excited.
I did of course have some misgivings about accepting Perry’s help. Would it corrupt my eternal soul, I wondered, to associate with the likes of him? Would I get kicked out of Sunday School again—yes, it happened with embarrassing (for my folks) regularity—for taking instruction from someone who was definitely not a God-fearing, Christian man? These were very real questions for me but I was afraid to say no to him. Besides, I was greedy. Cash versus virtue was a no-brainer for me.
The first thing he taught me was how to give a good shine. A Perry shine actually was essentially a spit shine, so he was not being facetious when he said he spat on his shoes when he shined them. But spitting on customers’ shoes was not cool, so I kept the lid of a polish can filled with water on the stand. After slapping on the polish with my hand, I put a few drops of water on the shoe and rhythmically slapped the polish and water for about three minutes. The water treatment could also be repeated with the final ragging for a spectacular shine on a really good pair of shoes or, as was more often the case, boots.
Next came flair. For Perry it was a given that every shoeshine would be a good one. But just giving a good shine wasn’t enough. After all, any smart alec punk could shine a pair of shoes.
Smart alec punk. I can still vividly remember Perry with his hooked nose and harsh voice talking about smart alec punks and how I’d better not turn out to be one. “Henderson,” he would growl at me, “you’d better not turn out to be one of those goddamned smart alec punks.” I frankly did not have any idea what a smart alec punk was so I did not know if I was one or not. I lay awake nights worrying about it.
Perry’s unvarying facial expression was almost, but not quite, a sneer. I never saw him laugh but he was not totally without a sense of humor. His manner always confused me. He was a harsh, cynical man, disdainful of most people and all kids—yet he gave most generously of his time to teach me, and he obviously wanted me to be successful. I’m tempted to say, “bless him,” but that might make him turn over in his grave. He would not appreciate it. And it would be out of character for me to say such a thing.
Once the customer was in the chair the show began. Rag-popping, dual-brush rhythms, and—my God, the glory of it all!—a rhythmic hand-slapping to rub in the polish. To have this kind of fun and get paid for it too. “Sure, you’re gonna shine their shoes, see, and you’re gonna do it good, see,” he often told me, “but show ’em somethin’ too, boy, show ’em somethin’.” I seldom see an old Humphry Bogart movie without thinking about Perry.
Give me a couple of brushes and a shoeshine rag and I could probably still be moderately entertaining.
All of this was important and contributed to my success as a shoeshine boy. But the really essential ingredient of success was what Perry called The Hustle.
The Hustle according to Perry was composed of three parts. First came the pitch. This is where you let people know they needed a shine and that you wanted to do the shining. Ask for the business. Ask for the privilege of giving a top notch shoe shine for the paltry sum of 15 cents. (This was back when 15 cents was more than just dead weight in your pocket.)
Paltry sum. I said that a lot, too. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, and I ‘m sure the cowboys and farmers I used it on didn’t either, but Perry had said it so it must have been okay. I think he picked it up from some W.C. Fields movie. Perry also told me he was the ping-pong champion of the Lesser Antilles, and I know he picked that up from a W.C. Fields movie.
The Hustle included pitching everyone. This was very important. Never mind whether their shoes or boots looked old or new, shined or scuffed, clean or dirty. Ask them if they wanted a shine. If I was not busy in the shop, I would go out on the sidewalk and pitch everyone walking by. Smile and be courteous. Compliment their footwear. “Them’s good lookin’ boots, Sir. Shine?” Ask for the business. Say “sir” a lot.
There were some vitally important lessons here that would be easy to miss. Perry did not spoon feed anything to me but somehow he got me to see the deeper issues involved in this kind of enterprise. I could not have talked about them then but here they are as I know them today:
- Rejection is not personal. Never be afraid to ask for the sale—in this case the shoeshine—because “no” is not a personal rejection. If someone did not want a shine it had nothing to do with my personal merit or worth. I was to learn much later that this is one of the most common reasons for failure in selling: People can’t deal with rejection. It actually applies to many things in life.
- Don’t prejudge the prospect. Just because shoes already look shined or, in the other direction, don’t look like they are worth shining, does not mean the wearer will not want a shine. People often, maybe nearly always, buy something because it makes them feel good about themselves, not because they wanted that particular thing itself.
- Be respectful. Every time and place has its rules of respect. Violate them at your peril. For example, I would never have done what so many people consider acceptable today: Young people addressing older people by their first name (or “guy;” waitpeople, take note). Everybody in town called him simply Perry. To me it was always Mr. Perry.
- Speak the prospect’s language. Though their education was limited my parents spoke very good English so I never spoke incorrectly, at least not grossly so. I would never normally have said “them is” or “them’s” because I knew it was grammatically incorrect. But that was not the case for most of the farmers and cowboys around Texhoma. So I made it a point to speak in their language, not that of my folks. Today it is an easily demonstrated tenet of neurolinguistics that it is easier to get along with, and influence, other people if you speak their language.
When I first took on the shoeshine job, I thought of it, if I did any thinking at all, as being just that: putting shoe polish on shoes and buffing them up. But Perry showed me that success came not from the quality of the shine, but from the selling. He gave me my first real taste of selling and its rewards. For three years, from age nine through eleven, I made good money shining shoes. I knocked down enough to buy things like the fanciest bicycle in town, the only Schwinn within a hundred miles. The best Daisy Rider BB guns (I had several). An expensive bow and good arrows. Plenty of cigarettes, pipes and tobacco (yeah, I smoked). Most of what I bought was stuff I did not need. I should have been saving more of my money, but you know how it is with po’ folks.
Saturdays were the busiest for barbering so it was on Saturdays that I made the most money. I could count on bringing in a total of about eighteen dollars on a typical Saturday. That was a twelve-hour day—eight to eight—and I was often so busy there was no time to eat. (I just did an inflation calculation on the US Inflation Calculator and found that $18 back then is the equivalent of $175 in the fourth quarter of 2019 as I write this. Add to that what I was making weekdays after school and it was enough to give me at least a small taste of really raking in the dough.)
Eventually my lucrative little shoeshine business and all of my newly acquired worldly possessions were too much of a temptation for Gus’ son, George David. He and I were the same age. I had been out sick with the flu for a couple of days and when I returned to work at the barber shop George David was shining shoes. He was not a particularly industrious boy, so I suspect it was his dad’s idea to give George David my shoeshine business. Gave him the business that I had built up from nothing. I was devastated.
George David had been at it about two weeks and was not doing well. He asked me to teach him the business. That was my first experience of the joy of telling someone to kiss my ass. It would not normally have occurred to me to speak this way but a couple of months earlier I had found a pamphlet in the library titled “How to say Kiss my ass in 10 languages.”
This little four-page pamphlet was stuck between the pages of a book I had checked out. It had nothing to do with the subject of the book, and it did not have Texhoma Public Library stamped on it anywhere, as did everything else in the library. So I kept it to begin learning to speak lots of languages which was one of my many totally unrealistic childhood ambitions. I regretted that George David did not, to my knowledge, speak anything other than English.
The loss of my shoe shine business happened at the beginning of summer when I made my best money because school was out and I could be there all day every day. George David hadn’t worked out and Gus had become accustomed to the way I kept the shop clean. After all, I was nothing if not neat. He told me he would be willing to let me come back and pick up where I left off.
I asked Gus if he spoke any other languages. He gave me a strange look and said no, he didn’t. Disappointed, I had to tell him to kiss my ass in English.
He told me I was a smart alec kid. Well! So I was one after all. The doubt and wonder could end. I decided maybe being a smart alec was not all bad. But the whole episode had made me pretty despondent, marking the beginning of the end of innocence for me.
Anyway. There I was, eleven going on twelve, unemployed. I was not going to be able to name my own hours and really rake in the dough. My future looked bleak.
In those days there were lots of ads in the backs of comic books touting all kinds of money-making schemes. I had already tried the one about selling flower and garden seeds. That was how I had lucked into that great job hoeing weeds all day for a box of onions.
An ad that had always looked particularly appealing to me had to do with selling fireworks. I sent off for information and received an exciting, beautiful full color brochure picturing the company’s various wholesale packages ranging from “starter” (not much money) to “professional” (a lot of money).
I ordered the starter assortment and put out the word that I had fireworks for sale. No store, no stand; I just kept everything in cartons beneath my bed.(…!…) Customers, mostly kids, would come to the house and I would take them to the bedroom to buy what they wanted. I game Mom a price list so she could cover for me when I wasn’t at home. When sales slowed I would go out and throw cherry bombs at older kids. They would have to come to me to buy some of their own to get even with me. I was amazed at how quickly my first order sold out. My second order was for an intermediate assortment. It sold quickly so I ordered the super-duper big assortment. My bed wasn’t big enough so I stored everything in the garage. Several times I reordered that summer. That was the beginning of my fireworks business which I repeated every summer for several years.
Selling firecrackers and roman candles was fun and lucrative but it left me with a lot of time on my hands, so I used my folks’ lawn mower to start mowing yards. Once again, Perry’s tutelage came to bear and I had no trouble getting customers, except now I was going door to door to make my pitch instead of waiting for people to walk by or come into the shop. Those were the classical days when behind almost every door there was a stay-at-home housewife just waiting for me to offer my yard service.
Eventually I had too many customers to keep up with on foot, so Dad let me use his old beat-up pickup and he walked. That was the kind of dad he was. Besides, it was a tiny town and it was only about six blocks from our house to the pool hall where Dad spent most of his spare time playing Pitch.
About that. They used domino-like tiles to play Pitch in Ike Long’s pool hall. The tiles had playing-card faces instead of dots like normal dominoes. Ace of spades, ten of harts, like that. I mistakenly thought until just recently that Pitch was a game unique to those tiles, kind of like a Monopoly board is only good for playing Monopoly.
Turns out I was wrong. I have recently learned that Pitch is a commonly known game played with ordinary playing cards. The kind made of cardboard. It is also known as Auction Pitch, High-Low-Jack, and Setback, to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about it. The playing-card-like tiles they used to play Pitch were evidently unique to the time and maybe the region. The only such tiles I have found are antiques that were originally made in Newkirk, Oklahoma, and are evidently no longer available. In an overly exhausting search on the Internet, that was the only reference I could find. So I suppose in a basement or attic in Texhoma some descendant of Ike Long has several boxes of what were evidently called Hard Cards and that have my dad’s fingerprints all over them.
I asked Dad a couple of times about the game but he never gave me much of an answer. I knew they played for money, but it was not until many years later that I figured out that his winnings from Pitch were at times the only income my family had. That embarrassed him so he didn’t have much to say. I wish I had known so I could have helped out more. I am very disappointed in myself that I did not figure it out at the time. Stupid is is stupid does.
With the use of Dad’s pickup I was able to get around much faster. My Uncle Raymond—who, along with his brother, my Uncle Fred (Aunt Pete’s husband)—owned Texhoma’s main lumber yard, suggested I buy a gasoline powered mower. I decided to do that when he offered it to me “on the installment plan.” In other words, weekly payments. At full price, of course. He was actually my mother’s uncle, my great-uncle, and Aunt Pete’s brother-in-law. So no family discount; familial largess extended only so far in those days (and probably today, too). But there was no contract, no interest charged. I was trusted to make good on my word.
Those payments made me nervous so as I recall I paid off the balance in a matter of a few weeks. I was having to work harder than I wanted to so I hired Leonard Rhoden to help. Leonard loved that power mower, called it “a beauty.” About that time another friend, Ronnie Hager, asked if I could use any more help so I said sure and bought another mower—same deal from Uncle Raymond—and put Ronnie to mowing with it. Now I had a crew and my time was spent ferrying them back and forth to jobs, taking care of details, and getting new lawn clients. I was still working harder than I wanted to but I was, you know, raking in the dough.
Dad’s pickup was an old Chevy with hardly any paint left on it and there was a tear in the metal of the front fender. Everyone knew when I was coming because the fender vibrated and screeched. It made a truly horrendous noise. It was such a disturbance to the peace and quiet of Texhoma that I eventually had to fix it. Well, the disturbance and the warning to Dad from Sam Spradling. Sam was the local deputy sheriff and a good friend of Dad’s, but he told Dad he needed to get the fender fixed because people were complaining. So I fixed it with a piece of scrap chrome bolted across the tear in the metal. If it won’t go, chrome it.
I was now thirteen. You might wonder how, at that age, I could conduct a business that required driving. All I can say is it was a different time, a different place. It was not that unusual in the small towns of the region at that time. Besides, the only serious law enforcement was one Oklahoma Highway Patrolman for most of the Panhandle — three counties. He would cruise through town maybe once every week or two. If he did happen to see me driving, all I had to do was make a dash for the Texas side of town. It dawned on me years later that he didn’t really want to catch me.
The deputy, Sam, was county law. He was a really great guy. When he saw me driving he would act like he was going to catch me but he never did. He certainly could have if he had really wanted to. He, like everyone else in Texhoma, knew exactly where I lived. And I’m sure he and Dad saw each other almost daily. It was and is a very small town.
Perry had told me during one of his shoeshining tutorials that I needed to think more about what I did. “You’re smart enough, kid, but you’re not clever. You need to be more clever.” Fact is, I’m not clever now, so I guess I never have been. At the time I did not know exactly what Perry meant. What exactly was the difference between smart and clever? I learned later, as I’ve already mentioned, that I was a smart alec, thanks to Gus Berry. But that clearly was not the same thing. I made it a point to try to think about things more.
And thinking about things more really helped with my lawn mowing business. By questioning and experiment, through trial and error, I made a few discoveries that have stood me in good stead ever since.
One was to consider it a relationship instead of just a sale. I stopped obsessing over making a sale—I had been getting ever more manic about getting more yards to mow—and instead began thinking more about what I could do for the customers I had. Started thinking in terms of quality instead of quantity. What could I do to make myself more valuable to a prospective customer. Or just make him or her like me, for that matter.
This was different from shining shoes. For that I just had to ask for the business (if they didn’t already know they wanted a shine), do a good job with the shine itself, and put on a show. I had of course learned issues about quality from Perry. I never, ever said “good enough” with a tough pair of shoes. I often spent a very long time on scuffed up and abused footwear. Or getting off multiple layers of dried on mud. Or paint spots. But getting someone to trust me with their yard was a larger issue than letting me shine their shoes. The state of one’s footwear was important in a minor sort of way. But one’s yard was a whole different matter. It was right out there in front telling the whole world just what kind of person you were, a statement about about you, everyone in your family, and your place in the community.
I grew up in a time and culture where personal integrity and moral values were more important than they seem to be now. One’s strength of courage was important. America had just recently been through World War II and it was important to have the moral fortitude to do what was right. That’s part of what Perry was trying to tell me, but he was too wise to just come out and say it. A kid has to give thought to these things, these community values and social mores, see them as important and relevant, and internalize them. From Perry’s own example it was clear that you didn’t have to think like everyone else. You just had to be the kind of person they could trust. There was some room for self-actualization but only within certain bounds of conformity.
This sounds trite today but thinking in terms of doing for others was a new way of thinking for me. With this new thinking I was able to come up with things to do for customers that helped them, that went above and beyond what I had merely contracted to do. Like pulling some weeds and not mentioning it when they were just paying me to mow. (They always noticed sooner or later.) Like helping carry in groceries from their car if they came home from the store while I was doing their yard.
I also did pro bono work, but I’m not allowed to talk about that. (It’s a subconscious prohibition kind of thing. Many years later while living in New York I heard George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, say that if you do something for someone and anyone else besides you and that person know about it, you did it for the wrong reasons. Sounded about right to me.)
I found that if I stayed alert for opportunities to do little favors for others, many arose. I worked on fostering a good relationship with them and in turn I became known as a Good Kid to just about everyone but Gus. And I kept them as customers, even when an older kid, Jesse Reynolds, decided he wanted to go into the yard business and tried to undercut me. Just like George David, Jesse did not last long.
One Monday Leonard and I were doing Ote and Mima Worley’s yard when a kid name Johnny came running by trying to get away from an older kid named Leon. Leon was a notorious bully. He caught Johnny and started slapping him around. It made me furious. I decided we had all had enough of Leon’s bullying. I grabbed him in a bear hug, squeezed as hard as I could, then threw him on the ground. I was a husky kid and all the work I did had made me strong for my age.
Leon started to jump up, like he was going to come at me. I squared off and said, “C’mon, Leon, get up so I can finish you off.” I’d heard Alan Ladd say that in a movie. It didn’t sound nearly as neat when I said it. I was also not all that confident that I could finish him off, whatever that meant. But it must have convinced Leon because he jumped up and ran off at a pretty good clip. When I turned around Johnny was running up the street in the opposite direction.
Oh well, I thought. It was the right thing to do even if nobody appreciated it. You know how it is; no good deed goes unpunished.
Leonard had been watching. “Good,” he said, restarted the mower, and went back to work. Leonard was not given to chatter.
When I got home at the end of the day Mom asked me if I’d been in a fight with Leon. Nervous, thinking I might be in trouble, I said it wasn’t really a fight, that I had just thrown him on the ground. Once. And of course I had to add the disclaimer of every kid caught in a rumble, “He started it!”
“Genevee [Johnnie’s mother] called and told me about it,” Mom said. “She said to thank you.” So I did get thanked after all.
But that wasn’t the end of the matter. Genevee was the manager of the Texhoma Times, the town’s little weekly newspaper. She wrote a brief article about what happened and threw in a tongue-in-cheek apology to the Worleys for the interruption in my tending their lawn. The paper came out on Thursday, as usual, and when I got home the next day Mom said I’d had about a dozen phone calls, all of them asking a version of the same question: “Want another yard to mow?”
My yard mowing business flourished. Editorial mention, even in a paper as small as the Texhoma Times, was clearly a wondrous thing.
Yard work was obviously out of the question in winter so I started hauling trash after school and on Saturdays. This was back in the day when everyone burned their trash in a barrel behind their house in the alley. I would contract to pick up their trash on a regular basis. I think I charged 50 cents a barrel. Once again I was able to make a go of it because of Perry’s teaching. Because I had worked at developing and keeping a good relationship with all my lawn customers, most of them became trash customers, too.
It did not take me long to discover that trash barrels burned and rusted out at a pretty fast clip. Here was a need, but where to find empty fifty-five gallon drums? As it turned out I could get them from a colorful old character named George Washington something-or-other who lived about seven miles north of Texhoma. For some reason—or for no reason other than simple weirdness—he had amassed about a zillion empty barrels on his property. He agreed to sell me as many as I wanted for fifty cents apiece.
Back then in that part of the country the dicker was everything. It was a test of your virility. You were not a man until you could hold your own in a horse-trade. To let someone get the best of you in a deal was as bad as losing a fight.
So George was not about to let me get a good deal, much less get the best of him. Somehow, though, he got confused about the fifty cents I charged to empty a trash barrel. I don’t know how that could have happened, what with me not being clever and all. He thought fifty cents was what I was going to charge customers for a new barrel. He was downright giddy at the thought of getting to me. Add to that the fact that I still had to cut the tops out of the barrels. He figured he was really getting to me.
The fact is, I sold those barrels for several dollars apiece. Over time I bought a lot of his barrels and George never did find out how much I was making. He didn’t get out much.
I cut the tops out of the barrels with a hammer and chisel. Well, I did some of them myself. I quickly learned it was an endless, thankless chore so I paid Leonard to do it. I paid Leonard and Ronnie the standard hourly wage for a kid in those days: Fifty cents an hour. Leonard was pretty fast and could cut the top out of a barrel in about fifteen or twenty minutes. I was doing pretty well on the deal so I paid Leonard a small bonus for each barrel. Then he really got fast at it. I had Ronnie to help me haul trash. We also did other things, like cleaning up vacant lots, selling scrap iron, cleaning out garages and hauling off the junk, and so on.
There I was with two year-round employees. My first experience of the joys (not!) of being an employer. But hey, I was naming my own hours and really raking in the dough. Relatively speaking.
A guy named Paul Huntington had come to Texhoma to be the band director when I was ten or eleven years old. I was already “in the band,” as we used to say. I played fourth chair clarinet which, in case you are not familiar with this sort of thing, was the bottom of the heap. I would have been relegated to fiftieth chair if there had been one, I was that bad. Actually I was even worse than that; I was not good enough to be bad.
The only reason I was in the band at all was because I knew how much my folks had sacrificed to get me a clarinet. Actually, I hated that horn and never practiced. It had all been a big mix-up.
I had wanted to play the cornet, and when I was in third grade and old enough for band, I told my mother what I wanted to play. Except I had the name wrong. I thought they were called clarinets, so that’s what I said I wanted. A few days later Mom drove over to Guymon which had the only music store in the region and bought me a used, beat-up metal clarinet. When she gave it to me, it was hate at first sight.
Anyway, back to Paul Huntington. I remember the first time I met “the new band director.” It was on the street about a week before the start of the school year. He asked me if I was in the band. Yes, I said, but I wasn’t very good. We’ll change that, he said. And we did.
Paul was young, in his early thirties at the time, single, and kind of funny looking. Actually he was quite eccentric in a street-wise sort of way. That might have come partly from the fact that he had worked in a lot of different music situations to get through college: the standard issue dance and show bands, a military band, a circus band, and who knows what else. He played a lot of instruments and he had, for me at least, a lot of charisma. He was especially cool because he looked the other way when I would sneak back to the instrument room and have a smoke during school hours.
Under Paul’s influence and inspiration I caught fire (nothing to do with smoking in the instrument room). Got it in my soul, as they say. I started practicing and eventually took solo chair. Became concert master and student director. did well at regional and state music contests.
All this time Paul was playing weekends with a dance band composed of band directors from around the area. They usually worked on Saturday nights, sometimes traveling 200 miles round trip just to play a gig. But they made good money working mostly in VFW and American Legion halls.
When the tenor player had to drop out of the band, Paul asked me if I wanted the job. Never mind that I had never even touched a tenor saxophone. I hadn’t even played any music that wasn’t a march or other typical high school band music. But Paul told me I could do it, so I took some cash and headed for Guymon to buy a used tenor sax.
I didn’t have enough money with me—what? you want how much for that used horn?—so the music store let me charge the balance if I promised to pay it off at ten dollars a month. Not a promissory note, mind you, just a verbal promise. No interest, no security. Like I said, things were different then.
The sax was a Conn 1050 big-bore. I never did learn what that meant, but it was a beauty. And big! I don’t think I had ever even seen a tenor saxophone up close before, so its size was a bit daunting. But Paul had been right; with some practice it did not take me long to translate my clarinet skills to playing the sax.
It took me a few months to begin to feel comfortable in the otherwise all-band-directors dance band. Tom Ward and the Allstars. Tom was the school band director in Liberal, Kansas. It helped that the other guys were all band directors and accustomed to nurturing young musicians. With their support and help I caught on fairly quickly.
Those weekends were a magic time for me. Paul and I would drive to the jobs in Paul’s new Studebaker Golden Hawk. It was a high-powered, sporty work of automotive art, very fast for the mid-nineteen-fifties. The speedometer went up to a hundred and forty. We never got it up to that speed, but we did go fast when it was three o’clock in the morning and we were trying to stay awake long enough to get back to Texhoma. Well, I was trying to stay awake. Paul drove to the gigs, and I drove back. He liked to have a few beers while we were working so he zonked out while I drove ninety miles an hour with my head out the window. Those flat, straight prairie highways, late at night, with no other traffic and rarely a cop were an irresistible invitation to this callow boy to speed. And boy did I!
As was emerging as a pattern, my experience with the dance band eventually involved sales. Someone had to book the band to keep it busy. Haphazardly waiting for a VFW or American Legion call Tom to book the band left holes in the performance schedule. What was needed was someone to book the band in an organized way. Like a booking agent.
I jumped into that role with both feet and began staying in touch with VFW and American Legion halls all over that part of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Not only was I booking our band, I was also involved in arranging the booking of a few other bands, too. They were mostly professional western road bands like Tex Beneke and Chill Wills. Sons of the Pioneers. Texas Playboys. What names! What music!
Although most of the bands I booked had recording contracts and exposure on national radio programs like Grand Ole Opry, they were for the most part just marginally profitable (when they were at all) organizations usually in need of engagements. A few of them would actually call me when they were in the Texas-Oklahoma Panhandles region to see if I would get them a gig for a night they had open. It didn’t happen often but it was fun to help them out when I could.
I played one-night stands with a few of the bands when they needed a sax player. (Tenor sax was often considered a reasonable replacement for a steel guitar in Western music, although not so much in Country music.) One night I played with Bob Wills and his Western band the Texas Playboys. I had a reputation for being a decent blues player and Wills loved the blues but was no good at playing them himself. So he hired me as a pick-up side man to work one night in Dumas, Texas. Which coincidentally is where I was born. Fifty miles from Texhoma.
Wills was smitten with the idea that I was originally from Dumas. Early in the evening he introduced me to the audience as “Dumas’ own … [pause] … Tex Rhino.” He couldn’t remember my name so he made one up on the spot. I later learned that Rhino Records was the label The Texas Playboys recorded for. I don’t think there was any significance in the name he made up for me other than it was something he could remember.
The Texas Playboys were, as I said, a Western band. Western music is significantly different from standard dance or blues or jazz and I was not that familiar with the Western music canon. I had thought I would be there primarily to play blues tunes and maybe provide a little background fill-in on their Western tunes. Not so. I would hear “Take it away, Tex” from Wills and what with being (surprisingly) the only Tex in the group, I would stand and do my best to take it away.
I was faking it all the way on the Western tunes. Most of them I had heard only a few times on the radio or on the jukebox at Lilly’s Cafe in Texhoma. Evidently I was getting away with it because as the evening wore on I kept hearing that dreaded take it away Tex. It was making me a nervous wreck. The key signatures common to Western music are more difficult on a saxophone and, like I said, I really didn’t know most of the tunes. I was not having a good time. We were scheduled to play till two in the morning. It promised to be a very, very long night.
Around eleven—we’d been at it about two hours—someone in the crowd set off a firecracker. Then a second one. I heard a piece of the second one whiz past my ear. That’s one of the dangerous things about firecrackers. Parts of the wrapping, especially on more powerful ones, can fly a long way and put out an eye. But I didn’t think that was any reason for the whole band, about eight other guys, to hit the floor. I just stood there laughing at them. Big fireworks promoter that I was, I wasn’t afraid of a couple of firecrackers.
Then I became aware of a ruckus out on the dance floor. Some guys were wrestling a man down and I heard something heavy hit the floor. I looked and saw it was a revolver. They really were gunshots, not firecrackers, and that was real lead that whizzed past my ear. With that realization I got scared.
By this time the band was getting off the floor and one of the guys said, “Did you see that? Tex ain’t afraid of nothin’.” They were well aware that I was the only one who had not dropped to the floor. I didn’t know what to say so I just kept my mouth shut.
Wills paid me for the full gig even though the shooting incident brought everything to a standstill and we were done for the night. He gave me a promotional postcard and wrote on the back: “Tex, You will always be a Texas Playboy. Bob Wills” That night was not the last time I would be shot at, but it was the only time I felt like it was worth it.
By the time I was fifteen I was feeling pretty cocky. I had moved up the sales food chain from a guppy taking Avon orders to a big shot promoter selling entertainment packages. I was a real barracuda, ready for the big time.
My family moved to Denver between my junior and senior years and of course I moved with them. I was eager to move to the city. As former Texhoma classmate Kay Chrisman said about me some years later (she was Kay Thrasher by then), “Charles was too smart for Texhoma.” I don’t think she meant it in a nice way. It was just a more refined way of calling me a smart alec. But whichever way she meant it, I agreed with her. Although it is where I grew up I never really felt like I belonged there.
Denver, on the other hand, felt natural to me. I loved it. Couldn’t get enough of it. It was a great place to be at that time and to finish growing up. (Well, as much as I ever finished growing up.) And it had two (count ’em, two) full fledged newspapers with huge classified advertising sections listing more “salesman wanted” ads than I could shake a stick at. I think I might have drooled on myself the first time I looked at the Denver Post.
There were tons of sales jobs available and getting one was easy because most of them were commission based. Which is to say, if you didn’t make sales they didn’t have to pay you anything. So I could get just about any sales job I wanted. Doing the actual selling was what counted.I figured that all that experience in Texhoma was bound to have given me the skills to be successful selling anywhere, maybe even easier in a real city.
First I got a job selling something that had just recently been invented: the garbage disposal. Nobody had one yet. I lasted only about a week. Fifty or more housewives telling me they weren’t interested soured me on selling disposals. I just couldn’t get my heart into selling a thirty-nine dollar doohickey for the sink. I was pretty sure they would never catch on.
I tried a few other sales jobs. Then I snagged a job selling cars at a brand new dealership on West Colfax Avenue. Woody Cavnar Lincoln Mercury.
About two weeks into that gig I made my first sale to a retired engineer and his wife. It was a new model, a Mercury Phaeton hardtop convertible. It wasn’t really a convertible, they just called it that because it did not have a post between the front and back side windows. The top did not actually go down; it did not “convert.” The elderly couple were very nice people and I did not sell them the car so much as just facilitate their purchase. They traded in their old convertible and drove off in the new Phaeton that day.
The next day they were back, saying they could not figure out how to get the top down. My heart sank. I explained the deal about that, that the top did not really go down. They were crestfallen. They had had their old convertible a long time and loved it. They thought they were getting a real convertible and this was probably the last car they would ever buy. To say I felt terrible is an understatement. When I went to the sales manager he told me nothing could be done. They had bought the car and that was that. I argued with him for quite a while until he told me to go out there and tell them nothing could be done and leave him alone.
I asked him if he spoke any foreign languages. It turned out he did, but it was Flemish. That version was not in the pamphlet so I had to tell him to kiss my ass in English. Like my sales career, my study of foreign languages was just not paying off.
Clearly I was not cut out for selling cars. At least not the Woody Cavnar way. I felt so bad I couldn’t face the old couple again so I slunk out the side door and left. I mean all the way left: Fled! Never went back. My only excuse for not sticking around to face the muse, and it is a poor excuse, is that I was only sixteen at the time, a few months shy of seventeen. I have never forgotten how rotten I felt and I never got over the guilt. I hope the retired engineer sued Woody Cavnar. After all it was called a convertible. How could that not be misleading?
That experience was so devastating to me (and to the elderly couple also, I’m sure) that I vowed to never, ever again run the risk of selling anything to anyone if I thought it was not right for them, or if for any reason in my estimation they should not make the purchase. I had not been aware there was a problem with the convertible sale, but I should have been. If I had been more alert it would have been obvious. That experience stayed with me and I never again sold anything that I had to feel guilty about.
My next job was selling accordion music lessons for a music studio in Englewood, a suburb of Denver. It seemed a natural for me, what with me being a musician and all. There was, however, a major problem. Even at that early age my dislike of the accordion was firmly established. It only took me a day or two to realize that here again was a violation of ethics. I should not be representing an accordion studio. Fortunately I did not make any sales. Otherwise I would have been contributing to the addition of more accordionists in the world. I was already feeling guilty enough without that.
There were a few more sales jobs I tried that first summer in Denver, but nothing worked for me. I had to conclude I was not the hotshot I had thought I was. My overall failure was a great disappointment. I was not going to be able to name my own hours and really rake in the dough.
I had to do something to bring in some money. I still had money left over from what I had saved in Texhoma but that was not going to last forever. And I had a car payment to make. It was obvious when we first arrived in Denver that I was going to need wheels to get around so I bought a used car with a loan from Dad’s bank (well, the bank where he was a customer; he didn’t own the bank). Payments of fifteen dollars a month. But gentlemen’s agreements did not cut it in the city. I was too young with no credit rating so Dad had to co-sign the note.
Scanning the classified ads in the paper, I was looking for something appropriate for a hick kid who couldn’t sell. I ran across an ad for a rock ‘n’ roll band. Al Cole, the owner of Joe’s Place in downtown Denver, needed a band to play Friday and Saturday nights. I called and scheduled an audition for the following week. I did not have a band. I had never played rock ‘n’ roll. I was too young to legally be in the bar. I was in over my head again. Oh, well… details, details.
I quickly placed an ad in the Denver Post for musicians, hurriedly put together a group, practiced night and day, auditioned, and much to my surprise we got the job. The place was a real dive, only one block from skid row in lower downtown Denver, but I didn’t care. I played there every weekend for over a year.
Joe’s Place was for me a real education. It was a three-two joint, which is to say, only 3.2 percent beer was sold and in Colorado it was legal for eighteen-year-olds. I was not eighteen but I looked like I was and no one ever asked for my ID.)
Later in the school year, after football season was over (I lettered) I only had to be in school mornings. I answered an ad for a dance instructor. “No experience needed. Professional training provided.” I got that job and spent the rest of the school year working afternoons and evenings—except Friday and Saturday nights, when I was working at Joe’s Place—teaching and selling dancing lessons. Dale Dance Studio was in the fourteen hundred block of Welton Street in downtown Denver.
The most important part of my job was to sell dancing lessons. There I was once again trying to sell something but this was not a straight commission job. I had an hourly income while I was trying to learn to sell. The studio continuously ran promotional campaigns, like offers of free dance lessons as a come-on. It was the job of the teaching staff to sell more lessons to the people who came in for their free lesson. I did not do very well at this, either, and just barely managed to hang onto my job and my hourly wage. There was a commission on every sale but it was against the hourly pay. I don’t think I ever actually earned more than a few dollars in commission over my wage. I did become a pretty decent dancer, though.
With graduation from high school I was faced with the immediate prospect of going to college. But I was not naming my own hours and raking in the dough which was still essential to my plan. The preacher at my parents’ church talked me into trying to sell waterless cookware. Preaching did not pay very well, he had worked his way through seminary selling cookware and other hope chest items to “single working girls.” He still did it to supplement his church pay. It was not hard for him to persuade me to try it. I still had dreams of the rake-and-hour-naming thing.
I registered at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the fall, and moved into a cheap apartment with another musician, Byron Peterson, as my roommate. I was trying to sell pots and pans part-time, go to college full-time, and work seven nights a week (six nights and Sunday afternoons, actually) with my band at the Turnpike Bar and Grill on West Seventy-second in Denver. Not surprisingly I was not doing well at school or selling. I still didn’t get the selling thing, I didn’t get the studying thing, and the music was just basically work in a large hard liquor dance hall that had at least two serious fights every night. Looking at the bright side, though, I nobody ever shot at me there.
I actually had two bands at the Turnpike. At the same time. I would play thirty minutes with my five-piece rock band followed by thirty minutes with a standards trio. Back and forth like that for thirty minutes at a time all night. I worked from nine p.m. to two a.m. without a break.
My academic schedule included a daily (eight a.m.) German class and Chemistry 101 with a lecturer fresh off the boat from Scotland. His accent was so thick I couldn’t tell what language he spoke; I understood practically nothing he said. That I would flunk chemistry was a forgone conclusion.
All things considered it was idiotic to think I could carry a full academic load and simultaneously earn a living. Inevitably I was going to wash out of college. Which I did in spades, as the expression goes. By the end of my Freshman year I had accumulated mostly Fs and Ds, a couple of Incompletes and one B. The B was in gym class where we had to learn to either ride a unicycle or juggle three balls for a B, or accomplish both for an A. There was only one unicycle for a class of about 30 and I never got a chance to even try it. I did though learn to juggle three balls as evidenced by my lonely B.
There I was, rudderless and without prospects. I felt worse than I did when I lost my shoeshine business. So I figured I might as well get my military service over with. This was back in the days when there was a draft and everyone was required to serve a couple of years in one of the branches of military service. I chose the Army because they promised to send me to Europe. Which they did and I had a swell time.
During my stint in the Army I began to experiment with some off-beat mental methods and techniques. I don’t mean the bizarre beliefs, cultures and mindfuck games typical of the United States military mentality. In the beginning I just played around with simple thought experiments. I was trying to figure out what it was about some people that made it possible for them to lead charmed lives in which almost everything goes their way. They make more money than almost everyone else, they ascend the power structure of just about any organization they are in. Inevitably they eventually reach the top of whatever pyramid they happen to occupy.
By my observation there was only one unique characteristic I could see that these people had in common, and that was their persuasive ability. They can sell and they do it, by all appearances, effortlessly. Their persuasiveness was the only characteristic the people I studied had in common. Lots of hair, no hair; good looking, not good looking; tall, short; glib, not glib; mentally organized, disorganized; funny, sober; and so on. No matter what dimensions I chose to look at—and admittedly my prospects for research were quite limited by my being in the Army and my ignorance of the scientific method—persuasiveness was all they seemed to need.
The really persuasive ones for the most part did not sell things or services. They sold themselves and their ideas. Big time corporate presidents and chairmen of boards, and successful politicians, were where most of these high-level persuaders could be found. I should mention I was not seeing any of these kinds of people in the Army. There might have been some high-level persuaders at the general officer level but I had no way to learn about them. From what I have seen and learned about military generals since, I have to say I think not. Success in the military does not call for the kind of stratospheric level persuasiveness I’m talking about.
Then one day I had a strange experience. I was walking back to the barracks from the post exchange where I had picked up some things I needed. As I was walking along, thinking about nothing in particular, a thought came to me as clearly as if someone had just spoken it in my ear: “Moff’s dead.”
“Moff” was Carl Moffit. He and his wife were close friends of my folks going back to before I was born in Dumas and they had maintained their friendship ever since. I didn’t give a lot of thought to the “message” other than thinking it remarkable that such a thought would just pop into my mind. Especially in the middle of Germany, 5,132 miles from Cactus, Texas, where Carl and his family lived. And especially about a man my dad’s age whom I knew only slightly.
About a week later I received a letter from home and learned that Mr. Moffit had indeed passed away around the time I had had that macabre thought.
A couple of things need to be pointed out here. First, this was long before the Internet or cell phones. I had no access to regular news from the United States except the Stars and Stripes newspaper and it certainly would not have had anything in it about Mr. Moffit. There were no cell phones and in fact phoning between Europe and America in those days was a major undertaking.
So I had no way to get even a prior intimation of any non-famous person’s dying in American except via mail, and I had had that striking thought a week before the news came in the letter from Mom.
I did not then nor do I now believe in ghosts or that spirits of the dearly departed survive physical death and hang around whispering things into the ears of the living. So I did not for a second entertain ideas of ghostly visitation or any kind of spiritual messaging. Besides, even if that were a possibility, I’m pretty sure Mr. Moffit would not have been thinking of me at the time of his passing or thereafter. Was mine a random thought, a mere coincidence? Perhaps.
Whatever the truth, the fact is I took off in the wrong direction, although it actually worked to my benefit. While any form of ghostly visitation was out of the question for me, I was inclined to place credence in mental telepathy. As an adolescent I had read several books on psychic phenomena. Extra sensory perception (ESP) had been really big in the nineteenth century and there was a lot of old literature around on some pretty weird beliefs. I was susceptible to its lure. Which is why I wondered if maybe one of the Moffits—his wife or one of his two children who were approximately my age—had somehow mentally broadcast the “Moff’s dead” message and I had received it? Please keep in mind I was young, not long off of the farm, and uneducated, having not that long ago flunked out of university. Paragon of rigorous scientific theorizing I was not.
One thing led to another in my thinking and it was just too tempting to think that maybe the super-persuasive power some people have came from being able to telepathically transmit persuasive messages. It did not occur to me at the time that that was not really an answer because it only moved the locus of persuasiveness back a step. Why would ESP be any more persuasive than verbal or textual communication? My hypothesis explained nothing and probably appealed to me only because it added an element of mystery to the overall concept of persuasiveness. There actually is mystery involved in persuasion but it would be many years before I would really know anything about that.
In line with my suspicion that ESP was the answer I developed some crude mental conditioning exercises that I figured would strengthen my ESP muscles, so to speak. Now, here is where luck played a key role. I would learn much later that my exercises could influence one’s persuasion skills. But the reasons were totally different from anything I was thinking. I was doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Wrong as my theory was, my exercises did yield some results. A guy in my outfit named Dave and I liked to do a coin-in-hand gambling thing. One of us would hold a coin in one hand and the other person would try to guess which hand it was in. Guess right and win the coin. Guess wrong and pay the amount of the coin, usually a nickel or dime. It was a simple game and in the beginning neither of us was better than the other. We both won and lost at about the level of chance, which is to say, half the time I lost and half the time I won.
After I started practicing my mental exercises things began to change. I started winning more. This was a zero sum game so it goes without saying that concomitantly Dave lost more. Within a short time—over a period of a few months—I got so good I hardly ever lost. I could accurately tell in which hand Dave was holding the coin, and I was doing something that made it nearly impossible for Dave to correctly guess in which hand I held the coin when it was my turn to hold. Eventually Dave refused to play the game with me. Now only would he not play the coin game anymore, he bet on anything with me. My ability to consistently guess correctly, and his to incorrectly, spooked him. Seriously spooked him. He studiously avoided me all the rest of the time we were in the same unit. That was now many years ago but I am quite confident that if we were to bump into one another somewhere he would not be glad to see me. Nor would he stick around to chew the fat.
Eventually my time was up and upon discharge from the Army I matriculated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. This time I did not start with a full academic load. I did some work as a musician but not for long because I got a part-time job selling pre-need cemetery lots.
The exercises I had developed that had such dramatic results in my gambling were still doing some good so I did make enough sales to stay afloat. But I was just limping along.
Then one night I had a dream. For me it was The Dream. I have explained it in detail in my book, All-In Selling, so I won’t go into it here. That dream changed my whole approach and put me on the road to an unbelievable transformation of the power of my persuasive abilities.
The change happen overnight but it gradually became quite dramatic. Within six months of The Dream I began setting sales records. It seemed like I could do no wrong. People acted like they were just waiting for to come around so they could buy. I still remember the numbers as if it all happened yesterday. The number of sales I made, the average number of sales per week and their dollar amounts, the commissions I earned—Perry would have been proud of me.
As to my style of living, I was long past the days of driving my old Ford, the one I had paid for with earnings and tips from Joe’s Place. I drove expensive cars, both foreign and domestic, never keeping one longer than about six months. I dressed well with custom tailored suits and English hand made shoes. Lived in one of the most expensive apartment complexes, which in the D.C. area is saying something. It was right on the Potomac and had its own yacht club. If I had liked boats I undoubtedly would have had one.
I continued to polish my sales skills and self-confidence, and had attitude out to here.
About that attitude. It was better and it was worse. It was better in that I felt a lot more confident and of course I was having a lot of fun. (I’m sure I was an insufferable arse.) My attitude was worse in that my academic interests plummeted and I dropped out of school. But all of that is also in All-In Selling.
Over the next decade-and-a-half I made a ton of money and lived a lifestyle more extravagant than even I could have imagined possible for a kid from the Oklahoma prairie. Eventually I quit and changed directions. Went back to college, earned a few degrees culminating in a doctorate and lived the clinical, academic and research life I had dreamed of as a kid.
It might not have been necessary for me to get out of sales in order to become the person I wanted to be. But that’s the way I chose to do it. But you know what? I don’t think it is possible to stop being a salesman. In everything I’ve done over the years, I’ve always been selling. As a psychologist I was selling therapy and mental health. As a teacher I was selling education and intellect. And when I conducted programs like that one at the Museum Auditorium in Denver City Park I was selling ideas.
I commend sales skills to you. Whether you call yourself a salesperson or not, persuasion power makes a huge difference in anything you do. Huge!
Here is something I have seen firsthand, and a lot of people have trouble understanding: Life’s problems are often solved or made better by an increase in persuasion power. It is not the answer to everything but I have seen it positively affect marital problems, personal adjustments, even personal objectives like weight control and quitting smoking. Part of the reason is because the process of becoming more persuasive makes it more likely that a person will have what looks like greater willpower. So wanting to be more fit become being more fit. And so on.
Being persuasive works on yourself as well as others. What would it be like if you could consciously decide you want to be a certain way, then became it? Things like more assertive or less aggressive; more attractive to others; more in control of your urges and impulses; more disciplined and in control of yourself; or even smarter with a better memory. Ask yourself what it is you would like to have that seems out of reach at the moment. Being subliminally persuasive will help you become the person you really want to be.
Here is a thought experiment for you. Imagine for a moment that there really is such a thing as being able to not only control yourself but also others with some sort of ESP. That in dealing with others you could somehow “throw” thoughts into their minds, thoughts that would make them do and behave as you wish. People would become putty in your hands, bowing to your every wish and desire.
Sound silly? It’s not. The kind of persuasion power I am talking about is based on subliminal communication. It is a way of effortlessly communicating with others that seems like magic, but it is not. It is fundamentally real and fits perfectly in a lawful universe. That is, there is nothing magic about it. It is scientifically valid and objectively demonstrable. It is a way of mental functioning that you can demonstrate for yourself and develop with surprising ease. Once you know how.
And to know how you need the book All-In Selling. Get it, read it, do the mental developmental exercises, and I guarantee it will change your life.