It was always Joe Girard's goal in life to win his father's approval. In the process of trying, he made the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's best salesman for 12 years in a row.
"You know what my Sicillian father said?" demands Girard, imitating his immigrant father's accents, "He said, 'Joe, you bull-a too much-a. You can talk-a you may outa hell.'"
Girard's mother always took his side in the family squabbles and would tell him, he said, "Don't give up-a Joe, you show him."
The year Girard was 45 years old he sold 1,425 cars and trucks. His lifetime sales number 13,001."I was the world's greatest salesman and it was only two days before my father died that he finally came by the showroom and said, 'Joe, I'm proud of you.'"
There might have been a tear, but it is hard to catch as Girard moves around the hotel room acting out his selling techniques.
The room becomes a furniture salesroom as he sells a husband and wife a mattress. First the husband (as Girard turns to the air): "Try it, lie down, get a feel for it." He stretches out on the mattress, jumps up and walks to the other side to talk to the man's wife. "Here," says Girard, to a lamp, "Lie down next to your husband; it's a good mattress." He stretches out, now the wife.
A chair is dragged into the center of the hotel room; now it becomes a car showroom as he sits, right foot stretched out, holding a steering wheel, tooling along a highway.
Next it becomes a living room in someone's house with a man buying insurance. Two ashtrays become the photos of the man's children.
The mattress is purchased, the car bought and a $100,000 insurancepolicy signed as we try to find out how this human tornado became so persuasive.
"I'm a Sicillian, not an Italian and I'm proud of it . I had a lot of fights on the tough lower east side of Detroit when I was growing up when people made cracks about Sicilians."
Girard has the look of successful scrapper with his $300 suit, monogrammed Dior ties, a diamond on his pinky finger, a big watch, manicured nails and a mod haircut.
"I dropped the 'i' from the back of my name when I found out I was losing sales. Some guy with his wallet out, the deal almost closed, would ask, 'Are you Italian?' When I told him I was a Sicilian he would slide the wallet back into his pocket and say he had better talk to his wife."
Girard went to a printer, ordered 5,000 cards and Anglicized his name by telling the printer to drop the "i".
Born to Sicilian immigrants in 1928, when most Americans were out of work, Girard scrambled around doing anything that could make him a buck, including getting busted a couple of times when the police looked askance at some things he did.
"For the first 35 years of my life," Girard says, "I was the world's biggest loser. I got thrown out of high school. I got thrown out of 40 different jobs. I lasted only 97 days in the Army. I couldn't even make it as a crook. I tried twice. The first time I wound up with a night of terror in a juvenile detention center. The second time the charges against me were dropped for lack of evidence."
Girard went into business building houes and went bankrupt, owing more money than he had ever seen.
Like most Depression kids Girard learned to move fast as he stole coal from the yard across the street, to keep the family fire going. He shined shoes across from the factories, kneeling on barroom floors cadging pennies from drunks.
His father, a hard working man who couldn't find work, took a lot of his frustrations out on Joe and eventually caused him to stutter, something that Girard eventually curbed - but not until he was 35 years old.
His sensitivity to racial slurs cut his schooling short, he popped a high school guidance counselor in the nose for making cracks about Sicilians.
Girard was 35 years old when he walked into the showroom of a new car dealer and begged for a job.
He sold himself to the owner and sold a car the first day. "I had a wife and kids at home and no groceries. I had to sell. I knew I couldn't let the guy get away. I couldn't let the guy get away. I couldn't let him leave without buying." he says. The next day he built his customer list by removing four pages from the Detroit phone book and calling people. He remembered an old saying from his neighborhood. "If you throw enough spaghetti against the wall, some of it has to stick."
Girard, who was called "the No. one positive thinker" by Norman Vincent Peale comes on a little like the Billy Graham of the new car lot.
He is selling his book, "How To Sell Anything to Anybody." and if he has his way we may all spend the rest of our lives buyingthings from each persuasive other.