It was early in this new millennium, 2004 maybe. I was twenty-two or so and had quit my slacker record store job for the high pay and excitement of used car sales. Yes, I was a used car salesman, and it was awesome. One of the funnest jobs I've ever had. I wont go into the day to day or address the fact that everyone thinks that car salesmen are crooks. None of that is really "on message". I think I met Lyle my fist day on that Volkswagen/Hyundai lot. I recall saying something like "I didn't know Volkswagen made a truck." The other salesmen, most of whom were much older than myself, laughed. Out of this tiny blue pickup stepped an average height average build Asian man. He greeted me with a smile and a handshake. He was excited to tell me about his little truck and the other Volkswagens he owned. He was a booster, an enthusiast. That's probably what made him such a good salesman. That and his seemingly endless cheer. He introduced himself as Lee even though his name tag clearly said Lyle. This was confusing until I got my own name tag and actually learned the man's name. Turns out we had first and last on our tags and his name was in fact Lee (spelled Ly) his last name was Le (pronounced Lay). His name was a funny little ice breaker he liked to use. "Hi, I'm Ly Le. You can call me Lyle." I didn't ever get to know Lyle on any kind of deep personal level, just the surface stuff you pick up from coworker chit chat. I found out that he was a pretty serious family man with a wife and kids that he worked his ass off to take care of. I of course learned of his love for fine German vehicles. The thing I should have learned, the thing he had to teach, the thing I wish I'd had the sense to learn... Ly always seemed happy. I'd hear this or that about things in his personal life. Normal stuff, money argument with the wife or the kids being jerks as kids can be. None of it ever seemed to affect him. He'd lose a sale and it would become another sparkle in his ever present smile. A slow month would hit and we'd all wonder how we would make ends meet, and Ly would comment about how nice the weather was and then walk away with this lightness that he always seemed to have. I wish I could have seen then what I can see now. Not the way he walked, but why he walked that way. I wish I could have heard, not the words but why he said them. Ly seemed to understand and practice that happiness is a choice to be made. Evey day.
I don't mean to portray the man as one dimensional and without flaw. He was a man just like the rest of us, and like the rest of us I'm sure there was contradiction in his character. I heard rumors about anger and violence. But I didn't see any of that. And I can only comment on that which I witnessed firsthand.
I once knew a man that I called Lyle. He was one of those people, we all know one, that always wore a smile. No matter what was going on he seemed happy about something. I never heard the man say a negative thing about anyone. I was young when I met him. It took more than a decade for me to learn what he had to teach, And I still wrestle with that lesson, trying to gain the understanding that he seemed to have. At some point, a few years after I met him happiness stopped being an option. I only heard the story second or third hand so the details are probably inaccurate... Lyle killed himself. He drove his Volkswagen camper van to somewhere on the Oregon coast and overlooking the ocean he doused himself with gasoline and burned himself alive right there in the driver's seat.