Can a brief encounter with a stranger change your life forever? Of course it can. You're rolling your eyes, I can see you. Well, let me tell you about Howard Parks…
This isn't the tale of an unsung hero--although, for all I know, Howard Parks has rescued people from burning buildings, performed the Heimlich maneuver on dozens of choking victims, and saved countless texters from oncoming traffic. Anything is possible. I'm not saying Howard Parks isn't heroic and inspiring, he is. If he weren't, my husband and I wouldn't speak of him so reverently; we wouldn't use his name in times of crisis; we wouldn't ask each other in hushed voices, "What would Howard Parks do?"
Twenty-four years ago, long before Equifax spewed your personal data into the world, including the name of your first pet, Hammy the Hamster, and long before Facebook gave away all of your secrets, right before they gave away all of your friends' secrets, Howard Parks was vigilant. I imagine he slept with one eye open as his brain conjured the many ways that things could go terribly, terribly wrong. He was British, which gave him an air of credibility. He was calm, which made him seem reasonable. And he was insistent, a quality many people found annoying, but which we found endearing in the extreme. It's why we love him.
It started when Howard Parks sold us a car over two decades ago, amicably agreeing to a price and shaking hands on it. We arranged to meet at the bank to seal the deal. As we completed the paperwork, Howard Parks asked the bank manager many pointed questions and requested copies of everything. The manager refused, stating that it was against policy to provide the seller with a copy of the check and that he would have to wait for it to arrive in the mail. Howard Parks explained politely but firmly that he wasn't leaving without it. Our eyes widened to see this challenge of authority, this rejection of societal norms, this refusal to budge. And it worked! Howard Parks won the face-off and entered our mythology, the first in our pantheon.
Now, when we encounter difficult people or situations where we might become lazy and careless, we utter the two words that always save the day--Howard Parks. His name also serves as an admonishment. When my husband didn't document a conversation he had with an airline and almost lost our ticket vouchers, I shook my head. "That's not how Howard would have done it." His shoulders sagged with embarrassment, "I know." And when my husband drove two hours to go canoeing on his day off and surrendered his driver's license to the rental facility, he came home with the wrong license.
"I should have checked," he said. "I didn't know I had to be Howard Parks even on my day off."
I didn't say what we both already knew. You always have to be Howard Parks.