The Flim Flam Man
The first thing the Flim Flam Man did when he rolled into town was call a big meeting at the local Church.
“My friends, we’ve got Trouble,” he told the assembled congregation. “Trouble with a capital T and that rhymes with E and that stands for Expansion! Look at you, bursting at the seams!”
The congregation looked around at the half empty pews and wondered what the heck this stranger in the straw boater and bow tie was talking about.
“I’m talking about Expansion,” explained the Flim Flam Man. “I’m talking about the Future! I’m talking about building the biggest, most impressive church this town has ever seen, right in the middle of town! A church that will make people sit up and take notice!”
And with that, he whipped out a bunch of pictures that he’d gotten a starving artist to paint for him for a few bucks. “Just look at this,” he said, “It’s the biggest office building in town, a local landmark. And this is how it will look as your new church. Just look at those 20-foot stained glass windows! Look at that huge golden cross on the roof! It will be spectacular! It will be…what’s the word…ideal!”
“Well, it sure looks pretty,” said the Parson. “But we’re doing fine right where we are. We can’t afford a big building like that, and in fact our church policy forbids us from investing in property we can’t afford.”
“That’s old policy,” said the Flim Flam Man. “You’re looking at the past, not at the future. You have to stop thinking small – you have to think big!”
“How would we ever afford such a building?” asked a Businessman. “It costs millions of dollars.”
“Well, we can do it,” said the Flim Flam Man. “If you all empty your bank accounts, take out second mortgages on your houses, rob your children’s college funds, and sell your cars, we can make it.”
“You said ‘we’,” commented a Shopkeeper. “So how much will you be investing?”
“Me?” said the Flim Flam Man. “Well, I…that is…other commitments and so on…and after all, it’s your church, not mine…”
“How would we ever fill such a big building?” asked a Merchant. “It’s huge.”
“There you go, thinking small again,” said the Flim Flam Man. “Everyone knows that it’s a basic law of the universe that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ What’s the matter, didn’t you folks see Field of Dreams with Kevin Costner?”
“Well, I guess we could treat it as a real estate investment,” said a Realtor. “If we own it, we can always sell it when the market improves…”
“About that…” said the Flim Flam Man. “You wouldn’t actually own it. As soon as it was purchased, it would be turned over to the International Religious Holy Landlord Trust.”
“And who controls the Trust?” asked a Teacher.
“Well, that is…I do.” admitted the Flim Flam Man.
“Oh, so then you’d be responsible for upkeep, utilities, property taxes and renovations,” said the Businessman.
“No, actually, you’d still be responsible for those things, not me,” said the Flim Flam man. “After all, it’s your church!”
“Let me get this straight,” said the Banker. “We give you all of our money. You buy a huge, expensive building. We’re responsible for filling it up. We’re responsible for renovating it. We pay all the property taxes, utilities and upkeep. But we don’t own it, you do. And you can sell it whenever you want and pocket the money.”
A young boy raised his hand.
“Mister, I don’t know much about money and real estate and stuff, but it seems like you don’t put in any money, and you get everything, and we put in all the money and get nothing. That doesn’t seem fair.”
“But…but…you do get something,” the Flim Flam Man stammered, frantically grabbing some more of his paintings. “You get these great trophies and plaques, and you get status! Yes, that’s right, status! You get to call yourself things like ‘Contributorus Maximus’ and ‘Patronus Elitus,’ and…”
That was as far as he got. The Flim Flam Man was ridden out of town on a rail, and all of his pretty paintings burned.
“Oh, woe is me,” said the Flim Flam Man, as he sat in his seedy motel room, trying to clean the tar and feathers off his striped suit. “Woe is me! That’s the only con I know, and it’s so transparently criminal that even a child can see through it! Where, oh where, will I ever find a group of people that won’t ask me all those embarrassing questions? A group that is so trusting, so gullible, so dumb, that they will actually fall for it?”
Then he had a bright idea.
When he arrived in the next town, he headed straight for the local Church of Scientology.