Oh, do I have a story. I’m sure I’ve told it before but I couldn’t find it in Search.
A few years back I worked for my Dad for his business consulting firm. We were doing pretty good, and had a little communication system I’d designed in the very early Internet days we were selling his customers on.
Somehow, this Amway lady - I’ll call her Jane - came around and asked him to join Amway. He had zero interest in doing so because all his siblings have lots thousands and thousands of dollars in MLM schemes and my father (unlike his siblings) is not an idiot and wouldn’t join something like Amway if the Lord Jesus Himself descended from heaven and tried to sell it to him. However, it did occur to him that maybe we can sell our communications system to the Amway people! All the Amway folks could E-mail each other and have discussion boards and file sharing and stuff, and they’d pay us for it! So I had to go to an Amway meeting!
I begged and pleaded. I explained that they would not want our system, that they would just want us to become their drones. I explained that the meeting would doubtlessly not offer me the opportunity to network or to do sales, but would be a canned presentation. My father’s line of reasoning, however, was ironclad:
- Well, it may be a waste of time, but I’m not going, you are.
- I’m your boss.
- And your Dad.
- Ha ha ha.
As the appointed date approached, a sense of dread grew inside me. There’s a scene in the book “Shogun,” by James Clavell, where one of the Dutch sailors, Pieterzoon, is slowly boiled alive, cooked in his own skin over hours and hours, shrieking in unimaginable excruciation, for the amusement of the evil Yabu, as well as to make a pretty unambiguous point over who’s in charge. I kind of felt like I was being marched to the cauldron, except Pieterzoon was luckier than me in the sense that he didn’t have days to see it coming. I was hoping to be killed in a traffic mishap, but sadly was not, and the appointed day arrived. In a sense it was a relief because I figured the horror of anticipation was likely worse than the actual thing. This turned out to be a gross miscalculation.
I decided there was no way in hell I was going alone, so I recruited my uncle Mike to come. Mike always sees the opportunity for hilarity in any situation and thought it would be big yuks. To add to the irony and hunor, he borught is then-wife, Sandra, who was at that very point training to be an actual financial counselor.
The meeting was to take place at the Ramada in downtown Kingston. We arrived at the appointed time, were intercepted by the Amway lady, and were hustled inside. I noted with some interest that the word “Amway” appeared nowhere - all the signage and literature said “MLM,” which in 1996 was still a newish term and didn’t convey the toxicity it does today.
They had rented a double wide convention space and at least 120 folding chairs were neatly assembled. There were no drinks or snacks that I can recall, which I found curious - any business worth its salt looking to sell or recruit anyone is going to at least spring for the hotel’s $69 coffee and danish package, but not here. As someone who even then had been to a lot of business functions in hotels, I found that curious in a sort of weird way, like you’d find it curious if you were invited to someone’s home for dinner and their dining table was in the master bedroom; there’s nothing technically wrong with it, but it’s culturally unusual in a way that makes you wonder what the hell else is weird about these folks.
The other thing is that I and my aunt and uncle were the only people who were not wearing business attire. Everyone else was. You could tell the Amway people from the prospects, because the Amway people had been to enough of these things to know the basics of wearing business attire, like wearing shoes that match your belt, or not wearing an applique T-shirt under a silk business jacket/skirt combination. The prospects, well, did NOT seem to have all the basics of business fashion committed to memory. There were a lot of them; not a seat was empty after everyone sat down.
Once we sat down, I and my aunt and uncle pulled out writing pads and pens. This clearly disturbed the Amway lady, as well as the Amway man who was sitting on the other side of us. None of the other prospects - not one single one of them, out of at least eighty - had thought to bring something to write on. That we planned to record the things we saw and heared obviously alarmed the Amway people, or maybe they just were not used to dealing with people who can read and write.
The presentation began, and what followed was so unreal, so bizarre, so unbelievable, so warped, that it should have been introduced by Rod Serling.
A small, blonde woman stepped to the front of the audience. She was wearing a blue woman’s power suit and a power hairdo. She was in her 40s and introduced herself as Susie or Donna or Cindy or something. She was very, very energetic, and probably was a cherleading captain twenty years before and had a lot of kitsch and crafts decoring her house. Her presentation style, it was immediately obvious (I have seen them all) was in the Zig Ziglar, I’m doing-a-presentation-on-how-to-do-a-presentation, informercial sell-sell-sell style that’s infused with heaps of smiley enthusiasm and not so much as a teaspoon of sincerity. She bibbled and gibbered about how excited she was to be there and what a wonderful crowd it looked like.
I looked at the crowd - I was seated near the extreme left of the assembly and so could see a lot of it - and thought that they looked like the grown-up versions of the kids who took “Basic” level courses in high school, the kind where math classes were mostly about ensuring you can make correct change when the customer give you ten dollars. Thirty percent of them were watching this lady with their mouths hanging wide open.
After her introduction, she turned to the brochures.
“But Rick,” you’re thinking, “Brochures? Amway doesn’t have brochures.” You are right. Christ Jesus God, you’re so, so right.
There was a pile - a BIG pile - of brochures next to her. the first one was a large, glossy brochure for a luxury automobile of some kind, I think a Jaguar, the kind of 8-by-11 brochure you can get at the dealership for free along with a coffee as long as you pretend you can afford a Jaguar. She took this brochure, unfolded it, held it above her head with the pretty car pictures facing the audience, and said “Would YOUUUUUUU like one of THEEEEEEESE?”
The extra letters are important there. She said it that way. She held the brochure up high, making sure everyone could see it.
She carefully put the brochure back on the three-by-six folding table from whence it had been drawn and picked up another brochure. This brochure appeared to be advertising a fast-looking luxury boat of some sort.
“Would YOUUUUUUUUU like one of THEEEEEEEESE?”
I thought at this point that the inference she was making was quite clear; she was about to show us a business model that would allow us to purchase the luxury items she had shown us. But apparently more examples were needed.
She held up a brochure of a luxury resort.
Of a Mercedes.
Of another luxury resort.
A brochure of what appeared to be Tiffany jewellery.
Expensive furniture or something.
Another Christing brochure.
For the love of fuck, another fucking brochure fuck.
This process - “And would you like one of THEEEEEEESE?” - went on for, I swear to Christ, twenty fucking minutes. Think of all the bad speeches and school presentations you’d ever watched, the ones were you were bored almost to the point of wanting to rip off your own ears, where you felt bad for the presenter because they were so bad. Most of those probably didn’t go ten minutes. Twenty minutes is a fucking ETERNITY to watch a perky woman show you brochures. First I got irritated. Then after eight brochures I was puzzled. Then I was bored, and then I was infuriated, and then I was almost dazed by the surreality of it all. I could not believe what I was seeing. It was like I was on an acid trip without taking any acid. And then, mercifully, she stopped picking up brochures.
On cue… trust me, it was on cue… a man raised his hand and said the following line: “I. Would. Like. Those. Things. How. Do. I. Do. It.?” The guy was so obviously a plant I could see Miracle-Gro in the corners of his mouth.
This was the cue for the blonde lady, who name was Tiffany or Jenny or Molly or something, to go into the formal spiel about MLM. The jist of it (I’m going by memory, as I misplaced my notes, and when I say “Misplaced” I mean “Threw away in disgust”) is pretty much what everyone else has reported; with just ten hours of effort a week (and they did specifically cite “ten hours”) and the miracle of Multi-Level Marketing, the riches of Croesus would soon be mine. I would be wealthy beyond my most avaricious dreams. I would have to buy suspenders just so that the massive piles of cash in my pockets would not cause my pants to fall down. This would be accomplished, as near as I could tell, by recruiting ten people, and if they all recruited ten people then I would be pretty damned rich, and if they all recruited ten people I could get all the things in the shiny brochures.
Now, it’s not like I didn’t already know Amway was a scam, but it was at this point I was looking around to see who would, if not actually stand and walk out, at least cross their arms and put on a face of skepticism. She had essentially described a “Downline” that would necessitate selling across four orders of magnitude - I and nine other people being sold by MY recruiter, and then me selling to ten who sell to ten who sell to ten more. That’s 1,000 people below me. If there were eighty recruits in the room that means that every adult in Kingston, and many of the surrounding towns, would have to be recruited just to offer these amazing windfalls just to the people at this one presentation.
Not one other person left, looked skeptical or crossed their arms. Thirty percent of the mouths continued to hang open. Some were now drooling.
The blonde lady, whose name was Deedee or Lori or Tammy or something, went on to explain that this was very possibly the only way any of us would ever have enough money to retire without having to live in corrugated cardboard shelters and eating bugs and garbage. She explained this by way of showing that to have $500,000 when you retire, you would have to save $1000 a month for 500 months, which is just over 40 years, which shows an admirable command of multiplication but not of the concept of compound interest. I really am serious; she said that, using those exact figures, and using that exact logic. (Note: If you save for 40 years, about $190 a month will get you half a million, assuming a rate of return of seven percent.)
The staggering idiocy went on for forty more minutes. Then they introduced the Diamond Distributors. The Diamond Distributors - there were 12 - were local people who had allegedly become insanely, preposterously wealthy through Amway, I mean MLM. They were like Scrooge McDuck, diving and swimming in giants vaults of money. It was funny, though, that some of them still worked in retail jobs.
Fleeing the place was kind of like escaping from Alcatraz but harder. Even though the presentation was over, our Amway lady would not permit us to leave without a commitment of some sort, which we would not give because we are not drooling tards, and finally I had to actually start walking awya and she literally ran after me and I started thinking maybe she was going to kill me, and she followed me to my car and was still talking as I was turning on the ignition. She might have been yelling at me still as I pulled out of the parking lot but I’d turned on my radio really, really, really loud in the hopes it would kill the part of my brain containing the memories of the Amway meeting I had just attended. I’m glad she’d parked somewhere else or there might have been a high speed chase.
Afterwards I wrote her a formal letter saying, in business words, “Please fuck off and don’t ever call us again.” I wasn’t rude, but I was unambiguous and final and, by some miracle, they never came back, though I should point out that we’ve all changed our addresses since so maybe they just can’t find us.