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Introduction Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Epilogue


The Perils of Amway, concluded

Remark: I frequently read back over my own story, sometimes to check for typos and errors, sometimes to remind myself of a point I made that was mentioned in somebody's letter. But I very rarely reread part three. Even now, many months after the whole thing ended, I get a creepy, squirmy feeling when I read over this part of the story.

"The only thing infinite is our capacity for self deception."
    -- Bob Carroll

"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear -- not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a misapplication of the word."
    -- Mark Twain

Part 3: Resistance is futile.

As I said, I couldn't bear to just leave without giving other people the benefit of my experience. I guess I had some kind of major delusions of grandeur. I realized that Ted couldn't possibly know what I had found out, and as far as he was concerned, I was still planning to sign up the next evening. So I slowly hatched a plan in my mind. Not necessarily a good plan, but a plan nonetheless.

I began compiling a document of alternating quotations and discussion, making sure to give a semi-complete picture of the major findings, and tying them together with my own logical discussion of what's wrong with Amway. It was five pages when I finished, and I thought it was very good. I figured even a veteran Amway salesman would see his mistakes when confronted with such overwhelming evidence. (Ah, to be young and foolish!) In fact, I convinced myself that even Ted could be rescued, sooner or later. After all, he was probably losing plenty of money, and maybe he wasn't even saving any money on the products he bought. This, of course, would require more research.

My plan was this: I wanted to keep on fooling Ted for a while. I would make up an excuse why I couldn't sign up right away. ("I just saw my credit card bill and I can't manage it" was the one I eventually used.) I would continue going to meetings, for the purpose of sabotaging them! Secretly I would carry pamphlets of information everywhere, and I would hunt down new recruits who looked doubtful. Then I would turn them around. I said earlier that I felt a "Lone Ranger" complex coming on. I was going to try to be a hero and mentor to a few people. I felt clever and smug, and besides that, it was a big adrenaline rush to imagine myself taking on a big cult of rabid brainsuckers. (Okay, excuse me for embellishing on the facts a little bit; that's just how I felt at the time.)

Ted called me that evening and asked if I had decided for sure whether to go to the Thursday or Friday event, and I confirmed that I would be there Friday. Then I asked some casual questions. "By the way, will there be many new people at this party? I'd be fascinated to meet them and discuss things." Then, too, I knew that Ted had bought his car via Amway and was very proud of the money he "saved". So I asked what kind of car it was and how much it had cost.

I immediately drove out to my friendly neighborhood Mercury dealer to find out what I might pay for the same car. Right away the salesman told me that Ted's car was squarely in the middle of the price range -- based on the sticker price, that is. I was curious to know whether I might have been able to haggle him down, but I wasn't willing to spend the time and I'm not good at that anyway.

So instead, I assumed that an intelligent buyer could have knocked a fair amount off the price, and I also searched the internet for the same car. Eventually I was convinced that, had I chosen to make the effort, I could have gotten Ted's same car on the market for $1000 less. But even if I couldn't have, the purpose was to prove that there were no gigantic savings to be made by buying Amway, and that was pretty obviously true.

Get ready to rumble

So. Friday night came around and I was psyched up to do some damage. My roommates, Chris and Egan, asked if I wanted to see a movie and I said I was busy. Chris said to Egan, "He's going to crash an Amway party. That's what computer science majors do on Friday nights." Egan added, "If you see any tupperware people, make sure to stop them too." Okay, I was going a little overboard with my "mission." But I thought it was fun; it was an unusual way of living dangerously.

Bedecked in a suit and sneakers (I kind of savored the irony there), I drove an hour to Phil's house. I was both scared and excited. I was curious to see whether Phil was really rich, so I was looking forward to seeing his house. The house was... nice. Middle-class. Largish. And it was in the middle of nowhere, pretty far away from any commercial districts and most other houses. I arrived half an hour late because Ted had, I think, misjudged the time it would take me to get there.

I'll tell you right away that the party proved to be one of the most awful experiences I'd had for a long time. First of all, I was a little overdressed -- Ted hadn't told me explicitly that the party was "casual." This, of course, did not stop about half the people from wearing a dress shirt and pants, but certainly no suits. Second of all, the people had a one-track mind; Amway was the only thing in the world that mattered. Of course, this was true of every meeting that I'd been to so far, but this was the one and only time that I had understood the implications. More than ever I did not like these people and wanted only to be somewhere else. I have never felt so horribly lonely in a room full of people before. But I stuck through it.

Connie was showing off/advertising an Amway product which she liked very much. It was a little bottle of pills labelled as a "dietary supplement". The blurb on the label said something along these lines: "Increases the flow of blood around the brain and improves thought processes." I had no idea what that meant, but I didn't like the sound of it. And Connie said, "This is not a case where more is better... just one will be plenty effective." (This observation was backed up by someone in the room who had already had a couple; I can't be sure, but he looked to me like he was high.) Connie continued, "We love this stuff. We give it to our kids all the time and it keeps them from being hyper. You can really tell when they haven't had any, because they're bouncing off the walls." Feeling a little sick to my stomach, I put mine right back in the bottle.

Together, we all listened to an audio cassette which purported to teach about effective Amway salesmanship. The pearls of wisdom on THIS tape included advice like: Don't mention Amway until you've met the prospect several times. Don't do all the talking -- wait for THEM to expose their hopes, dreams and fears and use that. And finally, the big kicker: If a client has doubts, listen to him politely and don't say anything. When he stops, say "Uh huh" and keep listening. The client will begin to repeat himself and eventually will express regrets, saying what he likes about the business. That's your key opportunity. Throughout this presentation, I kept on stealing sidelong glances at Ted through narrowed eyes and clenched teeth, because that's when I realized how effectively he'd manipulated me. He had been following the textbook recipe line for line when it came to convincing me. I was furious.

Finally, Phil and Connie worked to psyche everybody up for the upcoming "Diamond Symposium," an imminent conference valued at the modest price of $45, which would naturally be of critical importance to everyone's future.

I looked around the room all through the evening hoping to find new prospects to enlighten, but noted to my chagrin that there weren't any. They'd all been in for several months at least. So at first I figured the meeting must be a total waste, but then I decided to go forth and "do more research" of the same nature that I'd done on Ted.

So how's business?

Looking back, maybe I could have been a little more subtle. But I was sure they would mistake eager questioning for enthusiasm, especially if I repeatedly said how wonderful it felt to be a part of this group. I approached several people in the room with a fascinated attitude and asked "So, how long have you been involved?" And then... "Really? How interesting. How much money are you making?" In this way I ascertained that pretty much everybody in the room was "just getting started," and expected to stop losing money any day now, even folks who had been in for many years. Other than Phil, only one person (three years into the business) claimed to be making money, on the order of a thousand dollars a month, but he wouldn't comment how much he spent per year on tapes and meetings.

A middle-aged woman finally caught on to me and told me to cool it. She said, "Why are you asking so many questions? Are you skeptical? You can't judge us based on such things; this is not a 'get rich quick' business." (Yes, I know that. It's not much of a "get rich slowly" business either.) I lamely protested innocence, claiming that I was simply fascinated by the people and wanted to get to know their stories better. I understood that it took dedication and hard work to succeed! Indeed, I was quite excited about the whole thing.

Listening to more conversations, I observed an attractive young (mid-to-late twenties) woman named "Heather." An attractive young MARRIED woman, I gleaned from her discussion -- a shame, I thought. She and her husband had been in Amway together since February and were in the midst of hard times. It was obvious that she was very discouraged by all the rejections she was receiving from prospective downlines; but she had the same aggressive "I'll stay cheerful if it kills me" attitude that they all sported. It was very sad. I thought the evening should not be a total bust; I couldn't rescue anyone before they got involved, but I could darn well try my best to turn a couple of lives around after the fact. I started chatting with Heather, and said "Can I talk to you privately for a moment?"

In the garage with Heather, I said: "Listen closely. I came to the meeting hoping to meet someone like you. You seem to be the newest and brightest one here. I want to help you. You could be in more trouble than you realize." With that, I took her out to my car and slipped her the packet of information.

As she began to read, she appeared to become absorbed but was at the same time very hostile. "A CULT? Come on, you've got to be joking." And, "These figures are meaningless. I'm sure they're easily explained." I deemed it prudent not to answer. Nevertheless, I figured my chances were about 50-50 that she would be convinced. I was a little nervous when Ted walked in, and I diplomatically steered him outside to chat with him some more. I soon found myself between Ted and Connie as they worked on me to shell out my $45 to go to the Diamond Symposium. Naturally I didn't hesitate to tell them that I was seriously considering it, and that I would let them know very soon.

I asked to be excused for a moment and went back to the garage to check on Heather, still absorbed in her reading. I said urgently, "You won't turn me in, will you?" Irritated, she said, "What do you mean, 'Turn you in'? What do you think this is, the Gestapo?" (Well, now that you mention it...) With impeccable timing, Phil then entered and I started chatting with him as Heather slipped out and I mouthed: "CALL ME."

All that was left was to listen politely as Phil told me of the wonders of Amway and their products. He proudly displayed many of the products which were stored in his garage, and I thought they all looked pretty awful but I said that they sure did look like quality products all right. After a while, Connie arrived and joined in the fun. I thought I was doing pretty well and I'd be able to leave soon. Connie was happy to see how Phil and I were getting along, and she said that it was important to research Amway well so I could see what a good business it was. I smiled and said I'd learned some fascinating facts already. Then Connie added, seemingly out of nowhere, "You know, Russell, there has been something going around lately that troubles us a bit. We hear that the internet has a lot of negative information on us, and it's all lies." I thought it coincidental that she should say such a thing, but assumed she was just trying to alert me to trouble I might encounter, since she knew I was a computer science student. So I passed that off with a lighthearted remark and went home for the evening.

Reviewing my experiences, I realized that I'd had a terrible time, and I never EVER wanted to go back to another Amway meeting, no matter how noble the cause. I couldn't face being in a room so filled with greed and so devoid of emotion ever again. For a fleeting moment I'd considered actually paying for the Diamond Symposium just because of the opportunity it presented to meet new folks, but I really didn't want to after all. There was only one thing left to tackle, and that was Ted. I thought maybe he had a chance of escaping, if I piled on enough information. I just had to do that one last thing and then I could say that I had done all I could.

Besides, I was a little worried that, if I simply dropped out of Amway, Ted might keep calling me to get me to explain. The guy had invested three weeks in me after all. Telling Ted how strongly I opposed Amway might convince him once and for all that I wasn't worth his time, even if I couldn't also convince him that he should get out while the gettin' was good.

The last supper

The next morning I invited Ted to lunch and he was delighted. He said "I'll bring more Amway information!" I said "So will I!" We agreed to meet at 12:00 sharp in a restaurant he chose. So I hung up with the same thrilled, nervous feeling I'd felt the night before. I was going to make a difference.

Around 11:05 I had a very bad thought and I called Ted back. "Say, Ted, I was curious: this lunch will be just you and me, right? You're not bringing anyone else along?" Ted: "As a matter of fact I just called Phil. We're all having lunch." Me (with a sinking feeling): "Ted, I don't want you to take this the wrong way" (actually, what other way could there be?) "but I really meant this to be a heart-to-heart between you and me. I don't mean that I'm not interested in seeing Phil again (obviously I am) but I would rather he not be there." Ted: "I'll call him back if you want, but I think he's probably already on his way." And I had to agree, because I knew firsthand that Phil's place was about an hour away.

I arrived for lunch and waited. Ted showed up. Two minutes later, Phil showed up. I knew I was in a very difficult situation and I tried to be diplomatic. The worst part was that, in Amway, you are expected to worship your upline and treat every moment with them as special. It was a BAAAD move to be saying that I didn't want to spend time with Phil, and I knew it.

"Phil," I said, "I think there was a little miscommunication here. Of course I respect you very much and appreciate the fact that you were willing to drive all this way to help me. And usually I would look forward to spending more time with you. But there is something I want to talk to Ted personally, about and I wasn't planning to make this a group meeting." Phil replied, "If it's about the business, then obviously you can share with both of us." I said, "Yes, but it's not just about the business, there is actually something of a personal nature." To my relief, Phil relented. Smiling amiably, he said, "Well, don't worry. There are a few things I want to go over with you and then I can leave you two alone. Sound good?" "Thanks, I knew you'd understand."

We all sat down to a nice, polite little lunch and Phil started talking. And he got less and less polite as time passed. Phil told me I should be going to this event on Tuesday which was free (highly unusual, as I'm sure you've gathered by now). He added that this would be a PERFECT opportunity to start inducting friends into Amway. (Thanks for the offer, but I'd really like to keep the friends I've got, I was telling him in my stream of consciousness.) Had I thought of any people whom I might ask yet? "Yes, I know a few people. I sort of hinted about this to my roommate, and it sounds like he might be interested..." (Sorry, Chris! I'll make it up to you!) "...and there are some people in my classes who might be willing also." "Great!" said Phil, pulling out a pen and his black Amway planner. "Just give me some phone numbers and we can get started. We'll help you call them."

(Excuse me?) "I'm sorry, but I don't know any of their phone numbers offhand." "No problem," said Phil. "Just give me their names and we'll look for them in the phone book." (It's NOT going to happen, Phil.) "I'm sorry, I'm simply not comfortable with that. I want a chance to talk to them first."

"Russell, you know you can't build this business by yourself. This is all about 'people helping people.' We have experience and you don't. You want to follow the system, don't you?" Phil leaned forward and managed to look both sincerely friendly and intensely threatening at the same time, if you can imagine such a thing. "Well, yes, of course I do," I replied. "It's just that they know me, and they don't know Amway yet, and I'm not prepared to subject them to unsolicited phone calls until I make them understand." "They won't be unsolicited. You're going to tell them that they can expect the phone calls." Finally, desperate: "I'm sorry, but I'm just not prepared to do that at this point!" Phil changed the subject.

"Russell, where do you see yourself in this business within the next year?" "Well..." I answered cautiously, "I'd like to think that I could make direct in that time, or at least be well on my way down the path to success. Diamond in a few years, maybe." Phil said, "Is that the real reason, or have you got any ulterior motives?" "What do you mean, ulterior motives?" "I asked you." "Well, now I'm asking you." And Phil spit it out at last. "How do you think that letter you gave to Heather last night is going to help you succeed in the business?"

So that was it, the game was finally up. Call me dumb or naive, but I never even suspected Phil was on to me until that final moment of truth. Well, I probably don't need to tell you that I was simply scared as hell. But it's funny, there was a kind of strength born of that fear. Amway people had their own way of dealing with fear: push it in the corner and pretend it doesn't exist. Fear is for the weak, they say, and the weak will convince you that Amway is a bad enterprise. Above all, you must not listen to the fear and the lies, you must act like fear does not exist. Well, I wasn't having any of that. I was terrified, and I was willing to admit that, but I was going to face my fear head on. The last thing I wanted was to give Phil the satisfaction of seeing me fake bravery as I ran away from him.

Looking him squarely in the eye I said, "I do not now and never will have any intention of joining Amway." "So you've been LYING to me all along, isn't that right?" Phil was taking the moral high ground, and it was easy because I'd handed it to him. "Not all along, Phil. Just for the last three days," I stated with some deliberation. "Why did you do that?" "Because you did." "I never told you anything but the truth!" bellowed Phil. All this time Ted sat placidly and listened as his superior blew his cool. In fact, I don't think I ever heard Ted speak a word again, after we sat down to lunch.

"You believe these LIES that you read by some loser degenerates on the internet!" continued Phil. "You think you researched the company? You're wrong. You only read things that told you what you wanted to believe. But let me tell you something. Amway will be around long after you're gone." "I believe that sincerely," I responded quietly. "Because I know that you can't stop a scam whose time has come." Phil laughed -- a high-pitched giggle, as if the laugh itself were meant to prove what an idiot I was. No one who's confident of winning an argument ever laughs like that. That's when I realized that Phil was scared too. Scared of me and what I could do to his empire built on sand. But Phil would never never own up to that fear.

"You're a fool," Phil told me. "You heard the John Sestina tape. You know that he's an expert on businesses. You think YOU are smarter than John Sestina?" I also know that Sestina is a diamond, one of the geniuses at the top who's raking in money off tapes and tickets. "No, Phil, I don't believe I'm smarter than him. I think anyone who can swindle people out of millions of dollars a year is obviously very smart." "More lies!" he said.

"Look," I told him. "You can say what you want now. Call me a failure, call me a sucker who's going to waste my life working. I'm immune to your insults and I'm immune to your tactics." "You are immune to the truth!" roared Phil.

"I have something else to say," I went on. "The reoccurring theme that I heard over and over again on those tapes was FEAR. People fail because they are afraid, they tell us. Well I'll tell you something. I'm not afraid of success. I'm not afraid of failure. And I'm not afraid of hard work. But right now, I am very, VERY afraid of Amway." It felt good to say it out loud. "GOOD!" said Phil. And he continued his tirade, flinging every Amway trick in the book at me, in a form mutated by his anger.

I realized that I couldn't argue anymore. If I tried to logically explain my position then I would be playing HIS game... because logic isn't contagious, emotion is. So finally I just said, "Phil, I can't do anything but agree with everything you say." As he went on, I interjected several times with: "Yes, uh huh, you're right, anything you say. They're lies. Absolutely. Correct." And Phil couldn't continue.

I took advantage of a brief pause to say: "I'll tell you what happens now. Don't call me, don't talk to me, and don't pitch me ever again." "No need to worry about THAT," Phil replied, and meant it (I think). "I want you to stay the HELL away from my group!" Raising up my right hand in a sarcastically sincere gesture, I said, "I do solemnly pledge." "Now, I wish I could believe you, Russell, but you just haven't given me any reason to." I answered, "Well, I really don't care whether you believe me or not at this point."

"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do," I went on. "I'm going to tell all my friends about Amway, and I'm going to put everything I've learned on my web page." Phil laughed once again. "You WILL fail," he said with mock confidence. "And you'll fail for the same reason that these HACKS that you listened to were failing. The internet, hah! You'll never reach anybody that way." And I said, "Then I guess we simply have nothing more to say to each other."

I'd said enough. I stood up. Walked away from the table. Went to the counter. There were three servers there. I said, "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to send my hamburger back to the kitchen. I have to get away from some very bad people I've been with. They're Amway people. Ever heard of them?"