Thursday, July 31, 2008

On The DownLine

Once in a while, chasing women has its' downside.

It's my own fault. I was asking for it. Can't blame anyone but myself.

Last night I decided to hit a local diner for a late night dinner. I hadn't eaten all day and was just starving after an evening edit session for the new web-based television show I've been developing. As I walked in, I spotted this relatively attractive looking woman in business attire and casually positioned myself at the table across from her. She seemed pretty friendly, so I thought: Game On.

That's when the alarms started going off in my head. I should have run away right then and there.

I've been out on the mean streets of dating for a long time now. I've had successes and many failures meeting women. It's fun and there's a game and science to the whole thing. And the usual girl you approach in a diner is going to be a bit apprehensive at first. They're not going to engage you straightaway without a little bit of work. This one was friendly, chatty and all too eager to meet me. Run Away!

I'm not Brad Pitt and she was a bit more enthusiastic to chat than what I would consider normal, while mentioning that she had just come out of a "business meeting." A "business meeting"? It's eleven thirty at night. Who talks like that?

Then, it hit me: business attire, overly enthusiastic chat and cryptic wording about "business meeting" and "opportunities" - this girl had to be in a multilevel/network marketing scheme I started to wonder how long it would be before she started talking about "financial independence" and "residual income."

Back in the mid-1990s, I had the honor and privilege of joining the top paintball team in Hawaii: Team Ronin. These guys were amongst the best in the nation (and therefore, the world) and I would be amongst them. It was a fantastically wild and thrilling time for me and we were a very close and tight-knit team. That is, until Amway came along.

Some of the senior members got roped into Amway and proceeded to recruit the other team members with dreams of financial independence and how they wanted everyone to be successful and enjoy their lives. They spoke of living the good life.

This occurred at the pinnacle of the team's success. At the time, Ronin was the best team in Hawaii. I traveled the professional circuit back then and saw teams from around the country and I knew then that Ronin was also one of the best in America and could take the national title. It was our time to shine. It was our time for paintball glory. We send a ragtag team of Ronins to one of the professional tour stops and handily beat the nation's top team at the time in a preliminary round. With a little effort and preparation, we could have dominated.

Instead of pursuing the gold, these clowns wanted to pursue Amway and its' unfulfilled dreams. And I was big on their recruiting target.

I don't know what it is about multilevel/network marketing schemes, but there must be a certain type of psychology involved. Perhaps they prey on a weakness or neediness inherent in people, but they're very good at brainwashing and creating minions who will blindly follow whatever their upline tells them. But while they openly spoke of wanting success for everyone, I was becoming the thorn in their sides as a resistor.

The reality is that I don't like to work. I would prefer to work less and make more. The notion of residual income appeals to me. I naturally wanted to see how Amway worked and what I would need to do to get it to work. So, I attended some meetings, asked a lot of questions and listened to what they had to say. The rhetoric was very good. It was seductive. It was seduction. But no one ever really answered my questions right away. There was always some sort of diversion. Some sort of obfuscation of the answer. That sent up red flags for me.

In short time, I was becoming the enemy amongst the group. Lines were being drawn in the sand between those who were part of Amway and the rest of us: "The Dream-Stealers."

Perhaps we asked too many questions.

One of my closest friends also joined Amway, but for some reason, he was able to avoid the brainwashing bit and we were able to have concise conversations about their system and what was going on between the members of the team. During one meeting, one of the senior members of Team Ronin stated that: "A friend who is not in Amway is not a friend." I was shocked and confronted this person directly. He, of course, denied ever saying this, but his actions and demeanor demonstrated that he was lying. This was our team captain. Our leader. He was the one who had brought Amway into the team and was forcing it to divide us. Fucker.

I was never against Amway or anyone involved in Amway. After doing my own research and running their numbers, I decided that it just wasn't for me. Too much work. I needed to secure six high-powered downlines pumping out at least 3600 PV points per month to make any decent money. That's a lot of recruiting and cheerleading, and I just wasn't interested. I just wanted to play paintball and amongst the best in the world. And we were.

But Amway was destroying us like a cancer: from the inside. Because I asked the questions, I had gone from recruitment dream to Ronin Enemy Number One and it became their task to rout me out of the team. Afterall, I was a naysayer in their minds. Someone who junior members might listen to and not join Amway. I was a Dream-Stealer.

Of course, the very same personality that endeared me to them pre-Amway was the personality they would use to try to kick me off the team. Even back then, I was a brash, foul-mouthed young lad. I played hard, cursed and if I could intimidate a weak judge for a better on-field ruling, I would. Paintball marker acting up? Into the trash. Conduct unbecoming a gentleman? What do you think?

The sad thing was that I was never against them. I wanted them to have the fantastic wealth they dreamed about. If their dream was to play paintball all day and never have to worry about money, then that's the hope I had for them. It just wasn't my dream and their brainwashing didn't allow them to see that. All they saw was someone who wasn't interested in being their downline and, therefore, their enemy.

What they didn't see was what I saw: a never-ending stream of underperforming downlines, years of work and frustration with no real payoff. I saw their diamonds not as carefree millionaires, but as carefully plotting marketers who understood that their revenue was derived off of my friends and a continuing stream of them who eagerly shelled out their hard-earned cash to attend "business meetings", travel to conventions and lots and lots of tapes and materials designed to pump them up that was the true bread and butter for the diamonds. I saw them working hard and spending their hard-earned money on a pipe dream. A dream that would probably never come to fruition because the numbers just don't work.

In the end, I was right. None of them ever made millions. None of them ever became "financially independent." After five years, those still involved were still working their day jobs, dreaming of the big payoff. Some had dropped out.

As for our team captain who brought Amway into our ranks, he passed away several years ago after he contracted a malady (I don't know the details). I was invited to come to the funeral and really wanted to see old teammates, but I didn't. Too many unpleasant thoughts at the time. He was a good man who did and said things to me that scarred our relationship permanently. It would have been good to chat with him before his passing to see if things had changed, but now I'll never know. I wish he had achieved his dreams. I wish they all had achieved their dreams. They deserved it.

"Do you mind if I eat with you?"

This was it. The show was on. It was time to recruit me once again.

After awhile of being involved around these schemes, one starts to see patterns. They've developed scripts. Scripts with careful phrases designed to peak your interest and divert your attention. Don't you want financial independence? They always like to talk about how it's "their" business when they're really resellers working off commission. She started tossing around talk about the multi-billion dollar communications industry and how their company is endorsed by Donald Trump and wanted to show me a recent copy of Success at Home magazine featuring their company.

Lots of hype, but let's get down to substance. What does it take to make the money you're dreaming of?

Maybe I let the cat out of the bag, but I told her that I was familiar with Amway's structure and wanted to know how many downlines she needed (and performing at what level) in order to make the kind of money to be "financially independent." This was met with questions about if I wanted to "make money while I sleep." I told her that I already do, that's why I'm in business.

A bit more prodding on my part, a bit more evasion on hers, plus an invitation to come to a business meeting or meet with her upline who would gladly be able to answer my questions. Do you know the answers yourself? I asked her. She assured me she did but that she wasn't going to break with protocol because they would best be answered by her upline. Christ Almighty, is she for real?

As it was almost midnight, I needed to get home to sleep. After escaping, I was back on the mean streets of one of the most dangerous cities in America and felt safe indeed.