Having a business meeting with someone my father met at the airport was probably a bad idea.
Yet there I was, reading a copy of the San Jose Mercury News in a vain attempt to appear intellectual, waiting at the vestibule of a Denny’s for Brad, a man I’d never met and only spoken to twice over the phone.
I sat, thinking about the riches that would soon be coming my way. A job. A job paying actual money, the likes of which I hadn’t seen in almost a year. Occasionally I’d glance at Marmaduke or Dilbert before my mind would refocus. The ignoble praise my parents would throw at any stranger that sat next to them was finally paying off.
Brad entered, his hair spiked in such a way as to make any porcupine a little aroused. After initially confusing me with a woman who on a good day qualifies as human, we were seated in a booth sans menus. Denny’s, to its credit, located the two of us directly next to the bathrooms. An omen if any.
An hour and a half later I escaped with my life, along with several pieces of motivational literature and the bill for Brad’s coffee.
Turns out Brad wasn’t interested in hiring me. Brad wanted to sell me on the most idiotic of all moneymaking ventures — the Pyramid Scheme.
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Quick, I want you to quit that mundane piece of shit job you slave away at right now. Why bust your balls when you can make $1,500 a week working part time from the comfort of your own apartment? Screw effort and dedication; laziness is the ultimate virtue.
Pyramid schemes have been around for ages in various forms and under different names. Remember that e-mail you received claiming that sending out envelopes with a dollar in them to five people would make you a billionaire in 30 days or less? What about that phone company that would give you commissions for every person you signed up? What about AllAdvantage, where you let the dregs of the Internet plaster your monitor with ads for eight cents an hour?
Remember the scam where you lure hapless young men halfway across the state and get them to buy you coffee? No? I guess Brad invented that one… or maybe Michael Jackson.
Chances are you’ve been given the opportunity to join one of these quack scams in your life, and they’re tempting for people with the moral fiber of a sponge or a Libertarian. The only obstacle you need to overcome to succeed in a pyramid scheme is finding people even dumber than you to participate.
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When the meeting began, I was still trying to piece together the conversations I’d had with Brad earlier in the month. They were conducted over a cel phone that had the clarity of Rush Limbaugh’s hearing, so I didn’t know what kind of job I’d be talking about.
I knew that he ran an Internet company, and as someone who designs and writes copy for the imploding dot-com industry, anything that comes my way is another month’s rent.
Brad talked about his childhood while I mulled over the menu. When he said he was from Australia, my ears perked. I asked him if he’d ever seen the “Simpsons” episode where Bart moons the Australian Parliament. When he said he hadn’t, I knew deep down he wasn’t worth dealing with.
After I’d ordered a hamburger and was thus entrenched, Brad began his speech. “Did you know that people make money off the Internet?” he asked, right after informing me that one plus one equals two. “Do you want to make money off the Internet?”
I looked across the table at this poor man’s Don Lapre. Before I had a chance to answer, he whipped out two brochures, two CDs, and a book called “Pro-Sumer Power!” (Emphasis not added.) He pointed out that, as a consumer, I was not being paid to shop and that I needed to create wealth by buying smarter, not cheaper.
I took a quick look at the back of the book. The author’s gaunt wife looked like the plastic surgeon sucked every ounce of fat from her body; the children were clearly the product of the mother’s night spent sucking exhaust fumes from her sports-utility vehicle. I didn’t know what was more of an abomination — this mutation of the nuclear family or the fact that the author had written eight previous books, all undoubtedly showing his brood in various stages of development.
The book posed important questions such as “If you owned a Wal-Mart, would you shop at K-Mart?” and “Do stores write you a check every time you write them a check?” While I stared in horror, Brad took out a pamphlet and passed it slowly across the table the way a zoo employee gives a fierce animal its food. Slowly. Quietly. Patiently.
Brad put me through Econ 101 while teaching me about business staples like “synergy” and how I design my own level of success. Functions like supply, demand, and opportunity cost were cast aside in favor of nebulous acronyms like PV and Q-12, none of which were ever explained. The gist came through eventually, though: I sign up people beneath me, conduct their low-level management, and reap huge dividends. I too could become a cog underneath Brad, setting up one of a billion e-commerce sites that will never see profit.
I ate slowly, saying little. What could I contribute to the conversation that would shorten it except silence? I spoke once to correct one of his grossly inaccurate descriptions of the Internet. It was like a fuse blew in Brad’s head. I could see the smoke rise from his spiky head as he reiterated his error and started his speech over.
I could have seen friends that night whom I rarely visit because of the distance. I could have slept or watched television. Instead, I sat for close to two hours listening to a buffoon tell me that if my monthly PV is 6,000, my PB is 23 percent. What the hell does that mean? Does it mean I get reimbursed for your coffee, you cheap bastard?
As I was leaving/fleeing, Brad politely asked me to mail him back his book and two CDs when I was done with them. Yeah, right. Like I’m going to return your promotional items by paying for the postage myself. If you’re making money hand over fist with your web site, why don’t you pay for another copy yourself?