NewDayNews Recovery Forum
est: Part 11: estway
Date: Friday, 26 May 2006, at 4:54 p.m.
Life was moving right along. It was 21 years old. All in one year I had finished Jr. College with my AA degree in Acting, moved away from my parents house, started a thriving theatre group that had a hit original play, gotten my SAG card, found an Agent, taken the est training, and talked several friends along with my Mother into doing the same.
I was living with Jane, her two kids, and Nick. Jane’s baby, Gretchen, was still having seizures and was on heavy medication to attempt to control them, but even with that, she still had seizures every day. These were petit mall seizures that would cause her to stiffen up, and not breathe, and then she would relax and begin to twitch. She didn’t have grand mall seizures that most people associate with epilepsy.
Soon after receiving her DPT, a shot given to babies to prevent Diphtheria, Pertussis (Whooping Cough), and Tetanus, Gretchen became gravely ill. When Jane would try to feed her, she would choke. She ran high fevers, and lost a lot of weight. She ended up at the famous Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
The doctors at Cedars noted that Gretchen had lost her ability to swallow without choking. They recommended a feeding tube be surgically attached into her stomach so when we took her home we could feed her that way.
We already knew that Gretchen was developmentally delayed. Not long after this, we were told that she was mentally retarded, and probably blind. We could not expect her to ever do things like walk, and have a normal life.
Like good est graduates, Jane and I knew that in order to have lives that worked all we needed to do was “follow instructions and take what you get”. We had been given a handicapped child. We had instructions on how to care for her and feed her. We would simply expand to include this in our space. Over the next few years, a lot of our time would be spent at hospitals.
One day I came home and Jane was very excited to tell me that she had decided to start her own business. I asked her what it was, and she told me that an former boyfriend of hers named Danny was having a lot of success selling Amway. He told her about it and had invited her to become a distributor in his down line.
A year or so before, Barbara invited me to attend an Amway convention. I went and thought it was kind of lame. It was held in the arena at Long Beach Convention Center, and included a lot of testimonials from southern Baptist types in suits talking about how rich they were. Afterward, Barbara showed me “the plan”, and I told her I wasn’t interested. This was before either of us were involved with est.
Jane and I had both taken the est training at this point, and one of the things that we were told was that in order to have a working and powerful relationship, the couple must have mutually agreed upon goals. Once both parties agreed on the goals, each person was charged to support the other in achieving the goal. No support for goals equaled no relationship, or at the very least a relationship that didn’t work.
If Jane’s goal was to support herself and her two children by selling Amway, then my job was to support her in that. This did not mean that I had to actually involve myself, but I would encourage her, and never discourage her from achieving her goal. I had goals as well, and Jane always supported mine. I would support her without question.
Jane told me that she would be holding a meeting at the house where she would invite some friends, and Danny would come and show the plan. Jane was to take notes and observe the presentation, because soon she would be required to show the plan on her own to prospects.
Jane invited me to be at the meeting, and naturally, I accepted. I told her that I would not become an Amway distributor, and that I had already seen the plan and knew it was not for me. However, to support her goal, I would be there for her.
Danny arrived before the meeting wearing a suit. He was married and had two children, but the wife and kids stayed at home. He was a tall, heavy set guy with red hair. He and his brother Ed, who Jane was in a relationship with when we first met had both been child actors.
Danny gave Jane some Amway food products that would be served to the prospects during a break. These included some food bars, that Danny instructed Jane to cut into little squares and insert toothpicks into each one. She also mixed some Active-8, an Amway orange flavored drink kind of like Tang.
Danny set up a white dry marker board. I had never seen such a thing, this being 1980 and all. I was amazed that the markers could just be wiped off with a chalkboard eraser. He laid out some kits he called Prospectus’s. When we were done setting the living room for the meeting, nothing that said Amway was visible.
In the days before, I heard Jane calling people on the phone to invite them to the meeting. It was somewhat scripted. When she would call someone she would tell them that she was having a get together at our home with a few friends and neighbors to talk about an exciting business opportunity she just became involved with.
When Barbara invited me to Long Beach, she told me right out front that it was Amway. Of course, at that point I had never even heard of Amway, so it was no big deal. I asked Jane why she didn’t tell people it was an Amway meeting. She explained that Danny told her not to say Amway, because so many people had heard about it from friends, that they might have a negative reaction about it and not come.
This sounded strange to me. In est, we were hammered on to tell the truth at all times. If I invited someone to a guest seminar, they knew they were coming to learn about est, and in fact, I would hand them the “Questions People ask about the est Training” brochure so they could read it before coming. I thought this approach with Amway might be “out integrity” (a phrase we used for not being totally truthful). But, this was the way the expert said to do it, and I had agreed to support this goal. I didn’t say anything about it.
Guests began to arrive. One was a friend of Jane’s from her childhood days named Landis. He arrived carrying a six-pack of beer. He was under the impression that he was coming to a party, which was a bit embarrassing.
Once it appeared that everyone who was going to actually come had arrived, Danny started the meeting.
He went over how he had “busted knuckles and wrenches for 20 years” as an auto mechanic. That all he had ever done was make his boss rich, and that he knew he would never become rich working at his job. He said that then he learned about an exciting opportunity where people like us could become rich. He asked us to write down some goals, something I was very familiar with doing at est. One of the questions he wanted us to answer is what was our dream car. Then he quipped that at one meeting a guy had written down that his dream car was a Pinto.
I was a bit jarred by this because I had recently traded in my Luv Truck for a bright orange Pinto that was parked in the driveway. Of course, today I realize that he must have seen my car and used that as a way to poke at me, but for some reason it didn’t even cross my mind that night.
Jane shared that her dream car would be a van equipped with a lift in the back so when Gretchen became older she could easily take her places in a wheel chair. This sounded like a great goal to me, at least it would encourage her to learn to drive and get a license, which she had never done.
Danny began to explain “the plan”. Using the dry marker board he drew a circle:
Danny: This is you. You open your own business and you make a commitment to generate just $200 worth of business per month. Now, you are probably wondering, how you can become financially independent on only $200 per month? Well I’ll tell you…
(Danny drew six lines coming out of the bottom of the first circle marked “You $200”)
Danny: Next, you invite six of your friends, relatives or acquaintances to become partners in your business. All they have to do is generate $200 worth of business a month. Now, it’s easy to generate this business, and I’m going to tell you how later.
(Danny drew circles at the end of each line and put $200 in each of the six circles)
Danny: At this point you and your fellow distributors are generating $1800 worth of business per month! So, what do you think is the next step? YES! Each of your friends invites six of their friends, relatives or acquaintances to enjoy the same opportunity, and THEY generate just $200 in business per month!
Now, I can’t remember how all the numbers worked, but at this point if Jane were at the top of this bunch of circles, she would be making more than I make per year at Paradice working 40-60 hours per week.
Danny then launched into a spiel about the company. Started by two very smart guys. All American. Great Products. He went through the financial history of the company, from years where they did business in the thousands, to the hundreds of thousands, to the millions…
Danny: And in 1979, the Amway Corporation did (however many) millions in business!
There it was, he finally said “Amway”. Then he talked a bit about Amway products, and their quality, and how the sell themselves. That when we became distributors, all we really had to do in order to generate the $200 in business was to switch all of our own household products over to Amway, and since we were distributors we could buy from ourselves at a 30% discount. The rest we could make up by selling products to friends and relatives who, for whatever reason, didn’t want to go into business with us.
We took a break, and Jane brought out the cut up candy bars with toothpicks, and poured everyone a glass of Active-8. Danny talked about how delicious it all was. I just remember the candy bars being kind of thick and dry, and Active-8, a vitamin drink, smelled and looked like your pee after you’ve taken too many B-Vitamins.
After the break we had another “dream session” where we talked about what we would do if we could quit our jobs and make more money only working about 20 hours a week. Never ending vacations, fancy restaurants, waking up when our eyes opened instead of to an alarm.
At the end, Danny handed us each a Prospectus, and said that Jane would be following up with us in a few days. Basically, anybody who said no, was going to be doomed to being a slave to our jobs forever, but he and Jane were on the road to financial independence.
After everyone left, Jane asked me what I thought. I hated to admit it, but I was worried that I might be sixty years old some day and still printing signs at Paradice. I really didn’t see anything changing. Oddly, I had it pretty good there. I was making more money than anybody I knew other than Ray. I was in the union and had health and pension benefits. But, after listening to Danny talking about how nobody ever gets rich from a job, Amway suddenly looked like a way out of what I suddenly saw as hellish slavery.
After all, almost everybody I knew had followed me into est, wouldn’t it be just as easy to talk them into Amway? With est you spent money, with Amway you could make money! I was sure that out of all the people we knew, plus all our new est friends we could get six highly motivated people and start a down line.
It wasn’t long before I was in a suit talking about my toiling away at Paradice, and the horrors of being the boss’s son. I preached on how Amway was my ticket to financial independence, and now I was going to give them this same great opportunity.
At the first meeting I lead, Ray from the sign shop came. Teri’s ex-husband, Mike also showed up with a six-pack of beer, ready for a party. Of course, Nick was there because he lived with us.
We were able to get Ray and Nick to sign up as distributors under us. Ray got one of the guys at Paradice named Butch. We probably had other people as well.
We got to where between all of us we were moving some product. None of us had any money in the bank, so there were a lot of hot checks being written. Every Saturday, we would load the kids in the car, and drive a 100 mile round trip to Camarillo where Danny lived. We would pick up all the Amway products that Jane and I sold, plus anything sold by our downline. We would have to pay Danny, since he had written a hot check to his upline distributor that needed to be covered. Sometimes these checks would be as much as $500.00.
Then we would have to break down all the product to be picked up by our distributors. When they would come, they would write us checks that we would rush to the bank to help cover the check we wrote Danny. I don’t remember anybody ever actually bouncing a check.
From there, we would deliver the product we had sold to people like my Mother, who didn’t want to be a distributor, but liked certain Amway products that she had bought in the past from people at work who also were trying to get rich. Amway had a highly concentrated laundry soap called SA-8 that was a big seller. Most of these products were very expensive compared to what you could buy at the store, but we tried to convince people that they were much higher quality. I’m not sure what we based that claim on, other than it’s what our upline had told us.
It was expensive being an Amway distributor. About once a month they would have a big meeting at some hotel ballroom where a highly successful upline distributor would show the plan. If you had people who were skeptical, you could drag them to that, and whoever this guy was would show off all his wealth. Of course, this wasn’t free. I think it was usually $5.00 a head, and we were told that it would be in bad taste for us to ask our prospects to pay for the ticket. So, if Jane and I brought two people, there went a $20 bill.
I remember sitting in one of these one night, and one of the guests pagers went off during showing of the plan. The guy leading the meeting stopped, looked over the audience like an est Training Supervisor, and said, “Someone has an electronic chain”.
There was also “Tape of the Week”, and “Book of the Month”. We were expected to subscribe to both. The tapes were usually from motivational meetings held by Diamond Direct distributors. These people were making six figures in Amway. They would basically tell how they had been total losers until that wonderful moment when a friend pulled them from the muck and showed them the plan. Next thing they knew they were flying in jet planes and eating in the finest restaurants. Amway was the only way an average hard working person could get ahead in America. I would tell my downline that they had to be on this program just like Danny told me I had to be. It was interesting to note that we didn’t get a commission from these sales, since they were not Amway products.
Amway also seemed to have a religious element. Some of these meetings seemed more like Christian revivals than a real business meeting. If I was going to show the plan to a friend who was Jewish, or not religious, I wouldn’t take them to one of these meetings. I had been involved as a youth with the conservative Southern Baptist movement, and these guys were just like those preachers and church people I really wanted nothing to do with.
I used my est salesmanship in Amway. The closer script was the same:
Joseph: So, are you going to to sign up and start your business?
Prospect: No, not right now.
Joseph: Not right now? Then when are you going to sign up?
Prospect: I don’t know. I just don’t have the time right now.
Joseph: Don’t have the time? You know, if you became an Amway distributor, and worked the plan, you could quit your job, and then you would have all the time you want.
Seek out the reasonableness, and attack it as the excuse the person is using for having a life that doesn’t work.
The only problem is that it didn’t work that well with actual est Graduates. They were what Werner called “smart rats”. Perhaps the downfall of est was that it gave people all the tools one needed to say “no”. We were trained to avoid reasonableness. That same conversation with an est Graduate might go like this:
Joseph: So, are you going to sign up and start your business?
Prospect: Thank you. No.
Joseph: No? Why not?
Prospect: I have no reason. My choice is to not sign up and become a distributor. Thank you.
Joseph: I got it. (Damned esthole smart rat!)
Our Amway business was moving right along. We were moving a lot of product, and getting people in, and our downline was developing. We were starting to earn bonus’s that represented our share of the sales of our downline. Our sponsor, Danny, was responsible for paying us our bonus’s, and we would pay any bonus earned to our downline distributors. Things were going well, and Jane and I were completely sucked in to the notion that pretty soon I could quit my job and live off Amway.
Then, one day, Danny told us:
Danny: Family reunion is coming up! It’s in Salt Lake City! Everybody is going to be at Family reunion! I’m going to be there. Kathy (his wife) is going to be there. Johnny McDonna (his upline Pearl Direct Distributor) will be there. Even BOB CRISP will be there! You and Jane are going to be there too!
Bob Crisp was our upline diamond direct distributor. He was the guy that was always held up to us as fantastically successful and rich from his Amway business. It was almost like we were going to go and hang out with Werner. We were all excited about it. We bought plane tickets to Salt Lake City, reserved a hotel room, and lined up somebody to watch the kids for us, which was no easy deal when one of your kids had seizures and ate through a gastrostomy tube.
When we arrived in Salt Lake City, we went over to the event, held at the convention center. There were thousands of people there, but strangely, we couldn’t find anybody we knew. We looked everywhere for Danny and Kathy, but they were nowhere to be found. The program started, and it involved all of these middle aged church-types dancing (I’m not kidding here) “The Hokey Pokey”. Jane and I were used to hanging out in est seminars hearing people confess to all kinds of dark and horrible stuff. This hokey pokey stuff seemed really stupid.
When we went back to the hotel, the phone rang. I thought it must be Danny. It turned out to be Johnny McDonna. Johnny was also sort of like a mythical folk hero to us. We talked all about him in our Amway meetings like we knew him. The story about how Johnny pulled out of a parking lot and someone ran into him and totaled his Cadillac, so Johnny just drove right to the dealer and brought another one. He told us he was at another hotel and was heading to the pool. He said, “I look like Rocky”. I’m thinking, “What? Rocky Horror?, What? Is he wearing fishnets?”, he took up the silence and said, “Like Rocky the boxer”.
We started over to the hotel to meet Johnny. When we got to the pool, I was wondering if he meant Rocky Marciano, or Rocky Graziano. Then I spotted a guy that looked kind of like Sylvester Stallone.
Johnny got out of the pool and shook my hand. He explained that Danny and Kathy had called him, and they had a last minute change in plans and wouldn’t be able to come to Family Reunion, but it was great that we had made it.
It turned out that not one single person we knew had come to Salt Lake City. We spent a lot of money we really didn’t have at the time, and both of us felt pretty stupid about it.
The rest of the weekend continued along the Christian revival sort of motif. Jane and I were young adults, and nobody at this function was anything like us. We just hated it, and went home feeling kind of mislead by Danny.
When we got back home, our business was better than ever. More product, and our bonus’s were getting into the hundreds of dollars.
Then it happened. We had a big bonus check coming, and Danny didn’t pay us.
He became difficult to reach. He stopped returning our calls. It felt awkward, because he and Jane were friends. I called Amway, and they told me that they had already paid our direct distributor, Johnny, and that we should probably take the matter up with him.
I gave our new buddy Johnny McDonna a call, and he said the same thing. He had paid Danny, and that I needed to collect from him. If he wouldn’t pay us, perhaps we should take the matter to small claims court.
We never did get paid. We couldn’t do that to our friends who had signed up under us, so Jane and I paid them their bonus’s out of our own pocket. Then we quit Amway, and I made an agreement with myself that I would never venture into Multi-Level Marketing ever again, and I haven’t.