This belongs in a blog. I posted it to a pre-blog testimonial website dedicated to Amway “horror stories” a while ago. Enjoy.
Dear Mr. Schwarz;
From a past close encounter with Amway, I knew the topic would make a good Web site — and yours is better than what I had in mind. I thank you for it.
I’d like to give you my favorite memory of my days as a hapless young distributor/robot. It was 1982; I was 25 and clueless. My parents moved four years previously from suburban NYC to retire in the less taxed Virginia; my job choice required me to stay and play bachelor (I’d still be living at home if they’d stayed). And one day as paste-up artist for a quaint suburban pennysaver, I was sponsored into Amway. Specifically, a spin-off of the Dexter Yeager-Bill Britt branch. The most cultlike of them all.
The letter continues:
The psychological adjustment was mostly done at Thursday night “sessions.” Since I was broke (even before I joined, which is why I joined) and between cars, some folks gave me a lift afterwards to the Yonkers station, where my Tarrytown apartment was a quick train ride home.
Yonkers is in some aspects the armpit of otherwise affluent Westchester County, and the train station was smack dab in the middle of the unquestioned armpit of Yonkers. Everyone worried (it was 11pm), but I told them I was fine. However, emerging from the train at Tarrytown, I encountered a seedy looking young man in the shadows, who began to follow me.
“Five dollars,” he was offering, flashing me a joint of what he wanted me to think was marijuana. I broke out in a sweat (I had been mugged before), and began to investigate the circumstances. I was not hopping into a car, but walking the few blocks home. Not good. I was dressed in a blue three-piece suit (actually, to call it a suit was to dignify a collection of hand-me-downs roughly the same color, but widely divergent textures and material). Not good. And I was strutting, because I was pumped up from my meeting. Then it hit me. “I see you have an enterprising streak,” I said, re-evaluating the situation. “How would you like to make some REAL money?”
Yes, I was attempting to sponsor my mugger.
After going on about the opportunity and the crossroads he and his career faces since his good fortune of having met me (he told me his job required him to commute up here from the Bronx — think he was hinting?), he thought about it, and finally said, “Okay, three dollars. That’s my final offer.” He didn’t seem to get the point. That’s okay, I thought, smiling; few do, at first. My family and friends still don’t.
I think I gave him my phone number; I don’t remember. We stopped in front of my house, he promised to think about what I’d said, I made some more bragging about how connected to wealth I was, and we shook hands. Suddenly, in a jitterbug-like jerk, he spun me, held me in a chokehold from behind, jabbed a sharp implement into my back (it turned out to be a pencil), and told me to give him my money. I fumbled with my wallet. In it was a lone dollar. (What did you expect? I was in Amway.) He let me keep it, made an unnecessary threat about following him, and disappeared into the darkness.
The next Thursday night, I told my brother and sister distributors about this odd experience, laughing all the way, relating it as an example of true dedication and, in an odd way, invincibility since I’d seen the Amway light. I got finished with the story, and instead of sharing in my good cheer, they had the same look I’d seen on characters in many a science fiction TV show as they fight a valiant war of self-identity against some space parasite, its tendrils firmly implanted in their cerebral cortex, calling all the shots. Nobody could talk. They all regained their composure, and had the meeting. The incident was never discussed again.
I wish I could say that was the beginning of the end, but it was not.
When next you hear from me, I’ll tell you what the whole experience means to me in my daily life. It’s not all bad memories.
Ain’t it great? (It ain’t?)
I never wrote further. I could now, but I’m of two minds lately. I love that I got such a harmless “reality bitchslap” (as C.C. Chapman would say) fairly early on, and developed a skeptical streak. However, a constant state of skepticism can protect you from some very fruitful aspects of life, which I’m beginning to encounter with greater frequency. I have no ill feelings to that company, whatever it calls itself today. I know there were a lot of people who came to their senses much later than I, in terms of time, money and life wreckage. I consider myself lucky.