My Day of MLM

I WISH the meeting room had been this nice.

I don’t know about y’all, but when I was a kid my parents were pretty insistent that my brother Yan and I were parasites on the household, barnacles who had somehow conspired to attach ourselves to their home, sucking them dry. And as a result we were cruelly expected to have jobs from a very young age.

Now, any writers who are reading this know that being a writer comes with a hellish problem: On the one hand, we tend to know from a young age what we’re destined to do—write. In a world where most people wind up doing stuff they hate because they have no idea what they want to do, that’s a superpower. On the other hand, finding a way to monetize writing remains the Holy Grail of the writing life. In other words, finding part-time work as a long-haired teenager who liked to write stories wasn’t easy.

Thus every year my family went through the Ritual of Dad’s Friends, where Dad would essentially doll Yan and I up into church clothes and go out seeking a job for us. Most years he lined something up before we even knew what was happening, and suddenly I was being driven to an underground fight club where I was paid $5 an hour to mop the sweat and blood from the ground. But sometimes Dad’s connections failed him, and the looming specter of a Somers household without the extra income generated by their exhausted children began to loom large, making our parents cranky. Sometimes this led us to be a bit creative when it came to the job hunt. And that led me to my Evening of MLM Madness.

Multi-Level Marketing For the Win

Dad had a work colleague, some guy he didn’t know well, and the two got to talking. Dad began complaining about his layabout children who ate their way through his paychecks without contributing anything back, and his friend (whose name escapes me, but we will call him Roy) said he might have a job for us. He said he’d pick us up that evening and if all went well we’d be employed by morning.

Dad, seeing income streams, decided for some reason this was a good idea.

So, we were put in our church clothes and Roy came by in his massive boat of a car and picked Yan and I up. I imagined this would be the last time I ever saw my family, as we’d probably be sold into slavery, so I took a good look around before getting in. Roy drove a long way, and as the time ticked by and the conversation got strained I thought to myself, no amount of money is worth this torture. I’ll find a way to live on no money at all when I’m older. And kids, I’ve done just that, but you knew that already, because me professional writer.

Anyways, we got to a hotel, and my suspicion that we were about to be auctioned off to Saudi princes as fine examples of skinny white children with no spiritual or moral backbone seemed confirmed. Roy deposited us in chairs in one of the meeting rooms, where a few dozen other people of all ages sat waiting. And then a presentation began.

If you’re familiar with Multi-Level Marketing, like Amway, you know how it works in the broad outlines: You buy in, sometimes with a cash investment, sometimes by buying product. Then you can try selling the product, OR you can start recruiting a team of people, who pay in just like you did. As long as you’re bringing in new people, you get an income from it, and some folks do pretty well suckering others. Most people just lose their money and wind up with a lot of crappy stuff they can’t sell.

As we sat there, it slowly dawned on Yan and I that we were being sold on an MLM scheme. As you might imagine for teenagers, Yan and I didn’t have a lot in common at the time. But at this moment we came together and formed the Somers Brothers Comedy Hour, and we began mercilessly mocking our situation, Roy, the people around us, and the whole terrible situation. We’d been had, and we’d found a fate worse than being sold into slavery: Listening to this bullshit.

When the presentation was done, we figured Roy would take us home, where we could burst into laughter and then tease Dad over his incredible show of poor parenting judgment, which was one of our favorite pastimes. But we were naive; whether Roy had flagged us as easy marks because of our youth and good looks, or because it was standard procedure, we were hustled over to a table where the guy giving the presentation—styled as the Presdient or Chairman or God-Emperor or something ludicrous—proceeded to give us the hard sell.

We were raised right, with an instinctive deference to adults. But we couldn’t take it. Yan, bless his socially-awkward heart, began mercilessly mocking the whole situation, and the God-Emperor gave up pretty quickly. Roy tried to shame us, but we insisted we wanted to go home, and I was just young enough to be able to threaten a full-on tantrum that would have every adult within a five-mile radius arrested for possible child abuse, so he gave in. On the ride home Roy kept trying to talk us into it. He seemed to really believe it was a great opportunity, and we were foolish to pass it up. The last half hour of the ride was pretty silent.

Our parents, to their credit, were aghast. The joke was on me, though. The next day Dad made a connection with an old friend of his who owned a company that did something with oil drilling, and I spent several months in the filthiest job of my life, surrounded by the sort of men who cashed their paychecks at liquor stores and working like a dog. It was only years later that I realized the smart play would have been to tell Mom and Dad that Roy’s job was aces, make them pay in for us, and then do nothing for months until our parents realized we’d all been scammed. It would have been the smart play.

But then I’m a writer. When it comes to money, I never make the smart play.

1 Comment

  1. Sarah Bewley

    I love it.

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