Just after I finished with college a terrible mistake was made and I was persuaded by my brother-in-law to attend an Amway meeting. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Amway, they are like the godfather of network marketing. For those of you a little unclear on network marketing, it’s where people train you to badger others into joining a pyramid scheme that everyone knows won’t really work.
My brother-in-law had already been brainwashed by the Amway cult and it could be, at times, downright embarrassing. We would be at the grocery store and he would jump in between some eighteen year old kid looking at the Lucky Charms and ask, “Hey, my good friend, have you ever thought of new ways to make money?”
You may be asking why I would agree to attend such a meeting, and the simple answer is because like most bartenders, I am an anti-nine-to-fiver. This means I am unrealistically optimistic and dangerously vulnerable to get rich quick opportunities that appear simple and prosperous without putting in any real work (for the love of God, please don’t send me any of your one-time offers). Which is why I eventually fell into bartending, the profession of unrealized potential.
Still, you have to tread carefully when considering to become a bartender. Sure, it’s fun and cool and the money is certainly tempting, but like growing up in a small town, you may find it takes a small miracle to get out.
You wouldn’t believe how many people who come into the bar feel the need to parent me, especially the older ones who view bartending as more of an adventure you briefly entertain while in college, like pot-smoking, before moving on and becoming a grown-up. The question I invariably get from people like this is, “So what else are you doing with your life?” As far as I can tell they are not aware that such a comment is loaded with insult, so I do my best to allow them their superiority. And then I fuck with them, because to assume that someone does something other than the job they are currently employed at is to say, “For the love of God, please tell me that you have some sort of plan other than this,” and that’s really fucked up.
So I’ll say, “What do you mean,” looking vaguely confused and hurt, as if they have just revealed that there is no Santa.
“Well, um, I don’t know…do you have any aspirations to do something other than work in a bar?”
“So you’re saying a strip-club would be better?”
“No, I mean something that demands a purpose. Something you can look forward to in your life.”
“I’m going to a Dave Matthews concert next week.”
“Never mind. I’ll take another gin and tonic.”
Believe me, there’s nothing these people can say that I don’t already know. I get it. You wander into a bar one day looking for a part-time job while attending community college and thirty-five years later you’re serving white zinfandel to a group of old bags at the Holiday Inn. It’s the quicksand of professions, and usually you don’t realize what you’ve walked into until it’s too late.
That’s how I found myself at an Amway meeting at the age of twenty-four, sitting in some guy’s house named George with a host of other hopefuls, preparing to discover the secrets to becoming financially independent in a matter of a few years, maybe even months!
I took a seat on a grey metal folding chair in a box-sized living room and accepted some cookies from a nice looking lady with a practiced smile. There were eight of us, the hopefuls, and we were all facing an easel equipped with a giant pad of white paper. I wanted to believe, but I didn’t want to admit I believed. When someone nearby leaned over and asked me if this was my first meeting I jumped as if I was being accused of something and said, “I’m just here supporting a friend.”
George was an excitable, balding salesman who was irritatingly positive and forever battling pessimism with a greasy, nicotine-stained smile and the phrase, “You can have excuses, and you can have money, but you can’t have both.” After introducing himself and thanking us for coming, George went to work on the flimsy aluminum easel, preaching to us with a red felt-tip marker which squeaked out slapdash pyramids of circles representing the different levels of success. This is you, George tells us—scribble—and that down there is your down-line—scribble, squeak. And those three circles? Why, those are your down-line’s recruits, and if those circles sign up six new circles apiece and they sign up six and so forth, well then, my friends, you are going to be on your way to yachts and jets and vacations near the equator. It’s one giant family tree of wealth and generosity and you’re invited to join the gene pool.
The presentation reeked of possibility. George worked the board with a savage artistry that tempted me to forgive the irritant I’d come to know him as. Before it even ended I could see the greed in people’s eyes, and on the way out the door the hopefuls were offering George shoulder-dislocating handshakes, but not before they purchased enough network marketing books and audio tapes from George to fill a gym locker. This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them. A true revelation, really it was. Like cell division, they weren’t quite sure how it worked, but if this diagram proved accurate, then holy shit!
I shook George’s hand too but bought nothing. I walked to my car muttering, “Idiots”. The problem is, if you’re someone seeking treasure, someone who understands pyramids and the power of exponential growth, the offer looks downright tasty at first. Circles breeding circles until everyone is rich enough to puke diamonds. I was tempted to go back and talk to George, because hell, everyone’s heard of someone who missed the boat, but what I did was get in my car and drive home, picturing islands and Ferraris and a house with a bowling alley. The next day I was back pouring drinks, with George nothing more than a faded specter in the corner of my mind. All that remained was the sound of George’s voice telling me, “Don’t forget to network today, Dave, so you can net-play tomorrow.
Bartending is certainly not the perfect job, but I will own it until it’s time to move on even though I know I will still encounter people whose instinct will be to parent me, to help awaken the dormant potential I have hibernating inside me. They are torn because our relationship teeters somewhere on the edge of butler and friend. They care about me, but they also want to drink and be attended to without the obligation of repayment that comes with ordering someone around. They are fond of me, but they are wary too. I see it in their faces, and I know exactly what it means. It says, “You are the coolest, most interesting person I know. Just don’t ever date my daughter.”
Cheers, until next time.