Quixtar Jesus

“Do you want to buy this cute little bear? Or how about this pretend green phone? Do you have a son? If so, he would love it!” That’s what the bearded guy next to me said. We were driving around Marbach Avenue trying to find some poor sap to buy a bunch of cheap, useless products we were peddling from a no-name, door-to-door sales company that (of course) was doomed before it began. I was the tag-along new recruit. We had no lives and this job hammered home that fact all too well. It was my first or second week of school. I still think back at how even what few products we had were too shitty to sell.

How did I get into this, you ask? Well, some slimy, greasy-haired, early-30s-something wearing a too-small tan blazer who wreaked of aftershave and cigarettes found me when school was out and said: “Hey, dude, wanna make some money?” I jumped right in and went all the way along with 12 other kids—it was the classic “child molester van” scene. By “all the way,” I mean I was stuck on this sales gig on Marbach Avenue that afternoon since these types of places never take you home or back to the base if you’re not interested in getting on board. You have to stay the whole day and sell ridiculous products. They hustle you to keep you coming back. And kids are easy to hustle. They have little life experience. But even I had the sense not to go back the next day.

Fast-forward some years later and I was sitting in the living room of a couple I worked with. This was after a hot day of shoveling clinker onto conveyor belts while working at dad’s cement plant. It was from there to a quick shower to Mr. Javier’s household. No time wasted. “I have a business opportunity for you,” he said. “My wife loves it, too. We started together six months ago. You’re a young guy and you’ll do well!” This was why I was there. It was puzzling because he never said what I’d be doing, just that he had an offer. After a rather illusive and uncomfortable conversation, I asked him: “OK, how much have you made with the program?” Then there was a lot of silence and spin-talk, but I finally got a painfully yanked-out answer that he’d made no money…”yet” (of course). “Uh, thanks, but no thanks. Amway is not for me.” I said, and that was that. He never spoke to me the same afterwards, but I had finally accrued enough life experience to learn to stick up for myself from aggressive Amway dicks.

Fast-forward another two years where a sharp, charismatic church member with a celebrated 87 baptisms in one year under his belt came at me after a Wednesday night bible class. “Come over to my house and I’ll teach you how you can retire with just a few years of easy work.” “Ok, sure!” I thought. What got right passed the discrimination process was that surely this guy – a guy walking in God’s untainted truth – wouldn’t fall for something manipulative like Amway, right? My guard was down. I was over there. Even more disarming was that when I got there and we talked, his pitch wasn’t Amway, but EXCEL.

EXCEL is gone now. They filed for bankruptcy and eventually were bought out amidst the agonizing cries and shrieks from the broken dreams of their sales reps, but some may remember its presence on the scene as another big-promising MLM that carried with it a $195.00 entrance fee and the promise that if you keep your 20 customer points and motivation up (achieved, of course, by attending motivational seminars where “helps” like pamphlets and cassettes were sold), you are practically guaranteed to make 5 Gs a month—and naturally, that number is only headed upward as you continue to sign up customers to this “better and cheaper” phone service!

I went for it. And by the time I annoyed the hell out of mom, dad, and even the fiancĂ© about switching over to a new phone service, I realized how doomed and futile my efforts were. Couldn’t get the money back at that point. It was in the hands of the movement, which had its local base at our church. Can you imagine how you are treated when you ask for your money back from a MLM scam leader? It’s the same reaction you get from the holier-than-thous at church when you give reasons for defecting! Fun! You feel like such a great person immediately afterwards!

“You watch, Joe. I’ll put 4 or 5 students like you through preaching school. I’ll retire in 5 years. I’ll be able to work from home and spend time with my kids and buy a new car every year.” You came to my parents for financial help, Anthony. Where are your riches now? What happened to retiring in 5 years? If you’re reading this: Go screw, Anthony!

There are really very few new scams, mainly just the old ones repackaged as new ones. But like the old, the new ones will sell just the same. Every 419 “Dethroned Prince of Nigeria” scam email that winds up in your inbox instead of the junk box where it belongs keeps coming because, eventually, its typo-ridden words will be taken in by sympathetic eyes. Religion, it happens to be the oldest scam of them all. But the not-so-funny thing with scams is that they thrive when we fail to see patterns.

This article came to me when I was listening to the song by Skid Row, “Quicksand Jesus.” My mind then quickly associated the term “quicksand” with “Quixtar” (Amway’s shameless attempt at a rebirth in the mid-90s before it was outed). Then I went on to connect my past mistakes and how it took a few tries to start really putting the pieces together. With eternal matters, I think we lose perspective because the issues of life surface with varying degrees of importance. Some Kirby motherfucker offering to clean your living room and getting you to spend thousands on a vacuum you don’t need has a pocketbook hit that gets our attention faster than, say, the priest or preacher who is the spiritual descendant of a whole line of spin doctors we’re used to who have been leaching off humanity for untold thousands of years.

But you have to believe. You just have to. Things are too miserable otherwise. There must be something beyond the grave. Nowhere is this as honestly portrayed as in the hilariously clever 2009 movie The Invention of Lying where, in some strange universe, only one man has learned how to lie in a world where everyone only knows the plain-spoken truth (religion doesn’t exist in this universe until Ricky Gervais’ character “Mark Bellison” creates it)…

Why don’t we see the patterns? Why can’t we learn faster? We can’t we have the fortitude to look “too good to be true” in the eye - whether it is Heaven or the hogwash of "Get paid to post links on Google" - and say “Not interested!” even if it saddens us and makes us face the unpleasant? Those of us who can do so are vexed by those who cannot. We must endure, like riding a wave, the ins-and-outs of this fad-type consciousness of the masses that at any given time makes them unready to move forward in one definite direction. The frustration this creates is hard to describe. (JH) -- When not super-gluing toilet seats or making obscene phone calls, Joe E. Holman can be found at his blog ranting or reviewing movies.