In the Family Way

By Merle Harton, Jr.

The wealthy man opens his wallet and sees a fat wad of money; when the poor man opens his, he sees only a deep black hole. And yet the real difference between these two men is this: whether the wallets contain anything at all is entirely irrelevant. I know this now, and wish I had known it then; I could have saved myself a lot of grief.

The grief began when my new company developed "cash flow problems," which is corporation talk for the time when more money goes out than is coming in. There are of course innumerable ways this can happen, but it usually starts when not enough money comes in, because no matter how much you cut expenses, trim the overhead, bite the bullet, step back from the challenge, etc., you cannot in the end spend what you do not have. Credit, as I learned, only extends the period of grief. But I was ever hopeful that my business would pick up and the coffers would be full, and my two feet would be firmly planted on the golden road to Rich City. When my Visa card reached its limit, I knew I was in trouble. When my MasterCard hit the max, I was in trouble. I started scraping bottom when I began using my gas card to by milk, eggs, and bread.

Christine was worried and carried bags under her eyes, but I was ever optimistic. God would take care of us. I was so optimistic, in fact, that I started walking around with a special look on my face; it was not quite a smile, not quite a simper, but it was the smile a man makes when he knows something no one else knows; it was also the kind of look that is commonly seen on the faces of morons.

But I am getting ahead of the story here. Much happened between the time I had money and the time my wallet showed me its lining.

It was about the middle of January when a friend of mine, Paul Smythe, called me on the phone. I was in the kitchen at the time. I had known Paul for about two years, but not extremely well; most of my contact with him was at the hospital where I used to work. He was a medical practice administrator for a large clinic in the area. Since leaving the hospital, I had not been in touch with him. Now, he told me, he and his live-in girlfriend, Collette, had just gone into a marketing business for themselves; it was something they were very excited about, and they were looking for two or three sharp people who are looking to make some extra money, but who need to keep doing what they are doing.

"Marc, are you looking to make some extra money?"

"Sure," I said. "But I can't say I've got a lot of time to devote to outside activities—I mean, this computer business of mine just about consumes all of my time. But I'm open to listening. What have you got?"

"Since this is a business opportunity, it's not something I can really go into in depth on the phone. Besides, I need a paper and pencil to go over the numbers with you. I think you understand that."

"I do. But I don't want to waste your time. Are you looking for investors? If you are, I can tell you right now I'm neither in a position to do that nor interested in any expenditure of money on something outside my own business."

"The company we are doing business with is fully capitalized. We're not looking for investors."

"Well, how much time would I have to devote to this venture of yours?"

"About six to eight hours a week."

"Does it involve selling?"

"Do you like to sell?"

"Not particularly."

"Then you'll like what I've got to show you."

"You said it was a marketing business. What are the products, and how do you market them without selling?"

"Those are good questions, Marc. But again the telephone is not the place to answer them, and I'm a little pressed for time right now. What I'd like to do is set aside about ten to fifteen minutes with you and go over some of the basics of the business, answer a few of your questions, and see if this would interest you and see whether you are the right person to involve in my business. How about tomorrow evening—Monday—say about seven o'clock?"

"Let me get my schedule book," I said. I put the phone on hold and left the kitchen for the study, looking for my schedule for the week. "Monday night's free," I said, picking up the phone and poking my finger on my next day's schedule.

"How about seven o'clock?"

"That's okay."

"Good. I'll see you at your house at seven. Now, I'm not going to be in a position to answer all of your questions, Marc. I'm only going to be there about fifteen minutes. I'm really just checking interest."

"No problem," I said, adding a few pleasantries before hanging up.

"Who was that?" asked Christine.

I told her, giving a few details of the conversation.

"Oh, no. Not another one of your get-rich schemes." She looked dejected and disappointed that I would give my friend my time on something that was definitely not worth a moment's consideration.

"Now, you don't know that," I said. "Look, Paul's a sharp guy. If he's making money doing something, and he wants to share the opportunity with me, I'm at least going to listen to what he has to say."

"Okay," she said, "but don't expect me to get involved."

"But you don't know anything about it."

"You're right. You look at it. If it's something you really want to do, I'll consider it, too." There was something in her voice, however, an intonation, a hollowness, a bare hint—something that suggested only a near sincerity in her promise. I let it pass. I let it pass because I was myself looking for a change. Not that I was unhappy in what I was doing, but rather I was unhappy that I had not changed one bit. Sure, I was a nicer guy, I no longer drank myself into sleep, and I spent more time with my family—doing what you like to do will give you those things—but I was not the nice guy I wanted to be. I still longed for a tall glass of Bourbon, and the time I spent with my family was in a way totally bogus both in intent and in quality. I would muss up Marshall's hair, ask him about his day at school, answer his questions, grab him in a loving embrace—but I knew nothing about him, about his wishes, longings, worries; I did not throw a baseball with him, look with him at the stars through his telescope at night, tuck him in, read to him, horseplay with him, bike ride with him.... In fact, I have just been going through the motions of being the kind of father I have always wanted to be, the kind I wish my father had been to me. That is the kind of change that really has to come from within. When I look within myself, I am as hollow as old bamboo.

The kind of father I wanted to be was also the kind I needed to be, and that fact showed up more evidently in Kimberly. She had hit the age of thirteen with more fury than Athena from the brow of Zeus. Christine and I went through the usual anguish when she turned twelve and wanted to shave her legs, but that was nothing compared to the symptoms of hormonal turmoil that now raged inside her body, which was growing in all the ways that indicate her movement into womanhood. She was now, at 13, a young woman who could pass for 18, but in behavior really seemed 16, but in emotional and social terms was still only a child who was in the throes of a biological event that threatened both her well-being and ours.

While I still do not understand women, even as I make my way toward the mature age of 45, and understand this child-woman even less, I do understand now why my Mom and Dad were so happy when Christine and I became parents ourselves: In fact, I can see them now, dancing in their living room, singing out gleefully the words, "Revenge, revenge, we have our revenge!"

So here it is 7:00 in the evening. Kimberly’s stereo upstairs is blasting out an alternative mix of heavy metal and twangy country-western pop and in a few minutes she will come downstairs wanting to go over to a friend's house for the rest of the evening. It is a school night, her school bag is still loaded with books, untouched, and she will appear in a moment with her hair primped and her face made up like a tart, with a thick layer of base and powder and red rouge lips. Admittedly, these are different times, and we are different parents than those who raised us, but what remains static, what does not change through the times, is the need for children to have guidance, a knowledge of right and wrong, and for parents to know their station and its duties.

As kids, we can dream and scheme all we want, and chart out as many courses of action we want, to get into the profession that excites us, enthralls us, and fills us with the kind of wonder that can only come with desire for a certain lifestyle, a certain self-esteem, a certain image of ourselves as something we are not yet, but long to be, believing all along that merely by entering that profession we can gather around us all the trappings of happiness. The girl wants to be a model, not knowing the long hours and dieting and traveling and weird sleep habits that are required for success in the field; and not knowing how short the model's career really is. The boy wants to play professional football, not knowing the sore muscles, the bruises, the emotional ups and downs of the job, the short career span. They want to be writers, not knowing the loneliness of the craft, the long hours, the research skills needed, the constant threat of impoverishment, the unspeakable things writers do to get over writer's block. Take any other so-called glamorous profession—lawyer, statesman, doctor, dentist, policeman, thespian, musician, etc.—and strip away the veneer of glamour that we have coated these professions with and what you get is just another job. What we look at, when we look at these professions with their veneer of glamour intact, is people at toil but happy and successful and, well, wealthy. And that is what it is all about: Wealth, of one kind or another. And wealth is important, because it has the potential for giving us access to things we cannot get without it. But the downside to this is that, in reality, the wealth we get by success in these glamorous professions is offset by the lack of time needed to enjoy them. So these professions are really just means to an end, the end being an enjoyment of life by buying our way around in it. Planning parenthood is the same, and we make the same mistake if we coat it with the veneer of glamour it really is not.

Is something wrong with these professions? In themselves, no. But wanting them as a means to an end entirely beyond them is wrong, or at least wrongheaded. This is just my opinion, of course, but what we want in seeking wealth is really happiness, a sense of our own worth, the respect of our peers, the freedom to engage in activities that we enjoy engaging in. If, as a lawyer, I am really satisfied with what I do, if I wake up every morning longing to practice law, to pore over law books, think up lawsuits, to coax a jury toward my point of view—if these activities satisfy my wants, and I get a paycheck, too, then is it really important that I am not wealthy? It would be nice, of course, to have both, but if I had to choose one or the other, I would take the satisfaction of a job well done over a thick wallet. Why? Because a man is happiest when he is being productive and engaged in activities that promote his personal growth. That is why we should never want a job, and by "job" I mean an activity that merely secures for us a paycheck. So when we look upon a profession with the veneer of glamour, we should always seek to strip it to its barest component, for only then can we see it for what it is: something that is for us an activity that we would freely engage in, all things being equal, or whether it is just another job in disguise, at a different pay scale.

As Kimberly and Marshall grow, I look at them constantly, searching for qualities that I can nurture and encourage, so that at some point in their lives I can offer them advice on how they are to live out their future in a productive manner and make an income at the same time. I could push them into a profession, believing mistakenly that they will be happy with it, when all along they have other talents, other desires, other features of their personalities that are better employed in some other profession. What I really want for them is to have them wake up in the morning and want to do something; I do not want them to wake up and groan and eat their cereal and dress up for a job, because that is not what life is all about. Life is about many things, but one thing it is not is always having good things happen to you. It is at least doing your best, and you can only do your best if what you are doing is something that makes the best use of your native talent, something that encourages your growth in the field, and something that beckons you to succeed in it—whether it is farming, digging ditches, removing cancerous tumors, giving enemas to horses, turning a torque wrench with a greasy hand, barking out orders on a factory assembly line, or standing in that assembly line as someone else barks orders at you.

I am someone who practices what he preaches, and that is why I left my hospital employment, because it was just a job. It had some status, and it paid well, but it gave me no personal satisfaction; as a result I became a drunk and worth nothing to anyone, at least in the long run. So now I am doing what I love, and I am making money at the same time. Great, huh? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I am doing what I want to do and have a talent for doing. No, because I did not have the time to enjoy myself or my family. I was still not the father I wanted to be.

Paul's phone call peaked my curiosity. Perhaps he had found the perfect combination of elements necessary for true happiness in the world: Something that would give me personal satisfaction, wealth, and the time to enjoy my life.

Monday evening arrived and he was right on time. He had not been through our new house, so I gave him a quick tour, and then we sat down across from each other at the big table in the study, where he proceeded to draw circles on a piece of yellow tablet paper.

Merely by changing our buying habits, buying all of our normal household items from "the business," as he called it, we could save money, and we could grow our own business by involving other people in the same way he wanted to involve me.

I looked at the circles and the lines and the dollar signs and said: "That looks like a pyramid scheme to me."

"It's not," he said calmly and confidently.

"Well, I'm still not sure just exactly how the point system works and how you make money just by buying household goods."

"I'm not here to answer all of your questions. I'm checking interest."

"What's the name of this "network marketing" organization?" "Have you ever heard of the Blueblood Organization, out of Virginia?"

"That doesn't sound familiar."

"It's large. Our association altogether is pulling in about three billion dollars in sales world-wide per year."

"That's impressive," I remarked.

“If any of this interests you, I'd like you and Christine to come by to one of our business meetings this week. We meet Monday evenings at the Vacationer's Inn. Normally we leave the first hour open for guests. We have people who have been in the business longer than I have give a brief presentation which should answer most of your questions. It takes no more than an hour. I will also introduce you to my associates in the business, so you can see for yourself the kind of people who are building this business. If you are still interested, I will then give you some more information, which is designed to help you make an informed choice as to whether or not this business is for you. Can I mark you down for next Monday evening, at eight o'clock?"

"Sure," I said. I was interested, and curious. I also told him not to expect Christine at the meeting. He seemed disappointed at that news, but then let it pass.

"On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate yourself on keeping appointments?" Paul asked, as we headed for the front door.

"About a five," I answered, "if you mean whether I'll be there exactly at eight. I'm a ten plus if you mean whether I'll show at all. Don't worry, unless some catastrophe befalls me, I'll be there."

And I was. I was late, as usual, but only about five minutes. Paul had called me earlier in the day to double check on my attendance. He had to hold a spot open for me, he said, and he wanted to be sure that I still had the appointment place and time. I did, and I was also dressed accordingly; this was a business meeting that required a suit and tie. I had to park near the rear of the Vacationer's Inn, with all the parking spots taken up by motel guests and, I had to guess, by visitors to Paul's business. Inside the motel a sign bearing the words "Blueblood Organization" directed me and several other people in traditional business attire to the Orleans Room. Outside the room was a long table with two very enthusiastic women asking us to sign our names and pencil in the person who had invited us. I signed my name and wrote in Paul's and went around the table to the door; inside the Orleans Room was a mob of happy people, men and women, chatting and shaking hands and pointing out places for people to sit. Paul saw me come in and he came over and shook my hand and led me around the room introducing me to people who were in "the business and really tearing it up." After a couple of minutes of this, a young man jumped to the front of the room, right in front of an easel with a white presentation board on it. He asked everyone to take seats, and when we had he introduced our speaker for the evening, the former Louisiana Secretary of Commerce, Thomas Hancock, a tall man in his early to middle fifties with gray hair, glasses, and a warm smile. He started off by telling jokes and then proceeded to introduce the business to us. There were those circles again. He picked out a guy in the front row, named Bill, and put Bill's name in a circle on the board. Above Bill's name he put Bill's sponsor, and then proceeded with a theoretical exercise in which Bill bought all of his normal household goods through his own business. By doing so he accrued points each month; after so many points he was eligible at the end of the month for a bonus check, whose amount was dictated by his position on the scale of points. The scale got larger as the amount of his purchases got larger, but he did not have to buy all of this for himself to get those points, for by involving other people in the business and having them purchase their household items through him, his point scale soared accordingly. All Bill needed was six interested people, who then would find six interested people, etc.

When Bill's business grew large enough, he was then eligible to become a direct distributor and was separated from his sponsor, who received a gift each month from the company as a thank-you for having involved Bill in the business. As Bill's business continued to grow, and he created distributors out of the people he had involved in the business, he stood to make not merely lots of money, but "residual income," which kept coming in so long as his business structure stayed intact. And by all accounts, said Mr. Hancock, it would. He himself started in the business two years ago, and now had an office (outfitted with equipment purchased through his own business) and a secretary (whose salary was paid by his partial earnings through his own business) and a growing business that gave him and his family not merely income but "residual income." What was the name of the parent company that put this all together, the same company that brought in 3 billion dollars last year in sales world wide? I cringed as Mr. Hancock scribbled the words on the board: "FAMWAY!"

I thought that company bit the dust ten or so years ago. I remember it vaguely as a soap and detergent company that had people hoarding supplies in their garage and going door to door selling the stuff. It was good stuff and well respected, but it was still, I thought, a soap and door-to-door sales program. I was amazed that the company had now become diversified to such an extent that I could buy almost all of our normal household supplies, including clothes and a wide array of foods, directly through this business—and I could make money at the same time. All I had to do was to involve other people. If they came to a meeting like this, and all I had to do was get them here, then they would find it as exciting as I did and I would have a large organization like Mr. Hancock's and I would have not merely a monthly income but "residual income" from a growing company that was distributing products world wide.

I was excited, and I got more excited after Mr. Hancock asked distributors in the room who had reached the 1,000 point level to stand and give their names and their normal occupations. There were managers, business owners, secretaries, computer programmers, engineers, policemen, consultants, a lawyer, a doctor, an FBI agent—people from all the professions. And then there was short parade, with testimonials, of direct distributors, all couples, who spoke on what they saw in the business, how long they were in it, and how their income now was high enough for them to devote themselves to the business full time. That was enough for me. At the close of the open meeting, Paul refused to discuss the meeting with me and instead he handed me a plastic packet with some catalogs and an informational brochure and an audio cassette. We made an appointment to meet on Wednesday, so he could follow up then on my questions about the program and how to get started. I hurried home with my packet of information.

Christine was sitting on the living room sofa when I came in with the bundle under my arm. She had a quizzical, cynical look on her face.

"Well, how was it?"

"It was great." I tried not to be too enthusiastic; otherwise she would be suspicious and think that I was onto another crazy scheme; besides, if it was a crazy scheme, I did not want her to know it, or to think that I would even remotely consider a crazy scheme—if it was, that is. I had to find out.

"I'm going to be in the study for a little while," I said to Christine.

"I'm going to bed in a few minutes, so I'll say good-night to you now," she said.

"Okay," I answered, and went into the study and piled the bundle of information onto the table in the study. This table has been with us a long time. It is actually a dining table with four leaves and hand-carved ends and six cane-bottom chairs. For over six years it lay in pieces in the attic of our last house. Three months ago, I was finally able to put it together again and tear off its old finish and put on a new covering of tung oil, hand rubbed for two days and dried for a week. I could spot all the imperfections of my work, but it was such a dazzling beauty that its blemishes were quickly diminished by its clean form, its age, its durability. My satisfaction with it lay, I think, not so much in owning it, but rather in having turned something that someone might have discarded as finally worthless into a new product. This table, once dead, had been resurrected for another round at life.

With the informational materials spread out in front of me, I tackled first one group of catalogs and then another, and another. Each catalog contained a different set of items for the home, the car, the kitchen, the bedroom, the bathroom: There were electronic gadgets, TVs, VCRs, stereos, stereo equipment, tires, pants and dress suits for men and women, clothes and shoes for children and adults, neckties, scarves, socks, telephones, and toys. There was a wide array of packaged foods, jams, jellies, and gifts for family and friends. A catalog was alone devoted to every cleaning product you could think of— shampoos, face cleansers, three kinds of soap bars, deodorants, colognes, and perfumes, air filtration systems, water filter systems, two kinds of dish cleaner, five types of household cleansers, cleaners for windows and counters and walls, and a handful of cleaners for cars, tires, and driveways.

According to the standard informational sheet that accompanied these catalogs, a sheet with the same circles and figures that had been presented earlier in the evening, all I had to do to get rich was to buy these things in place of the household items we normally purchased, find six or more people who could join me in this purchasing exercise, and I would get money back at the end of the month on my purchases, in increasing amounts as the size of my distributorship grew. Then I would be on my way to becoming a direct distributor and then move up into bonus levels that paid big dividends. These levels were labeled Iron, Tin, Copper, Bronze, Steel, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. Above that were Super Platinum, Major Platinum, and then Double Platinum, Triple Platinum, and finally Executive Platinum. A monthly magazine that appeared among the catalogs showed these people at various levels, and from what profession they were in when they entered this business. Testimonials abounded, and features depicted the lifestyles now enjoyed by the Platinums, what misery they endured before the business, and how the business has improved their overall well-being. All of them were, well, just plain squeaky clean.

I studied the standard form again. This could not be possible. So this is how it worked. Every purchase I made had a point value. The more I purchased, the more points I acquired. At the end of the month, I was paid a certain percentage back in cash on the purchases I made, but at an amount that was determined by a yardstick of points; by increments of points, there was a new, higher percentage level. Once I reached the highest percentage level (at which time I would be bringing in a sizeable income on bonus paybacks alone), I would then qualify for direct distributorship; I would then cease to be reliant for my purchases upon my sponsor and could buy directly from the company. In return, my sponsor would be paid monthly a percentage of the income my group and I brought each month; that was what was meant by "residual income," for as long as my group remained in existence, my sponsor would receive monthly benefits. But it did not stop there. Once I helped a member of my group become a direct distributor, I too would receive this residual income. And if I helped six of the members of my group to become direct distributors, I would then receive in residual income an awesome amount of money, at least according the sample figures illustrating the standard form. And as each member of my group of direct distributors continued to grow, so would the size of my lineage, and so would the size of my residual bonuses, thus moving me up into the income level and the lifestyle enjoyed by member of the precious metals group. Hell, I too can be rich! I can do this!

I put the magazines in a pile. I went to bed and dreamed of wealth. It was a done deal. I was in FAMWAY!

"In the Family Way"
Copyright © 1994 by Merle Harton, Jr.  All rights reserved