Friday, December 2, 2016

Going Diamond

I was seven when my parents joined Amway. Our house filled up with Amway products: boxes of Nutrilite™ vitamins, toaster pastries, Glister™ toothpaste, Artistry™ makeup. We washed our hair with Satinique shampoo; we washed our floors with L.O.C. ™ cleaner; we washed our dishes with Amway-brand dish soap; we strained our drinking water through Amway’s filter. Our friends were Amway. Our vocabulary was Amway. We were ‘Directs’ going ‘Diamond.’ We ‘showed The Plan’ to anyone who listened.

We drove to Miami for ‘functions’ at the Fontainebleau Hotel. Thousands of people attended, all packed into the big ballroom with lights turned up and people dancing in the aisles, getting ‘fired up’ to Calloway’s ‘I Wanna Be Rich,’ which blasted over the speakers. We clapped our hands and sang along. (...)

We drove our teal ’88 Oldsmobile Delta to the Bayou Club Estates for our requisite ‘dreambuilding’ and toured the brand-new houses: big mansions with tall, echoing ceilings and screened-in pools, shiny state-of-the-art kitchens, garages big enough for three Mercedes, a golf course in the back, vanity mirrors and crystal fixtures in every bathroom. We drove to the yacht dealer and toured the Princesses and the Prestiges, lying on cabin beds and ascending the wooden stairs to stand on pulpits, gazing toward imagined horizons.

Amway is a multilevel marketing corporation. Some call it a pyramid scheme. In 2015, its parent company, Alticor, claimed transglobal sales of $9.5 billion. It is the biggest direct-selling company in the world. Distributors make money by signing up other distributors and – somewhere in the background – ‘selling’ Amway products. It’s not exactly clear how Amway products should reach the public. That isn’t part of Amway’s marketing plan; The Plan mostly teaches distributors how to sign up other distributors, to whom they then distribute Amway products, who then distribute Amway products to other distributors they sign up, and onward. Amway has been the target, along with its affiliate companies, of multimillion-dollar lawsuits and other legal actions on almost every continent.

Four years after joining Amway, my parents came to their senses. There was L.O.C. ™ cleaner in our closet for years while we pretended Amway never happened.

But every time I drive past the Bayou Club, I can’t help wondering what it would have been like to go Diamond. Once considered the highest Pin Level – above Silver, Gold, Platinum, Ruby, Pearl, Sapphire and Emerald – Diamond status was what I had craved. It was what I’d believed was success. After all, less than 1 percent of Amway distributors go Diamond.

Silverthorn Road, Seminole, FL33777
4 bed, 4 bath, 5,144 sq. ft.

We’ve gone Diamond. ‘We’re buying a house in the Bayou Club. We’re starting a family,’ we tell the Realtor.

The first we see is in the Estates section. Croton in the front yard, Alexander palms and twisting cypress – all yards are maintained by the Bayou Club’s landscapers, she says. Each yard must coordinate with every other yard, to meet color-palette standards that coordinate with every house. You pay $137 a month for this privilege, another $205 for security and maintenance of common areas.

This house has two stories, an office and a loft, bamboo floors, a three-car garage, a pool.

‘You can see we’re getting the screens fixed,’ the Realtor says, pointing to the men working beyond the glass. She has piercing blue eyes. Processed blonde hair. She has French-tipped nails, diamond rings on all fingers, and a gold-and-diamond necklace. She wears a white semi sheer shirt, black-and-white-printed leisure pants, black eyeliner and heavy mascara. ‘We’re just putting some finishing touches on the place.’

I approach the French doors. The pool is bordered by stocky palms and, beyond them, the twelfth fairway. There is nothing like a yard.

‘Can children play on the golf course?’ I ask.

‘No, it’s private,’ she says. ‘And unless you don’t love your children, you don’t let them play on the golf course because they’ll be golf ball magnets.’

My husband chuckles.

‘And the golf course is private,’ she says again. ‘You have to join the club. If a golfer sees a child out there running around, they will call the golf ranger to chase them because they interfere with the game of play.

‘Do you play?’ she asks my husband.

‘No, but family does.’

‘We pay for golf privileges and we don’t like people on the golf course. We like our fairways nice and even.’

I wonder where the children play. The front yard is tiny. There’s barely any grass.

‘So the kids play out front,’ she continues. ‘And you know what? They do. When a child goes outside, he brings other kids out. We’re very strict about our speed limit here.’

‘I noticed the speed bumps,’ I say.

‘There are no speed bumps,’ she says, and I feel embarrassed. ‘If you came through Bardmoor, next door, there are bumps, but there are no bumps in Bayou Club. A lot of people have low-profile cars. We control our speed through our rover, who shoots radar. The fines are strict.’

‘Is there a neighborhood watch?’ asks my husband.

‘We have two security guards: one that roves the community 24/7 and one that stays at the gate,’ she says. ‘It’s not a hundred percent safe because if somebody wanted to come through Bardmoor, hop that fence in the middle of the night, and intrude on your house, nothing’s going to stop them. That gate out front is not going to stop them.’

‘It’s hardly even a gate,’ I say.

‘Your car won’t get through it,’ she says. ‘They might steal your jewelry, but they’re not stealing any big items.’

‘It has the illusion of security,’ says my husband.

If it’s not your family who brings you in, it’s probably a friend. For my dad, it was a manager at one of the car dealerships for which he handled advertising. The man’s business comprised almost half of my dad’s income. Over time, they’d developed a friendship. You’d think my dad would be immune to Amway, given his familiarity with advertising’s insidious ways. But how does the saying go? A good salesman can sell you your own grandmother.

My parents and I were solidly middle class when we collided with Amway. We owned our home. We lived in a safe neighborhood where I could play outside without supervision and walk home alone after the sun went down. We always kept an excess of food in the house. I got new shoes whenever I outgrew my old pair. I received new toys when my old ones broke and new books when I finished reading the ones I had. I went to gymnastics practice four times a week, singing lessons once a week, camp over the summer, and back-to-school shopping in the fall. We didn’t need Amway.

But that didn’t matter. In Amway, there’s no such thing as contentment.

If you’re happy with what you have, you haven’t dreamed, says Amway. Your life could be faster, shinier, brighter, more spacious – don’t settle for less. Join Amway.

You could drive a Jaguar instead of your crappy Oldsmobile. You could build a custom home – don’t settle for that two-bit shotgun you have. If you’re proud of what you’ve accomplished so far in your life, don’t be. Think bigger. Do better. If you don’t believe you can – trust Amway. Amway believes in you.

Nothing was wrong with our life before Amway – we didn’t join it to fill a void. We were happy, until we were told we could be happier.

by Sarah Gerard, Granta |  Read more:
Image: Sarah Gerard