A year or so ago, I befriended a girl from Eastern Europe who had moved across the country to marry a local boy, whom she had met online. During a walk around the park, she told me that she’d found this great job, also online, that allowed her to stay at home with her nine-month-old son. From the way she described it, it sounded vaguely like data entry for a company that had required that she “go through a series of interviews” to work for them. She wasn’t totally clear about it, but I chalked that up to the fact that English was not her first language, and that this topic of conversation was sandwiched in between childrearing and hair dye.
But I commented that that was nice, and I’d been looking for a flexible second job.
“If you want, I can ask if there are any openings,” she said politely. Sure, I said, why not? So when she called me and told me the good news, that they were in fact hiring and that I could talk to her supervisor about it, I said OK. And though there was something that seemed a little weird about the whole scenario, I agreed to meet them for coffee.
She had described her supervisor as a highly savvy businesswoman, but the minute I saw her in Starbucks, I took a dislike to her. I was pretty sure she couldn’t be more than 24 years old, and she had about three inches of makeup plastered on her face (the better to consume her discounted cosmetics, no doubt). She sat down and rubbed her hands over her thighs, a bit nervously. She had come with what appeared to be pamphlets. Yeah, whatever this is, I’m not doing it, I thought, sucking down my chai.
What followed was a long but convoluted monologue describing this online marketing venture wherein you recruited clients and bought products yourself for a discount, since you were your own distributor (or did you buy someone else’s? Maybe? That wasn’t quite clear). You made your own little marketing website from the template they provided. All within this great community of hierarchy-based business-minded individuals who invested their entrepreneurial wisdom with you out of the kindness of their hearts (Maybe? Or for some other reason? Also not quite clear). And the great thing was, it totally worked. If you invested time (and friends), the payout was bountiful. If you believed, you could have anything you wanted.
“What do you want?” The supervisor asked “Travel? A house?”
I paused from passive-aggressively running my tongue along the sharp opening of my chai lid. “I’ve got a house and I’ve traveled quite a bit,” I said. “Honestly, I want a family.”
That threw her for a second. I grinned internally as she switched gears from her money, money, money-money-money spiel to add that the company was totally family-friendly, totally family-compatible. I glanced at the brochures she’d handed me and tried fishing for more information. Oh, she said, come to another meeting and my own supervisor, that bastion of business acumen, will tell you more. She congratulated me: the company was interested in me because I was obviously a punctual and reliable individual, given that I had shown up to this “interview.” That’s a frighteningly low barrier of entry, I thought, and this is the last of these meetings I’m wasting my time with.
Half an hour later, I googled the company name and a light clicked on. I had never heard of Quixtar, but I had heard of Amway.
My ex-husband was raised in a family that sold Amway. I heard quite a bit about those days… like how they were told to put a photo of the boat they wanted on the refrigerator door to motivate them to evangelize their message of prosperity. How they were told that poor people were lazy idiots, and that school meant nothing because teachers were poor. If you were poor, you were nothing. If you didn’t earn a lot of money, you were nothing.
Like how at every rally they went to, Christianity, the Republican party and the pursuit of wealth were presented in one helpful pre-wrapped package. How they were encouraged with stories of “real men” who “packed up” their protesting wives to attend Amway events. The alternative to being a “real man” was being a “mouse,” by the way. And I heard my ex echo this to himself verbally: “Are you a man or are you a mouse?” In fact, I heard echos of every part of this upbringing in our life together. Amway products still littered his family’s house, down to a special “wash” for fruits and vegetables.
To a large extent, I think that when critical outsiders think of American Christianity, they have a vague outline of Amway in mind. They think American Christians are rabid GOP members who get their facts from some angry white guy on a podium. They think American Christians are obsessed with appearances but have little regard for real internal peace; people who would sacrifice friends and education for their warped view of reality, defined by their love of material “success” and their hatred of almost everything else. They think American Christians are hypocritical, tyrannical, irrational, classless, gullible, and probably fat.
So back to the story. I dodged calls from my Eastern European friend for awhile after that, sad that our friendship appeared to be based on nothing more than her desire to make money. And possibly that’s unfair, because she really did seem nice. But self-preservation won out over loyalty, and I never even had to tell her I wasn’t interested, because she got the hint pretty quickly. Quite possibly, that means she wasn’t completely cut out for Amway herself.