So, I decided to go to Yet Another Ground Floor Once-in-a-Lifetime Make Money Fast Pyramid Scheme. As I walked into the auditorium, I took note of several things.
First, the greeters outnumbered the guests two to one, and they appeared to be swarming, hovering and buzzing around the hapless visitors.
Second, a befuddled young man was fiddling with the audio-visual equipment. These were not good signs. Some old paintings sat on easels placed around the perimeter of the room.
I tried to sit near the back, the better to make my escape, if need be. From experience, I knew that the initiated had been warned sternly to not look to the rear when they heard the door opening, since that caused a lemming-like head swiveling reaction amongst the otherwise captivated guests, leaving the presenter to talk to napes, ducktails and bald spots.
A greasy looking greeter swooped down on my deaf side.
“Mumble, mumble. Blabber, blah de blah?”
Startled, I turned toward him and agreed that that would be best. This apparently delighted him, for he took my arm and propelled me toward the front, where another grinning greeter majestically gestured toward an empty chair.
The mumbler, still to my left, made a few more happy noises, to which I nodded with polite enthusiasm. After patting me on my shoulder (as if to say, “you poor lamb!”), he finally left to herd another guest to a strategic spot near the front.
Suddenly, a piercing feedback whistle cut through the chatter. The AV guy quickly turned a knob, pulled a plug and smacked the offending microphone while simultaneously managing to raise his arms in supplication to the few of us who glowered at him. (That hurt, dammit!)
An extremely tall, pretty and well-dressed lady stood up and began clapping. On cue, fifty-two greeters began clapping appreciatively, as if they had just witnessed the police hauling away a particularly boisterous diner. I noticed that one greeter nudged a guest (“clap, fool!”) and that made me clap, too. Herding instinct, I guessed.
Boy, if only I had known.
“Good EEEEVENING!” The tall lady paced toward the right of the auditorium.
The congregation responded, “Good Evening!”
“Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired? Did you run out of CHECK before you ran out of WEEK?”
“Yes!” (Whoa. If they all said yes…)
“Have you tried the REST, still looking for the BEST?”
“Yess!” (Okay, that was rhetorical, right?)
“It is my HONOR and PRIVILEGE to introduce tonight's speaker, a man who has WALKED the WALK, has a HEART of GOLD and KNOWS how to MAKE MONEY!”
Enthusiastic clapping, designed to raise the anxiety level of the visitors, reverberated through the auditorium.
“Without further ado, a man who needs no introduction, ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Jim-Bob Throckswattle!”
Thunderous applause ensued, as a nondescript man with silver hair strode toward the lady and embraced her.
When the congregation settled down, Mr. Throckswattle thanked the emcee, told us to call him Jim-Bob, for obvious reasons, and nodded toward the AV guy.
At this point, the lights came down, the PowerPoint presentation came up and Jim-Bob began to explain how we could all quit our jobs in six months.
Without warning, the projector showed the Windows XP Desktop, where we were treated to a dozen icons, some of them recognizable. AOL. Microsoft Works. An eMachine Fixlet message flashing in the system tray?
Jim-Bob put on his game face, took out his index cards and wiped his brow. Then he reached into his pocket, whipped out his handkerchief and pretended to read from it. The greeters guffawed. The visitors rolled their eyes. I tried to catch the tall lady's eye. To gauge her reaction to these developments. Wisely, she kept her face averted.
It was time for an impromptu history lesson:
“How many of you remember ‘Paint-by-Numbers'? Well, the owner of our company was lying in bed one night, asking himself, ‘What if the famous paintings by the masters could be translated into ‘Paint-by-numbers'? What if people who couldn't afford to own a real painting could create their own masterpieces, instead?'
“Who would have thought that there was this huge, untapped market for impressionist paintings?
“Using every penny from his savings, the owner created Daubers”.
Catcalls and whistles erupted briefly. Visitors sat a little straighter in their chairs. Somehow, they sensed that the best part was coming.
“Now, you need to understand how you get paid. Fast or slow, which way do you prefer?”
“Well, I'm going to explain the slow way first. You start in the business as a Paint Brush. You buy three unfinished paintings, complete them and sell them to restaurants, bowling alleys and high schools. Once you've completed three paintings, you advance to the Paint Roller level. Your task now is to find three people just like you, who are sick and tired of being sick and tired. People who are looking for an opportunity to buy a dream house, own a dream boat and take a dream vacation. How many of you know three people like that?”
Hands shot up. Of course we did! We would not want you to think we were unworthy of this opportunity by admitting otherwise.
“Great! Now once they buy three unfinished paintings and complete them, they become Paint Rollers and you advance to Blank Canvas. Now, you have to sign up restaurants, bowling alleys and high schools to buy paintings from your Paint Rollers and Paint Brushes. How many of you went to high school?”
All hands shot up; he didn't say anything about graduating.
“Here is your chance to give something back. Get the high school to buy your paintings! Now, how many of you like to bowl?”
A dozen hands waved tentatively.
“Fantastic! You tell the manager that you have been renting shoes from him for years. The least he could do is buy a painting from you. Now, how many of you have eaten in a restaurant?”
Again, hands went up; Jim-Bob was a master at involving the audience! He droned on for a minute about how restaurants were the greatest target for Daubers, being as there were so many of them.
We were assured that if we simply plugged into the system, refrained from reinventing the wheel and refrained from asking penetrating questions, we would make so much money, that…I turned to my right, preferring to try catching the tall lady's eye.
So I missed the whole part about earnings results not being typical, the SEC investigation that we should ignore, because the company was an open book, etc.
Finally! I caught her eye and gave her my best I'm-willing-to-trust-you-if-you-tell-me-it-works gaze. She smiled vapidly.
I signed up that evening.
This story was originally published on EzineArticles.com, on May 1, 2006.
For a hilarious account of a real-life fake company, check out FratBoxes.com by Nat Eliason.