I got a phone call from a friend I hadn’t heard from in awhile. He was an actor who had some success in the past. He was the lead in a short-lived TV show based on a movie from the ‘80’s, among other things, but I hadn’t seen him do too much lately. Maybe that’s why I hadn’t heard from him in awhile.
“I was hoping to get together to discuss some business,” he told me. My first clue should have been the vague nature of the call. The last time I got a call like this from an old friend, I ended up at a coffee shop looking at a cardboard cutout in the shape of a pyramid. The guy had placed this on the table between us, I suppose so he could explain the pyramid scheme he was trying to sell me on as literally as possible.
My actor friend, however, was a little more subtle. He wanted to come by our house to talk. He said he even had a little gift for me and my wife. “Who can turn down a gift?” I said. Famous last words.
He arrived with two small bags of what looked like toiletries. “Now, before you say anything, let me just tell you that I have tried this stuff myself and it really works.” This coming from a guy that looked like a younger Rob Lowe– even though they were both about the same age– made us drop our guise of cynicism ever so slightly. We had a nice dinner with our friend, and didn’t talk “business” the whole time. Only at the end of the evening as he was leaving, did the business come up again. “Listen, you guys try this out for a little while and let me know. I’m sure you’ll love it, but give it some time: It takes a few treatments to see any differences.”
In front of the bathroom mirror that night, Alex said “well, we may as well try this,” and she walked me through the thing. We scrubbed with one lotion, cleansed with another, and put a final sleeping mask on. I’ve got to admit it was kind of fun doing something together at our dual sinks instead of the usual brush, rinse and spit.
We went to bed with dreams of youth in our heads, but about 3am we were both wide awake. “Does your face itch and burn?” I asked. “It feels like I’ve been paper mache’d and lit on fire,” she shot back. “I’m getting this crap off my face,” I said as I quickly got out of bed. Alex followed and we spent the next 10 minutes rinsing with good old soap and water.
About a week later, my actor friend called. “So…?” he asked coyly (he was not a bad salesperson, I gave him that). “Well, I’ve got to be honest with you: We only used it for one night. The mask really itched and burned.” “Oh, man, I should have warned you about that, but that’s why I said to give it a week. It’s just your skin doing what it needs to do. Some people are more sensitive than others.” I didn’t know what to say to that, so I tried to change the subject. My friend, however, was just about to make his big pitch.
“Have you heard the term network marketing?” he asked. The cardboard pyramid flashed before my eyes. I’d fallen for it again. Get your friends to sell to their friends, and you’ll make money on the money they make, and so on and so on.
The next time someone calls me that I haven’t heard from in ages to discuss “business,” or invites me to their BBQ under the guise of “I’ve got some stuff I want to talk to you about,” or gives me something to “try out and let me know what you think,” I am going to walk the other way… Unless, of course, it’s the cure for the common cold, or something that turns down the volume automatically on commercials, or a silencer for leaf-blowers, or a button for your car that can turn a red light to green when there are no cars coming the other way. Now those are things I could sell people to sell.