AWKWARD NEW YORK is a weekly column about the uncomfortable experiences of Chris Vespoli in and around NYC. Every Tuesday is another cringe-worthy account, from being fat shamed by a Dunkin’ Donuts employee to crashing Fashion Week.
Back before I was married, and was significantly less happy with my life, I used to do a lot more stand-up. You know, the type of comedy that’s less pretentious than improv but more socially alienating than sketch. I managed to make money with my jokes twice early on in my career — even opening for an established comic or two — but getting paid is largely a rarity in the world of beginner-level stand-up, and the coveted “paid gig” quickly became my white buffalo I’d incessantly chase, and by “chase” I mean sit on my ass, waiting for one to fall into my lap.
I thought that very thing had happened when I received a Facebook message out of the blue from someone whose name I didn’t recognize (let’s call him Marvin for our purposes), informing me that his company was looking for a person with a performance background, and who was interested in making some extra money part-time. There was no mention of comedy, but in my delusional, desperate mind I automatically assumed this was going to be one of those lucrative corporate comedy gigs that would be just the spark my career needed.
I was wrong. It was actually an Amway scam.
For those of you who don’t normally fall prey to alleged pyramid schemes, Amway is a direct-selling, multi-level marketing company where people supposedly make money two ways: by selling “exclusive” products to their friends on a markup and by earning points when those friends they’ve pressured into selling products of their own, sell products. Since the company’s reputation precedes it, a person who’s designing to indoctrinate you never actually says they’re involved with Amway until the last possible minute. For me, that person was Marvin. I smelled shit in the water, but since he had offered to treat me to coffee, and I was planning on hitting an open mic in his area that night anyway, I thought it would be entertaining, and at the least, make for some good material.
I was wrong again. It was one of the most uncomfortable meetings of my life.
Marvin and I met at the Astor Place Starbucks on a March night. It was pretty busy, but we managed to squeeze in amongst the over-privileged NYU kids who infested the entire storefront. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Marvin launched into his sales pitch. He asked me how much I spent on paper goods each month. It was the first time a man had asked me how much it cost me to wipe my ass, but I humored him. With a shyster-y grin on his face, he explained how I could save truckloads if, instead of buying toiletries, tissues, paper towels, and the like from CVS or Duane Reade, I bought from Amway. And that if I encouraged my friends and family in my social networks to buy those goods from my own virtual Amway “store,” I would stand to make some serious money. How much money? Marvin showed me a screenshot of his bosses’ earnings, which, if I recall correctly, topped out in the thousands of dollars for just a single week. It was like that scene in The Wolf of Wall Street where Jonah Hill tells Leonardo DiCaprio that he’ll quit his job and come work for him if DiCaprio showed him a pay stub for $72,000. But unlike Jonah Hill, I knew the whole thing was built on lies and deception…and I’m not as fat as he is…yet.
I listened to the rest of Marvin’s pitch, thanked him for the coffee, and left with the promise that “I’ll think about all of this and get back to you either way.” I don’t think I ever did. As much as I knew it was a scam, I couldn’t bring myself to call Marvin out on it, because I’m a pussy. I’m a pussy who, despite talking a big game, seeks to avoid conflict whenever possible — not because I’m afraid of what the other person may say or do, but because of just how uncomfortable it is to watch someone squirm. As much as Robert Durst deserved to be outed as the probable killer of his friend in The Jinx, I don’t think I could have stomached putting the evidence in front of his face like the documentary’s producers did. I probably would’ve just asked him some advice on how to talk down a broker fee on an apartment and sent him on his way.
But Marvin was no Robert Durst (I hope). He was just a dude, no older than I, trying to make a buck shoveling bullshit. After reading this article, and my many columns I’ve written for this very site, I’m not one to talk.
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