My brother called me on Sunday evening. This was the first time we talked since New Year's Day! The conversation didn't last long, though because it brought up the same issues as our last conversation. I kind of expected it, because my dad had warned me about my brother's latest "scheme." The most unfortunate thing about my developmentally challenged brother is that he is so gullible. He has fallen for every get-rich quick scheme that comes around. I wonder how many thousands of dollars he had been swindled out of by shrewd and unscrupulous money-grubbers in the past twenty years.
His latest thing is "Pre-paid Legal", a multi-level marketing company that has been around for thirty years and even has public stock on the New York Stock Exchange. I did some Internet research on this group, and it falls into a gray area. There have been complaints, but as far as I could find, there is no law against multi-level marketing. The brilliance of such a company is that you can blame the people for not doing enough to bring people under them so that they can get a cut of the money they bring in. That's the whole point about multi-level marketing. You don't really want to sell the product or service. You want to recruit other people to work for you and get a cut of their pay, and they will do likewise, creating a "never-ending pyramid" that sucks money to the top of the pyramid.
When my brother called, he engaged in friendly questions for a couple minutes. But, because I know him too well, his questions are annoying because he asks them in such a rapid fire manner. Its not as though he's really interested in my life or views. He's digging for information. This happened during Christmas 2009 when he asked non-stop questions about Christine, whom I did not want to talk about because I was still emotionally wounded by her sudden departure to Europe several months sooner than she had planned. Whenever I ask my brother to back off with the questions, he never listens. He just keeps pushing the issue, which makes me angry.
The same occurred Sunday evening. He wanted to know how much I got paid. I didn't want to tell him, mostly because he runs his mouth to everyone. He's always telling everyone about my business. I noticed this in college, when church members back in Atlanta would ask me strange questions. My brother apparently told church members that I had a free ride scholarship and other untrue things. Its startling to have people come up to you and congratulate you on something that did not happen. My brother, unfortunately, has a tendency to get his facts wrong a lot of the time.
When I refused to tell him how much I make an hour, he kept saying, "But we're brothers!" I guess in his mind, because we're brothers, that we are close and share info. However, I have not felt close to my brother since childhood. Probably not since we were 11 or 12. Or maybe as late as when I was 17. Once we graduated high school, though, I moved out of the house, had my Navy and college and White House adventures, all the while, my brother was living at home and falling into one scam after another. My brother sadly assumes that being brothers means we're close, but for me, I consider only a few friends of mine close, where I'm comfortable sharing my life's experiences with them. The closeness is related to compatibility and having a shared understanding. For example, one of the reasons why Nathan is one of my best friends is because he always knows the exact thing to say to get me to laugh. He really knows what will make me laugh because we have an understanding of how each other thinks about things, what we find funny. My brother, however, often tries to make me laugh with lame jokes found in children's joke books. Its not my kind of humour, but my brother is able to get other people laughing at his corny jokes.
When it comes to gifts at Christmas or birthday, I always tell my brother not to get me anything, because he usually gets me things I don't need or not interested in. Its always some random thing that I can't use. If someone doesn't know what to get me for a gift, my feelings won't be hurt by not getting me anything. Besides, I consider other things "gifts." Such as when my D.C. roommate volunteered to help me photocopy the D.C. memory book I had put together, early in the morning on the last day of the program! We were at Kinko's at 2 a.m. trying to get that thing finished. Matt sealed his friendship forever with that "gift." Another "gift" was when Nathan offered to let me be roommates with him in 2001 to get me out of my intolerable living back at home experience. Though I did not take him up on the offer, the fact that he offered it was a gift enough.
My point is that I feel like my three closest friendships are my true "brothers" (in a spiritual sense). Both Nathan and Matt have referred to me as "uncle" in regards to their children. And they don't even know each other!
Unfortunately, with my brother, it is becoming more and more difficult to communicate with him because I have little tolerance for him anymore. I feel bad about it, but the honest truth is, whenever I see him, I feel very depressed about his life situation. He truly got a bum deal in this lifetime and its made much worse by his gullibility and the predators around who see him as an easy victim. Whenever I try to tell him this, he gets angry and defensive, defending the very people who are ripping him off! I just can't be a witness to it anymore. Some people try to guilt trip me with the, "He's your brother!" mantra, but I've read enough psychology books about people who get sucked into a co-dependency relationship or who act as enablers. You're not doing the other person a favour when you stick around and endure or be sucked into it. When we went to see Tron: Legacy on New Year's Day, I just felt my energy drain being around my brother and I'm not strong enough to be there for him when he can't see who is trustworthy. If I learned anything at all at my JOB FROM HELL, its that another person's negative energy can suck you into a very dark place. I really was in a dark place for too long and I don't want to go there again. I was almost not strong enough to survive that ordeal.
When my brother tried to talk about Pre-Paid Legal, I kept cutting him off, calling it a "get rich quick scheme." He got offended. I kept telling him that I was not interested in his latest scheme but he kept trying to pitch. It got so annoying and finally, I said to him: "You've been stuck in the same life since high school!" I just can't be a witness to it anymore. I'll take the "bad brother" criticisms and condemnations, but it breaks my heart to see a person so deluded and trusting of people who don't deserve trust. I really, truly hope that every con-artist who fleeced my brother will burn in hell someday! I know its not a very Christlike or Buddhalike statement, but it is just EVIL what they do to naive and gullible people. I wish my brother had my sense and skepticism, for it would have saved him a lot of money and grief.
The phone call ended sooner than I expected. I heard a click and thought that he might've hung up on me, so I hung up. As I thought about it, perhaps I hung up first. He's making it harder to have any kind of relationship with, though. I probably won't invite him for Thanksgiving, and I'm going home for Christmas. A lot of this has to do with my push to be in a relationship this year. I know from past experience that if I tell my brother about my plans, he will want to go on the first date with me to meet the lady and if things don't work out, he'll want her number. Or he may obsess over the lady and want her number even as I date her. This is all stuff that he has done since I've moved to Portland. Its very bizarre. Just because we live in the same city does not mean that we have the same interests or lifestyle.
My frustration is mostly that my brother does not listen to our parents or myself about these scam artists and he gets defensive about it. Also, he's obsessive in that is all he wants to talk about, even if I don't want to talk about it. As I told him in the phonecall, "I don't care about your scams, I don't care about your church, I don't want to hear about it. Its not interesting to me." At some point, I hope it sinks in, but I doubt that it will. If he's not willing to see who is trustworthy and who isn't, then I really cannot help him at all. I know that this phonecall will probably get back to my parents and be just one more example about why I'm such the bad and mean son / brother. Oh well. We all have our choices in life, and I'm choosing to not be around negative energy, even if its my own brother.
In 1996, I had my own experience with a multi-level marketing scam. I was looking for a job when I responded to an ad in the alternative weekly newspaper. I set up an interview and the person asked what time and day was good for me. When I told him, he asked if I was okay with another time and day, which he told me. I thought that was odd. Why not tell me the day and time first instead of having me pick a day and time?
When I went to the place at the appointed time, there were quite a few people in the lobby. This was another negative impression on me. At the appointed time, well dressed people came into the lobby to greet those of us who were waiting. I met the guy I had set up an interview with. We made small talk and then all of us were ushered into a conference room to watch a video presentation. It was so bizarre. I got a strong cult vibe. The video talked about sales and marketing, and how successful employees were able to buy the mega mansion of their dreams, luxury sports cars and exotic vacations. After the materialistic video finished, a young man spoke to the group. What he said offended me. He said that he was in med school but wasn't happy about it. He prayed to God for direction and the answer he received was that God wanted him to drive a Porsche, so God supposedly led him to this company, Equinox International. I nearly walked out.
After the presentation, I went with my host back to his desk while he explained the particulars of the job. It involved selling environmentally-friendly products. He gave me sample toothpaste to try out, which was awful. The more he explained, the more uncomfortable I felt. He revealed details like, he had to rent the desk from the company. They had to go to training seminars every month at their own expense, sometimes in other towns / cities. You not only sold products, but you needed to recruit others to sell product as well so you could get a cut of their pay. It didn't make sense. Why couldn't everyone just get the profits on the product they sell, without all the pay-outs to people above you. I didn't know about multi-level marketing at this time. I had heard about Amway and Tupperware for years before, but Equinox International was my first exposure to such a business scheme.
I basically had so many red flags that I left without any good feeling. It felt like a cult to me. I had asked my host how he sold products. He said that he sells to family and friends, and whenever he's out, he'll engage strangers in public and make the sale. For me, I could never see myself doing that. It violates a core principle about my life. Namely, the Golden Rule. I absolutely hate when people come up to me with an ulterior motive or a hidden agenda. I don't like being initiated in a friendly conversation and then being sideswiped with a pitch. I believe it is ethically wrong to do such a thing. Its especially wrong to hit up family and friends to fund your revenue stream, unless they really want the product. But, as I asked an intelligent friend of mine afterwards, he asked the magic question: "If the product is so great, why don't they sell it in stores?" Exactly! Why the elaborate scheme of sales people and recruiting people to sell for you? So many products are available in stores and people know what they need and want.
So, I don't have a good opinion of multi-level marketing companies. I've known people who got into all kinds of stuff: selling telephone cards, selling herbal medicines, selling cosmetics...always selling stuff for a commission. Nope. Not for me. If you have a product to sell, leave me alone. I know what I want and pitches don't work. Well...except for the ones that I do like: authors giving a lecture at Powell's City of Books. Most of the time, I don't buy the books, but a few have been able to move me from hesitant to shelling out bucks (Christine Wicker and Alicia Silverstone are two that come to mind).
I don't regret going to the Equinox International presentation, though, because it taught me quite a lot of things. The most important is that I know what it feels like when "red flags get raised" within my body. I know that my logical mind works. Its a great lesson to learn how your body reacts when the warning bells go off. Also, I got to learn how this scheme works, which makes me scrutinize other companies with similar modus operandi. A year or a few after my session at Equinox International, I learned that the company got into some major legal problems with accusations of fraud and if I'm not mistaken, the founder of the company went to jail. I hope so. I had never heard of the products before or after. Is my life lacking? I think not. If the product is that great, I'll find it in Target or Walgreens.