Florian Cramer on Wed, 30 Sep 1998 20:46:47 +0200 (MET DST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Pyramid Schematics [2/2]

Sunday, April 14th, & the ad appeared in the paper like this:

GENERAL HELP-If Nobody Hires You?  If not at $1000 per week.  Call Connie
at 820-9277.

Alas, no mention of "Pyramid Schematics".  Fortunately though, it was
located directly underneath "Anne"'s ad with the same phone number
advertising "$9.50" an hour.  It wouldn't require much alertness on a
reader's part to notice the disparity.

What had been the presumed office phone number for "Premier Selections"
when I'd called to find out if I could move onto the next interview was
once again missing from the paper.  Someone named "Stacy", however, now had
her own ad in the paper with yet another new number & spiel:

General Help  BIG MONEY  Brand new wholesale company offering big $$ for
quick learners.  $300-$600/week  1st CALLED  IST SERVED
Warehouse/sales/management  Start immediately  Call Stacy. 431-3886

Whether this is the same "Stacy" or not remains to be discovered.  The
phone number hadn't appeared in any of the March or April ads yet.  Niki
still had the same ad except that her phone number changed again:

GENERAL HELP-Fun, fast paced atmosphere.  Will train.  If not at $525/wk.

Call Niki 299-7504

A few new ads appeared, a few old ones stayed the same.  One new one used a
slight rewording of an old one but with a new name & new phone number.  I
started researching older issues of the paper - looking thru March 3, 10,
17, & 24 issues.  A plethora of interconnections were found.

Consulting the 1995 to 1996 Cole Cross-Reference Directory for Pittsburgh
and Allegheny County on April 16th in order to try to attach names &
addresses to these phone numbers, I discovered that most of the numbers
were too new to be listed.  I would conclude from this & the other already
available data that this operation changes quickly in order to leave as few
traces as possible.  Even what struck me as an above-average amount of the
exchanges were new.

351-6549 (Troy): no listing;  771-6183 (Lea, Premier Selections): no
listing;  771-0494 (Niki, Carrie, Premier Selections): no listing;
621-9394 (I don't have a name associated with this one yet): no listing;
820-9277 (Kim, Mr. Martin, Ms. Burwell, Mr. Franklin, Anne, Premier
Sensations, Neo Sensations): no listing & a new exchange in '95 to '96!;
771-6188 (Carrie, Premier Selections, Stacy, Jen): no listing;  299-7501
(Niki, Prime-O): no listing & a new exchange in '94 to '95!;  243-3502
(same ad as the preceding one for which I have no name but a different
phone number): no listing;  243-7520 (no name listed but the number is
always associated with the same ad): no listing;  449-7588 (Michelle): no
listing & a new exchange in '95 to '96!;  384-2155 (Bob, Utopia Unlimited):
no listing;  264-8218 (Jo): no listing;  299-7504 (Niki, Prime-O): no
listing & a new exchange in '94 to '95!;  431-3886 (Stacy, Steel City): no
listing;  384-2166 (Phil): no listing.

Of all the numbers checked, only four were actually listed: 384-2171 (Tom,
Ed, & Dom - listed as:  John R. Markulike - 258 Grube (?) Dr. - curiously,
John isn't one of the ad names: perhaps John had given up this number & it
was taken over);  351-7789 (Mr. Gibson - listed as: Eric & Monica Wilds -
618 Windsor Ave. - once again, no correspondence - with the same
explanation as in the preceding case possible);  373-5073 (Sue, Chris,
Christine, Katlin, & Karen - listed as: B C Mktg Enterprises - 616 Beatty
Rd);  431-3906 (Mr. Fox - listed as: Catherine Scholl - 325 Halck (?),
Pittsburgh - Mr. Fox's ad is very similar to those of Sue, Chris, &
Christine but the listing & phone number are different.  Once again, Mr.
Fox's name doesn't correspond to the listing).

Essentially, the latter phone number information is about as evasive as it
can be.

I checked into who the owners of 907 Chartiers Ave are.  This is where I
went for my interview.  There were owners listed with the Allegheny County
Department of Deeds.  I checked for the owners of the 948 5th St. (or Ave.)
address in Coraopolis where my appointment with "Prime-O" had been that I'd
blown off.  There was no listing for it.  A Dept. of Deeds worker suggested
that it could be connected to another building that would be listed and
that it wouldn't have to be listed then.

"Agent #2" called "Niki"'s new phone number & found that it still linked
one to a message for "Prime-O".  Then she called the new ad under Stacy's
name.  The person who answered the phone identified the business as "Steel
City".  Stacy wasn't there & it was suggested that "Agent #2" call back a
couple of days later when she would be there.  "#2" called back at the
appointed time and was told that an appointment with Stacy could only be
made at a certain time.  The time was set & "#2" arrived punctually to yet
another address along route 51 - off Saw Mill Run Boulevard.

When she arrived, her appointment ended up being with a "Tom Greenstone"
and there was no "Stacy" around.  Why did they tell her to come to meet
with "Stacy" if there wasn't going to be a "Stacy" there?  "#2"'s interview
was much simpler and more ordinary than mine.  Might it be that there's no
connection between "Steel City" and the other businesses under
investigation?  She filled out an application.  No "criminal check".  The
job was explained to her, she was given Tom's business card and told to
call back next week if she wanted to start and she left.

It was explained to her that there were eleven divisions of this company.
Four of them being in Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania.  The job is door-to-door
sales.  The products sold vary every three to four weeks.  These products
originate with businesses that are bought & sold overseas.  A trainee goes
out with another salesperson once & then sells alone for three or four
months.  $60 to $100 a day could be made in sales while training.
Supposedly, whatever one doesn't sell, one returns to the warehouse.
Nothing was said about having to buy the merchandise.  So far so good.
Eventually, one becomes a trainer and puts one's own ad in the paper.  This
leads to opening one's own office.  One goes from trainee to salesperson to
office manager.

Tom's business card had originally been for "All Star Distribution, Inc." -
"Wholesale Direct and Marketing" in Monroeville.  "All Star" had been
scratched out and replaced by "Steel City".  He explained that they'd just
moved.  It all seemed somewhat reasonable.

Maybe I'm just suspicious, but doesn't the latter job description imply
unlimited growth?  And isn't unlimited growth the "impossible dream" of a
pyramid scheme?  On the one hand, it all sounds like business as usual; on
the other, I wonder what happens when the turf is all parcelled out?  I
suppose things change before such a degree of expansion is even remotely
reached.  Maybe this is just a sign of my lack of understanding of the
malleability of good business.  I'm confused.

I called the Corporation Bureau to ask about "All Star" & "Steel City".
"All Star" was listed as having been incorporated in PA on August 18th,
'94.  The CEO is Chris Filnjeri.  I thought that the address given was at
616 J "Baby" Road in Monroeville - which didn't seem like a very likely
road name to me.  There was no phone number listed with the phone company
for an "All Star Distribution" in Monroeville.  The Corporation Bureau had
"Steel City" listed as a Delaware corporation licensed to do business in PA
as of January 18th, '95.  Their address was listed as 5473 Rosetta Street
in Pittsburgh.  The phone company had no listing for that address but did
have the Saw Mill Run phone number: 431-3886.

I called the Better Business Bureau & spoke with Gayl.  She didn't have a
listing for "All Star" or for "Steel City" but the phone number for "All
Star" (374-8032 - used by Lisa, Heather, & Mr. Fox) yielded a listing for
"Pittsburgh Research Marketing".  This company was listed as an
"advertising & marketing firm dealing with food & beverages &
entertainment" that began in July of '88.  It was listed as a satisfactory
member of the BBB.  It was also listed as having the same phone number as
"B C Marketing" at 616 Beatty Road in Monroeville - the same company
associated with 373-5073 (the number used by Sue, Chris, Christine (could
either of these 2 Chris's be Chris Filnjeri?), Katlin, & Karen).
Apparently I had misunderstood the Corporation Bureau representative: the
"All Star" address should've been "Beatty" & not "Baby".  The BBB's written
report on "B C Marketing" contained no complaints.

  So, "All Star" = "Pittsburgh Research Marketing" = "B C Marketing" =
"Steel City"?  Confusing?  I called 374-8032 & someone answered identifying
it as "B C Marketing".  I pretended I had the wrong number & hung up.
Within minutes I got a wrong number call!  Was this a coincidence or was it
a *69 call-back test of my identity?  Paranoid?  Perhaps.

After the April 28th paper came out, I decided to wrap it up & to stop
analyzing the newspapers any further.  As "Dave Glynn" I started calling as
response to the April 28th ads.  Anne & Dennis' number, 820-9277, was
answered (still) as "Neo Sensations".  I asked "Is this the same thing as
Premier Selections?"  The answer was that they were connected.  A woman
answered "Mr. Gibson"'s number, 351-7789, as "Reflections of Excellence".
She told me that they were connected to "Premier Selections" &, without my
asking her, offered that they were also connected to "Utopia Unlimited" -
whose connection I'd been previously unsure of.  She said that they were
expanding to open 36 new offices in the tri-state area!

Once again, the story was that "Reflections of Excellence" is a management
training program.  What do you manage after you've been trained?  Why,
another management training program of course!  Isn't there any end of the
need for managers in sight?  After all, who's going to be left to be

I tried to talk to "Jennifer" at 247-5977 but I was told by the woman who
answered that she was "on the other line".  This company was identified as
"Solution Marketing" & when I asked whether it was connected to "Premier
Selections" the woman laughed & said "No."  "Mr. Martin"'s number,
431-3906, turned out to be another connection to "Steel City".

So what does it all add up to?  None of these businesses give the names of
their companies in their ads.  All of them use language like "If not making
{a particular sum of money}" rather than guaranteeing a specific wage.  In
almost all cases, no full names for people are given.  Premier Selections
seems very suspicious to me.  "Stacy" at Premier Selections claimed that
they had a corporate HQ in Ohio.  No such listing exists with the
Corporation Bureau there.  Premier Sensations is connected to Neo
Sensations is connected to Premier Selections is connected to Prime-O is
connected to Utopia Unlimited is connected to Reflections of Excellence.
The McKees Rocks Borough Secretary knew of no management training program
at the Premier Selections location there.

Therefore, the businesses of Lea, Niki, Carrie, Kim, Mr. Gibson, Mr.
Martin, Ms. Burwell, Mr. Franklin, Anne, Stacy, Jen, Dennis, & Bob are all
connected.  Assuming that the Mr. Martins all are the same person, the Mr.
Martin who used the phone number 820-9277 (Premier Sensations / Neo
Sensations, etc..) provides the link to Steel City by using one of their
numbers: 431-3906.  This latter strengthens the hypothesis that the Stacy
who interviewed me for Premier Selections is the same as the Stacy at Steel

Therefore, the businesses of Sue, Chris, Christine, Katlin, & Karen are all
connected to the above - because their phone number, 373-5073, is listed as
connected to B C Marketing which is connected to Steel City, All Star, &
Pittsburgh Research Marketing.  This also connects Roxanne who used the
Steel City phone number of 431-3886.  Furthermore, Mr. Fox has used the
Steel City number, 431-3906 which links him in.  He also used the number
374-8032 which connects him to Lisa & Heather.

Who does that leave from the ads that I analyzed to be brought into the
fold?  Michelle, Amy, Ray, Vicky, Tom & Ed & Dom (384-2171), Troy, Jo, Phil
(384-2166), Molly (384-2175),  Casey & Jennifer (247-5977).  Add to this
the two names that I picked out of the April 21 edition of the
Tribune-Review: Mr. Clark (861-2005) & Mr. King (861-2006).

Of the remaining ones, only Michelle & Troy are regular advertisers.  Amy &
Ray are from March 3 & they don't appear later - I apparently just caught
the end of this phase of their involvement.  Vicky's only ad that I know of
was in the March 17th paper.  The only ad of Jo's that I've seen is April
7th's.  The only ad of Phil's being April 14th's.  The only one of Molly's
being April 21st's, which was when I started looking in sections other than
the "General Help" one, so I may've missed her previous ads because of
this.  Michelle & Troy's numbers weren't listed in the Cole Directory so I
decided to call Cole's 900 number "Look-Up Service" to see if they'd have a
more recent listing.  Alas, there was nothing - nor was there anything
under B C Marketing or Neo Sensations.

I called Amy's number, 820-9279.  The man answering said "Neo Sensations".
BINGO!  I called Ray's number, 322-6080, from the only ad of his that I'd
seen (also from March 3rd - 2 months prior to my calling) & got a recording
that the new number is 344-7074.  When I called that number I got a
recording for "Essence of Presence" - possibly another "designer
fragrances" business like Neo Sensations?

I called Vicky's number, 372-8888 & got another changed number announcement
which gave me 373-5073 - back to B C Marketing again..  Troy, at 351-6549,
yielded a "Reflections of Excellence" recording - another one in the fold.
Jo, with 264-8218, yielded "Prime-O International" again.  There was no
answer at Phil's.  Michelle, one of the longest advertisers, had her
number, 449-7588, as not-in-service.  At Molly's there was no answer.

Not trusting that there's no connection between "Solution Marketing" & all
this, I called Casey & Jennifer again.  There was a message that didn't
give a company name but merely indicated that "you've reached the Sales &
Marketing Department".  Stretching the imagination a bit, we could
postulate that "Tom" is Tom Greenstone - thusly connecting Tom, Ed, & Dom
into the pattern.  Jennifer uses "Wild & Crazy" in her ad just like Ms.
Burwell, if we extrapolate that connection it also brings in Casey.

I took this article as it existed up to the last paragraph to the Carnegie
Business Library to ask any librarian there if they'd be willing to give me
their opinion on the info I've gathered so far.  The librarian I talked
with seemed very nervous.  Most likely she was naturally nervous & became
much more so when she saw my wild looking self walk up.  I politely asked
if she'd be willing to appraise what I'd written & she politely declined.
Her justification was that she felt that her function as a librarian is not
to pass judgement on businesses or to claim to be an expert on business but
to simply direct people towards whatever information they're seeking.  She
said she could ask the head librarian if it was okay but that seemed like
such an obvious passing-the-buck that I didn't bother to pursue it.

She did lead me to the Info-Trac & suggest that I research the matter
further with its help.  I told her a little about what I'm studying & she
told me that pyramid schemes are more commonly called "multi-level
marketing" now.  That fits in with the "marketing" term that keeps popping
up.  When I observed that these businesses seemed to imply an impossibly
unlimited growth she said something to the effect of "Well, some people
have been very successful!"  I guess so.. - after all, I was in the
Carnegie Library in the Mellon Bank Building - which is one of the bigger
skyscrapers in Pittsburgh.

As usual, though, I wonder at what price this success is achieved (&, who
pays it)?  One hundred years ago, the Pittsburgh industrialists whose
buildings I was researching this in were making their empires through a
combination of visionary organization & strike-breaking & murder.  It's
always been my contention that when one's income surpasses the average it's
inevitably at the expense of people whose incomes are below average.  In
order for the rich to get richer, the poor must get poorer!  Carnegie, at
least, seems to have a reputation as a "great philanthropist" but I
wonder..  It's easy to be "generous" when you're only giving back a tiny
fraction of what you've stolen from the people you're giving it to.  Before
you decide not to bite the hand that feeds you, ask why it has so much food
in the first place.

The "nobility" of these "philanthropists" reminds me of a passage from the
fifteenth century chivalric novel Tirant Lo Blanc by Joanot Martorell &
Marti Joan de Galba.  Unlike Don Quixote, this novel was written by a
knight who believed in the knight philosophy - while Cervantes wrote parody
from a debtor's prison for the escapism of his fellow prisoners.  In
"Tirant's Exploits in England", this knight demonstrates his "nobility" by
slaughtering other idiots like himself (hhmmm, perhaps that is noble) in
jousts & duels over such big issues as the right to brush up against the
tits of a certain "gracious damsel".  In one joust, Tirant finished off his
opponent when "at last a mighty blow drove his helmet into his skull,
causing his brain to squirt out his eyes and ears as he fell to earth
dead."  This was immediately followed by Tirant being welcomed and escorted
to his lodgings by "all the damsels".  Ahh, yes..

In the late nineteenth century, an idealistic but naive young anarchist
named Alexander Berkman came to Pittsburgh with the intention of
assassinating an industrialist named Frick.  Frick was responsible for the
deaths & misery of many of "his" wage slaves who were then revolting for
better working & living conditions.  Frick had no hesitation about evicting
strikers & their families (he was their landlord & their boss - a very
convenient arrangement for him!) & bringing in thugs to beat & kill them.
Berkman, probably not vicious enough to really kill someone, failed in his
attempt & went to prison for about ten years at the tender young age of 21.
I seriously doubt that Frick would've similarly failed (or been
prosecuted) had he decided to have Berkman killed.  Now there's a park
named after Frick.  I think it should be named after Berkman.

Before this maze of "multi-level marketing" I feel like I imagine most
people feel when trying to comprehend the "architecture" of my own life.
In other words, I liken my own perplexity as a person not particularly
inclined to the machinations of business to the perplexity of other people
not inclined to the intricasies of music theory when confronted with a
sample of my own "Low Classical Usic".  I love labyrinths & complexity but
my love is motivated by my appreciation for the creativity of it & not by
the love of money & economic power that might be generated from it.  It's
difficult for me to relate to a labyrinth created out of greed.

It seems time to take a new tack.  My more typical perspective is closer to
that of Cervantes'.  Perhaps I really should start researching "multi-level
marketing" from a more "hard-core" business person's perspective.  Alas,
though, I don't enjoy just studying something.  I prefer creating something
that applies what I'm studying.  In this case, it seems that I'd have to
devote myself full-time to a pursuit that I just wouldn't get enough
pleasure out of..  I'd rather be on the familiar turf of creativity that
I'm so good at (or so my ego would have me believe) & so bad at making
money from - & that's my weakness!

An irony or "catch 22" of all this is that because of my scruples against
increasing other people's misery for my own gain by climbing the economic
ladder over the "corpses" of those less clever than myself I find myself so
economically desperate that I'm more brutal than I might be if I were less
under the strain of near "ruin".  But, then again, is it really so stupid
of me to take the approach of Cervantes & to pursue stimulation through
playfullness rather than domination of economic conditions through
unscrupulous pursuit of wealth?  To sum up, I quote two of the ads:

"GENERAL HELP  Int'l co. opening 12 new offices.  All positions avail.  No
exp./school req'd.  Will train.  Must enjoy people, music, fun.  Start
immed.  Call for interview,  Phil 384-2166"

"CRAZY  We need 15 people as crazy as we are.  must love money music & hard
work.  If not making $500/wk.  Mr. King 861-2006"

I enjoy people (sometimes), love (certain) music, "fun", & hard play - &
people certainly seem to think I'm crazy often enough but loving money &
hard work seem like cases of extremely "misplaced" affection to me.. - but,
then, who am I (or, who is anyone?) to judge?

- written in Pittsburgh in the winter & spring of '96 by "anonymous"
#  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@desk.nl and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  URL: http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/  contact: nettime-owner@desk.nl