The Strange Case of David N.: An American Dreamer

PB110004_2Back in the 90’s my wife and I lived in an apartment complex and our neighbor David N.  would knock on our door and talk exhaustively at us with a wild, dumbfounded look. Money was the root problem, sole conversational topic and holy grail of his life. His regular job selling long distance over the phone wasn’t enough talking or selling, so he was involved in multiple multilevel marketing schemes. He was selling Herbalife, pushing Pre-Paid Legal Services, and was preaching the good life and big cash that could be had in the Vacation Club. We’d open the door and David would wander in, continuing his conversation without end in his rapidfire, monotone. “…and I’ve got a vacation to Acapulco already saved up and I’ve only been doing this three weeks. It’s quite remarkable. Do you guys like to travel?”

“Hello, David. Sure we do.”

He resembled David Arquette (add Michael J. Fox hair), but was more pudgy, and usually wore a sleeveless t-shirt, a leather weight belt, and yellow Lycra spandex workout shorts that hugged his buttocks and package obscenely. He was always on his way to the gym or coming back. In neither case did he sweat or appear winded. His Herbalife selling technique was to find “fat people” at Bally Fitness and tell them “I used to be fat just like you.”

“Wait, David,” we said. “You’re not really doing that.”

“Oh, yeah. I find these big fat women. I tell them ‘I used to weigh 400 pounds.’”

We laughed. “Then they slap you in the face?”

“Believe me, these fat girls are relieved to find somebody who has lost all the weight.”

His sales technique was ingenious, and quite brave, yet it was unclear how many people he signed up. He kept adding more marketing schemes.  We delicately inquired about monthly fees, about startup fees, then couldn’t resist shouting “Holy shit!” when he said $900. How many people did he have to sign up to regain these fees? “But that’s no problem,” he always said, shaking his feathered hair and tightening his weight belt for emphasis, as if ready to bench press several sign ups. We were torn between wanting to give David sound advice and the instinct to fall on the ground laughing.

“…this guy I know has been doing Vacation Club only six months and he’s makes thirty grand a month. It’s super promising. We’re having small meetings at Holiday Inns.”

“Wouldn’t bigger meetings attract more people?” We asked.

“It’s ground floor time, time for people with real commitment, then the big build out comes later you see…”

It was hard to tell if David was reporting these things to us out of friendship, or loneliness, or if he was trying to recruit us.  “…I’m a people person. That’s why what I’m doing is perfect. I can read people. I know what they’re thinking…”

We nodded slowly, our patience long gone. Our ears were bleeding, our dinners growing cold and even our cat was motioning toward the door. His capacity for belief in easy riches was amazing, and almost contagious. But he was always broke and ashamed to be asking his mother for more money.

No transaction of David’s was more tragic and poverty inducing than his purchase of a ten year old Jaguar XJ6 from a neighbor. A hulking Russian named Vladimir. David drove a battered yet steady Honda Accord. A paid for, indefatigable car north of 200,000 miles. Vladimir, with Russian contacts and a military background, had a booming security and bodyguard business. This cash flow success was magnetic to David, who hung around and worked out at the gym with Vladimir and dined with him at Chilis. Then David got the idea (probably the Russian’s idea first) of buying Vladimir’s Jaguar. In its parking spot across the street, the car looked shabby and problemed, but to David it signified luxury and sporty class, as if a tuxedoed Roger Moore might wink from the driver’s side. David was ready to upgrade to fit his upwardly mobile lifestyle. Using the proceeds of the sold Honda and a crude, mysterious loan from Vladimir, he purchased the car for $9,000.  An overpayment so egregious my wife and I smacked ourselves on our foreheads.

“…so I was driving along on a test drive and there’s this loud rattling noise and I said ‘What’s that?’, and Vladimir said ‘It just needs a tune up,’ and I said ‘Where’s it coming from?’ and he said ‘Nowhere,’ and next thing I known a week after I buy it they have to remove the entire transmission and special order one from England, and it costs $3,500…”

David took his new ride to the local Firestone, where the mechanics likely had wet dreams of money stacked in bank vaults as the ailing XJ6 rumbled into their mechanics bay. His English dream ride, his stately sedan, had $5,000 of work done and a mechanics lien slapped on it. It was imprisoned by grease monkeys who charged daily storage fees.

“That’s outrageous, David! Tell Vladimir you want your money back.”

“No way. He scares the hell out of me. He’s got ten guys on his payroll who could easily kill me.”

Without a car, he paid taxis to go to work everyday. A job selling used cars at the Lincoln dealership came and went. This I admire about David: he never became depressed or resentful. We’d open the door and there he was, a dazed gleeful look in his eyes, eager to tell us the latest.

I do not know what happened to David N. or where he is, but I’d like to think he found the winning scheme. I imagine several internet pornography sites to his name, funneling the easy money with every steamy click, or that with rare focus he made it to the salary level of a sports betting tip hotline and is now instructing newbees like his former self, their eyes gleaming with the prospect of wild riches.

**KNOWN THING NO. 75: Standing around in Lycra spandex shorts and talking will not produce a buff physique.

**KNOWN THING NO. 76: You will only make money in multilevel marketing if the people sitting around you at the Holiday Inn are more gullible than yourself.

**KNOWN THING NO. 77: Unless you are already wealthy, and willing to be less wealthy, avoid used English automobiles.



By robbskidmore

Robb Skidmore writes upmarket literary fiction. He is the author of “The Pursuit of Cool”, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about love, music, and the 80s, and the novella “The Surfer.” His short stories have appeared in many publications.

4 replies on “The Strange Case of David N.: An American Dreamer”

A very funny stroy, well told. Borderline tragic undertones, especially if dwelled on in THIS October 2011 economy. I think you should take David & Vladimir and combine them for a truly monstrous evil-doer in some new short story. Or not…..

Combining David and Vladimir would be a strange, yet probably compelling character. Interesting…

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