PART ONE – Darkness to Light (cont.)
Some of us in Amway became involved in Concept-Therapy, a philosophical system founded by Thurman Fleet of San Antonio, Texas. It promised all one could wish in terms of spiritual and temporal wealth and power. Harry Roder, a certified instructor and former evangelical minister from Ontario, came to Winnipeg, holding weekend meetings at John and Betty Fortins’.
Though I thought CT’s fees were high, I became very motivated and excited about the concepts, and I aspired to be an instructor. They promised that once completing a series of weekend sessions over several years in various cities of North America, one would enter cosmic consciousness, a state of peace, power, and fulfillment, with access to all knowledge. It was about being at one with all creation and the intelligent power of the universe, and being able to harness this power to great advantage. They taught that their sources of learning were science and the Bible, the best of both worlds.
One day, at a short break in the meeting, I gazed at a chart on the wall that symbolically depicted the seven phases of the spiritual journey, the seventh being the temple of all knowledge, the state of cosmic consciousness. While others stood by, I asked Harry, out of curiosity, where he was at on the chart. His reaction surprised me. He was silent.
Others were interested in his answer, and they waited for him to reply. Thinking perhaps he had not heard me, and tingling with curiosity, someone said, “Harry, Victor asked you a question.”
“And he’ll be a long time getting an answer!” he angrily shot back. In my naïvety, I subconsciously thought, “If he has arrived, why is he so upset? What did I say? How can he teach cosmic consciousness if he is not in that state of arrival himself?”
I had many questions for Harry, none of which he could answer satisfactorily. Lenore told me later he had asked others, “Who is that guy?”
The Eidses, Beals, Wiebes, Shines, Friesens (Jake and Irene), and I all enrolled in Harry Roder’s Concept-Therapy sessions, which sent Art Beals and me on all kinds of “joy trips,” seeing imaginary significances to everything around us. We were like little kids. While it was exciting and seemed greatly enlightening and promising, it led nowhere but to disillusion and disappointment. It is rather interesting, even amazing, how one can get so caught up in an empty philosophy that comes as a discovery with great promise, but delivers only sensation and artificiality. People are naturally inclined to joyfully embrace as truth anything but the truth.
Evangelicals attending Concept-Therapy began to balk when, in pressing Harry to tell them where Jesus Christ fit into his scheme of things or what He meant to him, Harry reacted angrily, provoked to boast that he could make Jesus Christ appear and stand in the aisle, ‘right there in front of them,’ in his next session.
That rather ended the value of his coming to Winnipeg thereafter. When reporting this to Jake Friesen, a Mennonite and Amway Direct who had not been there in that meeting, Jake remarked, “Well, even Harry Roder isn’t big enough for that!” I wondered what he meant, knowing he spoke the truth, but Jake didn’t elaborate.
Lenore Eidse confided to me that they had just lost a newborn infant. She was crying as she described the last few days of the infant’s struggle for life. I understand in part now; I didn’t then, not being a believer or a parent. I wish I had understood enough to help them. How sad and trying a time it was for them! How void I was of understanding, empathy, compassion, and yes, humanity!
One of the highlights at that time was going to a “Tremendous Charlie Jones” motivational speech. The audience was thrilled! After the show, I came up to Charlie to tell him how much I enjoyed his speech. He, a big man (likely about six foot four), wrapped his arms around me in a big hug and lifted me off the floor.
I was impressed with the table beside him, overflowing with money and checks. I was equally impressed that he didn’t seem conscious or protective of that little treasure, though there were many people milling about. Somehow, I knew it was perfectly safe, that the goodwill he had generated would deter any evil intention or act toward him, or perhaps it was divinely protected, or both.
I aspired to be a motivational speaker after that, being so impressed by Charlie’s personality and popularity. I was that way – easily impressed and ready to go.
Charlie recommended several books for reading. I ordered them. When Canada Customs called me, notifying me that they were in, they asked me if they were religious books. I replied that they were not. They differed with me, telling me they qualified as religious because there were religious terms on nearly every page. I was surprised because I had no intention or desire for religious books. I argued with the agent, as though he was deciding what kind of books I would get.
Then he informed me there was no duty on religious material. He suddenly won the battle. I sheepishly stopped arguing and accepted the consolation prize. But I did not read the books. I was sorry I had spent the money on them. I was not interested in religion, or perhaps more accurately, in Jesus Christ.
While into the motivational world with people like Earl Nightingale, Rich DeVos, and “Tremendous Charlie Jones,” I was reading a book highly recommended, The Greatest Salesman in the World by Og Mandino. I lasted eight or nine months with the scrolls, reading them faithfully at least three times a day, or as directed.
But I got to thinking, “OK, so I get to be the greatest salesman in the world – what would be the greatest product to sell?” Big ticket items? Real estate? Cars? Airliners? I really had no idea. I didn’t have any particular interest except to perhaps be a motivator. The day would come when that question was answered for me, and there would no longer be any doubt of it in my mind, ever.
The Shines, Krawchuks, and I became Direct Distributors simultaneously, which earned us the privilege of an all-expense-paid trip to Grand Forks, Michigan to visit Amway’s plant and headquarters at Ada. Rich and Jay were not there, but we were impressed. Amway executives and personnel treated us with great honor, pomp, and ceremony, as stars. The whole event was impressive – it was quite professionally done. The plant was huge and expanding, and the employees in it all seemed more content than anywhere else I had witnessed.
We were motivated. When we returned, Bert and Helen Huebner, the Diamond Directs in Winnipeg, held a breakfast meeting and had us give a public report, knowing full well how we would feel and taking advantage of our fresh enthusiasm for promotion’s sake.
Dick Marks had been a policeman who was sponsored into Amway. He and his wife, Bunny, professing born-again Christians, became successful distributors, sponsoring Bert and Helen Huebner, Art and Doreen Beals, and others in Winnipeg. These in turn sponsored others; Winnipeg was one of Marks’ successful territories.
I was invited to the Huebner residence to meet the Marks. It was a privilege that came with being a Direct. I became aware, however, of elements behind the scenes that were somewhat unsettling, like the Directs having to “eat” the merchandise returned by customers and distributors (soap included!) and taking on other responsibilities that I thought the “benevolent” corporation was handling for both distributors and consumers.
Perhaps this was only understandable and reasonable. I only say that things were not as they appeared. They had declared, with all righteous fervor, a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all products. They had not declared that we, the Direct Distributors, would be backing the guarantee and eating soap.
Dick and Bunny held a small convention in Winnipeg. Bunny dressed in furs and flashy jewelry. They enthusiastically spoke of Amway yacht trips and how they were treated as VIPs. They did their best to excite us about the financial glories and privileges of the world – a luxurious home, big cars, the benefits of self-employment, such as being your own boss, enjoying tax write-offs, traveling the world, vacationing, sailing, golfing, and sightseeing – while others work for you.
But there was a dark side to their lives; Bunny had a lethal disease.
How can we motivate people to seek the things of this world, when we know full well these cannot satisfy or deliver us from our troubles? Or didn’t they know? Dick and Bunny professed faith in Christ. But there was almost nothing said of Him. Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel also professed faith. What were they saying to their star distributors to lead them spiritually? Or would it have been bad for business to bring Jesus Christ into the picture?
Gordon and Edie Ross, Diamond Directs with Amway, held a convention in Palm Springs, California. I flew down and persuaded some of my downline to attend, paying their accommodations. Dennis and Linda Skuter came and brought people with them from Flin Flon, Manitoba – Tom Lacroix and his wife.
While there, I met Bill and Joan Laing from Ontario, Canada – Diamond Directs who were on the Amway board in Canada. Shaking hands with Bill, his eyes pierced me. I was guilty of doing business the way Amway declared it should not be done, selling more inventory to distributors than they were capable of retailing in any given month. I assumed that Bill knew the nature of my doings by reviewing the figures when determining how I reached Direct. They had not reprimanded me or even suggested I was doing anything wrong; nobody had, but it bothered me all the same.
While in Palm Springs, we took a bus tour of the city. The driver pointed out a house Dean Martin owned. “Is he there?” someone asked. “Yes, he is, about one or two weeks of the year!” the driver quipped. “Who lives there the rest of the time then?” a passenger asked. “The gardener and housekeeper,” was the reply. “Dean Martin has other properties as well.”
That struck me. I thought, “What is this? A man owns a home, doesn’t live in it, and pays people to take care of it and live in it. I would rather be the gardener! No investment, no responsibility, and I get to live in Palm Springs, a beautiful city Red Skelton told us was ‘Heaven on earth’!”
I had watched Liberace on The Ed Sullivan Show. As we boarded a plane to return home, there he sat in an aisle seat, a man beside him in the window seat. I immediately reached out to shake his hand and congratulate him on his achievements. The man next to him jumped and then relaxed when he perceived no threat. I assume he was a bodyguard, but I would have thought he would sit between the one guarded and the public.
Liberace, elegantly dressed, was quite gracious in the situation. He didn’t seem threatened, smiled, shook my hand, and thanked me.
Someone else lives in Dean Martin’s houses and Liberace goes nowhere without a bodyguard. People know you, but you don’t know them. What is stardom and wealth all about? Who wants it, knowing the price?
Now that I was self-employed, I claimed all pertinent expenses. Seeing accounting and bookkeeping were not my thing, and H&R Block tax services guaranteed good results or a refund in full, I asked them to do my 1971 tax return.
Soon after, Revenue Canada notified me they would come to my house to talk to me.
It was a very unpleasant affair. A young fellow came and treated me like I had deliberately cheated Canada out of due taxes. I was surprised at the accusation for two reasons. First, I naïvely expected that a professional organization like H&R would not err. Second, as far as I understood, I had submitted only allowable expenses and declared all income.
Together, the fellow and I examined the return and found that H&R Block had mistakenly claimed the expenses twice. It was perfectly obvious that they were the ones who made the mistake, yet the fellow treated me as though I was a fraud. He was very rude, though I did not resist him in any way. He also fined me.
H&R Block refunded their fees in full and paid the fine, so I had my returns done for nothing. I would never agree to free tax services, however, for the abuse I received. I concluded the government fellow was a young upstart, learning his trade and trying to do what he assumed his superiors directed him to do.
His attitude was contemptible. I was made to feel dirty and helpless, though I was entirely innocent of intentional wrongdoing; I even had obvious proof for support. The effects of that experience remained with me for years to come.
Tax collectors have not changed from the days of pagan Rome. The world is the same. I have heard of several nightmarish stories where Revenue Canada was simply tyrannical, costing people their very lives. This has to go, as do so many things in this country and world. And go they will.
I made no money in Amway, though I had reached Ruby Direct within a year by stockpiling my downline and myself with Queen cookware. We were constantly motivated to spend money on business development, promotions, and promotional materials.
In spite of it all, I really enjoyed being involved. I enjoyed the people, the friendliness and enthusiasm, the hopes and dreams, the quality of the products, and the fact that Rich DeVos wrote me a long letter when I had questions. I enjoyed learning some laws, principles, and secrets of life; I enjoyed the unscheduled lifestyle and the satisfaction and freedom one can experience in an independent business, as much as it was independent. There were still people to answer to, as always, such as the company and the distributors in both up and down directions.
After working at the Bay for John Behan, I thought this was akin to Heaven on earth. However, years later, with more understanding, I came to realize that for most recruits of Amway, it was a case of spinning one’s wheels and getting nowhere financially. If you would like to know more about Amway and the experiences I and others had in it, read Amway – Whence Cometh It?
When in Amway, one is encouraged, indeed urged, to view every person as a potential distributor. I began calling my old acquaintances, among whom were Marvin and Marietta Mielke, whom I met at MIT. We renewed our relationship and I sponsored them. (In the MIT days, I used to spend time at Marv’s parents’ home recording music. I recorded “Perfidia” so many times his mother was climbing walls, though Marv was quite patient about it.)
Marvin picked me and some Catholic nuns up one evening to listen to a rather intellectually sophisticated theologian speak at a large gathering. I did not understand a thing he was saying. Apparently many others did, because they often applauded. It seemed to me he was trying to impress them. Marv, the intellectual type, was impressed, and on the way home, he enthusiastically asked me what I thought.
Being unusually forthright with Marvin and the others, I said, “I think he was a stuffed shirt.” (I thought that if this fellow had worthwhile things to say, they should have been expressed in a way the common person could understand.) Marv was immediately exasperated, sputtering and railing at me.
Meanwhile, the nuns were sitting in the back, with folded hands, seemingly marveling, saying, “Very interesting… very interesting.” I wondered what that was all about. I think I know now.
In the fall of 1971, I went duck hunting with my buddies – Gerry, Dave, and another fellow. Firing my shotgun, I dropped a duck. Retrieving it, I looked in its open eyes, and I was dismayed. I saw an innocent, helpless victim. “This is sport? I don’t think so,” I thought. I swore I would never go hunting for pleasure again.
I then did a foolish thing: I burned my license then and there, not considering that if the game warden came along and found me without it, but with a shotgun, I would be fined. I never hunted or killed for pleasure again. For food or some legitimate necessity, I would, but for pleasure, no. If that is pleasure, people should love giving others migraines.
While in Amway in Winnipeg in 1972, I needed money, and Amway was not paying. Dennis Skuter, one of my distributors in Dauphin, had abandoned Amway and was making a good income selling mobile homes. He told me the company was looking for sales lot managers. I applied and was hired by Clancy Whitehead of 70’s Homes Canada, a dealership out of Sudbury, Ontario, owned by Clancy, Bob Vail, and Terry Johnston.
While I waited for my promised position in Winnipeg where they planned to open a branch, they asked me to spend time in Brandon, about 100 miles away, until they found a manager there. The Brandon lot was at an abandoned garage site on #1 Highway a few miles west of the city.
Being broke, I wasn’t able to get room and board accommodations. Besides, the job was too temporary, seeing they would soon fill the position of manager and send me on my way. I also had no car to drive back and forth to the sales lot (I sold my Isuzu because I couldn’t keep up the payments), so they let me use a mobile home display unit, with a sleeping bag on the display bed. The sales units weren’t hooked up to any utilities, so I had no running water or washroom – just a porta-potty. I had to bum a ride with someone in the office to eat out, or ask them to pick something up for me.
Added to these inconveniences, Homes Canada placed their personnel strictly on commissions, so unless I sold something, there was no income. The problem was, Homes Canada had limited inventory, a quarter of what was normal, which meant less potential income. As well, being new in town on a derelict business site, the company seemed like a fly-by-night outfit, so there was little consumer traffic. Given the way Homes Canada was operating, I was wondering about it myself. It was a bit trying.
Clancy Whitehead hired a married saleswoman, Stella Paterson, who was a Pentecostal. She tried to witness to me about Jesus Christ. I had several discussions and arguments with her, throwing out my “superior knowledge” from Concept-Therapy. She had her pastor call and talk to me. I argued with him, too. When we were discussing the nature of God, he told me that God was everywhere. I asked him if God was in dog poop. All he could reply was that while God was everywhere, He could not be contained in anything. I didn’t understand that.
While they didn’t seem to get anywhere with me, though striving patiently, I think there were seeds sown. These seeds were sown despite the hypocrisy I perceived with Stella. On the one hand, she witnessed to me of the Lord, and on the other hand, she laughingly boasted to Clancy of how she had hoodwinked a prospective customer with some misleading information.
My time in Brandon was short, and I earned no income. Rick Warram was hired from Homes Canada’s hometown, Sudbury, Ontario, to manage the Brandon branch. He was soon quite at home with the business and the owners with whom he had been acquainted, along with a young girl he fell for and slept with.
Upon my profession of faith later on, Rick became quite crude, mocking and insulting me, not so much nastily as playfully insulting, perhaps something like what the sadistic comedian Don Rickles would do. It did not faze me, but I found him to be one of the more outspokenly scornful persons of religion and faith in Jesus Christ. I wonder what became of him. Last I heard, he was managing the head office branch for Bob Vail (who bought out his partners) and had relocated to Calgary.
While Rick was taking over Brandon, I was sent to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, because they had changed their minds about Winnipeg. Prince Albert was hundreds of miles away from where I was accustomed to living, and a city where I knew nobody. I was soon unexpectedly separated from family, friends, and familiar circumstances. It was a quiet circumstance, with plenty of time to think, meditate, read, have extended and interesting conversations, and search after God – a search gradually intensifying and becoming increasingly difficult to bear – like a pregnancy.
At first, I rented a room at a motel, but I soon took a two-bedroom basement suite at the home of Murray and Ila Garneau. Ila was Nazarene and professed faith in Christ. Murray, with a Catholic background, was antipathetic to religion and faith. He bristled at any introduction of spiritual and religious subjects. Regardless of their beliefs, these people would play a decisive role in my destiny.
I barely had enough money to buy a well-used black 1966 Chevy Impala at a used car sales lot on North Main in Winnipeg. Returning to Prince Albert from one of my trips to Dauphin or Winnipeg, I blew the engine near Sheho, Saskatchewan. This was a major blow to me. I was already over my head in debt, and now my poor excuse of a car was shot. What to do?
In this tiny village of no more than two hundred people, there happened to be a home business mechanic who rebuilt engines. He happened to have one exactly suited for my car that he had just overhauled. What are the chances of that? However, I would either have to take a bus to Prince Albert and return for the repaired car, or find lodging there until the job was done, if he was able to get on it right away. He was free to do so, and I took a room at the Sheho Hotel.
I would have found the hotel highly unacceptable, if it hadn’t had the comical features of a seedy country dump one only sees in movies, something that should have been demolished decades before. It was an entertaining adventure. The two-story, perhaps eight-room, hotel must have dated back to the early 1900’s, having seen the Great Depression and the droughts with dust storms and all.
The windows were old wooden ones that slid up and down, locking with a round metal handle in the middle. My window would not move because of age and because of the many times the divisions had been painted over. The paint was peeling from the ceiling and walls.
For lighting, I had one 100 Watt bulb with a bare socket, hanging over my bed from the center of the ceiling by a two-foot-long double-braided wire. The floor was worn out, with chipped linoleum on creaky wood. There was a little sink, with chipped enamel and yellow hard water stains. I think the water was discolored as well. A public washroom was down the hall. No TV. There may have been a radio.
When I lay in the bed, the center accommodating my bum reached halfway to the floor, somewhat like a hammock. The head of the bed was of ancient decorative metalwork, painted several times over the decades. I wondered what I would find under the covers, but though the place was ancient and the price cheap, it was surprisingly clean – no dirt, soiling, lice, bedbugs, cockroaches, or even dustballs – the temperature was comfortable, and it was peaceful and quiet. No parties next door or down the hall because… a party needs people!
This event could have been very difficult for me. There I was, in a troubled spiritual search, drowning in debt, stuck in a dilapidated hotel in the middle of nowhere with a blown-out engine, and spending financially profitless time while my pay was strictly commissions from sales, which I had to generate entirely on my own, in an industry with which I was unfamiliar, with a company pioneering the territory.
Yet, somehow, God comforted me with the belief that He was in full control. Instead of great turmoil, I had a measure of peace. Neil and Cathy Wiebe had given me a book by Don Gossett, which helped assure me of God’s sovereignty and care. Don spoke of how God was in control of everything, and that our main responsibility (and the best thing we could do in any circumstance, no matter how deplorable), was to trust and give thanks to God – which I did.
I was amazed at how well thanks and praise worked, though I was not a believer…yet. If it had not been for the book, the giving of thanks, and the recognition that God was in control of everything, I might have been overwhelmed by my circumstances. The effect was quite remarkable.
The mechanic had the car ready in two days, I wrote him a check for $200, and I was on my way (I reflect on how he was willing to accept a check from a perfect stranger). The guy must have been an amateur because the car thereafter burned oil, but it lasted me until the next car in the not-too-distant future, one I would be surprised to receive.
In my childhood, attending the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Dauphin, I knew Shirley Zabiaka, eldest daughter of Bill Zabiaka. We were about the same age. Her mother was very religious, particularly after having lost a child to illness.
On one of my trips between Prince Albert and Dauphin during a time I was without a car, I met up with Shirley on a Greyhound bus. She had become a nun and lived in a convent. We got to talking about spiritual matters. She was very religious, with affected piety; she wouldn’t contract her verbs and made motions with her head and hands as would the pope, speaking and acting as she would imagine a saint or angel to speak.
Shirley was rather persuasive. She seemed quite happy and fulfilled in her life as a nun. I argued against Catholicism, and she argued for. We were not offended with each other, but she certainly took the high road, matronizing me as though I was this poor lost soul and she possessed the wisdom of the ages.
Well, I was a poor lost soul, and I didn’t mind if she knew it, but she didn’t have the wisdom of the ages, and I knew she didn’t, but she wasn’t prepared to acknowledge it. Indeed, it seemed she hardly knew her spiritual condition.
Years later, Shirley died of physical and mental exhaustion and distress in the convent. She was in her late forties or early fifties, I believe.