Two Beers and a Scheme

“I leave for New York in a week,” I typed, “So I’m not sure how relevant it would be to meet up.”

“So soon!” The message popped up from him as I was swiping through other potential suitors. “But you seem so interesting. If you have the time, I’d love to meet for coffee.”

Flattered, I typed back a non-committal, “I don’t have much time, but if you’re free Sunday or Monday night, I could possibly meet up.”

I don’t know why, I had no intention of going to his place, kissing him in a bar or even really giving him a goodbye hug – not to mention keeping up contact after I make the cross-country move in little less than a week. But there was something so alluring about meeting a stranger, a person who you cyber investigate tactfully – scrolling through recent Instagram pictures, reading the provided bio, comparing mutual friends and making assumptions from these small connections into this stranger’s life – but would probably walk right by without a second glance in the physical world. It almost seems like a social experiment, one that is just as insightful about the other person as it is about me.

So when I checked Tinder the next day and saw his proposition – “How does Monday night at 6:00 work?” – I decided to give it a whirl. I need the practice for meeting new people in New York, I reasoned. This spontaneous meeting sounded like a step in the right direction of allowing for more Uncertainty, the beautiful assistant to Fate, in my life.

And, not to mention, this guy was cute.

“That works perfectly!” I sent back. “Though, be warned, I’m just coming for the good conversation – so if you’re in, I’m in.”

Only a few seconds passed until I got a response: “I’m in.”

The information hoarder in me wanted so desperately to say, “Why do you want to meet me if I’m leaving so soon?” But I knew that the same question could be lobbed back at me and I didn’t really care to type out to him my multifaceted reasonings. So, trying to be cool with uncertainty, I disabled Discovery in my area and called this meeting the last-Tinder-hurrah in my town.

As six o’clock neared on Monday evening, I pursed my lips in the mirror and twirled around to make sure that my outfit flattered my entire body. Satisfied, I grabbed my keys and made my way to downtown. I scored a great parking spot and sauntered into the bar, full of confidence and excited to make my foray into the unknown. I felt like I was abroad in my own town – surrounded by strangers, unsure of the setting, hoping that at the end of the night I would be safe in my bed with a smile on my lips.

I spotted him at a table for two, a pint of beer already waiting for me. He stood up as I approached and shook my hand enthusiastically. Admittedly, I was taken aback at the very formal greeting, but figured that he was just trying to make a good first impression, to make it clear that this was just a friendly meet up and not a prelude to some crazy erotic encounter.

We made small talk and slowly sipped on our beers. I talked about my move to New York and he talked about wanting to move to Hawaii, his job at Nordstrom, his need to come back to Spokane twice a month, his guaranteed job at Nordstrom in Hawaii if he moves down there, his assurance that his potential future boss would let him come back to Spokane twice a month as long as he met his quotas, his uncertainty of if he even really wants to move to Hawaii because of his other job, his want to maybe even move to New York for three months – but not long term, god forbid, because, I mean, do you know how much they tax you there? – or maybe Los Angeles or Denver would be better…

Before I knew it, I was thirty minutes into this meeting and I had talked for perhaps three of them. Thank god I only put an hour in the meter, I thought, eyeing my phone. About to make my exitlude as he paused briefly to take a second sip of his beer, he began startlingly quickly: “So, I know that you’re moving to New York without a job…” And he reached beneath the table and brought up a briefcase, opened it and pulled out a sheet of paper. He placed the piece of paper in front of me and I leaned forward skeptically, raising my eyebrows at the flashy copy: Easy as 1, 2, 3! We save YOU money! Keep your same cell phone service provider but pay LESS THAN HALF of what you’re paying now!

I couldn’t believe it. I had been lured out of my safe, Netflix-providing, no-makeup-required, clothing optional room at 6:00 on a Monday evening to be pitched a pyramid scheme by a stranger?! This was too much. I fought the urge to laugh. I wasn’t that good at fighting it and giggles burst forth unexpectedly – I couldn’t help it, I’d been scammed on Tinder into getting dolled up to be roped into a pyramid scheme. I felt like maybe I was now a part of some sort of technological history. He looked confused.

“Sorry,” I said. “Please, do explain it.” I waved him onward, genuinely interested to hear what he might say to try and convince me to join his pyramid scheme.

“So how much is your phone bill?” He asked with the annoying predictability of a salesman.

Wanting to ruin his prepared speech, I lobbed at him, “Fifty dollars a month. Unlimited talk, text and data.”

He stumbled. “Oh,” Was all he could say, before regaining his thoughts and forging onward, despite my smirking pursed lips, “Well I helped my friend go from a three hundred dollar bill to a one hundred dollar cell phone bill and, get this, he has the same cell phone provider!” He smiled as though he had just proclaimed that he had solved cancer or something. “You see,” He said, pressing on, determined to wipe the smug smirk off of my face, “Since the cellular industry is deregulated, my company can use their cell towers and provide the same services to our customers.”

“So you’re stealing?” I said bluntly.

“Well – no, it’s not stealing exactly – we use their cell towers.”

“So you’re stealing.” I said, this time not a question.

“I mean, technically, but it’s legal.” His hands were gesticulating wildly and he was searching for another avenue to take. “Okay so these cell phone companies, they do all their advertising, right? You’ve seen those commercials, right, where those balls are going down a slide to represent the different cell phone companies?” Here he looked at me, wanting me to agree with him before he moved on, like a lawyer trying to get a witness to agree to incriminating evidence.

“Yeah,” I said.

“So those are advertising costs, and these companies make you, the customer, pay for them!” He said this as though it was a revelation, something that only he knew, secret information that he was blessedly bestowing upon me.

“Yeah, I mean, marketing and advertising is literally built in to every company’s budget and thus is included in the cost of the goods or services that they eventually sell,” I said.

“But,” And here he had this huge smile, his two index fingers held up dramatically as though he was about to tell me the world’s best kept secret. “But, our company doesn’t do that. That’s why we have such low prices, because we don’t advertise at all, like those big companies do.”

“Well what is this then?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re getting paid for this, I’m assuming, this is advertising. You get paid when you pitch to clients, that’s advertising. Just because it’s not on a billboard doesn’t mean it’s not advertising.”

He was silent now, his hands back down on the table.

“And another thing, why do the phone companies let you use their towers and, from what it sounds like, steal their customers?” I added.

“Well they let us because we work with them.”

“So you give them a cut of your profits?”

“Not really, it’s more like we make a deal with them – but the main point here is that the customer pays less, I get a cut and the cell companies keep their customers and are happy.”

“So… It’s a pyramid scheme?”

“No!” He said angrily. “We’re all individual sellers, I’m not under anyone. It’s not a pyramid.”

“So… It’s a flattened pyramid scheme.”

“I don’t think you understand… Why would you want to pay double the amount that you can pay with me?” He asked.

“Because when something sounds too good to be true, it is,” I said, angry that I put on makeup and drove downtown to be pitched a pyramid scheme to. And that he didn’t get that I was not going to become some Ponzi seller for him. He had obviously not been listening when I spoke for my three minutes in the beginning, talking about my dreams and hopes for my uprooted life, none of which included sales or pyramid schemes. “Look,” I said, “My meter is about to run out. I’m really not interested in this.”

“But – but – but –” He sputtered. “New York’s utilities are deregulated, you would have such good business there!”

And it suddenly he went there, the place he’d been dancing around all night, and it clicked: that’s why he wanted to meet three days before I left, why he was so interested in the fact that I was moving to New York, why he seemed even more interested when I said that I didn’t have a job yet. He didn’t think that I was brave or interesting or worth meeting just for a good conversation, he thought I’d be a good cash cow for his pyramid scheme.

I stood up, shook his hand and said, “Thank you for your time,” because I didn’t know what else to say to end an hour-long one-sided conversation. I drove home and my incredulous anger quickly turned to incredulous laughter. I still couldn’t believe what had just happened. I reported him on Tinder and unmatched him when I got home – just before I saw that he had sent me a new message: a link to his website.

Goodbye Spokane, I thought as I watched him melt away into the void of the Internet, New York, here’s to hoping that you put on a better show.

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