When I was in college, among other jobs, I worked at a full-service sporting goods store that had a retail floor for customers and a wholesale warehouse for universities and public schools. I sold everything from football helmets and gear to high school teams, examining someone’s tennis racquet and writing up an order for it to be restrung by the store’s resident stringer.
Across the side street, a fitness club was jammed into a little building by a tiny running track outside surrounded by a high fence.
I had gone in out of curiosity months before. The patrons were in each other’s elbows and hindquarters waiting on weights or machines. Despite that, I was always surprised at how busy the club appeared to be despite its cramped quarters. The majority of the members were middle-aged and elderly males with a sprinkling of a few females.
The owner, Allen, came by almost every afternoon into the sporting goods store. He always wore a tank top and shorts.
He hustled both employees to join his club, as well as retail customers until the owner told him to cool his hard sales techniques.
One of my co-workers, a body builder who regularly attended the Rocky Horror Picture Show midnight events in drag, joined and became a disciple. He was not a student, but worked full time and had a goal of opening a bar. He thought he might find an investor at the fitness club.
I, however, was not interested.
Allen did not take my refusals kindly. I think he saw me as a challenge. He put the sell on me on a daily basis. Once, when I was fitting some Adidas tennis shoes to a local socialite, he sat down beside her and went into a new spiel why I should join.
The owner, who everyone called Bull, came out of his office and saw Allen yammering at me and the socialite as though he had stumbled onto the discovery of immortality. Bull moved to a spot just behind Allen. Bull was upset,. However, I was more than annoyed.
“Why should I join there when I get better stuff at the university?” I interrupted. Allen gaped. “Why should I get dizzy running on your track, which I have to circle 22 times just to get a mile in, when I can run 10 miles by the river? Why should I wait in line for machines and weights when I don’t have to at the university?”
“Because we got a real deal on this month’s new memberships,” Allen said shamelessly.
"Better than free?"
“Thirty percent off for a year’s contract. It's ultimate."
“Ultimate,” I repeated.
“Yes,” Allen said excitedly “Ultimate.”
I snickered. I knew better than to bait someone on the retail floor, but I went ahead. “Why should I spend money there when I get much better equipment and workouts without spending money?”
“For the expertise our trainers can give you,” he said. “Thirty percent off for a year’s contract.
“I sell stuff to your trainers and they ask me questions,” I said.
Allen grew red. He stammered something.
"Ultimate?" I prodded.
For a moment, I thought he would grab and shake me. Bull put a hand on his shoulder, and he jerked about. He saw Bull and immediately backpedaled to obsequiousness.
“Don’t come in here again,” Bull said.
“Why?” Allen asked.
“Don’t come in here again,” Bull repeated. He move closer in to the taller, younger Allen.
Allen backed off, and left. The socialite changed her mind about the Newcombs and bought Santa Monicas.
His club shut down a few months later, leaving members and creditors angry about their money. Allen left town and pursued other business interests.
Thirty-five years passed. Yesterday, in Houston, Allen Stanford of Mexia was sentenced to 110 years in prison for what has become the definitive Ponzi scheme that drained $7 billion.