The news that Don Lapree committed suicide in his prison cell awaiting his trial on a 52 million dollar fraud charge brought me back a few years. I was enthralled with the idea of easy money and remember watching his late night infomercials with the belief he was the smartest man in the world. Down on his luck Don, had somehow defied the odds and become a millionaire and he was graciously sharing his success with us. He wanted ALL of us to make money with him.
I was 17 when I fell in love with the pitch: Making money now, Making money easy, and most importantly making money. The images dazzled. Young guy on the screen talking passionately on how he succeeded against all odds and you can too. All you need to do is buy his video with his booklet on the steps following his own path to success. I was ambitious and ready to start my own empire I picked up the phone and ordered the program. Don Lapree’s Making Money program arrived in the mail two weeks later.
At least I was 17 when I picked up the phone and dialed. In hindsight the advertisements were horribly made and the package I received even worse. The video showed Don in a conference room scribbling his vision on a white board while they all nodded in scripted fascination that we would later call reality television. “Oh so we just make ads in newspapers and advertise them across the country?” “Oh, so we don’t really need a product to sell..we can sell anything.” “Oh the most important thing to do is find newspapers where we can place these ads and the checks start rolling in.” The video while probably shot in the early 90’s looked straight from the 70’s. The men and women could have been shipped from an instructional video for any bank in 1980. The men wore ugly suits, the women offensively hideous dresses, and Don was wearing his trademark everyman t-shirt teaching these business professionals how to “really” make money.
This prevailing attitude stuck with me unfortunately for years. Success wasn’t about education it was about effort. He just worked harder and he out-smarted the system. He used his passion and drive to create his wealth; he didn’t follow the path given to all of us. We could either follow his lead or become these people sitting at the table in their ghastly attire. We could punch the clock everyday and live in want, or we could seize the day and start making little newspaper advertisements and selling some anonymous product to other people nationally. Granted, this was before computers and the internet became a household appliance when newspaper advertisements were still something people actually purchased. Join or be left behind a desk wallowing while the other Don Lapree disciples lounge on a tropical beach with a mai tai in hand while their money is made overnight.
Now almost 20 years later we remember the folly. As in anything in life, the illusion is always more fascinating than the reality. We want therefore it must be possible. The images glossy, the voices animated, and the reality television life not as real as we all believed it to be. Madison Avenue can sell us any product and we lap it up. The news media can feed us any story and we respond in kind. We are hungry for information so we will devour anything, be it what is force fed or what is given to us as unhealthy substitutes for actual knowledge. Somehow we cling to what we know is fiction because the reality is less satisfying, rewarding, or inspiring. That fiction however perpetrates into lifestyles as unfulfilled and unobtainable. You are chasing a balloon that slipped through your fingertips into the atmosphere above, a balloon that you will never capture. The higher you climb in altitude in pursuit of it the less of a prize awaits your grasp. You start to realize it was all hot air. And as your hand reaches its final desperate grab, it pops, and you are 12000 feet above the ground with no parachute. A life you lived only an illusion, but the ensuing fall before you is very, very real.