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Today's Story by David Womack

It takes money to butt heads with the Vitamin Industrial Complex.

Always Chasing Rainbows

“You’re not going to make it.” The guy at the gas station hooked his fingers into his overalls, and waited for my payment to go through. “Not before dark,” he said.

I swiped my card again and again, but got the same result. “Shit. There must be some mistake,” I said. He shrugged his shoulders, and then waited while I scavenged through my purse. All I had was ten dollars, so I counted out the rest in change.

“It can’t be that far, can it? To Santa Fe?” At this point he was only interested in the coins.

When the last dime was in the till, he finally glanced up at me and said, “Good luck, miss. ” Then gave me one of those curt smiles that suggested he understood a thing I didn’t. As if. I definitely knew something he didn’t: I wasn’t about luck. It was about choices. For instance, I could have stayed in that podunk two-block town, where the social calendar starts at Walmart and ends at Dairy Queen. Not that I wanted to, but there is always that soft part of you that begs to give up. Take the easy route. You have to rely on that other part of you that remains true and determined. My job was to keep driving.

Two hours later I was still driving. A ribbon of black top rolled out into the distance, and beyond that was nothing. At least it seemed that way. I had given up looking at road signs. I didn’t need to know how far it was. I also stopped checking the time, but it was hard not to notice the cold. That dry cold air pours off the Rockies just before sunset. It chaps your lips, stings your lungs, then comes right back out your sniffly nose. I turned on my heater, but that was futile. As usual, all it did was sputter and sputter. The hot air must have run out with the warranty.

None of this – the cold, the dark – would even matter if I had left on time. I was supposed to start from Boulder in the morning, but the whole thing got screwed up, and I ended up leaving in the afternoon. It takes nearly eight hours to drive from Boulder to Santa Fe. You can’t really change that. I kept the speedometer at eighty the whole way. That was the max. The cops don’t really stand for ninety, probably not eighty-five either. The last thing I wanted to do was take chances. Those State Troopers hide in the bushes, or behind the overpasses. They are like really good fisherman, out there dangling bait.

After the cold, I noticed the sun. Dropping. The shadows grew longer and longer, until the orange bulb was barely hanging above the peaks of the Front Range. Not just hanging though, I was moving and the sun was paralleling me, playing a slow hopscotch with the jagged points of the mountains. The sight of it caused me to remember my, sort-of, mantra. I spoke it aloud because you can’t just think your mantra. “It’s following me,” I said. You know, accent on the “me,” making it a cool, kind-of, affirmation and a mantra.

The mantra goes back, pretty far, to my freshman year at Fort Collins. State. I was super skinny, and had this thing for MAC cosmetics. Along with half the other freshman, I wanted to be a Psych major. So there I was in the Intro class, it was morning, early, and the professor was showing a film. I remember how the projector clicked, clicked, clicked forward like a soft rhythm section. We would have all fallen asleep if it wasn’t for this intense woman on the screen. Shanti. She had a shaved head like a Hari Krishna, and spoke to some unseen interviewer. As her bald head shined under the harsh documentary-style lights, she kept telling the filmmaker about how she was special. She fluttered her hands and said, “The sun follows me everywhere.” Everywhere! Then she said: “This is why I am the daughter of Jesus Christ himself.” The whole class laughed when she called Jesus, “Dad.”

When the film was over, the professor lectured us about how Shanti had mistaken a simple law of perception, and somehow used that mistake to suspend a remarkable delusion. The word “delusion” stuck out to me. I never believed you could know what was in another person’s head, unless you lived in their shoes 24/7. That was impossible. I raised my hand and waited for the Professor to find me in the room. I said, “How do we know exactly what she sees?”

“It doesn’t matter what she sees,” the professor said. “It is how she interprets or, in this case, misinterprets what she sees.” Then he went on to give me some basic explanation of the parallax view, and talked about the distance from the sun and such.

I had learned about the distance of the sun in grade school. That wasn’t what I was talking about. The second time I didn’t raise my hand, I just spoke. “The path of the sun might look different to her.”

“It may.”

“Then how can you be so sure she is having a delusion?”

“Do you really think she is the daughter of Jesus?” He said it pretty smart-ass and, of course, people laughed.

I waited a sec before I raised my hand again. I just wanted to him to acknowledge my point, that we can never know exactly what another person sees. But when I lifted my arm, these frat boys started snickering. The snickering made me feel uncomfortable, so I just dropped my hand slowly, and did one of those moves where you pull your hair back, like that’s what you wanted to in the first place. I didn’t bring up the point again. I relented. The professor may have been a jerk, and those frat boys never did anything but put other people down, but I caved to their pressure. That’s exactly why I have the mantra now. I don’t want to forget that day. When I see the sun moving across the horizon, I always say: “It’s following me.” It’s my progress report, because there is one thing I know for sure now: I no longer relent.

Eventually the sun dropped completely, leaving only a trace of orange on the horizon. Soon it would be pitch black. I was really late. I had never even been to Santa Fe, and I was supposed to find this obscure meeting place – near the railroad tracks, behind some warehouse. Shit. It was like one of the stupid dreams where you keep running and running and never make it inside the house. Who knows if the guy will even be there when I get to Santa Fe?

Of course if Max was here he’d tell me to think positively. “Positive thinking delivers positive results,” that’s what he taught me. And he was almost always right.

Max Hartwell was the founder of Rainbow Pura Vida™. I first met him at a job fair. Those events can be pretty lame, and discouraging. Usually half the jobs are for the CIA. As if I could be a secret agent. But Max wasn’t peddling jobs, he was offering opportunities. He gave me a pretty tight rundown on the product. “It only takes $500 to join the team,” he said. It still seemed like a lot of money, but I figured starting over wasn’t free.

After thinking it over, I went to my dad for a loan. Just a loan. Though, as usual, he was a big naysayer. “You don’t want to get into this,” he said.

“It’s a good opportunity.” I tried to show him the brochure.

“Multi-level-marketing is just a pyramid scheme.”

“You should know,” I said. “Your whole job is a pyramid scheme. You help rich people get out of paying for their taxes so poor people can stay poor.”

“Do you even know what you’re talking about?” he said. “Sometimes talking to you is like talking to a child.”

He was always good at making me feel small. Of course I knew what I was talking about, but there was no use explaining it to him.

After Dad, Mom was my only option. She was living in California then, so I phoned and told her I needed money for emergency dental work. That wasn’t my idea; it was Max’s. He was good at finding creative solutions and, even though it was wrong, I knew that I would eventually make it right. Definitely. According to Max, “the greatest changes come from the smallest indiscretions.”

Once I became an associate at RPV™, things really did change for me. Max put me through an intensive training, and I learned all about the product and what we had to do to make it available to people. I became a valuable asset to the company, Max said it himself. He began rewarding me, and he took me to all kinds of restaurants – expensive restaurants that even my parents hadn’t been to.

I began to spend weekends at his house in Vail where we would have these pow wows. They were part business, and part heart-to-heart. Max really opened up to me. The RPV™ story was rife with difficulty, and Max would often vent. It seemed everyone was against the company. Then the FDA suspended the first product shipment.

“There was a rumor about mercury,” Max said.

I knew about mercury. When I was a girl I tried to fake a temperature so I could stay home from school. I put the thermometer in the coffee kettle, but it busted in half, and my mom caught me. She told me it was lucky that she found it, cause the mercury in the thermometer could have killed the whole family.

I told Max, “Mercury is pretty dangerous.”

“Of course it is, but it’s a lie.” He seemed angry that I didn’t know this. He said, “The food conglomerates are just using the FDA to keep our product out of the country.”

The problem with RPV™ was that it was so revolutionary – a life changer. The big corporations were afraid of how good it was. Max called them the “Vitamin Industrial Complex.” These corporations knew that once people started using RPV™ there would be no need for vitamins, or even aspirin. The product was that amazing.

The recipe was ancient, and Max had discovered it while traveling through the Amazon. Max knew the tribe that used RPV™, and they were the fittest, healthiest people, and they never had to take vitamins, or medicine, or anything. As Max said, “They are already living at the next level, and once we get the product here, we can get to that level as well.

Darkness eventually shuttered the sky. All I could see were headlights pushing across the pavement, and I was still an hour north of my destination. The guy in Santa Fe was supposed to contact me if I wasn’t there by dark. Supposed to, but he didn’t. I didn’t know his number, I’d never even spoke with him before, but Max said he could be trusted. I trusted Max. He told me the rendezvous would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was give the guy the duffel bag, then check into a motel room, and wait. Max would call me when things were straightened out.

It takes money to butt heads with the Vitamin Industrial Complex. Max became depressed when the FDA waylaid the second shipment of RPV as well. Suddenly there were no more weekends in Vail or fancy dinners. Then a whole slew of the associates started dropping out. The office started feeling empty, but I wasn’t leaving. I still had faith in Max. RPV™ was too valuable to keep out the hands of consumers. I knew that, but I also knew we needed to sell some of the product to continue our fight.

It was my idea to go to Max. I explained to him that if we knew the product was coming, eventually, and that if nothing could stop it from coming, then we should be able to sell it.

“But it hasn’t come yet,” he said.

“But it will be coming,” I said.

That was the spark of positive thinking that put our business back on the map. Max found a print ad from one of the mail-order vitamin companies. He scanned the image and put our own banner on it. I thought for sure that we needed our very own advertisement, but Max explained that we had neither the time nor the money to generate copy from scratch. Eventually I realized he was right. The greatest changes result from the smallest indiscretions.

We also had to come up with a new name, since RPV™ was under some sort of bogus investigation. We called the new company Rainbow Health Products. RHP.

When the ad came out on the Internet, I couldn’t believe the price. It was so cheap. “That’s less expensive than those crappy acai drinks in the supermarket,” I told Max.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“But RHP is a really good product, we can sell it for more.”

He didn’t like it when I questioned him, and he lashed out at me. He told me that I was stupid, which made me angry, and I thought about quitting.

Max wanted to keep the price low to generate momentum. He was right; it worked. Orders flooded in. We collected the money as quickly as possible. I knew, because we had money, it wouldn’t be long before we could get the product into the United States, and that was amazing.

Seeing the Santa Fe sign was quite a relief. I drove past the railroad yard, and exited the highway onto a frontage road. There was a long row of empty concrete buildings. It seemed like the spot Max had told me about, but I wasn’t sure. The phone still hadn’t rang. That was the worst part. Why hadn’t this guy called me? I followed the road till it crossed a set of abandoned railroad tracks. I had no other option but to wait.

Within two weeks RHP had amassed $60,000 worth of orders. Max said we needed $100,000. That would be enough to afford the legal team. We could stand up to the Vitamin Industrial Complex, and get our shipment released to the U.S. We were so close. Max put me in charge when he was supposed to go out of town for a few days. “Just keep the operation running,” he said. We’re going to make it,” He trusted me.

Max’s trip did not happen though. His exact words: “It did not happen.” He called me up and told me he was still in Vail. “Come up to my house in the morning, and we’ll get this all sorted out.”

Then the next morning he called me again and told me not to go to his house. Instead I went to his friend’s house outside of Boulder. It was just a cabin out in the boonies. When I found it, Max wasn’t there. I had to wait several hours before he arrived with the bag. It was so late. “There’s no way I’ll reach Santa Fe on time,” I told him.

Max urged me to go. “Things will work out,” he said.

I kept the motor running while I waited on the shadowy street. The guy still had not phoned, and I was feeling a bit anxious. It didn’t make sense that there were no lights on the street. I turned on my headlights just so I could see something, and that’s when I got my signal. A set of headlights clicked on and off. Finally. I had made contact. I put the car in gear and rolled forward.

I was anonymous and invisible in the darkness. There is a certain comfort in that. No one can harm you when they can’t see you. The flashing red lights screamed into the night like the wail of an ornery child. I had to stop when the patrol car pulled behind me. The officer exited the car, silhouetted by a flood of white light. I kept my eyes forward, and my hands gripped firmly on the wheel. I knew I would not relent.


David Womack lives on the edge of the continent. His work has appeared in Connotations Press, and Littoral Magazine. He is the author of Mountain Bike! Orange County, and teaches writing at National University.


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