The bull market

Peter Lowe explains how to succeed in business without really trying: First, find 20,000 suckers Photographs by Mark Graham

The crowd bellows its admiration, but I'm pissed. I mean, didn't she--just 30 minutes earlier--preside over a breakfast with enough cholesterol to clog traffic? And how can someone extol the virtues of a healthy life in one breath and be a lobbyist for the tobacco industry in the next?

No matter. Because Tamara Lowe is at it again, this time enticing the crowd to climb to its feet and do, of all things, the wave. The obstreperous Mrs. Lowe then begins an incantation of "Go, Go, Go, Go" as four sections of grown-ups, many of whom have obviously lost their perspective as well as their dignity, toss up their hands stadium-like, clapping and shouting while the sound system belches out that thankfully long-forgotten Beach Boys ditty: "Catch a Wave." And it's not even 9 a.m. yet.

Against this fever pitch, there could be no better backdrop for the next preacher, I mean speaker. Dallas' own Zig Ziglar.

If celebrities provide the glitz for the day's events, motivational maniacs like Ziglar do the grunt work. He is that rare combination of Billy Graham, Norman Vincent Peale, and Henny Youngman. He mixes eternal optimism with borscht-belt shtick. Like a boxer looking for an opening, he scores points not with a knockout punch, but with a ceaseless flurry of one-liners and cliches. "I dieted religiously--I quit eating in church...Denial is not just a river in Egypt...Don't sweat the small stuff...When I enrich others, I enrich myself." Every so often, he gets off a good one: "A hypocrite is someone who complains about all the sex and violence on his VCR."

At 71, Zig will slow down for no man. He paces the stage, prancing back and forth, making certain all eyes move as he moves. For sincere moments, he gets down on bended knee, pointing one finger toward the heavens, his eloquent, country gentleman's timbre trailing off to a whisper. "When you start saying the right things to yourself, about yourself, you will change yourself...I'm not going to ease up, let up, or shut up until I am taken up."

Wild applause and a smattering of Praise the Lords greet anything he says of a spiritual nature. But he seems a tad uncomfortable, dragging what was packaged as a secular seminar into non-secular waters. So he tops himself off with a joke about the relativistic philosophy of secular humanists. "Everything is not relative. Not once during all my travels did my wife ask me if I was relatively faithful."

As he rambles relentlessly in search of some thread to tie his 65-minute presentation together, the veins in his neck bulge, and he seems to want to make eye contact with every person in Reunion. If he goes on much longer, he just might. When stripped down, Zig's message is pure: Success isn't just about money, it's about friends, family, character, the love of a spouse. Of course, you can purchase that message and any other offered in his many volumes of books and tapes at the Success Resource Center, just outside the arena. For one day only, Zig tells us, we can get his career and family package, his complete sales package, his entire motivational package--the whole shootin' match--for only $1,595, a savings of $676 off the regular price. Like Zig says: "Money is not the most important thing in the world, but it's remarkably close to oxygen."

Clearly, Ziglar owns this crowd; they hang on his positive attitude, his delivery, his turns of phrase. For me, all this motivation stuff resembles a crack fix, a high that can't last once the participants go about their lives. Amazingly, Ziglar agrees with me. But his remedy is to make it permanent either by buying his tapes or by looking into the mirror twice a day, morning and evening, and repeating what amounts to a mantra of success: "I am a compassionate, respectful encourager who is considerate, gentle, and generous...I am a person of integrity with the faith and wisdom to know what I should do...These are the qualities of the winner I was born to be." It all sounds like an old Saturday Night Live sketch where a cloyingly offensive 12-stepper named Stuart Smalley employs similar motivational techniques. I wonder if Zig Ziglar credits Al Franken or vice versa.

I decide to poll the crowd, looking for someone, anyone, who doesn't seem so emotionally invested in this seminar. I spy Ray, a rugged, twentysomething guy with long hair curling down the length of his back. He is speaking to Melissa, also in her twenties. Certainly this pair has enough rebellion left in them to reject the party line. But no, they both work for a Christian singles dating service, and Ray believes the motivational techniques he will take away from this seminar will keep him "excited" about his job, which will, in turn, "excite" his clients.

As for Melissa, she has a large collection of Zig Ziglar tapes that she plays each morning before she attacks her day. "It makes me feel optimistic, like I always have something to look forward to." Could these folks have come here predisposed toward this event changing their lives? If I had to listen to a Zig Ziglar tape every morning, death by lethal injection might seem a more humane alternative.

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