Who epitomizes success in 1996?
Captain Scott Grady, who succeeded at covering his tail for six days until someone else saved it after his F-16 got shot down over Bosnia?
Barbara Bush, who succeeded at marrying a man who would be president?
Diamondbacks manager Buck Showalter, who succeeded in landing a job where he gets big bucks and doesn't have to prove his worth for two years? After which he could throw up his hands, say, "Sorry, it didn't work out," and walk away with his money.
General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who succeeded in kicking some Iraqi butt and prostate cancer?
And a couple of guys who used to be broke, busted and downright depressed--in a word, unsuccessful--until they became millionaires by coaching other folks on how to succeed? Now they're filthy rich and so damned excited they could be poster boys for Ritalin.
Peter Lowe's Success 1996, a veritable motivational orgy, blew through Phoenix last week--one stop on a 25-city tour--packing more than 17,000 people into America West Arena, all of them longing to learn the secrets of life and lucre.
Down in the $225 seats right beneath the stage, flip phones rang like background music for deals getting done; up high in the $49, beepers-only sections, future business moguls lined up to use the pay phones in the galleries.
The message from the stage, broadcast from at least six big screens, was all about God and country and family and hard work, wrapped up in a neo-Calvinist philosophy: Prosperity is God's way of showing that He is smiling down on you.
Above all, it was entertaining high theatre.
Before the general took the stage, the crowd was put in the mood with a tear-jerking Johnny Mathis-Christmas-carol version of "America." Fireworks sparkled and sputtered overhead as Stormin' Norman walked to the podium, giving him the opportunity to toss off a joke about Scud missiles.
Schwarzkopf looks and talks like a Jonathan Winters impersonation of himself, all spit in the eye and grit in the throat.
While stumbling for a definition of leadership, he read from Webster's. "Leader," he rasped, "One who leads." Then, going through the multiple listings under the word, he finally came to the one describing the part of a fishing line to which one attaches a hook.
"I have been attached to so many fishing lures in my life," he continued, "that I feel qualified to call myself a leader."
And he followed with so many football analogies that one half-expected a later speaker, NFL coach Jimmy Johnson, to return the compliment by using military metaphors.
Instead, Johnson, like Showalter, would drone on with coachly speeches about teamwork down in the trenches and having to cut players who couldn't cut it.
The pearl of the day was Barbara Bush, who was charming and normal. She espoused all the values of a good Republican wife, talking about her husband ("George--you remember, George Bush?") and his aversion to broccoli, about her dog Millie--who was credited with writing a best-selling book--and about grandmotherly duties.
"You probably think I haven't done anything dumb lately," she said with a wink. "Of course I have. You just don't care anymore. It's wonderful."
But those real-life heroes were just palate cleansers for the beefy main course of motivational superheroes.
Especially Zig Ziglar, who knows the secret of life.
Well, so do most of us, actually. Zig's message is how to work hard while keeping work in perspective and not turning into an all-around son of a bitch. But he tells it with the singing drama of an evangelical preacher.
Philosophy is the words on a cereal box, as the song says.
Zig says, "I never got into photography because of all the negatives."
Zig says, "Your wife resents when you ignore her all day and then turn your undivided attention to her at night when the lights go out. She wants a hug that's just a hug."
While Zig stressed sincerity, the next big guy on the program, Tom Hopkins, explained how to sound sincere while asking questions that back a customer into a corner and close the sale.
He was introduced by a booming Biblical voice, seemingly the voice of God Himself. And indeed Hopkins is a sales god, "North America's Number One Salesman," author of How to Master the Art of Selling, and a longtime Phoenix resident.
Here's his pitch: Don't say "buy"; say "own." Don't call it a "contract"; call it an "agreement." Don't ask customers to "sign" the agreement; ask them to "approve" it.
"Be an interested introvert, not an interesting extrovert," he says.
"I speak 150 words per minute," he says, "with gusts of 225."
Hopkins, like all salesmen, has a million stories, flowing forth like a summer storm: the number one pharmaceutical salesman in the state, for example, who carries a picture of number two in his coat pocket to egg him on in good times and bad.
But there are no bad times.
When people ask you how business is, he advises, the correct answer is to shout, "UNBELIEVABLE! That covers it either way."
And "unbelievable" is just the word to describe Peter Lowe, the entrepreneur who organized the whole show: unbelievably annoying, whiny and unbelievably preachy.
He looks like Olympic skater Scott Hamilton in a red wig, but instead of having a skater's grace, he rocks and reels onstage, eyes flashing, arms thrashing like some demented marionette.
But what the hell, it's his show, and a damned good show at that.
And he, inadvertently, had the best line of the whole day while pitching his set ofmotivational tapes: "This month's cassette includes an interview with President Gerald Ford and his secrets of success."
Oh, we mentioned pitches, didn't we? Three quarters of the way through his or her speech, each of the motivators stopped to take a commercial break, shamelessly selling books and tapes and seminars and a salesman's boot camp.
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Even the event tickets had name and address forms to fill out, ostensibly for door prizes, but also with a disclaimer warning that filling out the form just might trigger a landslide of direct-mail advertisements.
But sales is the philosophy of 1996. And Barbara Bush had already defined philosophers.
She quoted a schoolgirl who had been asked on a test to identify the Greek philosopher Socrates.
"Socrates was a man who walked around giving advice," she said.
"They poisoned him.