It’s the heigh of midday traffic on San Diego’s Mission Gorge Road, and David Bendah is on his car phone dispensing the secrets of easy money. “Jojoba farming,” Bendah says. “Start a jojoba farm in your backyard. Do you know how much jojoba oil goes for? Seventy dollars per gallon, okay? Girls love it in their shampoo. You will be a millionaire in no time.”
Lost in his schemes, Bendah lets his white Rolls-Royce spirit drift perilously close to the oncoming traffic. Toyotas, Chevys and other mortal vehicles honk frantically, but Bendah doesn’t notice. He’s returning another call. “Machine guns,” he says, “Yes, yes, 149 percent yearly profit.” With the receiver in one hand and a cigarette in the other the tiny, Israeli-born millionaire can barely keep his car under control. “Why are you questioning me?” he asks the caller, jerking the steering wheel and pumping the pedals with his size-9 Reeboks. “I’m giving you free advice. People pay me millions of dollars for this advice.”
David Bendah is not just bragging. Though he’s only 29, Bendah has made millions with just that kind of loony financial advice. His company, Lion publishing, sells get-rich-quick Books through the mail, touting investment opportunities in magazine ads with screaming come-ons like this: “Build a $20,000 coin collection from pennies. “Sell Platinum from Auto Catalytic Converters.” “Cash in on Arab money.” If his moneymaking books — more than 80 are available — were sold in bookstores, many could make the New York Times best-seller list. Bendah earns $6 million a year, primarily from the bags of $12.95 checks that pour into Lion Publishing every day.
And he predicts his latest his latest how-to, The Secrets of Getting Free Money, which offers inside tips about free grants and low-interest loans, will be his biggest seller of all. If you are a Jewish orphan who wants to study aeronautical engineering, Bendah says, the University of California has a $400,000 scholarship fund set aside for you. Or say you need cash and your last name happens to be Gatling. Did you know there’s a $1.2 million foundation out there, started by the man who invented the Gatling machine gun? “People are legally changing their names to Gatling to get hold of this money, okay?” Bendah says.
To his cult of followers, David Bendah is a financial genius, a master entrepreneur. You’d never guess it to look at him. With his five-foot-six-inch frame and dirt-flecked eyeglasses, he looks more like a computer-science dropout. He’s also given to whiny adolescent braying: “I am one of the smartest people in the United States,” he likes to say. “Companies spend millions of dollars and months doing surveys and tests to make marketing decisions that I feel in my gut in an instant.”
But in just a few years, David Bendah has gotten very, very rich selling people their dreams. Each day he gets over 800 phone calls — from the desperate, the curious, the dissatisfied, the lazy, the frightened, the vaguely hopeful and the hopeless dreamers. Bendah refers to all of these people as the “moron market.” He knows he shouldn’t give them free advice, but he can’t help himself. He doesn’t understand why everyone in the world can’t make money as easily as he does.
At the precise moment that David Bendah is helping yet another caller — this time explaining how a person can get over a hundred Visa cards — he whips the Rolls across two lanes of oncoming traffic and pulls into the parking lot of the anonymous-looking two-story concrete bunker that houses Lion Publishing. Out front, a neighboring hardware store is holding a dollar raffle, with a chain saw as the prize. A blond model in a black string bikini and five-inch heels parades around with the prize, but Bendah is riveted by the sight of dollar bills flying out of people’s pockets. The blonde points the chain saw seductively at him.”Vroom, vroom,” she says.
“This is tremendous,” Bendah whispers. “This is just tremendous.”
Is there a more fervid hope in America today than becoming wealthy overnight? State-run lotteries lure millions of middle-class gamblers every week, and concerns as diverse as fast-food franchises and magazine-subscription houses stage multimillion-dollar contests. Sales of get-rich-quick mail-order companies like Bendah’s have swelled to more than $50 million a year, according to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s western-region office. These companies are run by kitchen-table entrepreneurs who hawk cheaply made paperback books extolling techniques — both legal and somewhat less than legal — all guaranteed to make gobs of money with virtually no effort. The books themselves, which run the gamut from the purely practical to the near spiritual, are of course the biggest moneymakers in the get-rich-quick empire; they cost about 50 cents to produce and retail for $10 to $15.
It’s nearly impossible to distinguish the real thing from the rip-off, though, from the ads that clog the pages of mega-circulation magazines, like Popular Mechanics, Parade, The National Enquirer, The Globe and Mother Earth News. Some advertisements are elaborate full-page teases: “Hello! My name is Dawn,” says a beauty sprawled on a sports car wearing just a fur coat. “I, and only I, can show you how to receive over $40,000 per month, every month, by just opening a bank account.” Most of them, though, are humble one-inch classifieds with a catchy tag line that promises to transform the curious loser into the lazy millionaire — overnight!
To buff their top-secret financial information to an even higher gloss, these publishers always promise money-back guarantees and more. Kerth & Company’s ad guarantees five times your money back for trying out its book. A full-page ad titled Let ‘Unique Packages’ Make You $40,000! offers a $2,500 guarantee if you can prove the methods don’t work. Promises are easy to make, though, as only a tiny percentage of the customers ever bother to return the books.
Bud Weckesser, a former Purdue University communications professor who sells mail-order material on an array of topics, from cooking to weight loss, says that less than five percent of his buyers actually return the books for a refund. “Either they are too lazy,” he says, “or they are saving the book for a rainy day.” Get-rich-quick publishers do best when times are bad and people are looking for a long shot. “As soon as this country goes into an economic recession,” says Weckesser, “all my business is going to double or triple.”
Surprisingly, it’s the virulent competition among themselves — not the U.S. Postal Service — that puts most of these get-rich-quick publishers out of business. There are only 1,800 postal inspectors spread around the country to battle mail fraud. These watchdogs spend most of their time monitoring high-stakes schemes like sales of foreign currency, precious metals and exotic commodities. “Let’s face it,” says one postal inspector in Las Vegas, “this is not the crusading consumerism days of the Carter administration.” In fact, all a get-rich-quick publisher has to do is comply with Title 39 of the U.S. Postal Code, known as the Mirror-Image Doctrine. In a nutshell, as long as a publisher’s product accurately mirrors what he promises in his ad, he has not broken the law.
No one has struck so deep a chord in the avaricious hearts of Americans than David Bendah. With 100 employees and an advertising budget of a million dollars a year, Bendah’s Lion Publishing dwarfs everyone else in the get-rich-quick industry. Just lending out his mailing list of 300,000 customers nets Bendah $250,000 annually. Lion Publishing accounts for more than half of all the get-rich-quick ads seen in magazines. Often, Bendah’s competitors will wait to see where he advertises and rush to copy his ads, not to mention his books.
Despite his wide-scale success, few people have ever seen Bendah in person. He writes under dozens of pseudonyms, including Paul Lawrence (for a book on how to win at the race track), Jeff Peters (how to get into the fashion-modeling business) and Tom Foster (handwriting analysis). He’s even bought the rights to the name of former get-rich-quick publisher David Buckley, under whose name he put out a four-volume collection called The Poor Man’s Way to Riches, which covers everything from selling $2,000 memberships in survival retreats to earning $400 an hour from woodcarving.
Bendah’s devotees have scraped the little information they do know from the personal rags-to-riches story in his ads, which read like Horatio Alger on speed: Four years ago, David Bendah was a waiter at the Sheraton Harbor Island hotel. He was so poor he had to sell his car and drive a moped to work. Today, he owns the Rolls, and he hasn’t made it to his luxurious offices before noon in months.
His customers pore over the smallest, most disparate details of his life, looking for the telling detail. Bendah was raised in Toronto, Canada. Bendah didn’t even become a United States citizen until he was 24. Bendah watches 20 hours of TV a week and never misses Fight Back!, which features David Horowitz, the fearless consumer-protection crusader who runs his own televised tests to make sure that roaches check in and don’t check out.
The actual details of Bendah’s life are less than inspiring. Bendah’s father, a tailor, emigrated with his wife and children from Tel Aviv to Toronto in 1963 and later to San Diego, where he settled into a lucrative career as a real-estate developer. In Canada, David barely graduated from high school and then took a string of odd jobs, drank protein mixes that promised to give him a weight lifter’s body and set about trying to make a fast fortune.
“David was always supermotivated,” says his younger sister Shelley. “He used to tell the neighbors when he was two or three years old, ‘I’m going to have a big house when I grow up. I’m going to have your house.’ But he never had any direction and any luck.”
“I went through every moneymaking device known to man, and nothing happened,” says Bendah. He eventually took his father’s advice and enrolled at San Diego State University, graduating in 1984. About that time a friend gave him the get-rich-quick scheme of the century: When a bank account is left dormant for several years, or an insurance premium is unclaimed, the money reverts to state treasuries. Nationwide, there is $25 billion in unclaimed assets waiting to be recovered, and the figure grows every year. By tracking down the rightful owners of this money, a fast talker can extract a hefty finder’s fee.
Bendah suddenly had a mission. And luckily he began searching for lost assets in California, the most fertile lost-assets market in the country, with millions of individuals who were owed unclaimed money. After two years working the field part time, Bendah sat down and in two weeks wrote $2,000 an Hour. To date, the book has brought in nearly $3 million.
“Our father believed you should save all your money, invest a little and you’d become rich,” says his sister Shelley. “It took him 63 years to make it. David believes you put all of your money in his ideas and you’ll become a millionaire. It only took David three years.”
A millionaire before the age of 30! That’s the stuff that’s made Bendah a standard-bearer for the new American dream. He beat the system; he got something for nothing. “David Bendah is a total cult figure,” says 26-year-old Kirk Daniell of Columbus, Ohio. Daniell is part of the moron market, a get-rich junkie who spends thousands of dollars a year on get-rich material. He’d spend his rent money, but he still lives at home with his parents and pays no rent. Daniell fully expects to be a millionaire by next year at the latest using Bendah’s techniques. In the meantime he takes part-time jobs doing everything from selling real estate to gluing soles on Converse sneakers.
“I tell you that David Bendah is not a normal man,” says Daniell. “I have this whole theory that he’s really just a brain in salt water, like something on Star Trek. A hyperkinetic, moneymaking brain. His books are total inspiration. Every time I get depressed thinking how hard I’m going to have to work my entire life, I pick up a Bendah book, and I just know I’m going to be filthy rich in no time at all.”
Lion publishing is listed in the San Diego phone book. But you don’t just barge in on the Prince of Get Rich Quick. To earn an audience with Bendah, you first have to win the trust and confidence of the network of his associates and former protégés — a group of rogue millionaires including ex-preachers, ex-cops and ex-factory workers — who slowly nudge you along toward him.
What becomes obvious after interviewing these people is that you don’t need to live in a big town to become a millionaire today. You don’t need an M.B.A. or a lot of money to start. You don’t even have to be particularly smart or motivated. What you need is one great idea.
That’s all Joe Karbo had when he wrote the first get-rich-quick book in 1971. Karbo, who is David Bendah’s idol, wrote The Lazy Man’s Way to Riches, which offers one simple secret to would-be millionaires: Start your own mail-order company that sells other people books on how to get rich. Karbo, a genial 250-pound former used-car salesman, sold 173,000 copies of Lazy Man (at $10 a pop) in his first 10 months in the mail-order business, and the book still sells briskly.
What readers of The Lazy Man would never realize is that old Joe Karbo has been dead for more than eight years now — he died of a heart attack during a local-TV interview. His enterprising stepson, Jay Flanagan, keeps the Karbo legend and business alive. Flanagan, who loathes interviews himself, provided entree to several other of Bendah’s get-rich-quick acolytes, including Sam Pitts, a former Church of Christ minister from Ozark, Alabama, who made his fortune with a book called Change Your Life.
Pitts is the key — one phone call from him will guarantee a rendezvous with Bendah. Pitts, 37, one of Bendah’s favorite former protégés, has converted his life into a moneymaking odyssey. He can’t stop himself from coming up with Olympic-size ideas. Recently, he took a vacation in Florida, but while driving around Miami, all he could think about was this: What happened to all those fancy cars that drug smugglers owned when they got nabbed heading north on I-95? He cut his trip short to plan a book on U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration auctions, where you can get amazing deals on BMWs, Piper planes and cigarette boats. “The only wrinkle I haven’t worked out yet,” he says, “is what to do if you’re bidding against a drug dealer’s relatives.”
Among all these dubious schemes, Bendah’s original idea about reclaiming lost assets has made money for people. Bonnie Goldstein, a writer for the San Francisco Sunday Examiner, tried it as an experiment and made $4,100 in two and a half hours with two telephone directories. But one of the most successful has to be Vic Harris, a student in St. Louis, who earned $36,846 finding lost assets and put himself through college.
Harris bought $2,000 an Hour on a whim and followed Bendah’s instructions. He found the lists of unclaimed money at the state treasury and began notifying the rightful owners. Then he offered to deliver the money if the customer signed a contract that stipulated a finder’s fee. “It involves a lot more phone work and pounding the pavement than you imagine,” says Harris. “People always think you’re trying to pull a scam.”
Making money at lost assets is a cat-and-mouse game. The finder has to provide just enough information to assure the owner that he’s on the level, but not enough to give it away. To make it even more of a challenge, almost every state has now adopted idiosyncratic laws regarding unclaimed money. California, for instance, limits the finder’s fee you can claim to 10 percent of the amount of the lost asset. “Overall it’s a good way to make extra money,” says Harris. “You feel a little like Santa Claus.”
Two years ago, $2,000 an Hour was doing so well Bendah decided to market it to a mass television audience. Lion Publishing doled out $7,000 to film one of those 30-minute advertorial talk shows and hired the trusted celebrity host Efrem Zimbalist Jr. When the show aired, Zimbalist’s name was spelled wrong in the credits, and his people were furious.
Although Bendah pulled in $100,000 in book orders from the cable-TV show, it also attracted the fringe elements of the moron market. He received hundreds of disturbing letters. Prisoners in state penitentiaries wrote to him. So did Ku Klux Klan members and bored housewives in Iowa who offered to leave their husbands for him. Holy Roller Christians sent wooden crosses in the mail and urged him to repent. Some people sent in food stamps as payment for their book; others mailed in pictures of their children, asking for food and shelter. Several times, Lion Publishing received envelopes filled with dog shit.
“That TV show,” says Sam Pitts, “was the last anyone saw of David Bendah in public.”
David Bendah is sitting in his office, crammed with ultraglossy rosewood furniture and Erte posters. All the Erte women are elegantly contorted, unraveling their hair in long sweeping apostrophes. And what is the Prince of Get Rich Quick doing on a Tuesday morning with millions of dollars waiting to be made? He’s staring at the screen of his security-system TV, spying on a young woman in the waiting room who will be modeling for one of his ads.
Periodically he emerges from his office (the only one with a door) and rushes back and forth down the halls, hurling commands and invectives in every direction. The rest of the environs at Lion Publishing have all the charm of a post office. There’s a steady clank of Pitney Bowes machinery from the mail room, acres of rec-room paneling, a gumball machine that dispenses two M&M’s for a penny. In a warren of offices next to his, Bendah has five full-time writers, all under 30 years old, pumping out get-rich-quick ideas.
“David’s always hyper like this,” explains David Brauner, his head writer, who was previously the lead guitarist for a Los Angeles rock band called Ten Yards. “He’s the king of the bullshitters, the ultimate salesman. But his saving grace is that he truly makes everyone — even me — believe we can be rich. He has complete confidence that the material he sends people can change their lives.” In fact, Bendah has had an obsession with the movie Trading Places. He’s dying to go out on Mission Gorge Road and drag someone inside. It doesn’t matter who. Bendah guarantees that in 12 months he can make that person a millionaire.
Back in his office, Bendah’s hyperkinetic brain is working much too fast. He’s firing off random thoughts like a Gatling gun that’s slipped from its tripod. “My boy, I got all of this furniture wholesale,” he says. “Amazing discount. Amazing. . . . It’s like Christmas every day here. I make money whether I come in to work or not. I’m building a million-dollar mansion with a swimming pool just to keep myself motivated to make more money. . . . I love this country. . . . Nothing is better than America.”
Bendah sits down to work, but he feels constrained. He jumps up and empties the contents of his right jeans pocket on his desk blotter: keys; green, red and yellow Bic lighters; a pile of 30 crumbled bills, each one a hundred.
Three thousand dollars in pocket money?
“A little more, I think,” he says, burrowing into his left pocket and pulling out another $1,000.
“What I really need to carry is a gun,” he says. “I’ve already applied for a concealed-weapons permit. A lot of these morons know my name, okay? Someday they’ll be waiting for me in the parking lot. I wouldn’t hesitate to blow someone away if it was a matter of life or death.”
In and out of the office, Bendah is as capricious as a child — capable of both great kindness and great cruelty. He lavishes gifts on the women he dates. But behind their backs he calls them all “GDs” — gold diggers. He promised to marry one young lady if she could say “Marry me” ten times fast without a mistake. She did it, but he still told her no, only to change his mind once again several months later. The couple are now engaged.
One moment, Bendah seems mesmerized by the entire get-rich-quick culture and his enviable position in it. “There’s nothing more satisfying than helping people become wealthy,” he says. The next moment, he feels nothing but contempt for his customers. “The people I sell to live the BS lifestyle — big talkers, no deals. They are negative, depressing, cynical people. It sickens me that I do this for a living.”
His self-deception can be so brazenly charming you never know whether to believe him or not. He tells you he’s quit smoking as he stands there smoking a cigarette. Then he goes on to explain how you can quit by following his techniques. “I don’t allow myself to buy cigarettes, I can only borrow them from others,” he reveals. “It’s just a tremendous idea. If I marketed this, I could make a fortune, but I’m too busy.”
Or take what he says about peddling his version of the American dream to the public: “There’s always an incredibly fine line between inspiring people and deceiving them, okay? I tell people mostly the truth. I give them some realistic options of how to get some happiness. I’ve helped tens of thousands of people start doing something with their lives.”
Buried in his high-backed leather chair again, Bendah flips through the morning’s pink phone messages, a stack as thick as a deck of playing cards, while he nibbles on a fingernail. He’s wearing $700 lizard-skin shoes that he got for $100 in Italy and a custom wool suit he picked up for a song in Hong Kong. His Yves Saint Laurent shirt is open at the neck.
“You want to see a man with a severe ego problem?” he asks suddenly. He punches out the telephone number of a stockbroker who keeps calling him with hot tips. “This is David Bendah,” he says and then smiles. “Let me tell you something. I do happen to invest in the kind of stock you’re talking about. Millions of dollars. And I also happen to be looking for a broker right now. But you told my secretary you were a personal friend of mine, didn’t you? Because you were dishonest, we can’t possibly work together. I’m sorry, okay?” He jams his finger down on his 16-line phone console — Bink! — and sends the broker hurtling back to his mediocre existence. A half smile creeps across Bendah’s mouth, and tension leaks pleasurably from his face. He even giggles.
In all of Bendah’s books, the crucial step toward success is getting beyond ego problems, which he interprets as understanding and accepting who you are and what talents you have. This is different from acting like a megalomaniac, which he heartily endorses. In Novanetics, the quasi autobiography he wrote three years ago but doesn’t sell to the public, he says, “Basically I realize I am a very ordinary person who has maximized his abilities 100 percent to achieve extraordinary results. . . . Get beyond your ego problem and I promise you, you will be rich.”
You might get rich, but you won’t be free of everyday pains. Bendah feels one of his frequent migraine headaches coming on now — the hyperkinetic brain taking its revenge! He rubs his eyeballs hard the way your mother tells you never to do and gulps some Darvocet, a prescription painkiller. Then he continues randomly returning calls on his speaker phone, pumping some people up with 20-second motivational lectures and cutting others off simply by telling them he is very busy and their ideas are moronic.
He returns one final message and reaches an old woman who says her husband has passed away recently and she can no longer make it on a fixed income. “I don’t know what to do,” she says. “Pray that I make some money soon or else I’m going to kill myself.” Real tears well up in David Bendah’s eyes as he listens. He knows four out of five stories like this are told by money-seeking liars. But at times uncontrollable waves of generosity seem to possess him. Last year he took all his employees to Las Vegas for a weekend. He buys his friends Seiko watches for no reason at all. “Call me back in one hour,” he tells the old woman. “I’ll help you in any way I can.”
Bendah is a shrewder businessman than he may seem. For one thing, he never has to worry about coming up with get-rich-quick ideas anymore. His followers send him enough ideas to fill every empty shelf and closet in his office: “Play the West German lottery in Saarbrücken — an 83-percent chance to win!” “Become a legally ordained minister in one day!” “Make $2 million a year watching television!”
The first get-rich-quick entrepreneur, Joe Karbo, wrote only one book. That’s because he really was the lazy millionaire in his ads. But Bendah has produced so many ideas that he’s flooded the market with product. He was the first publisher to run half a dozen full pages of ads in magazines under half a dozen different pseudonyms. Often, he just aims to break even on a first sale, relying on “back door” profits — the second or third sale to the same person. About 70 percent of new customers order again.
Bendah also knows from experience that almost none of these people will ever use any of his books, but it doesn’t bother him. “I beg them, beg them to use my methods,” he says, gazing out the window at his Rolls-Royce sunning itself in the parking lot. “If they don’t succeed, it’s because they’re just too afraid of becoming rich.”
Del Cerro, a sun-baked community over-looking San Diego, gives a stark physical reality to the American dream. Private roads protected by electronic gates ascend higher and higher, each new bend revealing a more expensive house with more dramatic views. David Bendah lives near the top of Del Cerro in a $250,000, mercilessly high-tech playpen stocked with a weight machine, every video game ever invented, thick chocolate carpeting and a Las Vegas pinball machine.
By 5:30 p.m. he’s ensconced in front of his six-foot-high Mitsubishi TV. On the screen, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is talking. Efrem’s eyes are about the size of baseballs, and his skin looks like the grooved, brown landscape of the California hills. “Wouldn’t you like to get out of your dead-end job and make some real money?” he asks.
“I’ll bet the government owes you some lost assets, Efrem,” answers Bendah, who is replaying his infamous cable-TV show for his newest protégé, Michael Kelly.
Bendah likes to surround himself with sycophants who think like he does, and Kelly, a tall, 23-year-old preppie from Austin, Texas, fits the image. In high school, Kelly used to skip class, drive down to a cattle slaughterhouse in a family truck and go door-to-door selling rib eyes in affluent neighborhoods. He met Bendah while taking a night-school course on marketing that Bendah was teaching.
The two men spend countless hours in Bendah’s town house playing video games and trying to predict where the moron market is headed. Like many other get-rich-quick publishers, Bendah’s terrified of losing his wealth. (Even Sam Pitts said that at the end of the day, when he comes home and gives his daughter a hug, the first thing she says is, “Daddy, how was our cash flow today?”)
Bendah keeps $200,000 in his bank account and another half a million dollars in liquid assets. The rest he has sunk into investments, most of which he’s paid for in cash: an appliance store in San Diego, a condominium in La Mesa, part of a shopping plaza outside of San Francisco, as well as several deals he won’t reveal (“Secret business!”), and of course the Rolls, the Mercedes and a Toyota truck he used to drive.
The real key to David Bendah’s success has been his sense of empathy — how quickly and effortlessly he glides between the world of the moron and the world of the millionaire. He can afford to spend $400 a night at the Beverly Hills Hotel when he goes to Los Angeles. But he prefers the Holiday Inn near Mann’s Chinese Theater, where he can watch the tourists stepping into Marilyn Monroe’s pump prints.
Bendah understands the greedy little dreams and gargantuan fears of the average person. “I was a part of the moron market for a long time,” he says. “I’m not ashamed of my past. I share these details with people through my ads and books, and you wouldn’t believe how it touches them.” He likes to tell a story about his childhood at summer camp, where the counselors would tease him by strapping him to a chair and smearing peanut butter across his face with a butter knife. He volunteers that the only way he got into college was by majoring in engineering when San Diego State was taking all comers.
Nowadays, David Bendah’s fortunes continue to rise, while others in the get-rich-quick business are not faring so well. Sam Pitts, for instance, has crashed. His publishing company nearly went belly up. “I got the fever,” the ex-minister admits. “Greed, pure and simple. I ran too many ads for new books without test-marketing them first.” Pitts has an optimistic streak in him, though. He’s scraped enough money together to start running just one ad again; naturally it’s for the original Change Your Life book that made him his first fortune. What he neglects to mention is that he owes David Bendah $50,000.
Bendah is sitting in Sheng Haw Low, an enormous and drab Chinese restaurant that squats like a battleship in dry dock near the Lion Publishing Company’s offices. He still likes to conduct business lunches here, even on Saturday, which for Bendah is a workday like any other.
“I’ll never see that $50,000, and I don’t care,” says Bendah, who’s blowing on a mud-colored spoonful of hot-and-sour soup. He has another migraine, which makes it painful for him to eat solid food, though he’s alert enough to remind the waiter that we qualify for the lunch discount anyway. “I hate this industry,” he says suddenly. “I hate the people in it. It disgusts me.” Bendah yearns for stability in his life. He wants respect in crotchety old San Diego, where they still make him show proof of age when he goes to bars. “I want everyone to love me,” he finally admits. And he thinks he has the answer that will eventually transport him out of the roller-coaster get-rich-quick publishing business — a product he calls Seduction.
Bendah reasons that men who are afraid of becoming millionaires are probably pretty darn scared of girls too. Seduction is a cologne made with androgen steroids whose odor is supposed to have a dramatic effect on the female endocrine system. “You know how dogs get when they’re in heat?” says Bendah. “That’s the effect.”
Bendah is part owner of a company called Roundhouse Labs, which markets this cologne for $10 a half ounce. The way he figures it, aphrodisiac cologne is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to selling products by mail. Products are what the moron market really wants, he’s come to realize, even more than get-rich-quick information. In his future, Bendah sees other lucrative products, like “lingerie, bow ties that flash and that kit that makes three-foot-long bubbles….” He predicts that Lion Publishing will triple its business to $21 million next year. By 1991, he wants to do $100 million in sales.
David Bendah gets so enthusiastic about products by mail that he forgets about his migraine and scurries out of the restaurant without even opening up his fortune cookie. Like every other brand-new, baby-faced American millionaire, from Jay Gatsby to Donald Trump, he doesn’t need luck.
One final question, though, as he climbs into his Rolls-Royce: Has he achieved the American dream himself yet? Bendah tries to get the window down to answer, but he can’t find the right switch among all the buttons on his burled-wood dashboard. He flips a few switches, and for a moment it looks like a film clip from The Exorcist. The antenna shoots up and down. Door locks click open and close. An automated female voice inside warbles, “The temperature is 72 degrees.”
Imagine it: a millionaire trapped in his Rolls, hostage to his own wealth. But pressed up against the window with a half-amused, half-frightened look on his face, Bendah still manages to mouth the answer to the question. “The dream never ends,” he says. “It just gets bigger and bigger, okay?”