These are his words.
• • •
I was a freshman at Texas State University in 2013.
I was trying to get a feel for the college life, but being from a small town, a school of 35,000 students could get a little overwhelming. I dipped my toes in some organizations, tried to get involved, but I didn’t necessarily feel like I belonged yet.
I was searching for something, like many first year students.
In the dorm lounge one night, this guy who lived down the hall from me was going on and on about this new company he’d joined. How he had become his own boss and was operating his own business.
Vemma, he called it.
I’d never heard of it, but his bravado had drawn my attention from across the room.
He noticed me listening in and called me over, eager to pitch any open ears started on what this business would mean for him and his “team.”
“Why would you follow this same path that everyone else told you take? Do you really want to be a corporate drone in a cubicle making $40,000? Or do you want to be your own boss? Make real money, on your own terms?”
He then pulled out a set of BMW keys from his pocket.
“Don’t you want these?”
He had my attention.
• • •
Members of Vemma operated in a weird headspace. They’d make their pitch, and first reactions always skewed towards people believing it was a pyramid scheme.
I myself was skeptical about the legitimacy of the business model. But something about the way the members would laugh this off, the self assured shrug they’d direct at the nonbelievers, gave off the impression that they somehow knew something we didn’t.
The “YPR” movement was the basis of their manifesto. The “Young Professional Revolution.” They insisted that it was time “to take what was ours” and that Vemma could provide the tools to do so.
Their confidence and insistence that the company was something bigger than outsiders could conceive was a driving force behind me letting my guard down.
Maybe it was a scam. Maybe it would be a waste of time. But the way these guys carried themselves instilled a strange type of confidence that I could make it work.
The guy from my dorm had made it work, hadn’t he? He had the BMW. He seemed to have the cash.
So, I determined that I had nothing to lose. I’d go to meeting, feel it out, and go from there. If I didn’t buy in, I’d walk. If I decided to play along, what’s the worst that could happen?
Cody Barton was the face and voice of the recruitment operation. He was a young student himself, and had climbed the ranks of the company to the point of being able to purchase an upscale home in an affluent Arizona neighborhood.
While at first I was skeptical of his background, my concerns vanished when he started speaking.
He commanded the room like a general in the bunkers of Normandy, rousing hundreds of teenage college students and wrapping them around his finger. As if in a trance, we looked on in awe as he explained the structural concepts of a “down line” which would lead to the riches we all sought.
Words of “brotherhood” and “community” underscored his message: His life, his story, was something that CAN be obtained. We CAN break the mold of traditional work. Redefine what it means to be independent, both financially and spiritually.
It was reassuring. He was one of us.
I was ready to follow this man into battle. When he offered us invitations to an initiation retreat at his new home, I pulled my phone out and checked for flights to Arizona.
I was ready to join the fold.
• • •
We stood patiently in the large, empty living room of the pristine Arizona mansion that Cody Barton called home. There was an undeniable sense of excitement in the room, everyone smitten with the tangible evidence of a Vemma success story. The house was ostentatious, but in a way that an 18–19 year old kid fawns over.
Suddenly the lights dimmed. A figure emerged from the darkness of the upstairs hallway and approached the bannister.
It was Cody Barton, in the trademark garb he donned on the cover of his recently released book: a blue V-neck underneath an un-tailored blazer right off the rack from Kohl’s.
Goddamn he looked sharp.
“Welcome,” he bellowed out to the crowd below.
“Today is the start of your new life. The start of something bigger than yourself.
Who wants to be a part of this revolution?”
The crowd let out a raucous affirmation. We wanted it.
“Let me hear you say it. YPR!”
We screamed it right back at him. The intensity and vigor of the room was something out of an ancient tale of battlefield valor.
The side door to the living room opened, and out emerged a masked man, cloaked in velvet, a large box in hand.
It’s funny how you can be sucked into something so deep that you ignore the warning signals. I was so worked up with anticipation that I didn’t question what was taking place before me.
He approached the crowd of us one by one, and I watched as each over-eager teenager reached in and grabbed for the contents of the box.
“I want you to put on your blindfold. This is an exercise in team building and commitment to the YPR cause.”
We followed orders without second thought.
This was the man we idolized. The man we wanted to be. Of course we listened.
With my vision compromised, my sense of hearing was enhanced to a level that rattled my core with every word Cody Barton spoke. His voice reverberated through the otherwise silent auditorium-like room, bouncing off the wood flooring and sinking deep into the depths of my very soul.
I was so entranced that I almost didn’t register his next order.
“Take off your clothes.”
Puzzled, I hesitated.
“Take off your clothes and drop them on the floor in front of you. This is team-building.”
I’d heard stories from friends about fraternity initiations. This seemed like a standard practice for instilling brotherhood, however archaic it may be. So I relented.
My unzipped pants dropped to the floor. I shook my legs free while unbuttoning my shirt, and soon I stood in nothing but my underwear, my bare feet resting upon the cold, mahogany floorboards.
“Everything. Take off everything.”
Now I started to feel uneasy. But swept up in the imminence of a moment that could lead to a life of riches and prosperity, I settled my nerves and removed my underwear.
Now I stood, bare as the day I was born, staring into the darkness of my blindfold.
I heard the footsteps of Cody’s immaculate Cole Hann Venetian loafers clatter down step after step of the spiral staircase.
When he reached the ground level, I could feel in my callused heels the vibrations of each step through the surface we now shared.
His voice, now mere feet away from me, rang out like a bullet.
“I want everyone to get on their knees.”
We followed his instruction.
“Reach out beside you. Grab the nearest hands you can find.”
I grasped two sweaty palms on either side of me. I could the shaking of my peers, a nervous energy flowing through our joined extremities.
“Link your arms at the elbow. Everyone needs to be connected in order to become one.”
We did as he asked. Once more he implored us to speak the sacred acronym that would lead us to infinite opulence, but this time, in a whisper.
The entire room, synchronized in a measured, breathy whisper, chanted “YPR.”
“YPR. YPR. YPR. YPR. YPR”
Cody shouted for silence, jolting us from our trance.
What followed next was the chilling sound of him unzipping his pants.
“If you want to be me,” he said with a placidity that could’ve unnerved a marble statue, “you have to accept what I’m willing to give to you.”
He walked to the edge of the room, each step becoming fainter as he approached the far side of the line of arm-in-arm recruits.
“Take off your blindfolds.”
As I removed the small, cloth curtain from my face, the intensity of the single spotlight shining down upon the center of the room nearly blinded me.
As my eyes adjusted to the harsh gleam, I looked to where our leader stood and saw he was now wearing a bright red mask, like something out of a pagan ceremony. Behind him stood five other cloaked, masked figures.
“This is the start of your new reality,” he proclaimed.
“Now we begin.”
Cody, shielded behind his mask, approached the first member of the lineup.
The imagery of what happened next will forever remain ingrained in my mind.
He reached into his silk boxers, nudging his penis through the hole in front.
“Open your mouth,” he told the hapless first recipient.
The recruit, visibly rattled, was frozen by fear.
“Open your mouth. Accept the glory of YPR.”
Trembling, the recruit gave way to the authority he knelt in awe of. He opened his lips.
Cody Barton began to urinate in his gaping mouth, splashing translucent orange fluids (closely resembling the energy drink product we had been enlisted to sell) all over his face.
The boy whimpered and stirred, but his fellow recruit, in a misguided display of solidarity, locked his arms tight enough to prevent him from dodging the torrential gush.
Cody pinched the flow of his stream and stepped to the next recruit before releasing the flood gates once more.
A seemingly endless cascade of strange, discolored urine spat from his urethra for an impossibly absurd timeframe as he made his way down the line.
I quickly realized this “down line” he’d been raving about literally referred to a line of recruits, down on their knees, whose faces he urinates on one by one.
As he finally made his way to me, I had accepted my fate.
His 5’7″ frame towered above me as I sat helpless. The orange piss sprayed upon my face, washing away all sense of dignity I once possessed.
When your face is being showered by the surge of a grown man’s urine, seconds feel like years. The frothy orange jet stream hit my face and pierced like needles, then drizzled down my chin before falling onto the floor in front of me.
I must have blacked out in panic and disgust, because when I snapped back into consciousness, Cody was finishing his unprecedented string of golden showers on the final recruit.
• • •
Broken, subdued by urine, and shaken beyond repair, we remained on the floor, which was now shimmering with a layer of sticky, orange discharge.
One of the cloaked figures re-emerged with a scorching red branding iron.
We were to become permanent property of the Vemma domain.
Screams shot into the air as he made his way through the down line. The smell of burning flesh permeated the air. I couldn’t even muster the energy to squirm loose as he stepped in front of me and made fiery hot contact with my exposed chest.
I looked down at my singed, charred torso.
The letters indelibly scalded across my body read “Y-P-R.”
The rest was a blur.
I don’t remember being told to stand, or told to dress, or told to file into the foyer of Cody Barton’s cruel, twisted funhouse of perversion.
All I remember is reaching the doorway, feeling the cold air of freedom dry the moist remnants of his urine, and swiping my debit card in an iPad attached payment device confirming my order for the baseline $500 Vemma Affiliate Starter Pack.
Cody stood on the doorstep as we filed out, thanked us for our “commitment to the revolution,” and handed us each a signed copy of his book before we were free to return to our respective vehicles and drive back to our hotels.
• • •
Five years later, I still wake up in cold sweats, shuddering as I stir from nightmares of that fateful initiation.
Vemma was, for all intents and purposes, shut down after a lawsuit from the United States Federal Trade Commission ordered the company to end it’s pyramid-scheme type recruitment and business structure.
Most of my fellow recruits were out of the business within months of our initiation, after failing to see any sort of profits or incentives that were promised by the company’s leadership. It was revealed that over 97% of Vemma’s affiliates made under $12,000 a year.
Somewhere out there, Cody Barton is roaming as a free man. Maybe he’s matured and settled into a quiet life of honest work and business. Maybe he’s got a family. Maybe he’s repented to the man upstairs and is on the path to redemption under God’s light.
I’m too scarred by his actions to look him up and confirm for myself.
What still horrifies me the most is the notion that other companies are out there operating under the same guise that Vemma did.
Exploiting impressionable youths into buying into a world they don’t belong.
My advice to young people is simple: Work hard, work honest. Study. Embrace the proven structure of school. There will be people out their that tempt you into alternate paths. Always know what these paths entail. Know to the full extent.
Don’t let a Cody Barton abuse your innocence.