From his diary, July-August 1970
I had two customers in during the day who are symptomatic of the times. One client, in the construction business, is always in coveralls and hard hat. He owns his own business, which grosses $21/2 million a year, but loves the workingman image. “A seat on the Big Board,” I told him, “sold today for $140,000. Off from $540,000 just two years ago.”
“I don’t wonder,” he said. “Who the hell wants to put money into a losing business? What do you think, there’s a Santa Claus? An easy way to get rich? Let me tell you what’s happening in this country. There’s a guy I did a big job for, $100,000 for roads in a development. Tells me he won’t pay his bill. ‘Sue me,’ he says. ‘With interest rates what they are, and it won’t come to trial for a year, I’ll make money on the deal.’ Can you imagine the son of a bitch? I’d break both his arms if I thought it would do any good. This is what’s happening today. The little guy is getting squeezed to the wall. And nobody gives a damn.”
My second customer is a rock musician, a player of chords on a $400 electric guitar, and he’s mostly unemployed. Luckily, he came into a sizable inheritance, enough to afford him a psychiatrist to find excuses for his not being employed and to get him out of the draft. But every month he brings in a certificate for 100 Gillette, or 100 American Home Products, or 100 Warner-Lambert, sells ten or fifteen shares, and has the rest returned to him, along with our check for the proceeds. Today he is blowing grass, in a brokerage office. No one knows except me, but the customer smells like the checking station at the Nuevo Laredo border. He has a girl with him, long-haired and lovely in an innocent way. She is nodding her head in time to the clattering of the ticker tapes. A new beat.
“What can you get me now for ten Gillette, man?” he said.
I told him, “Around 45 if we sold right away.”
“Try and get 451/2,” he said, being a true oddlotter.
“How soon do you need the money?”
“Yesterday, man,” he said.
“Then don’t fool around for half a point. You want to sell it, sell it.”
“Go ahead, man. Just don’t get me the low of the day.” He tapped his cigarette into my ashtray.
“Any gigs on the horizon?” I asked him.
“A few possibles. Goin’ to see some cats now, looking for a lead guitar.”
I put in the ten Gillette to sell at the market. And the rich kid left with his girl. When the Gillette runs out, he’ll be in Daddy’s business faster than you can say marijuana. Middle class is flashing all over him like the hairs on his chinny-chin-chin. Perhaps there’s hope for the market.
Marching to the Beat of a Pocket Watch
At eleven thirty the trust department of the city’s largest bank called me with some directed orders. “Buy 50 IBM, 100 Xerox, 100 Polaroid, 50 Johnson & Johnson, 100 International Harvester.” All solid, typical trust department stocks. This is the best business for a stockbroker. It means merely placing the orders and collecting the commissions, virtually no work and no problems. Best of all, someone else makes the decision about what to buy and sell.
Most people go to trust departments for safety of their principal and for bookkeeping facilities. Generally, the banks’ performance leaves a lot to be desired. Banks are conservative; they are unwieldy; they can be incredibly inefficient. Until recently they have had to make do with many second-rate people as analysts and trust officers. Why is this? Simply because qualified younger people interested in money management gravitate to better-paying jobs (banks are still notoriously stingy), and more important, they gravitate to the places where aggressive people can get a piece of the action. Everyone is interested in equity today for the reason that it is impossible to get rich on a salary. No matter how much you make in ordinary income, you either spend it or it’s taxed. I don’t know anyone who really saves money. Plenty of people who duck money, yes. But none who save.
Trust departments, stalled with lawyers who don’t practice law. analysts who washed out of brokerage firms, low-pressure thinkers who like the tick of pocket watches and the solidity of seeing college classmates, move with a checklist of approved stocks that has been around since the United Fruit Company had its “Great White Fleet.”There was a revolution in the trust departments in the middle 1960s, and the banks lost billions of dollars in accounts when the “performance cult" hit Wall Street. One of the first orders I received as a broker was from a trust company , to buy 300 shares of a steel stock in the 90s. Today it is around 30. Still on the Approved List. My buy order was eleven years ago, and it’s been downhill ever since. “We’re expecting a recovery in the steels this year,”say bulletins from the bank. And when I question die trust officer about this now (he’s still there, naturally), he says, “The steels were solid companies them they’re solid companies now. National, she’s sohd. Armco, she’s solid. Good as gold. The trust department has seen ‘em come and go. We’ll stick with quality.” The clue here is that he referred to the steels as “she”; like ships. Well, the ship has not sunk, but the Staten Island Ferry has been a better bargain in the last decade than the steels. As for investment people who refer to stocks as “she" . . . Bella Abzug better not get caught in the cobwebs of some trust departments I know about.
When the performance cult really got moving in 1966 and stocks were doubling and tripling in five and six months, trust-department-approved lists of high-grade issues would be up a point, down a half, on average. Customers would call and say. “What are you doing in Telephone and Pacific Lighting and Ford, for God’s sake? Tenneco to you is a speculative issue. Loews Theaters you never even heard of. What is my mother’s million and a half, rest her soul, doing in your bank? Last quarter you’re up 4 percent for our portfolio. I can get 5 percent standing on my head in a daily interest account. Wake up!”
This attitude angered and confused the trust departments. and they shuffled their personnel, watching accounts being transferred to brokerage houses and other money managers as rapidly as winos draining jugs of muscatel. I have a list from 1965 of stocks bought through me by one of the most reputed trust departments in the country, all losers. And these stocks are not just in a decline this year; they’ve been losing money for people for a long time. The same stocks are still on the banks’ Approved List, and the posture they take is, “It doesn’t matter where we buy our favored stocks. Eventually well be proven correct. After all, we’re a fiduciary.” It’s true that they are a fiduciary, and eventually they may be proven correct. But if you exclude New England Calvinists, there are an awful lot of people today who would like to enjoy their grandfathers money in their own lifetime.
Is the Feeling Mutual?
Good guys with a million dollars who are easy to net along with get taken care of last by money managers. You have got to be hard-nosed, and a bit of a bastard, to get service. There is nothing like a little fear to increase performance. This fear concept applies to bank trust departments and to other institutions that will manage your money for a healthy fee (typically 2 percent of the asset value up to $150,000 and one percent over that, annually). These institutions try to bully you the way Gucci does when you go there to buy a pair of shoes. Gucci is doing you a favor just letting you in the shop, and they really think that for you. Hush Puppies are the answer. The investment advisory services and the larger people, the mutual funds who have management affiliates, claim to have limits on the size of accounts they will manage. A half a million or more is standard, although these days I’m sure they won’t sneeze at a $150,000 middle-class small-timer. Usually a team goes to work on you: one older, more responsible type who’s seen it all since his father took the Deep Six back in '31; and two terribly attractive boy wonders who look and act the way you’re always wanted to. They give you the pitch about performance and professional management, and when they leave, you’ve not only signed up your pension fund and your personal portfolio, but you wish, wistfully, that you could be so clean and efficient, and that they’d ask you to a party at their house, their club. One of the bright, scrubbed young men will be your personal portfolio manager. His name is Jim Jenkins, and he tells you, “Please don’t call us. We’ll let you know quarterly how you are doing. But we must have complete discretion. Details and small annoyances keep us from our job of superior research and performance. We must be isolated to operate.”
You begin to get confirmation slips showing you’ve bought companies you never heard of, but you feel reassured because you’re told that no money is made today in companies that anyone has heard of. Some of the companies you cannot find quoted in the paper so you call a broker who checks the over-the-counter pink sheets for you and you discover that everything you bought is up. Some of the stocks are way up. Your first quarterly accounting shows your portfolio has increased 35 percent, but all the stocks listed seem to have the wrong prices beside them, and some of the stocks listed, you know you don’t even own. You call Jim Jenkins.
“I’m sorry, but Mr. Jenkins is no longer with us. Your portfolio manager is now Mr. John Goyne. He’s a vice president,” you are reassured.
“I was going to introduce myself before,”said John Goyne, “but you know our policy of not being bothered in our research.”
“What happened to Jim Jenkins?”
“I imagine there were differences of opinion,” is all you can get. “But you should be pleased with the performance.”
“I’m thrilled,” you say. “But this evaluation shows somebody else’s stocks. Not mine.”
Silence. Then— “Oh? Let me get the file.” Pause. “I’m terribly sorry; these secretaries. You shall receive a corrected copy within the next week.”
You get a corrected copy in six weeks that still is not right. But it’s closer than it was and, what the hell, the stocks you do own are going through the roof.
Suddenly there seems to be a deterioration in some of your stocks. Electronic Memories has slipped twelve points. Teledyne is down ten; for a few over-the-counter beauties you cannot even be sure of the quotation. You call John Goyne to find that he has gone to start his own advisory service and Off-Shore Mutual Fund and now operates from Geneva. “Our senior vice president, Mr. Gordon, is now handling your account,”you are told.
“Mr. Gordon,” you say, when you reach him. “I realize your rule on calling, but I had a forty-thousand-dollar profit on National Student Marketing. What has happened?”
“Do you own that one?" he says. “I’m afraid that in the confusion of Mr. Goyne’s leaving, he neglected to have that recorded on your list.”
“Kindly close my account,”you say, beginning to think that the Approved List at the trust department was looking mighty good. At least you could count on the list and the same officers to be around for the next hundred years.
The Sensuous Broker
For years I have read about Jim Aubrey, “The Smiling Cobra,” his success as president of CBS Television, his fall, his return to power as head of MGM, his cold-hearted reputation, and especially his triumphs with women. Aubrey was celebrated for something I read about, and that I came to call “The Jim Aubrey Lunch" or “How to Dispose of a Woman Gracefully.” Aubrey, handsome and supposedly cruel, would call a woman whom he was tired of and invite her to luncheon, at Pavilion, or La Côte Basque or '21.’ He’d give her cocktails, wine, a fourcourse meal, topped off by coffee and perhaps some brandy. As she basked in his attention, lulled by the food and drink and fawning service, Aubrey would tell her good-bye, and, in the words he was quoted as saving, “walk out into the sunshine a free man.” The lady, who could never make a scene at La Côte Basque, would presumably dab at a tear, have another brandy, and vanish from Aubrey’s life. I thought The Jim Aubrey Lunch was terribly fine, and I longed to carry off something like it.
A year after I read about Aubrey, I was handling the account of an amorous widow, wealthy enough to indulge herself without worry but still very interested in capital gains. As who isn’t? Her husband had been a lawyer who specialized in maritime cases. He was killed in an airplane crash on his way from Guantánamo to Miami. She had wanted him so badly when they were in college together that she forced herself to stay in the background after they were married, subordinating their life to his career. After his death, as she told me later, “The real I emerged.”The lawyer had planned his estate well. The widow and two children inherited almost $2 million, $750,000 of it in securities, mostly blue-chip stocks and bonds. These she promptly sold and began to take large positions in stocks she had researched; this research consisted of following tips from successful former friends of her husband. She bought 3000 American Zinc at 35, within a point of its all-time high, and rode it to 25 before selling. It is now 71/2, but then Scan Data is 5 (it was 180), and Liquidonics is 10 (it was 170). She owned them both and took big losses. They had both been recommendations of a friend of her husband.
“Maybe they were not as good friends as you think,” I told her.
“Charlie Simpson was his college roommate,” she said (Charlie had given her Liquidonics at 150). “He worshiped my husband. And he told me he’d give me information for life if I’d go to bed with him. Friends are like that.”
“If you want to go to bed with him,” I said, “I would suggest taking jewelry or furs. Let him keep his information.”
“That’s just like something my husband would say,”she said, looking differently at me for the first time.
“Suddenly I feel like I’m a girl again,” she told me after a while, and I thought I had heard the line before, like from Deborah Kerr or someplace. She began wearing knee socks, and letting her hair grow long, and she bought fun furs and read Steppenwolf and Cat’s Cradle. And she began to let me recoup her losses, relying less and less upon what she was calling “Old Men’s Ideas” and more upon my suggestions. There were fringe benefits to the charade also, great Christmas presents (Turnbull and Asser monogrammed shirts), great birthday presents (a first edition of David Copperfield), weekly mercy errands for me to laundry and cleaners. But after a year and a half, during which time we made big hits in Stanley Works, KLM, and Diners Club, she began to haunt my apartment, waiting for me to get home from dates. I would find her asleep in her station wagon in her fun fur and long boots, a transistor radio tuned in to a rock station. I rationalized the situation by telling myself that I was the Stockbroker for All Seasons; that without my honest approach to her money, she would have it plucked from her. I represented, in my mind, the sole defense she had from predatory con men. But when her behavior became hysterical concerning my social life, and when finally our order clerk began to whistle “Just A Gigolo” when she’d bring me my morning coffee and Danish in the office, I decided it was time for The Jim Aubrey Lunch. I was beginning to imagine headlines: “Big Producer Shot to Death in Office,” or “Customer Gets Even with Customers’ Man; Released on Justifiable Homicide.” Even a three-quarters-of-a-million-dollar account was not worth the aggravation. Not to mention the fear, I thought, slipping my silver cuff links (another present) into my Turnbull and Asser cuffs. Feeling relieved, and determined to part friends if possible, I decided to tell her to take her account to Fiduciary Trust or someone like that, who would dole out money to her on a scheduled basis, increasing the yield and preserving her capital.
We met at the finest luncheon spot in the city, and each had two Tanqueray gibsons on the rocks. I complimented her on how she looked, dressed to the nines with newly streaked hair and a Chanel suit. We had littlenecks, small salads, and marvelously fresh sole with a '66 Blanc de Leparon. She wanted café diablo, and I obliged. The sun was shining, and I knew I would walk out into it a free man, just as Jim Aubrey would have. When she had had her last sip, I told her that she was one of the finest people I had ever known but that it was all over. “You’re going to have to take your account elsewhere. I can no longer serve you properly.”
In the finest restaurant in the city, at the height of the lunch hour, on the busiest day of the week (Friday), she started to scream at the top of her voice. Not words. Just scream sounds. The maître d’ rushed over. Waiters rushed over. She would not stop. “I’m only kidding,” I blurted out. “I’m not serious. A little joke,” I backtracked.
Lunch cost me $32 including the café diablo, and I was still stuck. She insisted on buying 500 Technical Operations to salve the embarrassment, and I realized that I was going to have to look for a hero other than Jim Aubrey. What would he have done when the screaming started? I’ll never know, but The Jim Aubrey Lunch as a viable concept was dead. I had forgotten to figure the money angle. On a purely emotional level. I might have gotten away without a scene. But with $750,000 in stocks sitting in a box on Wall Street in our firm’s name, my widow felt entitled to hysteria. I should have known there was a dimension I had overlooked.
She began to be wary after that, suspicious whenever she bought a stock that I recommended and it went down half a point. Sensing the end, she began to trade in a frenzy, calling me from phone booths on her way into town because she couldn’t wait to buy something. I finally blew up in my office, asking her, “For God’s sake. What do you think I am, a money-making screwing machine?”
She stomped out in a huff to Bonwit’s.
Lacking the courage to tell her good-bye for a second time, I did the next best thing: I unloaded her on a doctor. Even better than an ordinary doctor—a surgeon. The world’s most expert person on every subject. Especially investments. He gave her the benefit of his experience, leveraging her up to the ears in convertible bonds, which he got her to hock at a bank, then come back with the money, and buy more convertible bonds on margin (putting up only half of the purchase price). As she warmed to him, she cooled to me. One day she came into the office with her hair cut off and done in the blown-up puff-adder style so popular in the middle 1960s. She wore stockings and David Evins pumps and had shed her Briarcliff-skirt-and-sweater for something that looked like she was about to be photographed as a sponsor for a charity ball.
“I should like it if you would ship out my securities to me, please,” she said formally.
“You didn’t like the café diablo,” I said, trying to tease her out of the inevitable. She didn’t crack.
“David will be handling my affairs now.” (David was the surgeon, and she blushed slightly.) “Nothing personal,” she added, turning on her wellwrought heels and walking out, her 750K portfolio wagging its tail behind her.
“I Want to be Held”
I will tell you about my client named Sandy, who was a virtuoso drummer when he was a kid. “The best feet since Elvin Jones,” everybody said, and feet are very important for a drummer. Buddy Rich approved of him; he thought Sandy had it all. My client was playing in Vegas when he was twenty-two years old, solos that had people tapping on their whiskey-sour glasses with spoons. One night, one of the biggest druggists in the country walked in with his wife and sixteen-year-old daughter. He owned twenty-three drugstores in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis-St. Paul) area. The daughter was not only beautiful, she had a thing for drummers. Sandy smelled money and he saw that the girl was beautiful, and he married her a year later. But his quick feet and his quick hands left him at age twenty-four; he couldn’t keep time to a two-step. It was all gone.
Sandy retreated, with his bride, to his family business, manufacturing ironing-board covers. She felt cheated, but her father, a large stock market operator as well as druggist, did not want her back in St. Paul. A divorce would be a disgrace to her father’s name, and his name adorned twenty-three drugstores. Sandy’s wife went to a psychiatrist and stayed with the marriage. But one afternoon she came home from shopping and cut all of Sandy’s neckties off at half mast. Another day she drove her brand-new Thunderbird smack into Sandy’s Toronado, which was parked in their garage. She had a nervous breakdown, went back to the Twin Cities, was urged to return to her husband, and did.
Hating the ironing-board-cover business and anxiously waiting for his father-in-law to die, Sandy fell into Mitty-like fantasy, believing himself to be a stock market trader of immense proportions. He would call me four or five times a day from phone booths and diners and the offices of his customers. He had to know every eighth-of-a-point change, every share traded, not only for his own small portfolio (six or seven thousand dollars) but also for every stock of his father-in-law. These quote sessions could take five minutes apiece, cheap enough therapy for him, even at thirty cents a call. But he turned over his six or seven thousand dollars at least weekly, not able to sit in a stock. If you called your broker five times a day, you wouldn’t be able to sit in a stock either. For a while he was one of my biggest customers, in terms of commission business, because he was in and out of his positions so often. And because of his activity he felt himself entitled to a little romance—his broker should take him out for dinner once in a while—him and his wife. Once a year we had the mandatory shrimp cocktail, the expense-account steak au poivre and crêpes suzette. On one of these command-performance dinners, where I would arrive early and have many drinks, his beautiful wife who had been wild for drummers started drumming her fingers on my thigh. This has a way of changing the dimensions of a customerbroker relationship. When Sandy excused himself to the men’s room after his second planter’s punch, she grabbed my hand. “He’s such a pig,” she said. “He disgusts me. I make him shave at the factory before he comes home every night. I make him have manicures.”
“How can you stay married?” I asked, rubbing my thumb along the back of her hand, “if you make each other so miserable?”
“He’s sick,” she said. “But we don’t know anyone. I have no friends; he has no friends. Just this crap about the stock market and being a big man. His only friends are the financial pages. The funny thing is that he doesn’t even know what he’s reading. My father calls every Saturday at five thirty and chews him out for being an idiot.”
Sandy came back slurring his words, and her hand again dropped to my thigh.
“You know, I traded one million dollars’ worth of stock last year,” were the first words he said. “It took me four hours to prepare my buy and sell slips for the accountant.”
“Why don’t you die?” his wife said softly, staring vacantly at her creme caramel, which Sandy had made her order.
I was glad we only had to do this once a year.
Whenever he called me in the office, Sandy never mentioned his ironing-board covers. He never mentioned his wife or children or his friends or their social life. His relationship with me was one-dimensional: give him quotations, good service, and eventually his father-in-law would die and make Sandy my biggest account.
Sometime after the obligatory dinner, Sandy’s wife went into intensive analysis and he began calling me six times a day for prices. By this time he had traded himself into the ground, losing half of his original capital, and was determined to sit on one stock until he could recoup. I felt like I was at the siege of Stalingrad, inside the city. He’d fire away with phone calls for quotations. But no business. I didn’t have the heart to tell him good-bye; I could see him making the rounds of other brokerage offices with his sad routine, and I decided to keep his flame of self-delusion alive.
But I began having my secretary give him the quotations four of the six times he called.
“What are you, some kind of big shot?” he’d say when I finally talked with him.
“Look, Sandy, I don’t have the time to give quotes all day. The market is only open so many hours.”
“Someday it’ll be all worth it,” he’d say. “We’ve learned a lot together.”
A month later she called me. “I’ve got to see you,” she said.
I’ve always taken people to their illogical conclusions and I couldn’t say no. I told her to meet me for lunch, choosing someplace dark. But it wasn’t dark enough. She had gained at least 17 pounds; she wore a long, dark, shapeless dress (before the midi) to hide her weight, but it only served to make her look grotesque. She could not keep her eyes on anything for more than ten seconds without nervously casting about. Her first drink, a Bloody Mary, she spilled in my lap.
“Sandy is going to have to turn over $2 million next year,” I said to her. “Bloody Mary stays forever.”
She was too eager to towel me off, and I was wishing I were back in my nice safe office next to my nice warm Bunker Ramo machine, giving her husband all the quotations he wanted.
“Let’s take a room somewhere,” she blurted out. “I’ll pay for it. I just want to be held.”
“It’s time to go,” I told her. “I’m just not equipped to handle this sort of—”
With that she began tugging at the tablecloth, threatening to put my chicken croquettes in my lap, supreme sauce and all. On top of the Bloody Mary.
“It’s the frigging stock market,” she said, sobbing. “I just want to be held and not hear about Douglas Aircraft and General Dynamics and American frigging Standard. I could puke with all that stuff.”
“People get emotional about their stocks,” I told her, pulling the tablecloth in the opposite direction. “Sandy is a good guy.”
“Sandy is an idiot,” she said. “All my father ever talked about was stocks, all my husband ever talks about is stocks. You never talk about stocks.”
“That’s because I’m a broker.”
“Just hold me,” she said. “Leave Sandy to his ironing-board covers. Let him pull one over his head.”
I threw money onto the table, and in a cold sweat, talked her into a cab, first making her promise she would go directly to her doctor.
Falling into my swivel chair, I swore that never again would I become involved. It was two o’clock. At three o’clock, Sandy’s wife called, or rather the man who owned the hardware store two doors from my office called.
“I’ve got a crazy broad here asking for you,” he said. “I’ve called the cops.”
“I’m off to sell a mutual fund,” I told my secretary, and rushed out to find Sandy’s wife in shock, in the power-tool department. I was terrified.
“I’m just a dirty piece of ice,” she babbled incoherently. “I’m just a dirty piece of ice.”
It shivered my timbers.
Between grabs for the door handle and threats of suicide on her part, I managed to drive her home. Then I called Sandy and explained the situation. He said he’d come right home but asked me just as he hung up, “Did you happen to see the last on General Dynamics before you left the office?” Why didn’t I go to medical school?
Part of the American Dream is to make the Big Score by accident, to make it overnight with an inheritance, a marriage, or a master scheme that does it for you with very little work. I have had countless customers who have thought they could do it in the stock market, while they continued to live the good life.
Paul Benedict believed in this American Dream, although he hadn’t married it and would not inherit it. When he opened his account with me he said, “I don’t want to be lectured, and I don’t want any of your ideas. You just get me good execution of orders and pay me on time, and I’ll be grateful. I do my own hunting for ideas.”
To say that Benedict liked action was like saying Wimpy liked hamburgers. He would bet on anything: horses, dogs, trotters, cards, on every sporting event and side bets within the event: how many hits Tony Oliva would get against Washington, how many penalties Keith Magnuson would get against the St. Louis Blues. He also liked sex. But he liked to pay for it. “I haven’t slept with my wife in five weeks,” he enjoyed bragging. “But I’ve spent $100 a week for five weeks on twelve different babes. Now buy me 50 Computer Sciences, 50 Digital, 50 Leasco Data, 40 Xerox, 25 IBM, and 30 Disney.”
“Why don’t you buy one or two stocks?” I would urge him. “Commissions just eat you up. It’ll be a point before you break even on those things.”
This was his trading method, a mad random sampling of glamour stocks bought for no particular reason, and in most cases, sold almost the next day if they didn’t move. He was inevitably late in paying, and I was always getting him extensions of time, for which you must put in requests to the Stock Exchange.
Paul Benedict enjoyed calling me from hotel rooms, when he’d say to me, “Sell everything out and buy 50 Mitre, 50 Hess Oil, 50 Teledyne, and here’s someone to say hello.”
There would be a pause with his hand over the receiver, then:
“Hi. This is Gerri. How about a good time? We’ve got this big bed, and Paul says you can share it.”
Then Paul would get back on. “Do I know how to live, or do I know how to live?”
“You know how to live,” I would tell him. “Are you sure that you want to buy all these odd lots?”
“Just put them in,” he’d say to me. “While I go put it in.” Click.
I’d say that he must have liked me, because he was always trying to get his girls to open accounts and buy stock. None of them ever did open accounts. But one nice-sounding one, who claimed she had spent two years at Smith, wanted to buy a Mutual Fund Contractual Plan, putting away fifty dollars a month. I encouraged her to go to Switzerland and duck her money there. She said she’d consider it and that I sounded cute. But Paul was getting jealous by this time and grabbed the phone back, taking out his aggression by selling everything and buying nine odd lots. He almost never made a profit.
“You’re going to bury yourself,” I told him. “You can’t keep trading like this. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I’m trying out some theories,” he told me. “When the time comes to consolidate, we’ll shoot the works. If I make two hundred grand, I’ll take you to Japan with me. I’ve always wanted to get a babe to walk on my back. American babes are too big. They’d kill me.”
Paul never got a chance for the Big Score. It turned out he had borrowed up to the ears to gamble and to play the market, and there were certain boys who were about to lean on him if payment was not forthcoming. He sold all his stocks, took the proceeds, and disappeared for seven months. I ran into him in the street over a year after that. He was pushing a sample case of fabrics on the sidewalk, one of those big suitcases on wheels. He didn’t smile, and he didn’t tell me about his women.
“I’m on the road selling now,” he told me. “For my father-in-law. My pay goes to a trust account, and I get a goddamn allowance. We’re seeing a marriage counselor, and I suppose I’m all straightened out.”
“That’s good, Paul,” I said. “I miss you, but I know it’s for the best.”
“Let’s get together for lunch sometime,” he said. “Nothing fancy. A sandwich and a beer maybe.”
“That would be fine.”
“Boy, do you remember the good old days?”
I told him I did.
Supporting a Habit
Randolph was a physical-fitness nut who was dedicated to being in shape. He also believed that if you had $100,000, you could make a living from the stock market; a few hot deals along the way would eliminate the necessity of working from nine to five with all the other poor slobs. Randolph became a client of mine by accident. Mutual friends had introduced us, and I convinced him, over cocktails one night, that I was the best stockbroker in the business. He believed me, sending me $100,000 and following my ideas.
Independently wealthy and young, he had a wife, four children, assorted pets, and unusual ideas about living his life. “I only eat two meals a day,” he told me; “for lunch I have wine and two dozen oysters. Usually only twenty-three of them work. I must make love every day, lift weights, have 1200 milligrams of vitamin C, rose hip pills, one sixteenounce steak, and see lots of pornography.”
“In that order?” I asked him.
He would fly to New York once a week, ostensibly to “work on a deal.” Actually, he would camp in the 42nd Street stroke houses and come back with tales of what they were getting away with now. “And I saw at least five classmates there in the afternoon last week,” he would tell me, “with briefcases and vests. Beautiful. At least I’m no hypocrite.” And that was true.
But Randolph would always take his profits out of the market and let the losses sit. Eventually, it meant whittling down his principal, when he’d be forced to sell to keep up with mortgage payments, light bill, and his porno habit, which was getting expensive to satisfy. Whenever you are forced to liquidate stocks, you invariably get horrible prices.
The year 1969 and the first seven months of 1970 were getting Randolph on edge. One day he came into the office and announced. “The bloodsuckers of America are bleeding me dry.” He popped a rose hip into his mouth, flexed, and swallowed it without water. “I’m going to the Greek Islands, to Mykonos,” he told me. “A sunshine world where people are stripped to their essentials and the women wear peasant blouses. American women have no breasts. You run the account and send me $1000 a month. Bill-collectors are camped on my doorstep.”
“You taking the family?”
“Christ,” Randolph said, “would Zorba take the family?”
He did leave the country, sending me postcards from Biarritz and Cannes on his way to Greece. I’ve been fighting to keep him above water, but these thousand a month cables to American Express in Athens are taking their toll. His wife, abandoned in the States, has been calling me for money, saying that she cannot put off the grocer and her children’s school bills any longer. I can’t help her any more than I could help Randolph, and I do believe he is not going to come back. His last postcard said, “You can really live big on $1000 a month here. They are thinking of making me king. The fish is so good I don’t need any pills. Where has this been all my life?” □