It's a long story, how I made all that money. I won't bore you with it. Or should I? I don't even want to think about those years of $$$ obsession that led to this. Suffice it to say that tonight, after my long journey, I have at last, and not a moment too soon, come into the fortune I have deserved after all these many years of hard and grueling work. It couldn't have happened to a better and more deserving fellow. I lay abed for awhile thinking about me and my life and the New Fortune. The journey is over. And no matter how weary I am, I can't sleep, not for a moment, thinking about all that money -- where it came from; how to enjoy it thoroughly. I have been waiting thirty years for this, right? Or maybe a lifetime.
"It will take a lot of work to spend that much money," I tell myself. How much is it, anyway? If you take fifty-six million bones, and stretch them out end to end, you'd have a mess. Clogging up the streets, gumming up the sewers and the freeways. My new-found fortune is already making me very tired at the same time that it's keeping me awake.
It's probably Rich's fault, if we can blame anyone. My ex-friend Rich was a promoter; no --- a promoter squared. Once upon a time he invented this scheme to make a million dollars. "I have this idea for making a million dollars," he told me. "What we do is apply to the government for a whole stack of television stations," he said. This was back in 1978, when we were all more innocent. It was summer, at the beach, and we had drunk several of my beers. "We'll sell the idea of building these stations to the public, in a public offering. We'll call it Low Power Technology. It'll be the nuts."
Well, I'm a hard man to convince, so it took me at least five minutes to figure out a way to borrow the necessary money to finance this scheme. And we did it just like he said. We applied to the government for a boat-load of television stations. Then we went with these applications to Denver, to the original dog-and-cat market. We got the Securities and Exchange Commission to give us permission to take these applications public. We issued 100,000,000 shares of stock, or was it 1,000,000,000,000? Anyway, it was enough to float the Queen Mary, enough paper to last us two lifetimes. It was the nuts.
I was appointed Chairman of the Board. Rich was the President. Another friend of ours (he put up money too --- Rich didn't have any assets) became Secretary, even though he couldn't spell. The lawyers handled all the spelling, anyway. They did all that, and something called the "redherring," the prospectus issued for all the would-be stockholders.
Rich was right. That turkey flew. Each of us got paid in stock. The three of us shared almost twenty million shares. It was divine proof of the Law of Adam Smith (The Younger). He said that the way to make a fortune in America is not to buy or sell stock on the open market but to create it out of whole cloth.
In the first heady days after going public, the stock went from ten cents to eighteen cents a share. Between the three of us, we were worth over $4,000,000. My portfolio became so valuable I figured I should keep it someplace instead of the ratty Kamchatka Vodka cardboard box on the floor behind the desk. I sent the shares off to Dean Witter, had them put them in my account, the one that usually showed nothing more than a few Old Blue Chips that had been given me years ago by Deargrandmother. My bucket-shop Customer's Man couldn't figure it out. Here I was, the Blue Chip Kid, and one day I send him six million shares of this hokey penny stock. "What's this shit?" he says. Customer's Man is very direct.
"It's my next fortune," I tell him.
"What the hell is it?"
"You'll see," I tell him. "You might think of picking up some yourself. It opened at ten cents, and now, as you can see, it's almost doubled in value."
"We'd better sell," he says. "At once."
"Nonsense," I tell him. "You should climb on board. Rich says it's going to the sky."
"Who is this Rich?"
"Trust me. He's an old friend of mine. From Texas."
"What part of Texas?"
"Trust me. It's going through the ceiling."
"Do you want to sell any of it?"
"I'm not supposed to. But you say I might be able to..."
"Uh-oh...you can't. Sorry. It's what they call 'restricted stock.'"
"I can't sell even a little bit of it?"
"They won't let you do squat with it."
"Except paper your walls with it. Wait a minute...O.K, here, on the back: it says you can sell in three years."
"That's a long time from now, a very long time. Are you sure you don't want to buy a bit for your own account?"
"Do you know how much of this crap is floating around?"
"I think I don't want to know. What should I do?"
"You might consider getting a job." Customer's Man always did have a droll sense of humor.
§ § §
Well, you already know about gods and fate and fleeting fortunes, right? I don't have to tell you the whole sordid story, do I? Rich was a genius at finding the assets to get LoPo --- its official ticker name --- off and flying. He was a genius at getting low price stock gurus in Colorado fighting with each other to buy into this thing. He had a dream, and who's to say if his dream was any more terrible or wonderful than that of the Golden Fleece, or Martin Luther's vision in the outhouse, or Freud's royal road to the unconscious.
Rich had the ability to bring us chickens deep into the chicken-hut for our necessary feathering. He was so good that the first thing you reached for was not the gun but the checkbook. He had some other talents too. He had tastes that could best be called regal. Thus, he was an all-out champion not only at garnering money, but in spending it. How in hell he got rid of almost three million dollars in a little more than a year beat the hell out of all of us who were supposed to be part of the operation. It was no less than spectacular. "What are you doing?" I asked him once, "Investing in porkbellies?"
"Not a bad idea," he said, after thinking a moment. He was a wag, too.
"The start-up costs are unbelievable," he told me, early on, after LoPo had become the Darling of the Denver Exchange. "I had to hire a lot more employees just to process the FCC applications," he said.
"Revenues aren't quite living up to our projections," he said, somewhat later. "We might have to cut back on expenses."
"Do whatever you think is right," I said, graciously.
"We might even have to cut back on your salary as Chairman of the Board," he said.
"Oh..." I said, weakly. "Do whatever you think is..."
"Have you heard of Chapter 11?" his attorney said, not long afterwards.
"It's my favorite chapter in The Money Game," I said. I paused. He didn't laugh. Then: "Does that mean?..."
"You got it," he said. He was a man of few words, just like Customer's Man.
"How did you take it when they told you about the bankruptcy?" my friends wanted to know, later.
"No problem," I said, "I heard about it on Tuesday. That night, I slept like a baby!"
"Really?" they said, "Like a baby?"
"Right!" I said, "Every hour on the hour I woke up and cried."
"Do you have a quote on it?" I ask Customer's Man, not long after.
He sighs. "There seems to be a problem with the computer," he says. "What sort of problem?" I ask, pulling at the frayed cuff of my Brooks Brothers shirt, the old one.
"The computer gives a figure for Ask. It's a half a cent."
"One-half a cent?" I say. "A half-penny a share? Not so bad," I say, quickly multiplying my six-point-five million shares by .5.
"No," Customer's Man says. "What you want is something we call Bid."
"Bid? Bid? What's the Bid," I ask, my voice a bit softer now. "There seems to be a problem with the computer," he says. When he callsfor a bid on LoPo, the computer lifts its shoulders, rolls its eyes, and says
"We have a phrase for it in the trade," he says.
"What's that?" I ask.
"lt's called 'Falling out of bed," he says. Although I am not by nature religious, at this moment, I fell out of bed, onto my knees, saying a silent prayer. Praying for the ghost of LoPo, and, as well, sending brief notice to the Gods of the Marketplace, the Divine Force of Chance and Fortune, telling them we would appreciate any help they care to send our way.
I didn't have the heart to ask Dean Witter to send back the 6,596,712 shares of LoPo. I didn't want to bother them. They had troubles enough of their own, what with being bought up by Sears, becoming what the brokers call "Socks 'n' Stocks." Besides, what was I going to do with all those certificates? And don't tell me I could paper my walls with them. Sometimes those old wheezes just aren't very funny. Besides, I wasn't interested in looking at them anymore, if you want to know the truth. Let Dean Witter paper their bloody walls with them. They have more experience in such things. And probably more wall space.
What I did mostly was to try to be done with it. There were a few 3 A.M. wake-up calls, for the next year or so, where I cooked Rich over slow and hot and painful fires. But, on the whole, I think I took it very well. I put him and the Denver Stock Exchange and Going Public and what I was now calling Low Pooh out of my brain, even though the Dean Witter statement kept coming in to remind me of its existence. There it was, right below General Foods and General Motors and General Dynamics and General Despair, followed by our old friend NO BID. It stayed there long after I sold off all the Generals to pay a few lawyer's bills, the ones paid out trying to recoup something --- anything at all --- from those heady days in Denver.