I am a big fan of the 1949 film noir, "THE THIRD MAN." In it, Orson Welles plays Harry Lime, a black marketeer in post WWII Vienna. The plot centers on him faking his own death when the authorities are on the verge of apprehending him.
|THE AMERICAN FILM INSTITUTE (AFI), VOTED WELLES' PSYCHOTIC HARRY LIME AS THE #37 VILLAIN IN MOVIE HISTORY.|
Lime says; In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love and five-hundred years of democracy and peace...and what did it produce? The cuckoo clock.
Lime's rebuttal to his astonished friend begins, as if he were playing God, when he points down at the people on the ground; Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you 20,000 Pounds (approximately US $44,000.00 in 1949), for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money or would you calculate how many dots you can spare?
|THE WIENER RIESENRAD WAS BUILT IN 1897. IT WAS THE WORLD'S TALLEST FERRIS WHEEL UNTIL THE JAPANESE BUILT A BIGGER ONE, IN 1985. OH YEAH, THAT'S ME IN VIENNA, AUGUST - 1968, POSING NEXT TO A MODEL OF IT, IN A PAVILION ACROSS FROM THE REAL THING.|
A whole new world will open up to aimless Braddock at a college graduation party in his honor. His road to salvation begins when a friend of the family gives him career advice by whispering, "Plastics." While that term became a catchword of the era...that exact scenario played-out at my house, nine years earlier...and played a major role in how the rest of my life played out.
In January 1958, when my neighborhood Canarsie was new and the possibilities seemed endless, my parents invited some friends over for some, day after the blizzard, cocktails. Like most gatherings of this kind, at some point the husbands splintered away from their wives. During the men's conversation, one of the guys from down the street said after his tongue was loosened by several highballs, "I'm getting in on the ground floor of a million dollar idea."
Big talk, relating to get-rich-quick schemes, especially fueled by alcohol, is met with skepticism and is easily overlooked by blue collar men. Most of the young couples on my street were in, slightly over their heads. And without loans through the G.I. Bill, they would have had trouble becoming homeowners. My dad was a fledgling salesman, another worked in a print shop, there was an assistant plumber and among others, the big talking drunk, co-owned a tiny candy store with his brother.
The million dollar man's luncheonette was a couple of neighborhoods away, in the dying community of Lincoln Terrace Park. Those residents, like refugees, flocked to Elysian-like shores of Canarsie, New York City's last frontier Staten Island, the backwoods of North Jersey or for the more affluent, Long Island. So as his customer base dwindled, his livelihood on Rutland Road making pennies at a time, had an ever- declining, bleak future.
The other men were scoffing his million dollar claim when he added, "I'm tired of living like this. I want to be in charge of my self. Hell, I can barely afford what I have now so I'm going to take one shot, for two grand and aim at the big money...and it's a great shot!" Nobody in the room had that kind of money to risk or the autonomy over their wives to make such a move. So the questions he was asked related to responsibility. He then added, "If I screw-up, we'll have to move into a crappy apartment and I'll have to get a little job. And yes it's true, maybe we'll be eating canned beans and maybe Loretta will divorce me, but deep down, we won't really be much worse off than we are now...but I won't fail and my kids will appreciate that I didn't let myself get beaten down. That's why I'm going to see a broker as soon as the roads are clear again."
Just like in the, "GRADUATE," that neighbor said, "The wave of the future will be plastics and I have a dynamite penny stock called, 'WHAM-O PLASTICS,' and it's ready to explode."
My dad and none of the others took the gamble but the drunk followed his dream. He also held onto his crumbling business and kept buying Wham-O stock until he sold all his shares in 1970, for over a million dollars. The story gets better because that neighbor and his bachelor brother (who made his own separate investment in Wham-O), parlayed their windfall by buying a car rental agency. Then as a team, they bought a second one. When the neighbor's (three) sons came of age, another car rental franchise was bought each time. When they had five locations running well, they began selling them off. They kept the best one, made it mega for the three sons and the two brothers retired.
I knew this history in the early 80's when I was in Las Vegas, dealing craps at The Stardust Casino. Bob, an eccentric friend/coworker told me he was investing in a penny stock called Lereck Oil. He said he was going to his broker as soon as he opens in the morning with five-thousand dollars. For a combination of reasons but mostly because I didn't have faith in Bob as well as my conservative nature and I was too lazy to wake up that early, I refused the offer.
A week later, I asked Bob if he went through with his idea. He said, "I got 42,000 shares at twelve cents and sold them four days later for sixty-one cents." While numbers spun in my head trying to calculate his lucrative return he added, " I'm taking next week off and flying down to Guaymas Mexico to do some sport fishing...wanna come?"
|BOB MADE GUAYMAS SOUND LIKE PARADISE. EVEN THOUGH THIRTY YEARS HAVE PASSED AND I NEVER HEARD ANYONE ELSE EVER MENTION THE PLACE, IT'S STILL ON MY BUCKET LIST.|
That was the only time in my life that I wanted to go fishing. But fate dropped another opportunity in my lap this past fall. A coworker, Bill, (another eccentric), without a family started touting a company that discovered an oil field which was supposedly, the biggest untapped reserve in the world...in all places, Iraq. With the economy tanking, uncertainty in the workplace and my son about to enter college, I was ripe to take the chance of a lifetime, but I balked at this ninety-cent stock.
|I WISH BILL HAD HIT ME OVER THE HEAD WITH A 16-TON WEIGHT...MAYBE I'D BE MARLIN FISHING IN MEXICO AND LIGHTING THE BARBECUE WITH 100 PESO BANKNOTES.|
Bill went on a medical leave when the stock was still under a dollar and I forgot about it. In December, I found out that about twenty others at work took his advice. I brought the name of the oil company to my accountant, it was trading at $2.32/share. His research found more negatives than positives (like political unrest) and suggested that I steer clear of it.
My other coworkers who took the plunge formed a little oil company shareholders club. When they happily compare notes in the cafeteria, I get jealous and have pangs to go fishing.
A few weeks ago after being out for seven months, Bill returned to work. He said that everything he said that would happen to his oil company has happened and will continue to do so. The stock was over six dollars and he said he felt strongly that when a Fortune 500 Corporation buys them out, the value will soar to twenty dollars...maybe thirty dollars a share.
Plastics ignited Benjamin Braddock and ushered him into a position to be seduced by Mrs. Robinson, save Elaine from a loveless marriage and heroically sweep her off her feet for himself. On the other hand, I had opportunities to cash in on "black gold," and failed both times.
|EVEN A POOR MOUNTAINEER KNEW WHAT TO DO WHEN HE SHOT FOR FOOD AND UP THROUGH THE GROUND CAME A BUBBLING CRUDE...OIL THAT IS, BLACK GOLD, TEXAS TEA...|
My only consolation is that all I want at this point of life is, to work another seven or so years and retire. But the harsh reality is, the gaming industry is disintegrating beneath my feet. So instead of fishing in Guaymas, I'm trapped and feel like one of the dots below psychotic Harry Lime and his army of desperate lieutenants who take joy, in randomly crushing us.