Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Making Money

I do not have a head for business. I buy high and sell low, and the one time I ventured into a public offering, I bought into the worst IPO in the history of IPOs. I put $3000 into Vonage, the computer phone company--a sure thing, all advised me. My three grand is now worth $187. I took Econ 101 while at Georgetown University and even I can tell this is not a good return on my investment.

I have purchased land upon which I could not build, apartments that could not be rented without thousands of dollars of work, and vintage motorcycles that could not pass even the undemanding Virginia state inspection. The signed and limited Salvador Dali editions I own Dali were limited only by the fact that the printing presses broke down after putting out several million prints and papering the landscape with them. When I was better off, I splurged on what was once a very expensive Italian sport scar. It's gorgeous, red with a tan leather interior, boasts 12 cylinders and a top speed of almost 200 mph. It is perhaps the only model in the company's history that has gone down in value in the past 10 years.

Most recently, I closed out an account with a broker who, I came to realize, never had my best interest at heart. When I decided to transfer my funds to another brokerage house, there was a glitch and for three weeks I had no money. That all worked itself out and I got a large number of airline miles by paying my mortgages with my credit card, but then the airline that issued the credit card went out of business. Such is life among the financially inept.

I am awed by the young entrepreneurs who are billionaires by the time they're thirty--awed and somewhat afraid. I do not know where the gene that allows some to take chances--and win--comes from. I'm pretty sure my parents didn't have it. Family lore tells of a maternal great-grandfather who bankrupted his upper bourgeoisie family by buying his mistress a candy store. The young woman--in her 20s, I was told--was a dancer with the Follie Bergere and had about as much business acumen as I do. She ran the confectionery into the ground, then sold it and moved to the Cote d'Azure with a Portuguese playboy. Together, using the candy funds, they opened a charcuterie (the girl came from peasant stock) which did quite well until a shipment of tainted ham gave trichinosis to half the guests staying at the tony Negresco hotel in Nice. The erstwhile dancer and her paramour left town in the middle of the night, one step ahead of killers from the Corsican mafia. So obviously, they couldn't quite get the hang of it either.

Ah well, enough with the family tales.

Here's installment 79 of Wasted Miracles.

Catherine picked him up in front of his apartment building and her first words were, “I know what you’re thinking.”
Colin smiled. “That’s what Orin said yesterday.”
She shook her head, “No. Yesterday, that’s something else. What you’re thinking now, this morning, is whether Josie will remember your... encounter with her. And if she does, how are you going to handle it. That’s what you’re thinking right now. And you’re also wondering how I’m going to handle it, I know you are.” She took a breath, lit a cigarette, continued. “So let me give you some relief, ‘cause I’ve thought of this most of the night.” She swerved to avoid a dump truck, pumped the horn. “Asshole! Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ll go in first, stay a few minutes to see how she’s feeling and I’ll tell her you’re here. Then I’m going to leave the two of you alone, get in the car, go to the nearest coffee bar and have a quintuple espresso which I’ll nurse for a half-an-hour or so. That should give you enough time to get through whatever it is you’ve got to get through.” She nodded her head, as if agreeing with herself.
“After that, I’ll come back to the hospital and pick you up and we’ll talk about the weather, about the program, about anything except you and Josie, ‘cause the truth is, I don’t want know. Really, I don’t. If Josie chooses to talk about it in the future, that’s something else, that’s her choice and I’ll listen and deal with it then. Today, I’m feeling grateful that she’s alive, and grateful to you for being the one that got her back. I still feel horrible, terrible, about Joe. That’s gonna take a while to get over, even if I didn’t know him well. But you and Josie, what you did years ago? I don’t want to hear about it. Fair enough?”
“Fair enough. And thank you. But you know--”
She cut him off. “But nothing. I meant it. I don’t want to know. Nice day, isn’t it?”
Someone had washed and cut her hair, that was the first thing Colin noticed. It had been sheared at shoulder level and hung straight like a sheet on a drying line.
She was seated on her single bed in the small ARC room she shared with another woman patient. The walls were totally bare and Colin knew there were no locks on the door and that the windows were sealed. There’d been a couple of suicides at the ARC, people who knew their stay there was pointless and decided to take the hard way out. And in the beginning, when the ARC opened it doors, three patients had died of alcohol withdrawal.So now it was policy for a nurse to check on the patients hourly and make sure they didn’t hoard or refuse their medications, or ingest drugs smuggled in by friends and family.
The floor was highly polished linoleum--the patients swept it everyday and a service waxed it once a week--and above each bed was a reading lamp bolted to the wall. She had on new jeans and a tee shirt that read ‘Powerless Over People, Places & Things.’ Colin smiled when he saw it. She smiled back.
“A friend gave it to me when I got my first one-month chip, but I’ve never worn it.”
He nodded, sat on the opposite bed. “How are you feeling?”
She made a face. “Horrible. Shitty. Massive cravings. I kinda hurt all over and I have a headache. Half the time I want to puke, the other half I get the shakes. And since they have me on lithium, my head’s all spacey, my legs feel wobbly. I almost fell down the stairs on the way to breakfast. So, all in all, about normal for what I’m going through...”
Colin searched her face, tried to see recognition in her eyes, was both relieved and saddened to see none. He said, “Yeah. I remember all that. I was here too, seven years ago.”
“With my mother.” It wasn’t a question.
He looked at the girl, nodded.
Josie laughed, a bright sound, clapped her hands together like child. “I knew it! You’re the mystery man! You’re the one!”
She gave him a long, frank stare. “I’ve always wondered who it was. I knew it had to be someone in the program. Had to be, that’s the only people Mom sees anymore. I used to sit in meeting and look at the men and wonder, ‘OK, which one of you is it?’ Now I know.” She laughed again. “This is cool!”
Colin didn’t say anything, let the moment wash over him.
Josie stood, came to sit next to him. “And you pulled me out of that place, so I guess the entire female side of the family owes you. Mom asked you to do it, didn’t she?”
“She asked me to help, nothing more. It really wasn’t that much.”
She stood again, bent down, planted a feather kiss on his lips. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.”

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