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 know this is not a good return on my investment.
I recently discovered that some land I purchased adjacent to my house a few years ago cannot be built upon. Changes in county regulations have made it such that there is not enough frontage to a public access road. I had bought the 7000 square feet after speaking numerous times on the phone with a county employee who told me it was a grand investment that would double the value of my house. I shoulda known better. In the past, I’ve owned apartments that could not be rented without thousands of dollars of work, and vintage motorcycles that were unrideable because they could not pass even the undemanding Virginia state inspection. The signed and limited Salvador Dali editions I once owned 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 a very expensive used Italian sport scar. It was gorgeous, red with a tan leather interior; it boasted twelve 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 decades.
A few years ago, I closed out an account with a broker who, I came to realize, never had my best interest at heart and almost bankrupted me. When I decided to transfer my funds to another brokerage house, there was a glitch and for seven weeks I had no money. That all worked itself out and I got a large number of airline miles by paying everything including my mortgage 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, but I do not envy them. Money has always been a commodity for me. When I have it, I tend to spend it, often foolishly, on myself and friends. When I don’t, I tighten my belt. It’s only been in recent years that the fear of insolvency has really struck me, hence the recent listing for sale of my house. I admit to a great sadness over the decision to sell, but look forward to a few years free of financial worries.
I don’t know where the gene comes from that allows some to take pecuniary chances—and win— with investments. My parents didn’t have it. I remember that they once bought a lovely townhouse in upper Georgetown for a pittance. They spent six months painting and sanding and staining and repairing. They sold it for a hundred dollars more than they’d paid for it and, if memory serves, were quite pleased with their business acumen.
My sister, who lives in Paris, has been renting the same apartment for a half-century. She and her husband could have bought it in the 70s, I was told, but opted not to do so. My late sister Florence earned and then lost millions of francs because she never reported her earnings. My Oncle Jacques, a world-known concert pianist who while he was alive made tidy sums recording the works of Ravel and Poulenc, died broke.
Family lore tells of a maternal great-grandfather who bankrupted his upper bourgeoisie family by buying his mistress a candy store. The young woman was in her early 20s, a dancer with the Follie Bergere, and she apparently had about as much business sense as I do. She ran the confectionery into the ground, then sold it and moved to the Côte 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. She was sued into poverty before the age of thirty.
Whether these tales are true or not is of little importance. I’m not a financial genius, so what? As Arielle says, at least my people are creatively brilliant. She’s right of course.