Although my office was on the lowest of three levels, during that first year on the job, I would occasionally hear strange noises filtering down from the top floor. Often these indistinct sounds would mimic fanciful imagery like, I kid you not, cattle rustling with an occasional hoof stomp. Other times, the herd would be in full stampede. A cowboy could be heard running after them, shouting and hacking from a bad cough.
Quick reality check: the office was in Weehawken, New Jersey with a glorious view of the Manhattan skyline and the giant double helix of the Lincoln Tunnel. The latter emitted the roar of machinery, the giant soul crusher as featured in my post “THE NIGHT IS DARK AND FULL OF TERRORS.” It was very far from Marlboro country, campfires, and cowboys yodeling ah-hee-ho!”
The bumps, shouts, and herd noises were discordant and weird. What the fuck was going on up there? Sometimes, I would climb the stairs to snoop around. At first, doors would be closed as soon as I reached the top. Sometimes, I could see out of the corner of my eye, through a partially open door, something resembling a nose, or maybe some wrinkled skin. It was as if the stable master had asked the illegal stallion to settle down in his stall so as to hide from a passerby.
Nose and wrinkled skin? Was Dad hiding an elephant from me? Wouldn’t it fall through the floor of our ramshackle building?
Not many cowboys in Weehawken to admire this view.
One day I walked up and surprised them. The nose and wrinkled skin turned out to be a funny looking Jewish guy. “James,” the skinny older man with a paunch said to me with a commanding voice. He extended his hand. “Bobby Edwards, glad to meetcha kid.”
Bobby was a sight for sore eyes. His white hair was dyed blond so it had a distinct weird yellow tint. The whole do was combed back solid with some kind of pomade. He had a comical expression created by close-set eyes and overgrown proboscis. A big silver buckle adorned his blue jeans. “What’s a matta? Ya nevah saw a Jewish cowboy before?” he asked in his gravelly voice, before adding his trademark finisher while stomping his foot “HELL-o?!” So that’s where the hoof stomp came from!
Bobby was the best Mr. Swagger that I ever met.
In the mid-1980s, the best tax shelter was oil. Drill for it and you could get all kinds of depreciation and write-offs. Of course, oil tanks, hoses, drills, trucks, tool sheds, pump jacks, sump pumps, injection wells, and whatever else you need to extract liquefied and petrified dinosaur remains from the ground cost money. Neat stacks of it. This is where Bobby came in. Did I mention that Bobby was a member of the tribe? He impressed Dad with his ability to pick up used equipment at fire sales for nickels on the dollar.
But that wasn’t Bobby’s real talent. What he really was good at, was being a stand-up comedian. Spouting jokes everywhere. This guy would have killed at Grossinger’s and Brickman’s in the Catskills. He could certainly make Dad laugh. And everyone else. Especially me.
For example, one time Bobby brought my Dad and me to look at a potential investment in a bucket shop on Old Country Road near Mineola, Long Island. With a fancy name like “First Wall Street Securities¹,” the “firm” employed five to ten “traders” in a telephone boiler room who would cold-call suckers, I mean, “investors” soliciting them to buy shares in anything.
Each one was hired for a month or two and paid on a “draw” to be reimbursed against future commissions earned. If they didn’t make their minimum, adiós. Training consisted of a script, a copy of the Nassau County white pages, and a telephone with a dial tone.
The pitch went something like this: “Hi, Mr. Jones?, this is Mitch from First Wall Street Securities on Wall Street. Do you buy stocks? Do you own IBM? Well, you should! Our research indicates Big Blue is ready to shoot up and this is your chance to get in on the ground floor.” The “trader” hopes that the line has not gone dead by this time.
The actual stock pitched was of no specific importance, be it IBM, Wickes, or any other high flyer of the day. It was all about the trading commissions. The “investments” were nothing more than a crap shoot.
It was a simple business model known affectionately as “pump and dump.”
This film was about a boiler room just like my “First Wall Street Securities” firm. By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23363652
Bobby somehow knew the owners of FWSS and they were looking for investors. (Of course, they were looking for investors!) Although Dad had a real investment in Olcott International as a solid, honest-to-goodness business, the 1980s marked the period when he began entertaining himself by casting his net for poorer performing or questionable operations in which to throw away money.
Bobby’s main business was running low-cost oil leases in Kansas – but that day, as a favor to Dad, we were to visit the headquarters of FWSS out in Nassau County. Just in the event Dad wanted to buy into Wall Street. On the ground floor.
We walked into the “trading room” to see a bunch of overweight nervous looking “stockbrokers” flipping through telephone directories, holding phones to their ears, and reading the script with their lips and index fingers. Overhead dangled a collection of cut neck ties hanging from the ceiling by thumb tacks. A real klass-y operation.
How many shares of IBM for you? It’s going up, bay-bee!
Bobby, Dad, Mike (Dad’s accountant), and I stopped to take in this scene. Suddenly, Bobby clapped his hands to get their attention.
“Hey!” he raised his hands and shouted in his raspy voice. A couple of guys looked up from the floor quizzically. There may have been a “moo” out there, a soft one. “You can put your phones down. You don’t need to go looking for me. I’m RIGHT HERE! SELL ME!” One tubby salesman turned around to look at Bobby, ink stains over the breast pocket on his polyester no-iron shirt. “HELL-o?!” he bellowed one final time, before collapsing into giggles and his hacking cough. The four of us cracked up in light of Bobby’s “raid” on the boiler room.
A shirt sleeved “executive” came out to greet us and ushered us into his office overlooking the parking lot outside.
For the next hour or two, we were regaled with all kinds of fake P&L statements and hockey stick projections. These guys were desperate for a cash infusion, uh, I mean, investment. Probably had problems getting the scratch together to cover last month’s rent.
Even this was too much for Dad and Mike. As we left, the message from Dad to Bobby was clear – stick to the oil patch.
¹ – This bucket shop had a different puffed up name. Obviously.