The Money Man — “Before The Fall” Part 1

BY TOM JACOBS, THE MONEY MAN

In elementary school in the 1960s my best friend was a boy I’ll call Peter Newman. His family of seven lived in luxury, a red brick palace with eight bedrooms and five bathrooms.

There was not only a formal dining room, but also another in a semi-circle sunroom jutting out into the acres of backyard. A library, ballroom, playroom, a basement that had held horses and carriages. We roamed and played hide and seek everywhere, his parents out for parties or other. We sneaked peeks at his mother’s copies of the scandalous Valley of the Dolls and Portnoy’s Complaint in the living room. 

Mrs. Newman was clearly sophisticated and as my mother, had grown up in New York City. They both said they had been exiled to Rochester. The Newmans were Democrats.

My father was that old breed of northern business Republican. I was one of only two in my class who voted for Goldwater in the school mock election, because my father said he would. Not wanting family trouble, my mother secretly let on to me she sympathized with the Democrats, and later, I did too.
Peter and I spent summers in the pool. We stole around the barn where we were forbidden—we might fall through floors of wood of dubious safety—and where Mr. Newman parked his motorbike, which he drove me home on without helmets.

Our family of six did not live like that. We had a 1920s house with four small bedrooms and one bath on the second floor. I doubled up with my brother on bunk beds. I was the youngest and when my siblings were all gone and I had my own room, Peter stayed over on the other bunk. 

With fewer mouths to feed, upgraded to a Magnavox walnut combination TV (with a remote control that moved the channels in order) with turntable and radio. My parents gave me the Philco black and white TV, on which Peter and I watched Green Acres and on with volume low on Friday nights after bedtime, the strange and wonderful Avengers.

Meanwhile the Newmans went to New York on the train and Puerto Rico in the winter. We never went anywhere. Peter brought back tales of musicals and The Rockettes seen in New York trips. His city-wise relatives also opened his ears to satire.

Suddenly there was Tom Lehrer, with his sacrilegious take off on the church, “First get down on your knees/fiddle with your rosaries/then genuflect, genuflect, genuflect.” And in that atom bomb fear and bomb-shelter era, “So long Mom, /I’m off to drop a bomb/so don’t wait up for me. While you swelter/down in your shelter/you can see me/on your TV.” We acted them out and, before the Kennedy assassination, The First Family.

This Eden of sleepovers and freedom, triple AAA Rochester Red Wings twi-night doubleheaders on the radio muffled under the blankets, did not last. The late 1960s technology boom sucked many in to what passed for startups then. Peter’s father left his small law partnership for a startup. The era, soon dubbed the Go-Go Years, saw technology fuel a stock market mania, which led, as they all do, to a crash in 1973-74. The cockroaches scurried out from hiding places, bringing the excesses and worse to light.

 

This was the beginning of the end. For which, next week.

Tom Jacobs is the Marfa-based Investment Advisor for Dallas’s Echelon Investment Management. You may reach him at [email protected] and 432-386-0488.