Something Ventured

 

Money is, if not the root of all evil, is at least the soil of all evil. Here we see a formerly happy sapling weighed down by financial considerations. Money is, if not the root of all evil, certainly the soil of all evil. Here we see a formerly happy sapling weighed down by financial considerations.

It is a little known fact that Jesus Christ almost missed the Last Supper because of a jury summons. He was invariably rejected by the court because of his “I cannot judge thee, lest I be judged” sentiments. If only he’d been selected he might have lived longer and we’d all be coloring Easter eggs in July. Jesus was well ahead of his time. Before Christ it was like BC. His carbon footprint was practically zero. In fact when he walked on the beach he had no footprints at all. Sometimes I think (and I’m not alone on this) the man was a God. But how does Jesus’ experience relate to me? Well looking back I too would’ve done great things if a jury hadn’t gotten in my way. Who do they think they are – my peers? I mean judge not lest ye too operated a Ponzi Scheme. 

I, Sonny Upside, deserved better. Having received several offshore diplomas, I was knowledgeable, persuasive, and seemingly disinterested enough to evince an aura of certainty around whatever financial scheme I proposed. Investors wanted sure things in their wanton lives and I gave it to them by promising them not millions, but thousands in easy profits. Reasonable enough – right? My actuarially-tuned asset allocation strategy was shiftily constructed of hypes and dreams. It all seemed ironclad enough until Mr. IRS and Lady SEC started nosing around my second set of books. They said I should’ve done better crunching the numbers. Well if hindsight is 20/20, then embezzling is 10 to 20.

Anyway I’m out now and I’ll make enough from my $8 million book deal to keep me in granite counter tops for the rest of my life. That’s what happens when you’re infamous. You do something awful and people want to know what makes you tick. Bilking a sweet old lady out of her life savings is dastardly. Bilking 20 pension funds out of $136 million is exquisite – at least according to my probation officer and literary agent Wilmot Proviso.

 Genesis

 I’d always liked the music of Phil Collins’ and Mike Rutherford’s band …oops! Wrong Genesis.

What I meant to say was: My story begins many years ago with the Big Bang[1]. I’ll skip the intervening 15 billion years, which were noted primarily by my absence, and cut to the chase. By the time I crawled out from under my rock, capitalist winds were already blowing everyone (poor phrasing suffice to say the economy was surging). I rode the wave by simply trimming my jib, cutting anchor and sailing to the sea of C-notes. As a global venture capitalist who invested in everything from nostalgia futures to imitation zircons, I made my clients thousands. By never giving suckers an even break or underestimating the idiocy of American consumerism, I managed to lap the Joneses and keep up with the Rockefeller’s. And although my track record is better than Sea Biscuit’s, I still can’t help but wonder if some divine providence or just dumb luck guided my business decisions. For example my first Venture Capital firm Nolo Contendre funded a chain of restaurants called “International Pancakes of Distinction.” The chain failed, but I later sold International Pancakes of Distinction’s acronym, “iPod.” to Apple Computer for $43 million.

As a boy watching Hugh Hefner build his Playboy empire, I knew trading on other people’s assets was better than building my own. Work ethic meant a lot to me; as long as it was practiced by others. Fiduciary titles all sounded so seductive. Particularly the one I chose even before I knew what it meant – Investment Banker. Not a stock broker or a commodities trader, but an investment banker. This avaricious moniker conjured up the hushed elegance of richly appointed paneled rooms featuring over sized oil paintings of noble patriarchs and brandy snifters as big as flower pots. My course was clear. I’d decided to create my own value by siphoning of others. God what a country.

 Hindenburg Securities – A Division of Nolo Contendre

My second venture into venture capital initially left me flush with success. I was quite adept at tossing off irresistibly detailed wealth strategies such as the one I called the Corriolis Wealth Effect. As I explained to rapt audiences at country clubs and airport hotels we’d, “Start with a vertically integrated set of Australian cyclical equities along with a basket of Euro-denominated chemical stocks with low betas.” By the second reference to Structured Investment Vehicles I had them. Toss in some polysyllabic claptrap about fiduciary duty. Throw in some zero coupon Treasuries and a Real Estate Investment Trust underpinned by Cabbage Patch Doll warehouses and the next thing you know people think I’ve built a better financial mousetrap. Investors flocked to it like lemmings. It wasn’t so much a speculative bubble as it was a financial aneurysm the size of a zeppelin. Yes Hindenburg Securities didn’t quite go as planned, but it laid important ground work for my next project. Oh the humanity.

 Venture III

As our fortunes ballooned and then popped, I quickly reincorporated my venture capital firm, changing the name from Nolo Contendre to Guilty, But With an Explanation. The fish were jumping and the cotton was high. We were hitting on cylinder and institutions besides the SEC, FDA and FBI were starting to take note. Rife with the kind of hubris and invincibility Martha Stewart exhibits, we lobbied Congress hard on behalf of our new client The American Foliage Blowing Association. They’ve branched out from just blowing leaves and now, much like (insert name of promiscuios person here __________), they’re pretty much blowing anything. In 2008, Congress passed our pet project proclaiming the month of July as “National Leaf Blower Awareness Month.” To many, “Leaf Blower Awareness” seemed a contradiction in terms, but the American Foliage Blowing Association got what they paid for. By now Guilty, But With an Explanation was well on its way from a Grand Jury to a terrific plea bargain.  After establishing the Leaf Blower Hall of Fame at the NASA/Ames Wind Tunnel Research Center, we never heard another word from the association. I mean they called us all the time, we just never could hear them over the din of those god damned leaf blowers. 

Venture IV

In 1995 due to some yet unproven wire fraud charges Guilty, But With an Explanation was forced to reincorporate itself as Alright Already, We’ll Stipulate. Having identified the shambles of a once mighty railroad empire known as AmTrak, Alright Already, We’ll Stipulate underwrote a slower and safer railroad called BakTrak. BakTrak never quite found its market niche even though our research indicated AmTrak was ready for a major financial derailment. We tested AmTrak’s railcars and discovered, among other things, that at no time did they ever possess “new train smell.” Stodgy old AmTrak was busy advertising their overhead luggage racks that “Could easily accommodate the modern woman’s hat box,” while we were working on satellite laptops. AmTrak promoted their Dining Cars’ “Hamburger Sandwich served with julienned potatoes prepared in the French style.” We promoted yogurt smoothies with live acidophilus culture. And even though the Acidophilus in the yogurt didn’t have much culture, it was obvious to us at least that AmTrak was out to lunch. Whereas they had a Dining Car we had a Whining Car where whiners complained till the cheese was served. AmTrak served Lobster Bisque. We served Spanish Basques. Their customers ordered, “Chicken a la King.” Ours said, “I’ll have the Alligator Soup and make it snappy.”

Despite our thoroughly researched and highly detailed business plan most passengers just weren’t ready for open air trains – especially during monsoon season. Our user pumped hand carts for the frugal traveler met with more lawsuits than it was worth. And that our Bullet Trains careened on the rails at 17 miles an hour (and not all of them consecutive) didn’t help much either. I guess there’s no place left in this world for the little steam engine that “could almost.”

Venture V

After our train fiasco, the wheels were turning. Transportation was still king and automobiles were the focus of our attention. In order to avoid costly and meritless litigation Alright Already, We’ll Stipulate was shuttered and we reformed the firm as an offshore company. It wasn’t associated with any land mass; it was just offshore – 400 miles into the Atlantic. Called Something Ventured, it came to embody all that was right with all that was wrong. Our business plan included back dated stock options and imitation fishcake made from real Alaskan King Crab legs. Our bulk purchase of miniature jumbo shrimp served to feed a hungry populace – whatever a populace is. It got quite confusing. And when I began marketing Bunk House Soap for gay men with the tagline, “The most dropped soap in all the West[2],” we new the wheels were coming off.

However this did not deter us from underwriting a new automobile dealership with a different kind of ethos. A place where people could buy what we sold them at a price we could dictate. Thus was born “As Is Motors.” No warranties, no 72 hour buyer’s remorse option, no fine print and sometimes no brakes. The point was you got what you paid for which was always more than you could afford. We made the subprime mortgage business look like the Gold Standard. Our investors made out and our buyers never complained. At least not in English which was probably their third or fourth language. We hit our target market with a bull’s-eye.

Just as business was hitting on cylinder, the DMV had to get involved. I don’t see how a car is unsafe if it isn’t able to run. Picky, picky, picky. So for the past three years I actually held down a new job, indirectly working for the DMV, making license plates. It didn’t pay much, but it was steady work. I’m out now after serving only three years of a 10 year sentence (good behavior – stock tips for the warden). I’m rehabilitated and I’d venture to say there’s still a place for my latest investment vehicle. It’s an energy drink for know-it-alls. I call this liquid hubris Total Bull and it’s the first honest thing I’ve ever ventured.

[1] Or 15,000 years ago if that’ll get my fundamentalist brothers to read the rest of the story. I don’t want to alienate my audience – either of them.

[2] Joke idea stolen and embellished from the Jimmy Kimmel Show

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