Death Becomes Us


I have an unhealthy pre-occupation with death.

It’s not that I fear it, it’s just that I’m fascinated by other people’s deaths. That’s something that I inherited from my mother. Not to be outdone by this site dedicated to my father, she has a website dedicated to her memory as well, but it’s more serious, befitting her personality.

My mother used to be an inveterate reader of the daily obituaries. One of her favorite comments was something to the effect of ” He’s dead? I never even knew that he was ever alive!”

NY Times ObitsThat really sums up my fascination, as well, as I begin each morning not looking at the pre-opening market numbers, but rather at the New York Times obituaries, with a particular eye toward the lesser known luminaries.

When my mother was nearing her final months of life, I knew she was disconnected when she showed no reaction to the news that Bob Hope had died. A few months earlier, when told of Milton Berle’s passing, even though she was not verbal, you could see the amazement in her eyes, as she processed that information.

Bob Hope? Nothing.

What amazes me is how many relatively unsung and generally unknown people have made such incredible contributions to the world. One of my regrets in having moved away from New York is that I can no longer browse the New York Times Death Notices that detailed even more obscure local passings, not quite important enough for for the on-line edition.

Those local obituary notices contained not only gems among gems, but occasionally unwelcome news of someone I had known.

This weekend was replete with death.

Much of it gleamed from Twitter from posting by comedians. Interestingly, many of their postings are not very funny, at all.

I learned that Wally Boag, Andrew Gold and Omar Shapli had passed away.

Who? Look them up. Do I look like Google to you?

Although Lawrence Eagleburger was probably the most prominent of this weekends’ necrology news, he didn’t make the top of my list. Nor did James Arness and Jack Kevorkian.

I did find it somewhat ironic though that Jack Kevorkian chose to have his body cryo-preserved until that day that modern science comes up with an understanding of what actually kept him alive.

The passing that most caught my eye, though, was that of Dr. Rosalyn Yalow. I certainly won’t try to chronicle her achievements, but suffice it to say, she was a women, Jewish and from the Bronx. Three strikes against her, especially when it came to setting her odds on ever winning a Nobel Prize for Medicine.

My sister, who also shares those characteristics with Dr. Yalow was once told by someone that she could never go forward in life unless she got out of The Bronx.

“Good people aren’t from The Bronx”, was the bottom line.

My sister eventually did leave The Bronx and has not yet won a Nobel Prize, so I wonder how accurate that advice really was.

Being Bronx bred and having worked in the Bronx in my early professional days, Rosalyn Yalow was an institution. Not only an incredibly accomplished researcher and mentor, but also a dedicated mother and wife. More than a triple threat, she was a quadruple threat. She proved that you could have it all, despite the roadblocks.

On top of all that, in her world so strongly influenced by science and data, she was an observant person, one of deep and abiding faith.

As an added bonus, she didn’t go around killing people.

My fascination with death is not entirely paralleled in my fascination for stocks.

For starters, I chose to ignore the lesser known stocks. I tend to gravitate toward the more household names. I rarely look to capitalize on an undiscovered gem. Let someone else get the thrills of discovering one of those. I don’t want to dirty myself.

The stock market mentality in me gravitates much more toward Jack Kevorkian than Rosalyn Yalow.

The stock market mentality in me also looks at death, but in a different way. It doesn’t allow me the fascination with a life well lived. Instead, it wants continued vibrancy. I don’t really care what you did yesterday. I want to know what you’re going to do to line my account tomorrow.

While at am somewhat awed by the lives that the recently departed lived and the impacts made, I have a very different attitude toward stocks that are “dead to me”.

I do, however, distinguish between “dead money” and “dead to me”.

For me, “dead money” is just a question of poor timing or extrinsic factors effecting stock price, that I don’t believe will be corrected in the short term. I don’t mind or totally rule out the possibility of investing in those companies sometime in the future.

Right now, I look at my holdings in British Petroleum as dead money. I’ve made lots investing in shares well before the bad days surrounding the Gulf spill and after. But lately, it’s going nowhere and I don’t see anything on the horizon to prompt it much beyond $48.

Even worse, as its volatility drops, so does its options premium.

When a “dead money” stock starts picking up in volatility, then I start getting interested again.

Then there are the “dead to me” companies. The ones whose intrinsic doings seem to doom any hope for price rebounds in my lifetime. Those stocks often get recharacterized by some as “value stocks” and by others as “value traps”.

Value is great, except when it’s not real.

Take Research in Motion. And I mean that literally. Just take my Research in Motion. No amount of volatility at this point makes it appealing anymore.

Not that we didn’t have good times, but it sometimes becomes time to move on and not look back.

I hate losing money in the market. Although I sometimes rationalize selling in order to take a tax loss, I’m really not kidding myself. I’d rather be in a position to pay more taxes, than looking for losses.

Recently AIG joined the list of “dead to me” stocks. Although, at the moment, it’s one of those hideous “partial death” sort of things, because I still hold shares.

Granted, with its volatility, I was able to repeatedly sell call options on AIG, yet its spiral downward fro $40 to $28 has been too much for even my beloved covered call writing strategy to withstand.

AIG? Dead to me.

Ford Motor. I spit on you.

Don’t even get me started with YRCW. Only a class action suit can do anything for that horror. Once the darling of cable TV, you don’t really see CEO Bill Zollars on anyone’s guest list these days.

In the markets, everyone loves a winner. A high profile homerun hitter.

Zoeller? Dead to me. Not a woman, not from the Bronx and really don’t care about his religion.

Rosalyn Yalow? Always a hero to me and hopefully to a few more now.


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Party Like its 1999

I don’t remember much about 1999.

Not that I was in a drug filled haze, or anything like that. If anything, that would have been many years earlier and I still remembered all of those times.

What I do remember is that we spent the most pathetic New Year’s Eve ever welcoming in 2000 at our neighbor’s house.

I can make those statements because they have since moved to Florida and I don’t believe that they were literate.

PrinceFor starters, just about everyone at the party was wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers shirt. Mind you , we were in a part of Maryland that was not at all close to the Monongehela River. Most of the men and some of the women, I think they were women, were watching ESPN Classic Pittsburgh Steelers games from the past.

Happy New Year to you, too.

Anyway, the only music playing all night was the ubiquitous song by Prince, at a time when he was known as something else. It amazes me that an entire world had been waiting 17 years for that song to be relevant. But then again, these were the people watching an equally old football game that had at least as much relevance.

What I do remember about 1999 is that I sat on the sidelines when it came to my investments.

If you were a reader of the first incarnation of the Szelhamos Rules blog, you’ll know that I had a wonderful broker, Bob Shapiro. If you read the Option to Profit book you’ll also know that he passed away very unexpectedly.

Back when Bob was managing my account, I still followed the markets daily, even though he had full discretionary trading rights. I never micro-managed.

But on the sidelines I saw the wild amounts of money being made by people who weren’t me. It didn’t really matter that my own portfolio was performing well, because it wasn’t performing dot com well.

The stories of excess were legendary. The money was coming in and was going out even faster. Unfortunately, the money that was coming in wasn’t really from sales.

Long story short, I was spared the roller coaster rides of that era. I don’t have any sock puppet momentos inthe closet, nor reams of class action papers as a reminder of the wild times. Bob stayed on a much more sedate path. Sure we had ups and downs, but I never puked on the way down.

And so yesterday the big news came. No, not the news that Goldman Sachs was served with a subpoena by the Manhattan District Attorney. We all knew that was coming.I’ve got nothing left to puke on that one.

It was the other news that we all knew was coming.

A couple of weeks after the LinkedIn IPO came the much awaited word that Groupon was going to go public.

Within minutes also came word that Pandora, the music service with the artificial intelligence algorithm was also coming public. Since both are Morgan Stanley offerings, you’d think that maybe they would have timed the announcements to let Pandora have at least a little glory that Groupon was gobbling up.

Now, for full disclosure, my son works for Groupon’s biggest competitor, LivingSocial. He is responsible of overseeing the huge hiring spree that LivingSocial is currently engaged in. At least, that’s what a proud father would like to believe. In fact, a silver lining in ADP’s employment numbers was that LivingSocial accounted for 1/3% of all new hires in May. Not bad for a pretty small company.

A pretty small company that keeps company with Steve Case and Jeff Bezos.

Anyway, you remember Groupon. They spurned Google’s $6 Billion offer.

You remember Google, don’t you? They’re starting a Groupon like sevice tomorrow, Google Offers, in San Diego. Interesting, just a couple of days after they announced Google Wallet. 

Have you seen Groupon’s CEO?

‘Nuff said. I’ll let you scour YouTube for some clips, but yesterday’s statement that the money losing Groupon would not measure its performance in the usual fashion, should be sending a bad message. But if you don’t want to go the high tech route and search YouTube, just dust off your Funk and Waganalls and look for the illustration for the words “arrogant” and “obnoxious”.

Remember, I’m biased, but I’m being objective on this one.

The fact that Groupon employs 400 full time staff writers should send another message. How much effort does it take to write the same tripe for every tooth whitening offer in the country?

But there was unbridled enthusiasm yesterday as the announcement came across the news wire at about 3 PM. LinkedIn was the teaser, Groupon just a tasting, with everyone waiting for the 800 pound gorilla.

Facebook, with a current valuation of about $50-80 Billion.

And if this really is 1999 redux, there’ll be lots of drek coming along too, vying for your investment dollars.

What really makes me believe that we’re already nearing a top in social media is that my son, who made his first stock investment about two weeks ago, had already read Groupon’s S-1 filing and he was critiquing it for me, analyzing their dividend payments and compensation packages.


Since I have an aversion to speculation, I won’t jump in, even if given the chance.

Which I won’t be.

On the positive side, I’m hopeful that my son’s LivingSocial stake will get the benefit of a wildly bid up valuation on the heels of Groupon and others.

In the meantime, I see a different outcome, at least for LivingSocial.

Granted the Google alliance with AOL didn’t turn out as planned, that alliance was with a Time Warner- AOL and not with a Steve Case led AOL.

Microsoft already has a small piece of the consumer market and no doubt that Google wants to keep Microsoft from gobbling up a big player in the daily coupon business.

After all, wasn’t that why they picked up a stake in AOL in the first place?

So I see Google, Steve Case and Amazon coming together on this one and blowing Groupon out of the water.

The difference between 1999 and 2011 is that all of this froth is based on people to people businesses. No real technology, per se, just a better way to get the non-proprietary tangibles that we all need.

Food, recreation and 50% discounted bikini waxes.

Why didn’t they think of that in 1999 and spare a generation that pain?


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Some Days it Just doesn’t Pay

Today was one of those days that you just wished that The End of Days had actually occured.

As if a 280 point drop in the Dow Jones wasn’t enough, watching Trump eat his Pizza with a fork and knife in a prototypical New York Pizzeria joint was enough to question everything in life.

Trump PizzaDuring World War II, reportedly American GI’s tested suspected spies by peppering them with baseball related questions. That was one sure way to test someone’s stripes. If you fell for the old, was Joe DiMaggio your favorite Brooklyn Dodger question, your ass was toast. Especially if you answered “Yah”.

No doubt, after seeing Trump elegantly dining on Pizza, one would be well justified to question the nation of Trump’s birth. Even Kenyan’s know how to eat Pizza.

They certainly don’t stack their slices and they’ll usually walk the extra 20 feet to bypass the Albanian Pizza place for a chance to get some really authentic New York Pizza, made my authentic Italians.

Let’s be clear, The Donald’s excuse for using a knife, fork, spork, whatever, doesn’t hold up to well. He said that he eats it that way so that he can bypass the dough, to keep his weight down.

The stacking sort of speaks a different story, unless Trump uses one of those Intuitive Surgical Da Vinci robotics to extricate the mozzarella and tomato sauce from between the soggy crusted slices.

Palin Star of DavidAnd then, there’s this image of Sarah Palin with her daughter Piper apologizing for pushing a cameraman. Well, as if the Jewish people don’t have enough problems, Palin is wearing a huge Star of David.

It was pretty unmistakenable. Maybe she was just trying to be prepared for any possible host awaiting her upon last week’s cancelled Rapturapalooza.

Don’t know, but once again it has me questioning everything. I had no problem with a Tina Turner beating Ike Turner or baseball bashing Rod Carew wearing the Star of David, but this? Too much. Just too much.

These sights were no way to end an absolutely horrid day.

Like most days that the markets are opened, I eagerly look forward to the days’ action.

Today was no different.

But like most days recently, our Dachshund, Laszlo, has been waking up and howling at an obscene hour in the morning.

Letting my Sugar Momma sleep, I get up and let Laszlo out with the full intention of going back to bed.

That never happens. Just can’t do it.

And so, I wait more than 4 hours waiting for that opening bell with my days’ trading strategies all planned out. I was fully expecting a rebound in Research in Motion and another upward bump in Freeport McMoRan.

Besides, the pre-open numbers indicated only a mild drop. Plenty of reason for sustained optimism.

But for the first time in a very long time, the market acted in an appropriate fashion for the economic news at hand.

The ADP employment numbers and then the ISM (Institute for Supply Management) data were not very good. But instead of moving in the irrational direction, the market actually did what a normal person would have predicted.

Given yesterday’s 128 point climb, today’s numbers gave a good reason to take some profits, but it was really an overdone reaction.

Given that Friday are the official government job numbers, I can’t imagine another such reaction for the release of numbers that should roughly mimic ADP’s numbers. The caveat being whether there are substantive revisions to previous month’s data.

Unfortunately, I’m not very well hedged and today was quite a hit. Normally at this stage of the month I’m fully hedged, but I change gears a bit if the previous month didn’t have many assignments. That usually means that I’m holding positions that are in negative territotry and I expect price rebounds.

In a perfect world, I’d rather make profits from an always upward spiraling stock price, but that’s just not the way of the world. Sometimes stock prices move downward and options premiums offest those paper losses very nicely.

That was the case during the May 2011 options cycle. I chose to not write June call options on a number of positions until they exhibited some price rises.

That was the strategy that I used during the early period of the post 2009 recovery. Back then, I went for capital gains on the stocks and smaller call option premiums.

For the pasy year, however, especially when volatility was high, I was particularly happy with the options premiums that came with near the money strike positions.

So today ened up being a total disappointment.

Rather than rapture, today was definitely a day from Hell.

Trump, Palin, The Dow Jones and Laszlo.

But at least my day tomorrow will have a much better chance of improving.

Don’t think Rep. Anthony Weiner will be able to say the same thing, although I guess we both could be guilty of letting the dog out.

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Trying to do my Peace


There was a time, not that long ago, that I actually cared.

I spent considerable time and effort advocating for equitable health care. I actually put my Masters in Public Health to reasonably good use, but then I joined the dark side.

I decided that I really needed to make some serious money and did so for nearly a decade, until I realized that I could make some serious money without really working.

But as a member of The Chosen, I carry guilt with me regardless of the decisions made, trying to somewhat assuage those feelings by supporting varied charities and then calling it a day.

If I made profits from shares on options on Altria or Philip Morris, you guessed it, Easter Seals and American Heart Association erased some of the guilt at only a small fraction of the profit.

These days,  I sit, I watch TV, I trade and then I shake my head in disbelief watching the world’s news unfold before my now passive eyes. I don’t really think about such heady issues as international conflict and world peace, although I do occasionally recall a long ago forgotten solution offered for achieving world peace.


Dean MartinMany years ago, and I do mean many, I had a comedy album, that I think was called “The First Family”. Regardless of the title, the album was about the Camelot presidency of John Kennedy, with the premise being that all of his high level cabinet appointees were Hollywood celebrities, portrayed by the impressionists of the day.


For me, the most memorable moment was the press conference question posed to Secretary of State Dean Martin.

 “Mr. Secretary, what is your answer for achieving world peace?”

 Secretary Martin replied “Wheat’s the answer, man. We need more wheat all over the world. ‘Cause the more wheat we grow, the more booze we gonna have. And if everybody’s drinking all the time, won’t be any fighting. Just hugging and kissing. Good night, everybody.” 

Well, yesterday was one of those days that I sat vacantly and did nothing but trade.

The market opened up with a bang. One blink of the eyes and we were already in triple digit terrority.

Thanks to E*Trade’s finally supporting weekly options trading my own trading activity has changed significantly. Rather than being concentrated to the first couple of days of each options cycle and then looking for opportunities to buy back and eventually resell those same options, I now can find opportunities nearly every day.

Best of all, when a position does get exercised, I suddenly find myself flush with cash to open up new positions or expand existing ones.

That was the situation today, on this first trading day of a holiday shortened week. I lost some shares in Freeport McMoRan, some Spiders and British Petroleum.

I took the opportunity to pick up some Praxair, which goes ex-dividend in a couple of days, new shares in Freeport McMoran, Research in Motion and Microsoft.

I know that those sound like odd choices.

If you follow the blog, you know that I like Microsoft, even if it moves nowhere. Selling call options ad nauseum and collecting its ever improving dividend is fine by me. Plenty to gain, with little to no risk.

RIM may be a value trap, but I think it was hit unduly hard yesterday due to Nokia’s troubles and besides, it has a nice call option premium. It will probably flame out one of these days though and maybe then Microsoft can get its phone strategy working

Why buy back Freeport McMoran? Because it is one of my favorite stocks always providing a thriling ride and rewarding options premiums, that also happen to come in the weekly variety.

So what’s today’s point, as I seemingly ramble?

There was really only one interesting news story today and like so many recently, it painted Goldman Sachs in a bad light.

This time, news came out that the Libyan Sovereign Fund, which was a Goldman Client lost about 98% of its value, as it was very heavily invested in financials, at the worst time you could pick.

Okay, the Libyans are big boys, but for some reason Goldman went through any number of potential permutations to make the Libyans whole again. Even for that very brief period of time when Qaddafi ostensibly behaved himself, I doubt that anyone in the world would shed a tear over their financial loss.

Now I’m really not that interested in the origins of Goldman Sachs. I’m currently long shares and have been so, off an on for about 3 years. In fact, I’m pleased to take a 10% hit in its recent stock price in return for Libya’s 98% hit.


However, I can guess that most people, especially the anti-Semites out there, fervently believe that the firm has Jewish roots. There’s certainly been no shortage of anti-semitic comments about Goldman’s role in the financial meltdown.

As I thought about Libya’s relationship with Goldman, I juxtaposed that with Saudi Prince Al-Waleed, referring to ex-Citibank “big macher” Sandy Weil, as his “good, dear friend”. I also recall the not so secret trip Weil made to Saudi Arabia at the depths of Citigroup’s own crisis.

Funny how money brings people together.

Sworn enemies, Jews and Arabs, bought together out of a mutual love of profits.

Obviously, the answer to world peace is prosperity. Okay, maybe a little wheat based alcohol, as well, but prosperity trumps everything.

As I sit and trade, my guilt is disappearing. I’m spreading prosperity one trade at a time.

The dark side is not so dark after all. It can be a fairly prosperous environment if you only let it be so.

Just doing my peace, is all.





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Appropriate Behavior is a Moving Target


A few weeks ago I wrote about why I loved modern times.

This past Friday, I had an opportunity to put my admiration for technology to work.

Although I was an early adapter of technology, having set up a Novell network back when it was v1.1 and the people in Orem, Utah knew me on a first name basis, I was very slow to pursue the personal technology explosion.

Mostly because I non’t really believe in personal relations. Remember, I have no Facebook friends.

DroidI resisted the temptation of Palm Pilots, I eschewed all things iAnything and my personal cell phone has always been antiquated, although its tethering cords are spun of fine silk.

Admittedly, I’ve have some wanderlust for the iPad, but I know that once I make that plunge, the “cool factor” will officially be gone, so I allow the world to remain giddy while I stay unconnected.

In many ways, I’m still stuck in 1986, which was a very good year, including the birth of my first son and the last time my beloved New York Mets won the World Series. In many other ways, though, I go back much further.

But my 19th century sojourn in the land of cellphones past ended a few months ago when my son picked up a smart phone for me, as part of a “BOGO” deal.

Now, I’m an emotional cripple if my Droid battery dies on me, which it does seemingly every 15 minutes. Fortunately, most days I’m glued to the La-Z-Boy and all electronics are plugged and charging.

This past week was really my first test of personal integrity and respect of institutions, decorum and education.

Although I am essentially retired from professional life, I was attending a professional conference in New York City, that for all purposes, marked the end of my commitment to the organization that represents my healthcare specialty.

My final Board of Directors meeting was on this past Friday, from 9 AM to 1 PM.

But instead of paying much attention and contributing whatever wisdom remained in the now smoothened ex-fissures of my brain, I focused on my trusted Droid and its E*Trade application, although I occasionaly checked Twitter and read my daily Dilbert.

With every Friday now being an options expiration Friday, I really didn’t feel that I had the luxury of paying attention to such issues as promoting life-long learning.

Did I really want to analyze budgets and P/L statements?

Not really. I wanted to make some trades and my Droid was my “bestest” friend. After all, even a couple of hundred dollars on an options contract expiring in a few hours was a worthwhile endeavor.

It just took time, effort and attention to find the right trading opportunities and the willingness to close my mond to other things going on around me.

My Sugar Momma of a wife would say that I was already quite good at that.

Now if I had happened on a student acting the way I was acting just a few short years ago, I probably would have had some very sarcastic, humorous comment that would have superficially covered some deeply seated anger over the wanton display of disrespect.

Man, I should have been a therapist.

But here I was, being the disrespectful kind of guy that I never really cared for, unless they could do it without getting caught.

Those guys I respected.

But I didn’t even make any attempt to hide my lack of focus on the topic at hand. It’s not like I hid the phone in my lap. I was fully engaged in a behavior that had evolved to a point that it seemed entirely appropriate.

Besides, I was too busy trading to care. I sold some JP Morgan Chase $43 calls that were set to expire later that day, as well as some Time-Warner calls, right after Time Warner went ex-dividend.

I made enough that morning to make me happy for a week and it at least makes up for Monday’s day off, due to Memorial Day.

After the meeting was over and the market closed, I remained holding my JP Morgan shares, as the options expired worthless, although I did lose some other holdings, owing to a late surge in SPY and Freeport McMoran..

CarterLater in the day, as we sat with some friends in an Ale House, I was thinking about my behavior earlier that morning. It really didn’t take much to get me to rationalize my “multi-tasking”, particularly in light of the continuing education program the following morning on ADHD and OCD, but still, I felt as if I had behaved inappropriately.

As I had not yet dismissed any guilt over the morning, I re-directed my attention and admired the framed  collection of 1986 New York Mets baseball cards hanging on the wall. At that moment, we were all unaware of the news that was going to hit in a couple of days, that Gary Carter, “The Kid” had a rapidly growing inoperable brain tumor.

His card was front and center among a collection of great New York Mets stars, some of whom went to to inglory, wasting great talents and robbing the Mets of a potential dynasty.

Gary Carter was the conscience of the Mets back then. He was the leader and had a work ethic and zeal that was second to none.

To be both “The Kid” and the elder statesman of the team says quite a bit.

I don’t know very much about Carter’s life after professional baseball, but I imagine that he applied the same sort of zeal and enthusiasm to everything he did.

In my mind, Carter’s behavior probably had not evolved, or from some perspectives on modern culture, devolved to meet society’s changing directions.

Apparently, I don’t have the same kind of moral compass.

During the lecture on Saturday morning, very possibly the last lecture I will ever sit through, I resisted playing with my electronic umbilicus for as long as I could.

As I looked at more and more slides on the topic, I decided that I had ADHD, and as such, I could excuse my need to shift my focus.

Unfortunately, the markets are closed on Saturdays, but still, there was no shortage of games to play, news articles to read or Twitter posts to make.

Reprehensible behavior? Maybe so to the me of a few years ago.

Today, not so much, but deep down, I probably wished that I could maintain the effusive energy and commitment to tradition as Gary Carter.

Eh, at least I made some money while evolving into a bad boy.

Here’s to Gary Carter and a commitment to ageless standards. May you continue to make great new memories for you fans and admirerers.


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Why I No Longer Watch Jim Cramer



I’ve been on Twitter for about a month now and if you’ve been following me, you’re no doubt annoyed with the intrusion on your lives.

Sorry, but an addiction is an addiction. They’re very tough to break.

CramerSo too was my addiction to Jim Cramer. So much so, that when I was in the insane commuting phase of my life, flying to and from Boston every week for about 7 years, I always made certain to DVR Mad Money shows that I was likely to miss.

My DVR, with some sort of developing artificial intelligence based on my predictable behavior, would get concerned and break out in a cold sweat if I forgot to program it for CNBC at 6 PM.

I actually broke out in a cold sweat when CNBC paired back airings from 3 each day to just two.

I mention my Sugar Momma with some frequency in my blogging and book. We have had very few substantive disagreements over the more than 25 years of marriage. However, one such disagreement was over Jim Cramer.

She couldn’t stand his voice.

“Why is he always yelling? He gives me a headache”.

The fact that she preferred to switch the station to watch “Judge Judy” for some reason didn’t seem incongruous to her.

Talk about irritating.

Anyway, in the short time that I’ve been on Twitter, it would be nearly impossible to not realize how much venom is (mis) directed at Jim Cramer.

One of the great conflicts that I’ve had in my life is similar to one that I experienced as a child.

Back then, our family used to go away for summers to the “Bungalows” in what used to be considered Upstate New York, but what eventually became a commuting town just outside New York City.

During summers, you would actually develop an entirely new circle of friends.

Your summer friends. Because they were in such far flung boroughs as Brooklyn and Queens, there was no possibility of ever seeing them during the rest of the year. In fact, even some portions of The Bronx were just too far away to be conquered.

After a few years, I had developed a great summer relationship with Kenny, and one year I was so happy that he was going to visit me at my non-summer home and get to meet my rest of the year best friend, Sidney.

Long story short, they hated each other.

And so it was when Jim Cramer appeared on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”.

So I should be used to slings and arrows being hurled at him.

Yesterday, though a a really disturbing Tweet was referenced by someone I followed, who described it as the most disgusting Tweet of the day.

In essence, without repeating or glorifying that Tweet, the writer, while offering some condolences regarding the sudden passing of Mark Haines made certain to mention that if the same fate were to meet Jim Cramer, the markets would celebrate.

Human nature being what it is, I had to treat this Tweeter as if he was Roadkill, in that I had to give into my curiousity and check it out.

Typical Penny Stock idiot filled with hatred. Probably has an unusually small penis, as well.

I ‘ve always liked to say that Penny Stock traders are like Gangbangers. They don’t survive into adulthood.

Why I chose to capitalize “Penny Stock” and “Gangbangers” is beyond me. They certainly don’t warrant that kind of respect.

This fellow clearly has a lot of growing up to do. I’m not hopeful for that ever occuring.

But let’s get to why I don’t watch Cramer anymore.

That’s because Cramer did his job.

He’s always said that his goal was to educate and entertain. No one does it better than he does.

No matter how much you respect education, it’s time to move on.

I did.

After two graduate degrees, coincidentally from the same institutional parent that Cramer attended (and at the same time) and another 20 years in advanced education, I finally moved onto the “dark side”. Time to put all of that education to use and make some real money.

As respected and buttoned down as the late Louis Ruykeyser was, he had nowhere near the impact of Jim Cramer on demystifying the world of the markets and educating everyone with access to basic cable.

It was more than Brooks Brothers three piece suits versus rolled up sleeves.

I listened and watch intently for years and Cramer taught me how to think with regard to investments and market psychology. I still can’t understand why he gets so much blame for his opinions and calls. He always warns people to do their own due diligence and to not plow forward.

If you ever watched the ticker in the after hours as he spoke, you realized that greed overtook common sense and people just ignored Cramer’s rules.

One of the things I learned from Cramer was the need to wean.

For a while I ran a subscription service offering very short term covered call plays. In my home page, FAQ’s and disclosures I made it clear that if I was really doing my job properly, subscribers should be able to go out on their own after just a few months, because the strategies were intended to be non-proprietary and transparent.

Additionally, I ran a subscription service for members of an affinity group to which I belonged. An additional disclosure for those potential subscribers was that as a member of an affinity group they were uniquely poised to be taken advantage of by predators. After all, how could you not trust someone from your own caste?

The program was a day to day service and was also very limited with regard to the number of subscribers that I could handle. But there too, the intention was clearly made that subscribers should be able to move out on their own after a few months.

Like a Momma bird, I was proud to see them go and even more proud when a number of the past subscribers suggested that I codify the Option to Profit strategies in a book, aptly named Option to Profit.

So thank you Jim Cramer. Momma Bird.

You gave me an education and set me off to soar on my own.


Addendum: Although I no longer watch Cramer’s Mad Money, I listen raptly to his other on-air appearances throughout the day. I think he was an excellent addition to the latest iteration of Squawk on the Street. I think Mark Haines would be pleased, as well.

Sidney and Kenny? Lost track of each of them. Sidney moved to Vermont and Kenny to Florida. Talk about opposites.


Yet another Addendum: On March 14, 2012 Cramer’s Mad Money celebrates his 7th Anniversary on air. Congratulations. I’ll be watching, since Sugar Momma is in California for a few more days. I know where my bread is buttered.

Oh, but I was able to uncover from the CNBC archives my audition tapes for the original Mad Money show.

In hindsight, I think my gimmick over throwing dixie cups was a little under the top.



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Remembering Mark Haines


Does anyone really like a curmudgeon?

Mark Haines SzelhamosApparently so, because the truth about a deep down “softie” came out yesterday in the aftermath of the sudden passing of Mark Haines. We got a glimpse of that part barely 2 weeks ago when Mark Haines bid farewell to his broadcast partner, Erin Burnet.

The difficult task of making the on air announcement fell to Carl Quintinilla, who was choking back tears as we all sat stunned at the news. Newsmen don’t usually do that sort of thing. They’re stoic, unbiased and without on-air passion.

To break through that facade there has to be a very deep and personal connection.

CNBC did a wonderful impromptu job in remembrance of a bigger than life on air personality in the world of business news. Uncharacteristically, they recognized the continued existence of some past on-air personalities, such as Ted David and Liz Claman, by passing on their words of condolence.

These days, I rarely watch CNBC after 6:59 PM, but tonight had to be different. Last night, their 7 PM show, remembering the life and work of Mark Haines was truly in the spirit of NBC’s past, “Must see TV”.

As an inveterate and addicted CNBC viewer, I used to start off my mornings with Mark Haines, Joe Kernen and David Faber.

I was disappointed when that entertaining trio was split up, but came to realize that Haines could entertain on his own.

He entertained by being unlike anyone else on air. He didn’t fawn over self-anointed experts or personalities du-jour. He asked probing questions and had very expressive body language, never seeking to mask his real thoughts.

Everyone is remembering a classic interview with Barney Frank. In fact, it was ironic that Bill Griffeth, such a genuinely nice man, was called upon to interview Barney Frank this afternoon.

Can you take a guess what kind of mood Frank was in when even slightly pressed?

As a liberal Democrat, I typically agree with Frank’s positions on issues, but I just can’t stomach his personna and pomposity. Although power hasn’t corrupted Frank professionally, it certainly has done so on a personal level.

Who would ever think that two seemingly disparate people like Mark Haines and Stephen Colbert could be joined together in a non-partisan demonstration of just how pompous Frank really was?

Mark Haines and Stephen Colbert? One was precisely what you saw on air, the other a comedic parody, but with similar aim and goals.

Except that while Colbert goes for “truthiness”, Haines went for “truth”

The man was never fazed, although sometimes he would lean back in that chair with a characteristic look of disbelief.

“Did that guy really say I what I think he said and with a straight face?”

Mark Haines obviously respected the intelligence of his viewers and the truth.

When was the last time you could say that about anyone on TV, where the superficiality is so overwhelming? In a “me me me” generation and industry, Haines stood out.

Definitely nothing superficial about him.

And yet, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, in obviously an unrelated post, the world goes on.

Yesterday my son left for Army basic training. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer once my wife and I got back into the car. I did handle myself better when I had to make a late night run to his Army supplied hotel room to drop off his Blackberry recharger. It was like a bonus round for me.

This morning, when the news came, I had no tears, yet still a surprisingly overwhelming feeling of loss. The kind you have when you know there will be no bonus round.

Maybe it was the kinship over the New York Mets, maybe harness racing, maybe bringing Barney Frank down a peg or seven.

Whatever it was, he will be missed by so many. For me, it means that more of my TV watching will now become background noise. It never was when Mark Haines was on air.

I remember that when Szelhamos passed away, I was so grateful that my own children had gotten the great gift of knowing him.

Both of my sons are interested in investing, the oldest just having made his first entry into the markets last week. Neither are at the CNBC stage of their lives though and neither will see the likes of Mark Haines again.

Eveyone needs someone to be brutally honest with them and open their eyes. Haines did that every day. Reminds me of the scene in Moonstruck when Cher slaps Nicholas Cage in the face and says “Snap out of it”. Except that instead of being a single scene, it was day in and day occurrence

When Mark arrives at the pearly gates, I would love to see his take and the questions he slings at St. Peter.

If anyone can get to the bottom of what awaits us, it’ll be Mark Haines.


POSTSCRIPT: During an invited visit to CNBC in November 2011, I had an opportunity to see the sincere reverence with which Mark Haines was held by long time employees. What you see on the air, whenever his name is mentioned is the real thing.



POSTSCRIPT May 24, 2012: On the one year anniversary of Mark Haines’ passing, CNBC commemorated his memory, including showing his portrait that hangs in the New York Stock Exchange. On this day, coincidentally it was once again time to send my son for the next phase of his Army “Advanced Individual Training.” This time, a year later there were no tears. Time changes so many things. AS in the case of remembering Mark Haines, the on-air reflections evolved, but were no less touching. A year later, Mark Haines is still missed by many



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Billie Jo McAllister and AIG Haunt Me

I was at the grocery store last week. I do that much more often these days, as I feel that’s the least I can do to show my thanks to my Sugar Momma. I’m usually prowling the aisles at about 4:18 or so, giving myself a couple of leisure minutes to leave home after the closing bell.

My wife still ridicules me, because I call it “Grocery Store” and not “Supermarket” or “The Market”. I also refer to our local grocery bohemoth, Giant, as “Grand Union”, a defunct chain that we left behind in New York nearly 20 years ago.

To her discredit, she refers to TV stations as “numbers”, as in “let’s see what on the numbers”. She also derides my reference to single family detached homes as “private houses”.

So whose side are you going to take?

But I grew up in a time when grocery stores didn’t have parking lots, nor product selection. Every woman pulling one of their personal folding shopping carriages looked like an old lady, regardless of actual age.

Now, everyone drives and those carriages aren’t even allowed in the grocery store, and you don’t have to be wealthy to live in a single family detached house.

But while mindlessly shopping last week and dutifully crossing off the items on my carefully crafted list, the ersatz overhead music was a familiar tune that I hadn’t heard in years.

Ode to Billie JoeRemember Bobbie Genrty? The big haired Country and Western singer who had a crossover song that made her, I think, a one hit wonder. That song was with “Ode to Billie Joe”, the sad song about teenage suicide and a hidden secret.

“Was the third of June, another sleepy dusty delta day…”. Does that ring a bell?

Well, I haven’t been able to get that song out of my head for the last week. Humming it, singing it and whistling all through the day, until I hear the expression “Stop, you’re giving me a headache”.


Today was another one of those sleepy dusty delta days in the market. It was unnecessarily hot, humid and boring. As far as delta goes, unlike other wizened options traders, I don’t believe in The Greeks.

The tease of some early upside was just that. A tease. As many other days in the past two weeks the optimism evaporated. Almost made you want to do something rash, but fortunately, I’m restricted to the basement and the windows have been filled in with cinder blocks.

Yesterday I was pretty excited about the opportunity to pick up additional shares of Textron, S&P SPDR, BP, Williams-Sonoma and some others that escape me right now, in anticipation of quickly sellng some weekly call options.

But the market just seemed to want to do nothing but jump off that Tallahatchee Bridge.

And you want to know what’s happened to my appetite?

To do so, you’ll just have to download the lyrics.

Truth is, I wasn’t fully into the markets today anyway.

For today was the day my youngest son was heading out to Army basic training.

On my side of the family, he’s first generation American. We have no military history in my own family. We were the people typically rounded up by soldiers, so it’s a very foreign concept for me.

There were lots of little things that needed to be done today that took precedence over the markets. As it was, I was still sore from moving him out of his off campus apartment and was dealing with themuscle spasms from working that carpet cleaner machine over one of the filthiest carpets I’d seen since my own student days.

Even though I know that I can easily enter my order criterion and have them executed without my presence, I like the thrill of pushing the button and the anticipation of watching the trade get completed. So not too much got done.

Today, I did make some early call sales in those SPDR’s and Freeport, but the others that I was hoping would materialize, never did, as the market was unable to survive that leap.

There was also that overhang of where the AIG re-IPO would price. WIth the government’s break-even point set near $28.60, it seemed likely that the whisper number was going to be $29. Why people slowly worked the closing share price to $29.60 is as unclear as the nature of the object Billie Joe and his girlfriend threw off the bridge before his fateful plunge.

What was also unclear was why I didn’t sell an AIG weekly call on Monday, when AIG was above $30, particularly when talk of a $29 price was already making the rounds.

Or maybe the fact that I didn’t just sell my AIG position outright haunts me, as AIG has opened the morning at about $28.30

What really haunts me is that I ignored the warning signs. WHy in the world would E*Trade be a co-manager of this issue? Maybe because no one other than a sucker would want to buy it?

Yopu certainly wouldn’t pick up shares to ingratiate yourself with E*Trade for a shot at their next “big IPO”.

I’m not even certain why I care so much about AIG. It represents only a small portion of my portfolio, but it haunts me and my 0.0023% of the current outstanding AIG float every bit as much as much as Billie Joe’s plunge haunted that nice young preacher, Brother Taylor.

But as opposed to the predictably melancholy outcome of a Country and Western song, tomorrow is another day. AIG may haunt me now, but could just as easily profess itself to me.

Either way, the Ode of AIG will someday come to its conclusion. These things always do. Yet, Billie Joe McAllister still remains a complete mystery and will for all time.

Life still goes on. Even though Papa caught a virus that was going ’round and died last Spring, and Momma (not my Sugar Mommma) doesn’t seem to want to do much of anything, it’s got to be different for us.

I hugged my child yesterday as we dropped him off at the hotel right outside the base from which they will be leaving tomorrow at about 4 AM. I know that he will be a very different person the next time I see him.

As it turned out, I saw him 2 hours later, as he called to say that he left his phone charger at the house.

Not so different. Maybe a little taller.

So tomorrow is back to normal, I’ll be carefully watching how the Ode to AIG works out and will try extra hard to squeeze some income out of these ridiculously priced stocks.

Billie Joe is lucky he never had these kind of problems.

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Why Insider Trading is a Victimless Crime


Many years ago, I was still in high school, I was preparing to make a U-Turn on what was ordinarily a very busy street in The Bronx.

U TurnI’d made that turn many times in the past and I knew to really check in both directions before I crossed over the 2 sets of double yellow lines. Back then, I actually cared what else was on the road.

Then, as always, when I sensed the “all clear” I made my turn.


That time, was just like all the preceding times, successful.

As I settled into waiting at the curb to pick up my father, I heard an unexpected rapping on my driver’s window.

Startled, I looked up and there was a beat cop, back in the days when there were lots of foot patrol policemen.

I rolled down my window already shaking in my flip-flops.

The policeman looked at me and said “It’s not so bad that you made an illegal turn, but what’s bad is that you made it in front of me. Don’t ever do that again”.

With that, he let me go. Never even asked for my license or registration.

That incident colored my outlook on crime for life.

Well, that and Watergate, a concurrent event.

Fast forward 40 years and crime is all around. The particular crime that interests me is insider trading and it is once again a hot topic, as it has been in the past and will assuredly be in the future.

With the conviction of Raj Rajaratnam a couple of weeks ago, there was a flurry of weight jokes and lots of sanctimonious talking heads railing against the evils of insider trading. Sort of like Newt Gingrich tearing Bill Clinton a new one over some marital issues.

The more cynical that I become, the more I believe that catching a big gain in an individual stock is either due to blind luck or inside information, but I’m not upset at the likely prospects of the latter.

Theoretically, we all have access to the same kind of sophisticated data. We can all get our hands on different analytical tools. It’s not as if you have to go to the public library and tear out a page from the huge Value Line binder or find yourself in the position that someone else beat you to it.

Those days are gone. Every bit of information can be found somewhere and crunched on a laptop that doesn’t need to cost more than $300.

Egalitarian? You bet.

The problem, if any, is that there is a data overload, similar to what intelligence services now deal with, as so many streams of data come in, yet there aren’t enough resources to analyze the streams.

And with access to all of that data, as well as teams of research analysts toiling away in the background, we’ve all seen the equally qualified high profile technical analysts look at the same data and come up with diametrically opposing recommendations.

I know the old expression, in that’s what it takes to be a market. Basically some one has to be right and someone has to be wrong.

So consistently doing well in the market can’t be due to a sustainable intellectual process.

Dumb luck is another reasonable answer, but how random is that? Totally. That’s why it’s called luck and to believe that performance is due to luck is itself dumb.

So the only remaining alternative that can explain consistently good trading results in the markets is insider information and trading on that information.

At this moment, it’s not necessary to say that Raj allegedly had insider information. He had it. Despite what Newt says, you really do need to believe the video.

The difference is that while he had it, we wanted it.

And why didn’t we have the kind of information that Rajaratnam had?

Well, look no further than the tip of your own nose.

There’s no reason why any of us should complain about not having such information. We are each our own limiting factor.

Why could I not have gone on a path in life that would have taken me to those kinds of inner sancta? Why did I not become and then stay friends with high school classmate David Viniar who went on to become CFO at Goldman Sachs?

No one ever denied me those opportunities, I just never tried to take them. Could I have wined and dined those with the kind of knowledge that I might have found useful?

Of course I could. No one ever denied me that opportunity.

The essence of insider trading is that you had access to information that was not available to the general investing public. But really, whose fault is that? All it takes is the initiative to develop a circle of friends, confidantes and business partners. Anyone can get access to potentially helpful information.

Of course, the second part of the “crime” is that you acted on that information. Presumably if you made a profit as a result, you just might be the kind of guy that the SEC and Department of Justice may want to prosecute.

But who gets hurt when profits are made after trading on information that was never denied to anyone with the initiative to dig it out from among the avalanche of data?

No one.

And that’s because there was bound to be a loser anyway on the transaction. If anything, the Rajaratnam series of events indicates that what is so called “insider information” doesn’t even necessarily lead to profits.

Of course, I understand the concept of stacking the deck and how that may be inherently wrong. But the reality is that there is potentially an infinite number of such insider bits of data on any number of stocks occuring as a continuum.

People are always winning and people are always losing, regardless of their intellect and regardless of their connections.

While I may not have a choice in the degree of my intellect, I do have a choice in the development of the inter-personal connections that may add critical data points to the equation.

Rajaratnam hurt no one, just as a policeman recognized years ago that I had hurt no one by making that turn. 

Which brings me back to yet another victimless crime on that very same street in the Bronx.

You guessed it, I made another U Turn, once again pulling my car to the curb to wait and pick up my father.

Is it a crime if no one sees it occur?

No police in sight, since it was about midnight or so. As I waited for my father, I leaned over to unlock the door, at precisely the time that a very buxomy lady of the evening was walking by. She apparantly thought that I was summoning her for some sort of service. She opened the car door, sat inside and started talking.

The words escape me now.

I was stunned. And then I saw my father coming out the door, I was really at a loss for words. He peered into the car and saw a strange enough sight, for him to give me one of his patented fist shakes that meant “you son of a gun” and he proceeded to walk to the corner to catch the bus instead of interfering with my plans for the evening.

I’m glad that officer wasn’t there that night, although I think he would have given me the same fist shake and a wink.

As he should have.



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Is Twitter a Life Changer?

At the strong recommendation of my son, I opened a Twitter account about 3 weeks ago.

I wasn’t certain why I would do that. After all, I was very happy sitting at home, watching TV and trading stocks and options.

Occasionally, I’d actually work someplace in my professional capacity, but those occasions were becoming more and more rare.

HeroinBut being unable to access the Methadone that my body so desperately needed, I’d become addicted to Twitter faster than I could tie a tourniquet.

It had all started innocently enough. My son told me that Twitter would be an additional great way to get word out that I had published a new book.

The first thrill didn’t come right away, but delayed gratification, like that in finding a $20 bill in the pocket of pants you haven’t worn for a year is especially sweet.

In this case, on the very first day after Tweeting, I had a significant, maybe coincidental uptick in online sales.

So curiousity and the need to try just once more took over rational thought.

The goal, and it quickly has taken over my life, was to get followers. People who would drink the Kool-Ade, but pay for the book, before they swallowed the deadly elixir.

More was better, and definitely the Tweeting fed on itself.

As opposed to Facebook, where I had an account, but proudly paraded the fact that I had no friends, this was completely different. I was able to withstand all of the insidious Facebook tentacles. I was strong and resolute, never letting it get hold of me. But this Twitter thing, it really was just different.

I was so busy reading, Tweeting, replying and retweeting, that I barely even noticed the nosedives that some of my favorites stocks were taking day in and out.

I wasn’t accustomed to seeing my holdings underperform, but this was a perfect storm of bad performance from the likes of Goldman Sachs, Freeport McMoran, Mosaic, Rio Tinto and Williams Sonoma.

Thank God I had my Twitter. I just kept fiddling with Twitter while my stocks burned.

Twitter has to be the most egalitarian place in the world. It’s amazing the varied social strata that have had an opportunity to throw their 140 letters at me.

More importantly, they got a share of my 140 spaces worth of wisdom.

As you age, and I have, you definitely become a creature of habit, but this new venture was more than enticing.

I already had an addictive personality and this took hold of me quickly.

Together with that addictive personality comes the realization that as you get older, you also get stuck in your ways, just another form of addiction. The addiction to not changing

My habits were CNBC and Comedy Central, albeit, I try to catch Brian Williams each night, while silently mourning the absence of Brokaw.

I have a number of favorite personalities on CNBC, as well as a number that have left.

My only real problem with CNBC was their unwillingness to have either Joe Kernan change the spelling of his name to “Quernan”, so that he and his cohorts, Becky Quick and Carl Quintinilla could be referred to as QQQ. Besides, how stock market friendly is that acronym?

I realized that was much easier than having Kernen, Kwick and Kuintinilla. I think that acronym was already taken.

Other than that, a few loud on air personalities were just background noise, with the exception of Kudlow, who always conjured up thoughts of “Shrill, baby, Shrill, whenever he came on air.

But still, I was a devoted watcher. Kernen, Greenberg, Griffeth and Pisani were all comforting and credible voices. For some reason, to me, Jim Cramer was also a voice of calm.

Go figure.

What I was unprepared for was the series of events that got me to watch a segment of FOX Business.

The Twitter stream got me to watch a Dennis Kneale piece on the controversy regarding a proposed Disney trademark on Navy SEALS.

That short segment, and my basic laziness, since my remote control person only works 6 days a week, had me staying tuned to FOX.

And then I got upset.

Why didn’t CNBC tell me that Liz Claman was still alive? And what had they done with Ted David. 

As I stayed tuned, among the first things I noticed was that FOX actually had an anchor of color. There was more than red, green and paleface. As it turned out, though, he was only a guest, but I appreciated the gesture.

My first dilemma was at 3 PM. Claman versus Griffeth.

I feel so dirty. I stayed with FOX.

But that was nothing. I was soon to go on the high of a lifetime and then crash harder than this fragile frame could possibly withstand.

With all of the jokes about Saturday’s impending rapture, at about midnight, while I was watching the Letterman show, I decided to check my “Klout” score.

For those of you that don’t know Klout, it’s just another one of those derivitive Twitter entities. This one purportedly measures how important you are in the Twitersphere.

Using 4 basic measurements, ultimately your “Klout Style” is found in one of 16 squares in the 4×4 grid.

The ultimate place is in the upper right corner, Box #16. That makes you a “Celebrity. You know, people like Ashton Hutcher, Daniel Tosh and Charlie Sheen.

And then you had me. A Twitter newbie, I had after 3 weeks made it to “specialist”, in the #3 Box.

But at mid-night, it became clear that I was one of the remaining souls on Earth, not having joined my more deserving brethren in The Rapture.

How did I know that? All of a sudden, I was a “Celebrity”.

There I was in the #16 grid, with ny thumbnail surrounded by Jim Cramer, Larry Kudlow and my own son. Non-Rapture worthy, all of us, to be sure.

That Klout algorithm was incredible. Someehow it had already accounted for all of those previous Twitter users that had gone on to their great reward in the Heavens.

But rather than being saddened at being left behind, I just had my addiction reinforced. I wanted more. More Tweets, more retweets. I wanted to get to that non-existent #17.

My life had changed. I had followers, I had Klout.

But then the jokes on Twitter about the Rapture ended.

Was it because those left behind were saddened to be so, or was it something else.

No matter, I was a “Celebrity” basking in Twitter glory.

I was even thinking of IPO’ing my Box #16.

But then came the fall. It was brutal.

No Rapture Everyone right where they always were, and sure enough, I was a “Specialist” once again.

I don’t know if Cramer and Kudlow took their demotions as hard as I took mine, but then again, they didn’t fall as far and as hard as I would.

In the blink of an eye, I’d seen the Twiiter Klout heavens and then ate the dirt in its depths.

My poor son fell evcen further, but he’s an adult and on his own.

Yes, my life has changed. I want back at the top. I don’t care whether it takes CNBC, Fox or Bloomberg, but I’m getting there.



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