Whew...was stuck at 250 words for a bit when suddenly the floodgates opened. A little long at 1060 words or so, but Curtis's epic adventure needed a back-story before moving ahead to its first main plot device. That turning point comes next week, I promise. But this sets it up...
The Stable Boy
As a human being, Curtis Stanfield was easy to understand. At the root of his psyche was his name—four crisp syllables, broken into two equi-lengthed pairs in staccato lock-step with each other. Solid. Grounded. Stable.
More than just the descriptive adjective pinned to his personal profile since grade school (“Compared to my other students, Curtis is such a stable boy,” said Mrs. Plewa on his final fourth grade report card, which made his parents puff with pride and was the source of two years of ridicule from his older brother who would neigh like a horse and call him “Stable Boy”), stability was not merely his DNA, but his daily MO.
He wasn’t obsessive-compulsive, but his habits of consistent regularity tip-toed its fine line. Every morning, he slipped on the same over-patched Levi’s jeans, the same torn grey Nike workout sweatshirt and the same reinforced Adidas skateboard shoes to walk his dogs before his shower, where he washed, shampooed, shaved and scrubbed his nails in exactly the same order. Exactly 17 swipes of deodorant under each arm and 10 sprays of his cologne (five on the left arm, then rubbed with the right arm, three on his neck and two on his chest) ensured he was sweet-smelling and ready to tackle his day. Every day.
There were other similar routines (right shoe always on first; watch, rings and bracelets on and off in precision step-by-step), but nothing visible to the human eye that would trip the alarms of eccentricity. And that’s the way Curtis liked to live. One straight line under the radar. As long as that line stayed relatively stable, he was happy.
Which is why this time of the month made him so testy. Jumpy. Often miserable.
Curtis Stanfield’s financial statements told him, each and every month, how much money he had. Precisely how much. In very black-and-white, no-grey-zone terms. The lump sum in its entirety. And literally, to the penny. The only problem to a stability-searching soul such as his was that this lump sum was never exactly the same.
On the months when it went down, Curtis was engulfed by a sense of hollow, deaden panic. On the months it went up, there was a slight watercolor wash of relief that somehow still wasn’t strong enough to completely overshadow the recurrent, nagging fear that next month it may go down again and negate this month’s gain. As Nick Lowe sang, “And so it goes, and so it goes…”
He tried to ignore the feelings, and the papers themselves, but to no avail. Every 30 days or so, Miranda would bring home a Pandora’s Box of anxiety in a brown legal-sized envelope, taunting him with the reverse psychology of one of those sparkly “Do Not Open!” gift boxes delivered way before Christmas. Even on those months when his resolve was galvanized-steel reinforced, it was rapidly molten melted when his beloved soul mate put on her work hat and reminded him of the irresponsibility of not knowing where he stood financially.
Well, here’s where he stood financially: on a roller-coaster mountain of worth. As a snowboarder, he understood the nature of peaks and valleys. He could deal with them—enjoy them even—provided he could see them. But to Curtis, his situation was like taking a Black Diamond run backwards in a driving blizzard with opaque goggles.
And so this ride went for the two years or so since he cashed in on the buy-out of Snowballs and put his earnings into the hands of a financial adviser. Well, four financial advisers actually, as Curtis felt that in the era of Bernie Madoff, spreading his wealth amongst a quartet would mitigate his risk. “What are the chances that all four, two of ‘em even, would be scum-sucking, swindling sharks?” he would tell anyone who questioned his strategy.
Each adviser was different, and had an equally different take on the future of his future. There was his street-smart high-school buddy, now a broker at Miranda’s firm. There was the immigrant banker to whom he felt indebted since he provided Curtis with his first mortgage even though he didn’t really deserve one at the time. There was the highly-profile rogue-esque trader, a young, smoking-hot blonde who made appearances at all the city’s highest-profile bashes and subsequently, in its social columns...much to the eye-rolling of Miranda. And there was his nephew’s rotund baseball coach, who was renowned as a bond trader when not comically stuffing his body into a polyester uniform and sweaty ball cap.
His jitters ensured that he talked to them all regularly, trading off each one’s opinions and advice against the others until they somewhat balanced out into his welcomed state of equilibrium. Strangely, on the rare occasions when they all agreed on something, it made him more nervous. They drove him crazy and he drove them even more crazy.
And when he wasn’t talking to them, he was talking to himself. Questioning himself, to be more specific. He downloaded multiple iPhone apps to trail stock, bond, precious metal and commodity prices. He tracked commercial and residential building sales to help evaluate his real estate holdings. Everything he did on his computer screen, at home or at work, business or pleasure, was underscored by a real-time stock ticker. He did none of this out of interest; he did all of it out of concern.
As much as he tried to understand the investment game, he just couldn’t get it. All the intricate financial models, all the well-analyzed predictions, all the justifying macro and micro factors, all the educational prowess and all the years of experience of his Fab Four didn’t seem to amount to much in the way of certainty. In the end, he realized that despite all the ten-dollar words and the impressive Wall Street triple-talk, nobody really knew anything. No matter how much he tried to understand the investing process, the end result seemed more like playing the lottery or a slap-happy gambling excursion than the cause-and-effect decision-making he cherished.
Thus, every month at precisely this time, the end result was the same: Curtis’ sea of tranquility was churned into tidal waves of disarray by the mere existence of common market volatility.
Curtis hated volatility. Not just in the financial markets, but everywhere.
And today, after enduring 26 months of it, he realized that he had to do something about it.
To be continued next week...