12 January 2011

Confessions of a Beach Banker

After a decade in private banking in New York I moved to Southern California and submerged myself in show-coast society.

Martin was one of my first big clients. He was 86, tall and lanky, almost totally bald, with soupy blue eyes and a long nose half of which had been replaced with synthetic material due to intense sun damage sustained in his youth. His scalp and face were marked with sun-scars.

He originated from an old New York family of Dutch and German extraction; in fact his people were among the earliest settlers. He had attended Princeton University, a college in New Jersey, and was expected by his family to go into law.

After graduation, however, looking around at the small, stagnant, narrow-minded people among whom he was expected to spend the rest of his life, Martin left home one day and hopped aboard a passenger train bound for the West. He told me stories of opening the door of the rear car and pissing out the back as the train flew west through the Eastern states, a gesture of which I could tell he was most proud.

He landed in Southern California--in Orange County, to be exact, when it was little more than ranchland and a growing colony for the rich and famous of Los Angeles and the East Coast. In time Martin found work as a land agent, and, later, as a commercial real estate developer and investor. He married and had four children, two of whom entered the aerospace industry. Three of his grandchildren entered the real estate business and are currently very successful.

When I first met Martin he owned several large office buildings, in addition to his residential holdings. He owned houses in Honolulu, Newport Beach, Palm Springs, and New York and belonged to the best club in each city. His habitual outfit included a khaki linen jacket, blue or green checked shirt, khakis, and boat shoes. We bonded almost immediately. I complimented him on his "skinhead" haircut, which always made him laugh; he told me he had no choice in the matter. We traded stock ideas, though he was much more of a stock-trader than I ever was. His wealth, like that of most rich men in Southern California, had been built on real estate.

We regularly met for lunch at a small Middle Eastern restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Corona del Mar. Sometimes his fourth wife, a friendly German lady twenty years his junior, would join us. He would invariably launch into his reminscences. A constant theme was his disappointment with the quality of modern people; I could sympathise.

"Our people flew to the stars and landed on the moon," he would say, and then, gesturing to the people around us, including small exotic foreigners chattering in excited and unintelligible tones, "All they can do is line up at the welfare office".

In time I left the bank and joined a hedge fund concern. We met several times after that; but then, despite attempts to meet, lost touch.


Reggie Darling said...

Excellent story, vividly told. I particularly like the image of said gent pissing on the Eastern states as they slipped away and as new territories awaited him. Sounds a bit of a racist bastard, though. Do keep these coming. Marvelous.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful story, I love the description of Martin.

OldSchool said...

"...small exotic foreigners chattering in excited and unintelligible tones"

True, true, but the certainly have no monopoly on being unintelligible; that applies to the mass of large, unexotic natives as well, I'm afraid.

A.E.F. said...

Admiral, Martin's generation still had continenents and galaxies to explore. Modern people have nothing left to discover except themselves, a prospect altogether too daunting it seems.

Anonymous said...

Nonsense. The galaxy was still open last time I checked. We should stop paying for third world deadweights who breed like rats and behave like apes. Let's start a Fogey colony on Mars.

Anonymous said...

Good story, and Martin sounds like an interesting man, but I reminded of the opening lines to 'The Great Gatsby':

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one...just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had."

Anonymous said...

The moral of this story to me is as intriguing as the gentlemen was, he dumped you when you were no longer of use to him.