LOOK APPROVINGLY ON LIFE
That’s what it says on the napkin. And, it’s scrawled in my own handwriting.
But, I don’t remember having scrawled it. Good advice nonetheless. So, well,
gee whiz, why not you know? If I must…Oh, wait. Now I remember.
So, I was looking approvingly on Life one night in a local blues joint where
some guy I’d never seen or heard before was playing. Before the band got
started, during the never-ending mic. check, a seat became available center-
bar and I claimed it by putting my fundament in place. Sitting next to me was a
woman in a SRV kind of hat, dressed all in black, with short cropped blonde
hair. She was drinking bourbon. I was drinkin’ beer. I’m sure there’s a country
and western song in there somewhere.
So, when the guy I’d never seen or heard before finally steps on stage this
woman sitting next to me whacks me on the arm with the back of her hand. I
look over at her to see what all the unnecessary roughness is about, and she’s
all a-fluster. Her jaw is open, her tongue is hanging out; she’s panting heavily
and looking cow-eyed at the front man. While the first number gets underway
she leans in and shouts this tale into my ear, in a breathy Southern accent.
“I was just upstairs, you know…
And there was this woman on the pay phone…
And there was this guy up there…
And he was hangin’ around, and he was trying to…
trying to, pick up this woman on the pay phone…”
I'm thinking it was probably the guy’s wife, and he’s probably trying to get her
OFF the phone so they can split.
“He was all GREASY and, you know pretty disgusting…
That poor girl…
YOU have NO idea what we have to put up with…
I’m thinking, What a creep! You know…?”
At this point I’m thinking: These days, you smile at a woman and it becomes a
judicial matter. With each little burst of information I’m nodding agreeably and
shouting yeah, but I have no idea why she has chosen me to tell this to, or
where it’s headed, or why she thinks I might want to hear it instead of, say, the
You know, “ she says, “put a guitar in front of him
and put him up there on stage,
and he is the sexiest man in the world!”
As if to confirm this fact, she clenches both fists, closes her eyes, lets out a
little squeal, and shivers from head to foot.
I don’t even want to think about what that might mean.
Then, she tells me she’s a stock broker, with her own firm.
By the second set, she no longer owns the firm but just works there, and I
purposefully leave at the break in order to keep her from being reduced to
charwoman. And it seems to work too; by the time I return she's a stock broker
again, and she's talking to another stock broker, on her other side.
He's from Nebraska, and looks like a slightly more masculine form of Calvin
Klein. Same ears, but less likely to be discovered one day wearing a dress.
Before the set is over I know—by way of the blonde—that he has a wife and
four kids. I also know, by the same vehicle, that he’s not an actual stock
broker. He brokers ‘legal; information’ to law firms within the (I forget) industry.
Somehow, amidst all of this—the music, the dancing, the shouting, the
drunkenness, the revelry, he imparts information to her, and she—for reasons
known only to her—feels the need to pass it on to me.
By this process I learn that his company is about to downsize, and some
people will soon find themselves out on their asses. “Merry Christmas,” he
says ryely, and raises his glass. He doesn’t know precisely what’s going to
happen, but he feels pretty good about it; he’s nicely positioned. Nevertheless,
he’s shaking his head for the poor people who’ll be…you know…The
corporate world just isn’t the same as it was when his grandfather wore a tie.
Somewhere in there, the woman beside me has been elevated, and now, once
again, owns the firm.
While listening to the blues (best I can with one ear under siege) I’m fed a
continual stream of information from the firm owner, about her, about her
thoughts, about her philosophy, her challenges, her victories. In the middle of
this mini-series, she smacks me in the ribs and points excitedly into the crowd
and shouts, ”White shirt, DARK hair!” I’m looking, but can’t see who she’s
talking about. “WHITE SHIRT, DARK HAIR.” she insists, and I follow her finger
to a woman over in the corner, sitting at the apron of the stage, screaming into
a cell phone. At this point the band is playing so loud that it’s blinding and the
woman is screaming into her phone so hard she looks like a head banger at a
heavy metal concert.
When the stock broker/firm owner gets up to go take care of some things, the
guy from Nebraska turns to me to impart the rest of his tale to me directly. He
assures me that he’s in pretty good shape. He wants me to know that I don’t
have to worry about him; he’ll be fine. He’s confident he’ll be retained.
Apparently, in Nebraska there are only two firms brokering legal information to
attorneys and, no matter what happens, he’s sure he’ll end up working for one
or the other of them. He assures me that his wife and his kids’ll be alright. To
comfort me further he leans way over in my direction and gives my shoulder a
little pat. “They’ll be FINE,” he assures me. And then he does something
nobody has ever done before in a blues dive (or at least in my presence), he
quotes Lyndon Baines Johnson.
“They’d rather have me inside their tent, pissing out, than outside their tent,
pissing in.” That’s why he’s so certain that he’ll be kept onboard. He knows too
much. And to drive that point home neatly, he taps his head, and nods
affirmatively. “I’m absolutely sure they don’t want me outside, pissing in.”
Where else, but in a blues dive, can you attain such insight?
Now, here’s your INSIDER TRADING TIP OF THE WEEK
(December 14, 1998)
Between sets, the broker-chick (at this point I’ve had three drinks and she’s
become the broker-chick) takes my pen from my shirt pocket, turns over a bar
receipt, and draws something that might be a boomerang.
“This is Florida,” she announces.
Upon closer inspection, Florida looks like a big bratwurst, but I accept it.
“Look,” she says, and pokes me in the arm with my own pen. Then she starts
putting Xs all over the bratwurst, and giving them names.
“Pensacola, Panama City, South Beach, Saint Petersburg…”
Then she draws a large ellipse in the bend of the bratwurst and she says,
“THIS…ALL OF THIS, from here to here, belongs to Port St. Joseph
She raises her eyebrows to see if I’ve got it.
“They own all of it; beach front, inland, all of it; every inch.”
It’s important that I understand. She looks me in the eye until I confirm that I’ve
received the information.
She tells me it’s 1.1 million acres, and writes “1.1” up in one corner of the bar
“They have NO creditors. They don’t owe anything to anybody.”
She writes a big fat zero under the 1.1.
“They have 500 million in assets, and…AND…they are about to start
She writes “500 MILLION” up in the corner of the receipt.
“I have taken everything I own and put it in that stock,” she tells me, while
tapping the receipt with one frighteningly long fingernail. “It trades under J O E,
on the New York Stock Exchange.
She looks at me, smiles, hands me back my pen.
“You know what to do,” she tells me.
I do. I take a napkin from the counter, and, using my own pen, I write, "Look
approvingly on Life", and shove it into my pocket.
"What'd you write?" she asks. "What'd you write?"
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