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Authors: Consuelo Saah Baehr

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BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
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When the instructor walked in, she was surprised and excited. It was the man who had attracted her in the hall. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he intoned in a slightly mocking voice, “would you believe me if I told you that it is not only simple but almost inevitable to amass healthy sums from the buying and selling of common stock and the only thing keeping you from doing so are your emotions?” He took a deep breath and the class took this pause to put down their papers and books and give him their full attention. “It’s not the big boys,” he continued, “or the institutions, not the wheeler dealers or back room deals, or insiders, or European cartels that are keeping riches from you. It is the pervasive inability of humans to sell a stock that’s rising and buy one that has plummeted.”

His audience settled back in a collective trance. He spoke with a quiet sincerity and each person thought only he had caught it. He appeared agile without looking athletic and had that straight Episcopalian hair that ended in a neat spill over a broad forehead. He looked to be about thirty.

“Now,” he folded his arms in a loose embrace, “tell me what you hope to gain here. Did you take the course for a specific purpose or were you beguiled by the catchy title?”

He went around the room asking each of them to reveal their investment objectives. The answers were sincere but unintelligible to April who couldn’t keep her eyes off of Harald Tierney.

“I want to create capital,” said a fortyish woman with a raccoon coat draped around her shoulders.

They all knew exactly what they wanted. To create capital. To conserve capital. Some wanted to trade. Some wanted to live off their dividends. Some wanted to speculate. Harald Tierney nodded agreeably at each answer.

“And you?” he reached April and she wasn’t prepared.

“I was beguiled by the catchy title.” She was the first to say this and everyone laughed. She didn’t laugh. She was constricted by her own sudden interest in him, a quiet riot in her temples.

“It sounds catchy but it isn’t,” he said. “It’s absolutely true. Are you in the market at the moment?”

In the market for what? “No.”

“Do you have some capital?”

“You mean money?”

Again everyone laughed. “Yes,” he smiled. “Money.”

“Yes.”

“Would it be too personal to tell us how much? I’m asking for a reason. Perhaps we can make some money with your money.”

“It’s seven hundred dollars.” It was all the money she had ever saved. She thought of where she kept her money – in her underwear drawer. Would he ask that, too?

Everyone looked at their hands and she knew they considered it a silly figure. Harald Tierney’s expression didn’t change. “It can be respectably increased when our class ends. If you won’t mind, we can make an example of your investment.”

Mind. Her eyes were locked on his face, dazed with his unexpected attention. “No, I don’t mind.”

He smiled and his dark eyes sent out beams of light. “Your seven hundred dollars will be our model portfolio.”

She hadn’t intended to do any such thing with her money. She needed it to pay for her clothes, her food, in case she developed a toothache and her college tuition if that ever materialized. “Fine,” she said.

He outlined a practical procedure for them all. He would recommend half a dozen stocks under twenty dollars. They would buy any combination they chose, the investment not to exceed one thousand dollars. They would lock in predetermined buy and sell prices on the day they entered the order. This would eliminate second thoughts, the jitters and other human foibles. The orders would be revised only if lack of price movement made it impossible to complete the transaction. Buying and selling would go off automatically when their price came over the ticker.

“We could do it without money, but it wouldn’t mean as much,” he said. “Your tuition will cover commissions. Your profits will be free and clear.”

“So will our losses,” said a man in the back and everybody laughed.

“Now, now,” said Harald Tierney. He smoothed his hair back off his brow, the only time that evening he showed self-awareness. He wrote out April’s specific recommendations on a piece of paper, folded it, and handed it to her. American Fan and RCD Corporation were written in a backward, slanted penmanship. She stared at it for the remainder of the period.

After class, a woman picked him up at the outer door where he stood and waited. He seemed totally delighted – which, according to his investment philosophy, meant it was the ideal time to dump the woman. Ha, ha. Very funny. At least he had her money. He was going to stimulate her seven hundred dollars into growth. Now that she thought about it, that was a very intimate act for someone she’d just met.

Having nothing much else to do on her time off, April devoted herself to studying the business pages and finding out what there was to know about the buying and selling of common stock. She noted quickly that the reasons the columnists gave for falling or rising prices had little to do with facts or prudent decisions. Stocks went up or down because people were either exhilarated or frightened by the daily news. Yet nothing had a long-range effect. Whatever volatility took place after a big news event usually reversed itself.

To her surprise, the financial news was written in extravagant emotional language. It was a tumultuous time in the market. President Nixon had devalued the dollar, sending currency markets “skittering in confusion.” An initially “exultant market” became a “nervous market,” and finally a “bewildered market skidding by a large percentage.” The price of gold “skyrocketed,” The London bullion market had orders flowing in from all directions creating “chaos on the floor.” Bond prices rose and soybean futures hit historic highs. The American tourist, vexed by the currency plight said, “I’m going home. I can’t buy any presents or souvenirs.”

Before she put in her orders for the two stocks Harald had recommended, April checked on their trading range for the past month in back issues of the New York Times. American Fan had a pattern of going up a fraction – an eighth or a quarter – until it hit a new high, then crept back down the same way. Each upturn, however, continued half a point beyond the previous high and each downturn stopped within half a point of the recent low. Deducing that the current price of 8 would drop to 7 within a week, she put in a buy order at that price and a sell order for 10 7/8 which she calculated to be the new high. She did the same with RCD buying in at 9 ½ and selling at 12.

She wanted to stun Harald Tierney with her new knowledge. “Why did the market go up after the devaluation?” she asked. “It ‘rose exultantly’ according to the Times.” He smiled. “The market hates indecision of any kind. When the announcement comes, good or bad, it reacts out of relief. As you noticed, it quickly went down again.”

“Yes,” she said weakly. She noticed a small scar over his right eye. He was half sitting against his desk with his legs crossed. She felt nervous and disoriented. As if without warning something would swallow her up.

She lived only to return to the class twice each week. The rest of the time was spent in mental and physical preparation. She massaged her body, steamed her face and slathered on skin preparations. She experimented with her hair, parting it in the middle and letting it flow around her. She bought rouge that looked dark brown in its case but turned russet on her cheeks. It took her an hour to prepare herself for his class but he continued to give out his lecture in an impersonal way. People detained him after class and she felt an instant, leaden jealousy toward anyone who held his attention.

She knew the market was down; the news both joyful and troubled. Consumers had boycotted meat, but there was another lunar landing. The Dow Jones average was the lowest it had been in years. Maybe Harald was losing money. Maybe he had taken their money and used it for his own purposes and lost it. She didn’t care about the money. She hoped he would lose it and feel apologetic. She only wanted some sign from him, a nod or a particular word. When she left the classroom her mouth tasted dry and bitter from excess emotion. Her makeup, the lipstick and the eye shadow felt heavy on her face.

One weekend, she looked up his name in the Manhattan telephone directory and saw that he lived on East 91st Street. She walked by his building twice certain he would spot her and call the police.

With a success that surprised everyone, including Harald, April’s initial transactions netted her two hundred and sixty-four dollars. She wanted to put all the money plus profits into one stock but he advised her to split it up again. “It’s less risky. A successful investor is always aiming to minimize risk.” He said this with a smile, as if there were several levels of meaning. Was he flirting with her?

His advice proved to be sound because the stock she had wanted went down hitting her stop loss price three days after she purchased it. The other stock, however, gained a respectable two points for an additional one hundred dollars. She now had one thousand and four dollars, which she put into American Fan for the second time – the stock had again reached its low cycle. She bought one hundred and thirty shares and put in her sell order for 11 ¼, which it reached three weeks later for a whopping profit of four hundred eighty-seven dollars. She had more than doubled her money.

Harald referred to her as the Whiz of Wall Street and only half jokingly invited her to be their guest lecturer. “Ms Taylor has again cut a giddy path through Wall Street,” he announced to the class. “She’s raking it in.”

Sometimes she felt he was making fun of her, as if she had declared her love and he had handed it back. No thanks.

The summer loomed ahead lonely and awful. He asked the class to close their accounts or have them transferred to their own brokers. It was neither profitable nor convenient for his firm to handle twenty-three tiny accounts. Even though they knew it was coming, they all felt abandoned. “I don’t have another broker,” said April after class. “Who’ll take care of my money?”

“You will. You’ve been doing a better job than any broker could do for you.”

“But it’s knowing you that gave me the confidence.”

“I could recommend a broker…”

He was putting all his stuff into a soft-sided briefcase. Why would he want to give her away to someone else? He wanted to be rid of her.

“I don’t want another one. I want you.”

He smiled. “Being a broker is not my main business. Besides, you don’t need me. Whatever system you’re using, you’ll do just fine.”

“Please let me stay with you. Please.” She knew that was too many pleases but she couldn’t let him walk out of her life without a struggle.

“All right,” he said finally. “But I’ll be in and out all summer.”

When she called his number in June, an assistant answered and offered to take her order. Mr. Tierney was away. Where? In Europe? Tuscany? Tuscany was the ‘it’ place that year. He had some nerve leaving her and her money. She didn’t make any transactions for the rest of the summer, letting her money ride where it stood. She longed to see him again and decided that longing was important. Longing was almost as good as having the thing itself.

That summer, tropical storm Agnes struck Pennsylvania, devastating a wide area. Sylvie triumphant from her year at Brooklyn College, was going to Europe; Mrs. Beck’s grand gift to her Honor Roll girl. Sylvie had changed. Her face was totally new. A face that had always seemed gaunt and too long was now interesting, a landscape with peaks and valleys. She wore jeans with heels and white lisle socks and a man tailored jacket. Only a candidate for Creedmore State, the mental institution, would have dressed like that in High School. Now it was a dazzling combination, promising adventuresome sex with a stern business mind. Sylvie no longer spoke in slang, either. Turd and fart, her two favorite nouns, were no longer in her vocabulary. April was at a loss with this new Sylvie. She was afraid of boring her.

Two events in early July helped take her mind off Sylvie and Harald Tierney. She was offered a sublet two blocks from the New School by a woman in the psychology department who was going upstate to study autistic children. It was an oppressively somber two rooms over a dry cleaning store. There was a pink bedroom, a living room and a closet of a kitchen with a greasy rotisserie instead of an oven. The price was right. $350. a month. She took it and got no resistance from Bernice and Harlan.

Every three nights she made a rotisserie chicken and ate it with potato salad from a deli down the street. When she looked out of her two front windows after dinner, she saw an Italian restaurant, a Kwik Kopy photocopy store, a plant store and a place where you could get help with your tax forms and buy insurance.

There were twin beds in the bedroom and two windows that opened to a view of rooftops and fire escapes. April locked the windows and pulled down the shades but still slept in the living room where the windows could be reached only by the pigeons.

The second important change in her life was initiated by Martin Bell, partner in the advertising firm of Bell and Adonesio, who was continuing to teach his class in writing advertising copy through the summer. April liked the class and had enrolled again.

Martin Bell was a short, dapper man with clear gray eyes and a full jowly face. “You know,” he told them in the beginning, “the words people say in television commercials and the words accompanying the pictures in magazine and newspaper ads are all carefully written and sometimes mulled over for weeks. I’m telling you this because there’s a misconception among the general public that these words just….appear…form themselves out of the ether. ‘You mean somebody writes those things?’ is a question I’m repeatedly asked at parties. Yes. Somebody writes those words and gets paid handsomely to do so.” Martin Bell rocked expertly on the balls of his feet and buttoned and then unbuttoned his blazer. “I’m going to teach you how to write those words, too. I’ll teach you to sell goods.”

BOOK: Nothing To Lose (A fat girl novel)
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