But Wait; There's More... by M.J. Milner In short order the derivative of my life resources would devolve to the handling of boxes. If I was going to stop the decline in my life this would have to be the next step. No other options magically appeared. I steeled my will. No one knew or cared any longer what I had accomplished, who I had known or what I had owned. The questions had been blunt, naked, devoid of innuendo. "Can you unload boxes from a truck for ten hours a day." After a brief discussion I had been selected and I sensed there was amusement in the decision. Perhaps they had a betting pool and knew already about how long I would last. Betting probability had always been a fun human diversion. I wasn't sure if I had fallen or been pushed. Whether sucked in or sucked under- the result was the same. Calamities by their very nature breed forgetfulness and that is why the cycles that repeat- to people who won't remember them- can cut through the flesh and bone of the soul. The life I had was gone, vanished like silvery minnows from my child like grasp as I struggled to hold my breath. The surface grew farther and farther away as the memory of an easy breath brought an ache to play in my lungs. I would remember every lesson and hoped to kick to the surface. It took me a while to understand that I had become invisible to my family and friends. The realization came as a dramatic shock to me when I stopped living with a wonderful and quite beautiful girlfriend. My best friend and I had shared a local community space for over a decade and my business was booming. That giant sucking sound I didn't recognize was the drainy, slurpy gasp of trillions of falsely created currency vaporizing like a desperate cloud of sentient sea smoke. The old and real tale repeated of friend and girlfriend blindsiding trust into a ditch. The cords on my parachute had been fashioned into a noose. I cut loose figuring that strangers might be better than people pretending to be my friend. people I had known for decades walked by in the street not avoiding eye contact- they actually looked right through me as though I wasn't there. My reality had shifted into a shimmering mirage. I could see them. Bankers didn't disappear- their banks did. The fundamental fabric of my life as I had known it was not only torn but had totally unraveled. Everything I had worked for-that I had treasured- had become the dryer lint of personal history.. "You missed signing some of your new hire paperwork. Just sign where the orange paper flags are. There's four spots." The HR lady meant well and was just doing her job. During orientation I had learned she had worked for the company for 5 years and was completing her degree. They had offered me $12.50 an hour. I had lost everything but the money I needed just to cover my current cost of living was $16 an hour. In the past I had made over $60K in a bad year. My unemployment had run out, the little money I had left from selling my possessions before the move was almost gone. My refrigerator was almost empty. No one had any money. I had been told I might not ever work again, so I had dyed my hair black. No one I knew had any work. I had been hired to balance the youth of this team. I capitulated to the monotone offer of poverty. She was skinny but loved to dance. "This is a video that explains our health insurance." The difference between falling in pitch darkness and flying is the abandonment and disorientation that comes from the tumbling into deeper levels of darkness and cold. That and the realization that there is no bottom. The falling just goes on and on. What you may have thought you knew and the memory of the people you had loved had been noisily engulfed in the sound of memories being sucked from your heart. I knew the center of my life had been circling that greedy vortex of failure and as I moved in from the edge I could feel that although I were falling- I were also accelerating. I wondered if it was like a black hole. You approach a certain point and then you entered the event horizon- the absolute gravity you had felt growing nearer arrived and you would never pull away. You had crossed over and become totally indistinct, irreversibly invisible, lost from your dreams forever. I had tried everything but the accumulating weight of the situation was pulling at me, clawing away my hope daily. The orientation lasted 8 hours. I was exhausted. The next morning I lay awake at 5:29 AM the sodium vapor light from the parking lot of my cheap apartment streaming through the dusty curtains. My alarm blared like a prophetic, OSHA approved back up signal and I shuddered violently at the noise. It was important- I was told to be on time. I had to clock in no sooner than 5 minutes early or before 10 minutes late or I would be put on notice. I would be unloading thousands of boxes from several trucks that were due to arrive. I got up and went to the bathroom. The guy looking back in the mirror looked like he hadn't quite given up yet and I resolved to have “the talk” with him. Maybe he should take another shot at ending it all only this time be a little more quiet with his call for help. It had taken me over three years to stabilize somewhere near the bottom. Too much had hit me at once. Too much betrayal- my irreversible invisibility and the complete understanding that I had become an almost worthless human being,overnight. The dense cloud of depression. Flat. Every dream dead. Love, desire and expectations- instant ash.The taste in one's own mouth came as a surprise. In order to have PTSD and begin your recovery you had to complete the trauma. It had to be “post”. My elongating demise was acquiring the uncomfortable inclination of becoming a structural and unwanted eigenstate. Not only did it not appear to have an ending but it gave every indication of becoming a new structural reality. The taste of lukewarm chlorinated city water was odd. I had run out of toothpaste a week ago. I dressed in old clothes, ate a slice of bread with some microwaved day old,black coffee and headed out the door. I had given up on so many basic standards. It was dark and not many cars were on the road. I had one eighth of a tank of gas and nursed it for the 18 mile drive to my new "career." Work on the first day was all that could be expected. Personally it was hard. Physically it was tolerable. My team set the pace and they wanted to keep their jobs, for sure. There were a few other recession refugees and they grumbled about their lot in this new economy. The leaders of the crew made much more money than the rest of us and they had risen from people who were not respected very much to workers with pay rates people envied. They were the ones with smart phones. A few clicks on the engine of the economy and base value was reestablished. They would get raises this year again- they were needed to train and work the team for maximum productivity. The team were the people who would take any job- like me. We shouldn't expect a raise unless we were promoted. During the break I had access to one of three older computers that were for employee use. I got on one and realized it had been weeks since I had been on line. I looked at my stock trading account it had a balance of about $200 dollars in a stock that had been at $.25 a share and now was, like myself in free fall- it was now .01 a share. This money would only be withdrawn as a signal that I had reached absolute bottom. A small start up company with big plans to crack the electroptical modulator business. This was the residue of my brilliance. I checked my email and there were two brief messages with forwarded links so I could share the :-) 's others had found amusing. An email had arrived from an old friend's wife- Dawson. Asking me to call her. I had a prepaid phone with about 17 minutes left on it. When I got home I might call her. Talking to people from my past hurt me to my very core. Dawson, Reynaldo and I had been close friends about a decade ago. They had been good friends and we had fallen out of touch. they had a love and a relationship that was real and it had endured. I had moved on to a new town and new friends- that hadn't worked out so well. Unless of course you are a big fan of spiritual water boarding. I jotted down her number and went back to work. We worked four 10 hour days and had three days off. I wasn't going to make it. My melt down date was 63 days. This was a skill I had learned over the past few years. Given my burn rate how long would my money last? I would have to ask strangers to help me. I asked my crew if anyone had any side work. Some had jobs but they didn't need any new people. I asked if anyone could loan me ten bucks until payday. I got five each from two of the guys. One of them warned me not to take out a payday loan- ever. The lifeboats looked pretty crowded. I began to understand what level I had sunk to and that matters could easily get worse. You do not curse the crocodiles until you are across the river. From the beginning I blamed myself completely and my self esteem had gone into the shredder. I knew I should have treated my resources differently but my assumptions had not taken universal economic collapse, personal betrayal and pathological invisibility into my financial planning. People I had been close to on a daily basis for years cut me out of their lives instantly because they had fallen in love and the guilt was inconvenient. Business cash flow disappeared in less than a month and a half. People who owned wagons circled them and if you weren't inside the circle or if you had lost your wagon then well, you were on your own and everyone wished you the best. They hoped you bounced back. Somehow. I have found that if you hold your head up and you see the bubbles that were in your lungs rushing to the surface faster than you are- because you are sinking- that you have to do something. As the Bard says, “Therein lies the rub.” If everyone's life collapses at the same time and you find yourself in a crowd of people who are all asking the same question then you haven't planned well. You trusted the wrong people when you really shouldn't have trusted anyone. My weight continued to go down and I grew testy and less communicative. One of the guys at work, a younger Jamaican worker with a heavy accent gave me a Tupperware container filled with chicken and rice and a ten dollar bill at the beginning of my second week. He smiled and said, “This is a hard time for you. I know your look. I can spare this. Take it.” During break that day I emailed Reynaldo's wife Dawson. I kept it short and wasn't overly communicative but sent her my contact information. I wouldn't be able to hear her voice without breaking. Most of the people hadn't actually left me. I had fallen through the cracks and no one, absolutely no one knew what to do. I was not interested really in starting my life completely over again- from scratch. And yet. That was what was occurring. I guess I had acquired the thousand yard stare of a deer looking into the headlights of change. It wasn't a sprint to the finish line of my first payday at this place, but I could feel my resources dwindling. Peanut better and jelly on day old bread. Fried egg sandwiches with cheap, diluted fruit juice. Black coffee and instant oatmeal. The boredom and cruelty of cliff edge poverty. I had started with twenty five copies of my resume and now had four left. No responses. No day work. I was reduced to the public library that had cut their hours too. The computers there were never open. The mix of people awash in unrealized hope was amazing to me. On payday one of my tires blew out and after I had it repaired and paid everyone back the money I had caged from them one way or another. I paid my rent- late. The countdown clock on this stage of my life was resolutely ticking away. I could see the drop dead date pending- always less than 60 days away. Later I got home with groceries and I was feeling pretty good. With luck I could avoid a full melt down into homelessness. In spite of my friends, education and skill sets the cascade had been unstoppable, relentless and frightening. There was a letter from Dawson in the pile of bills. The final insult would be bankruptcy. I probably should have gone down that road a long time ago but just couldn't accept the label. I rubbed the envelop gently between my fingers. I was touching my emotional history and the memory was sustaining but really dangerous. Happiness should not be a remembered image. I filed the bills and gently opened the letter. She had been trying to contact me for a while. Reynaldo had died and left me some money. Not a lot- the check was for $3,000. She had moved out west and wanted me to know she was OK and starting over. Reynaldo had never forgotten the gift of my old motorcycle and just wanted to say thanks. That was all pretty simple. Just tying off loose ends. I immediately sent her a quick note skipping my particulars. Shame of financial failure had motivated so much of my life in the past few years. It had stained my life- like a dye; like a poison. At one point when things were good I had a stock portfolio of several thousand dollars. When my personal finances collapsed that money was the first to go. Like many I had been a believer in buy and hold. That laziness had cost everything. Towards the end I had qualified for options trading. Buying an option was like renting somebody else's stock. They let you own it for a period of time and if you were long or short and your bet paid off YOU made the profit- if the stock stayed outside of the profit range then you made nothing and the stock's owner got to keep your money. Options are designed to protect the stock owners NOT the speculators so-you needed more than a fair amount of luck. I had always considered options the fastest way to cap a profit or squander hard earned dollars. They produced fast leveraged returns though. A thought came to mind. How could I use the money from Reynaldo to reclaim my life? If I kept one thousand dollars to buy me time what could I seriously hope to accomplish with the rest. I got out a scrap of paper and a calculator. Double $2,000 eight times in a row. A little more than one million dollars. Did I have THAT kind of luck? At this point if I didn't do something the same result would occur- instead of in two months- in nine months. Perhaps not taking a risk was a bigger risk than playing it safe. I decided to sleep on it. In my dream I was a Himalayan Griffon Vulture and walking off a high ledge I spread my wings. Far below I saw my own body lying on an open ledge prepared for sky burial. I circled the scene and was trying to decide if I could safely feast on the carrion of my old life. It was both an ugly and a calming natural feeling. I awoke in a sweat as my wings angled down in a spiral. The important thing to me was this was the first dream that I had been aware of in several years. I was dreaming again. the actual dream had freaked me out. The next day was the last of my 4 day work run. I asked Quentin, one of the long term employees if I could check things from time to time on his iPhone and he agreed as long as I wasn't obvious about it or wasting time. I set up an app on his phone for my trading account. At the end of the day I mailed the check into the brokerage company and went to the library the very next day, early. I got access to a computer and got my head into what was happening now in the economy. What did I know now, or ever for that matter about stocks or the economy? Not much but I dusted off my brain and dove in. Over the course of 2 days I had a list of hard trading rules and a checklist that I would use on every trade. I knew that in order to win a race the start was actually more important than the finish. I built a list of stocks with charts that looked good to me. Some were like old friends and I felt fondly towards them. There cannot be love without bread. On my next time off I had a likely candidate I had picked from a list of five. A small drug company it had lost one third of its value. Bad news from the government about their marketing- the FDA were investigating. I went over my check list- buy side volume going up, downward trend broken, insider buying and stock buyback expanded, check, check, check,check right down the line. Always buy a long side call on a down day to avoid premium. Always buy in the money. I hit the buy button, waited for confirmation and logged off. Once I did my fate was sealed and my $2K was on the table. To keep from going insane I knew watching too closely would ruin my edge. My homework was done and in 48 hours the stock would have dropped, gone sideways or gone up. My understanding of the factors said it would go up. I waited. While I waited I re-staged my life. The resources and support systems I did have needed backing and filling so I could concentrate- undistracted from my new task at hand. I continued my research into the next set of selections. On the morning of the third day I check my options. The stock had popped five points and my call options had tripled- not doubled. I now had six thousand dollars. Cha-ching! The delusional hope built over the next four work days. I had my rules and reviewed my choices, hopping from one to another. Constantly second guessing my choices back checking the patterns and volumes. When the morning of my first day off rolled around it looked like steel stocks were about to roll over-the economy was thinking about a second leg down and China was slowing commodity imports as a way to restrain growing inflation. I picked a junior steel producer and bought puts which give you the right to sell at a certain price. If the stock dropped you made money, because you bought the right to sell it to somebody at a higher price.. This stock showed a fast move upwards and I bought it as it rose and the premium dropped, figuring that someone who had sold it short was buying it back to cover the position. After I got my confirmation the stock kept climbing- moving against my position. My rule was that when a whole sector is on the move pick the stock that is most likely to go in that direction strongly and buy if you get a small trend reversal. I saw a couple of hundred dollars disappear and instead of stopping the loss I logged out and walked away. I would stick to my plan. research, decide probable behavior- identify a buy zone. Wait for the stock to come to my buy price. Buy it- hold my breath for a day or two- see what happened -if I had the gain I wanted sell the stock. The key was the word "decide". I had always felt that when you "decide" something you kill choice. You had to meant it when it came to”cide.” No going back. I waited three days and logged in. The stock had continued to move against me and then had dropped making me about 50% but then had returned to my buy level and was trundling along sideways. With options- both puts and calls- you are buying time and even if you avoided premium by buying against the direction of your move time cost money. It was called time decay. That was what was happening to my life. I could sell at a small loss or risk it all by letting it ride for four days. I liked my original research and decided to let it ride and try to watch it at work. Big mistake! It became almost impossible to get to the smart phone more than a couple of times a day and all of the break room computers went down. I was losing my mind but went with my plan. Again on the morning of my first day off I went to the library and my stock had whipsawed in a narrow band-burning time value- sideways. The value hadn't changed much but the time premium showed a 25% loss. I had to decide if I was wrong. Then in .05 and .10 cent moves about every 15-30 minutes the stock began a gradual drop. I needed the stock to collapse to make money. I was asked to give up the computer and since I was ahead by several hundred dollars I walked away. I was back at 3 o'clock and the stock had been dropping slowly all day with a dead cat bounce at around 2:30. At 3:45 with fifteen minutes left in the trading day the bottom fell out of the stock and my put options spiked up. I sold at 3:58Pm with a solid double. I now had twelve thousand dollars on three trades. I was four thousand dollars ahead of plan. The next day was a day to buy gold. I had enough capital to take a risk on this high flyer. Gold had been running and silver had too. There was a steep premium so if you wanted to buy time and in the money you had to pay a premium for it. My bet would be that gold reversed. As soon as I went long on the gold put options the gold market moved down with was a winning move for me. I smiled. Then the volume started to flow in against my position. In fifteen minutes I had lost 5 grand as the market moved against me- strongly. Against my own rules I closed out my position. I was sick to my stomach. Gold ran up over $80 dollars on strong volume. Silver, I noticed had broken $40 an ounce. I went home to study my notes, chagrined. Silver was an industrial metal at I knew that when the price was that high silver miners sold futures in there production and dumped surplus on the open market depending on their cost of production. The next morning I would try shorting silver with option puts. I couldn't get on a computer at the library until 10:00AM. Lucky for me silver climbed two more dollars to $42 and the downside premium narrowed. The move was on light volume though- so I went short silver with puts. The peak rolled over about 45 minutes later and the market in silver began to drop. I logged off and went home. Later that day silver was at $32 an ounce and there was a steep premium for puts. Miners were dumping their futures contracts. I sold out before the close but I had to wait for a computer. I was pretty jumpy before I got that keyboard under my fingers. You could succeed by luck skill or timing and it was improvident to confuse one with the other. I had serious money now. This wasn't a game. I should buy a computer, get Internet at home, buy a smart phone of my own, hedge my position- stop acting like an idiot. I could, but I wouldn't. I had written on my mirror in bar soap. "Stick to the tactic, strategy and plan. Play to win." I had my list to rules taped to the headboard of my bed. I had my kitchen counter piled with ordered layers of possible choices. A checklist was stapled to each one for verification on the day of purchase. I now had $58,000. I was scared shitless, literally and couldn't sleep. Every fighter has a plan until the first punch lands. I took four days off from the market and went to work. Around me there was a blizzard of boxes. Quentin noticed my renewed productivity. "You must be working through somethin' ,boy. Dez boxes is flyin'!" The rotating work schedule ground at the life of the mind and the heart of your soul. It was designed to keep you off your game and destroy any balance that might exist in your circadian metronome. I used the anxious fury to release the stress. On my first day off I slept late. Went out to lunch and stayed away from computers. I bought a Wall Street Journal and read it several times, the next morning I went to the library-early. I was the first one in and I looked at weather maps and crop reports.It seemed that the American farmer had planted more corn this year than in any previous year- EVER. The price of corn might get low and stay low for the whole year. There were reports of a growing drought and even though it might get dry- with all the corn that had been planted- there would still be a bumper crop. If they got any rain at all the crop would be gigantic. Some of the new genetically modified seed was supposed to yield 250 bushels an acre. I bought 3 months of time- out to September. I bet against the weather and against a bountiful harvest. I figured that with so many wonderful things turning against good people and the memory of the Dust Bowl farms long gone from living memory that a drought had to be an almost sure thing. My charts and weather maps gave me hope- and I knew it was a long shot. Hell, it was on the outside edge of my rule system but it was still within them. I bought time, I paid for premium I confirmed my trade and walked away. I walked away for a month.When I came back I came on my third day off at 3:30PM. It took fifteen minutes to get a computer. I looked at my balance. I had just over $500,000. I had been right about the corn crop. There was genuine, real pain across our nation and I had benefited on a hunch. That had produced close to $300,000 in profit. The chart looked like a skyscraper and not at all like a boa constrictor eating an elephant. The other $208,000 had come from the small electroptical start up. They had their eureka moment and changed the world with one simple product. There stock was now $11.40 and rising. It looked like they had a very bright future ahead of them. I knew I was smart and I knew I was lucky. At 3:58PM I hit the sell button and and waited for my confirmations. Woulda,coulda, shoulda, I would never look back again. If the cat has kittens in the oven it does not make them cupcakes.
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