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Monday, April 03, 2006

open roads,windshileds,old friends and baseball

I spent a good part of today driving up into the mountains of Western Maryland, on the way to the wake of an old friends father. I had think I only met Phil’s father once before but Phil was a friend, I am an Irish Catholic, it was a wake and I was going. For some reason among those of us born to the inner city catholic tradition showing up for wakes has a critical importance and I ve never been able to overcome the genetic programming. I am not fond of them but there is a feeling that it one that it is a duty of friendship to offer respects and condolences at such time. It was a lengthy drive, some three hours up and the same back (naturally) and I had to arise early from my slumber to get on the road. Those of you that know are aware that the phrases Tim and early Sunday morning are not often found together in the same sentence. Nevertheless armed with coffee, cigarettes, and some John Prine and Bob Dylan cds I was up and on the road.It was a beautiful day for a drive. I am normally more of a beach than a mountain guy but the mountains were just starting to break into springtime and hints of green were seen among the gray starkness of the forests spread on the hillsides. There were signs of much activity on the rolling farms spread out amongst the foothills of the eastern Appalachians, with the sights and sounds of spring planting in evidence. Livestock was being moved into the meadows from winter quarters and newborn calves and colts were much in evidence. One could see and hear the birds of spring breaking into song on this near 70 degree day and I spotted several deer now safe from the long guns of winter deer season in the low lying fields along the roadway This sort of bucolic scenery is of course best viewed by me from the windshield as I wish to get no closer to the farm life than farmer Johns produce stand and my idea of wildlife has a lot more to do with long legged blondes and well chilled martinis than the great outdoors. Still it was a pleasant drive and I enjoyed the roadside view.

As Prine sang of the way the world goes round and Dylan was tangled up in blue I drank my coffee, smoked my smokes and engage in the kind of deep and yet somehow trivial thinking I tend to engage in while driving. I had of course to review one of my latest oops, did I really do that moments. Once I had reviewed all the evidence, coming again to the conclusion that when it comes to my personal life I am predestined to be an idiot, I quickly moved to other more productive thoughts. The arrival of winter purging away the dark damp gray of winter brings to mind the ever-present ecology of life and markets. The old purges away the new, even the most painful bear market ends and the pruning of excess set the stage for new highs. There is a point where the landscape must be laid bare and the easy profits disgorged so that the mistress may remind us that although she can be had, she’s not easy. We see the pattern in the market as a whole, in industry groups and especially in investing styles as the horde chases alpha, pumping more cash into an investment discipline that it can possibly handle, destroying returns in much the same fashion that winter depletes the foliage and undergrowth leaving a tangle of bare limbs and empty underbrush. In the last 5 years we have seen stat arb, risk arb, distressed and several other disciplines go though the cycle. We have seen tech stocks; utilities and drug stocks go through the harshest of winters, taking out all the easy money investors and momentum funds before the green of spring began to poke through the carnage of winter. In markets as in life it has always been such and I suspect always shall be. The mistress continues to be harshest on those who try to grow the trees too tall and the kindest to those who seek hope in the snowstorm. That’s not of course to say that she won’t throw the occasional case f frostbite at you just to keep you honest.

Any though of spring that runs through my mind must bring forth thoughts of baseball. Tomorrow is opening day..I refuse to consider the made for TV event that is the Sunday night game opening day. To me, the season starts today when Livian Hernandez and the nati0onals face glavine and the mets at Shea Stadium. The Orioles have the Devil Rays in what should be a case of the two worst teams in the best division seeing who can manage to give the game away and it what looks like the game of the day The Yankees will face Oakland tomorrow night in a battle of two preseason candidates to win it all. Johnson against Zito has the makings of a great game. Shame it isn’t on until 10 so I ll only catch an inning or two. Baseball again and at last. Innings after inning of advancing runners, holding guys on first, hitting the cut off man, sacrificing guys across, getting ahead of the hitter, doing all the things you have to do to stay in position to win, to benefit from a fast furious rally in the late innings of just grind out enough runs to win a game by a run or two, doing all the things day in and out to win more games than the other guy and get to the final prize the playoffs.Hmm..Sounds a little like living and lot like trading to me. Doing the little things each day, adjusting your approach to each game, each hitter. Shifting the outfielders because of one guys propensity to hit to the right. Cheat the infielders in because the speedsters liable to bunt. Take an extra lead as the pitcher has a poor move to first. Each situation, each day evaluated, studied and executed according to where the exploitable edge lies.

As I pulled into Frostburg, a scenic little mountain country town with its rolling streets, old stately homes lining main street, the streets basically empty against the cal quiet of a Sunday morning, I took notice of this quaint little town that started life as a stagecoach town along the National Pike, later as a coal town and now primarily home to a state college that churns out teachers, set amidst the backdrop of the nearby mountains and thought as I always do “ How in the heck do people live out here”. The quaint little shoppes with mandatory extra p and e, the rustic looking little bars and coffee shops..All closed. Although I am sure there is much to recommend it, the rural lifestyle holds no attraction for me. I have trouble fathoming how one can dwell somewhere where it is not possible to get Asian dumplings and a burger at midnight if ones so chooses and the lush sounds of crickets and songbirds jar me from sleep far more than a traffic jam ever has.Much is made of the beauty of the simple life, particularly on the Hallmark Channel but I am afriad that I am not a fan.Currier and Ives and weal as Norman Rockwell may paint a great canvas of this way of life but i suspect they dont know where to get a decent pizza at 2am.

I put in my appearance, expressed my condolences with the classic celtic "I am sorry for your troubles" and made my exit. A couple of other old friends and I stopped for a bite to eat before heading back over the hills to home and reminisced for a bit about the old days when we all ran around together as part of a large civic group, playing politics, giving speeches, running elections and building our lives and careers all those e years ago. Now as mark, a long time friend and my attorney to this day remarked, "it seems now we only see each other at funerals."

This led to much of the drive home spent ruminating about old friends and the seemingly inevitable falling out of touch over the years. This group of friends was one that back in my mid thirties I spent the vast majority of my time with. We were in meeting together, traveling to conventions together, partying, practical joking and enjoying the heck out of life. As time went on and e got older, we went to each other’s weddings, the came to my divorces, we toasted each other when we were each inducted in the International JCI Senate as a sort of lifetime achievement award. Phil was once a roommate; mark was the best man at my wedding and the lawyer for all my divorces. There was a group of 10 or so of us that were seemingly inseparable. Now perhaps a Christmas card, a few funerals a year is all the contact we have. I thought of other old friends who have fallen away over the years. My first business partner Bob. We spent five years together, made a pile of money twice and lost said pile three times, he who still owns the most optimistic line I ve ever heard when we tapped out the last time.” Its not so bad, Tim. It’s actually an upgrade. We came to a town in a $30,000 Cadillac and we re leaving on million dollar bus” That was 23 years ago. I think I ve spoken to him three times since then and have no idea where he is today after 5 years of sweat, struggle, more high times and good times than I can count. The guys I trained with in the brokerage business some 15 years ago. 12 hours a d ay together in the bullpen cold calling, sharing ideas keeping each other pumped up enough to deal with 300 phone calls a day and the attendant rejection and frustration. With one exception I have no idea where these people are today.

Some of this is normal and just part of the grand cycle of life. Part of it however is sheer neglect and lack of effort on our parts as we progress through life. Acquaintances may well come and go and pass though our lives as will more causal friendships. But those friendships that touch our lives and are an integral part of them, those who stand by us when we fall and celebrate when we succeed, who are part of the best and worst memories of our lives, perhaps we should not let them fall away so quickly. In this day and age of free long distance and the Internet there really isn’t an excuse anymore not to drop a line, make a call. Perhaps you wont be a close as you once were for reason of distance or even lifestyle. Many of my old friends have now married while I have specialized in getting unmarried. My lifestyle probably doesn’t fir too well into their backyard bbq and I can’t really see them out until all hours with me unless I want a new roommate. Not an excuse for not making a phone call to say how are you what’s new, just wanted to touch base. Upon arriving home on this Sunday evening I thought about that list, friends who were just too important to let slip away. I made a few calls, wrote a few emails just to say hi. I am gal I did. There is a cycle to life and people will move in and out of it over the years of the journey. Some however should not be allowed to slip away completely. What the hell. Its worth a phone call