Vita Sua in a Bygone Mobile
(Part 2 in a series: What Have I Gotten Into?)
Mobile Bay Times
I was getting a lot of paychecks in those days, twice monthly from both SRC and the city, weekly from the newspaper and, from time to time, small emoluments that came from my share of the "goodies" that went with a sportswriter's job, scoring fees, payments from out-of-town papers for occasional stories, gifts from sports promoters and such.
My days at SRC were
spent mostly working
courses, required as a
preliminary to the
NYSE exam which I
was to take after six
months on the job.
I discovered that all
three of my seniors at
the firm had drinking
problems. While St.
Pat's Day might have
been the biggest occasion for P.D., he didn't neglect
Saints Felix, Isadore, Marius, Lucy or even Eusebius! P really didn't need an occasion. P didn't ever go on a binge. He just occasionally went off his lifetime
P.D. was, essentially, a good person. I suppose I have to feel that he did me a favor by hiring me, although in some of the bear markets we've had since 1952, I've had my doubts.
The father of a rather large brood, P.D. had come to his trade naturally. His father before him had worked for ML and P.D. had started in the business with the same firm. But, through a friend in Birmingham, who managed SRC in the Magic City, he was introduced to the managing partners of SRC and given the chance to open an office in Mobile.
He induced another old friend, R.K., who had retired from the brokerage business, to return to the field and join him. R.K. in turn brought in his nephew, X.X. The office was opened about 1948 and, at the time I was hired, XX was the co-manager with P.D. However, X.X.'s was merely a title. P.D. really ran the office. The two did not get on well at all and I was to be witness later to a stormy parting of the ways.
I think P.D.'s principal problem was that he was innately a pessimist. He certainly would not have admitted it, but I believe that he expected another stock market crash. It could have been born of his youthful experiences with the debacle of the late 20's and early 30's. Perhaps he saw his father go from a prosperous existence to a very drab one. I can imagine that brokers, even in Mobile, lived very high in the 20's when P.D. was a young boy, and, if P.D.'s dad resembled his offspring at all, he probably spent up to his limit and the family lived very well before the crash.
While the stock market provided P.D. with a good living, I suspect he always felt that it might end any day and he be left with a large family and no means to support them. Rather than save for that possible rainy day, P.D. lived for the moment. He spent everything he got and more besides, was always in debt and approached the stock market as if it were one giant crap game. Trading was the name of the game. In and out the same day, if the opportunity presented itself. It did not pay, in his estimation, to keep stocks for the long haul.
P.D. was a bar-hopper, most of whose haunts weren't the toniest. Since he and X.X. did not get along and had entirely different tastes and since R.K. left the office the moment the market closed, I, perforce, was often his companion after office hours. I usually went along reluctantly, but reasoning that he was the boss and that I should do what I could to stay in his favor. In this regard, the fact that most days I had to report to the newspaper at 5 p.m. was a real blessing. I would usually have time for a beer or two and that's about all before I had to excuse myself despite P.D.'s protestations.
P.D. often did his drinking at the office. With the liquor store next door, it was most convenient. Many days, shortly before the market closed, he would come by and remark: "How about a J.A.?" This was an abbreviation for "Joint Account," which, in P.D.'s parlance, meant splitting the cost of a pint to be imbibed after the market's close. More often than not, however, P.D. provided the entire cost.
We didn't have very many visitors after market hours, but these drinking sessions were conducted in the area behind the stock board, hidden from the view of anyone who might come through the door. If someone did come in, looking for a broker, one of us would get up and out there to greet him.
Usually, though the only other people in the office were our three young lady board markers, completing their tasks of posting the closing prices on the board.
Generally, the more he drank, the surlier P.D. became. One of our livelier board markers, D.S., who would occasionally have a drink, had a standing rule regarding these sessions. When P.D. would finish a bottle, he would generally heave it into a nearby waste basket, often with one of his favorite expressions - "Judas Priest and General Jackson." That was D.S.'s signal to leave for home, whether her work was finished or not. Probably a wise practice, for by this time P.D. was verbally attacking everyone around him.
The aftermath of one of those sessions sticks in my mind. P.D. passed out about 4:30. I could barely rouse him and reasoned that I had better get him home or he would spend the night behind the board. By a great effort I got him in my car and took him home. He had passed out on the back seat. So I struggled to get him out of the car. I tried to get him up the steps to his house, dreading meeting his wife at the door. But the task was too much for me. I got him to the front of his yard. His house stood above the street level and there was a concrete retaining wall about two feet high at the sidewalk level. I managed to sit him on top of this wall and left him there. As I drove away, I noted that he had fallen over on his back.
He was at work bright and early the next day.
R.K. was a different kind of case. Whereas P.D. would often drink until he became insensible, R.K., at least to my observation, would never do so, although he probably drank more than P.D.. I had been at SRC for some time before I discovered that R.K. kept a pint behind the board. I noted that he made frequent trips back there but just assumed that he had a kidney problem, since the men's room was also located behind the board.
R.K. arrived at work each morning about 6 a.m. and left immediately after the market closed. His wife picked him up and I assume brought him down each day.
Drink to R.K. was apparently like air to most people. He had to have continuous, if small, injections of it, to keep going. Unlike P.D., he was rarely surly. He was an outstanding salesman and apparently had to have whiskey to keep the cheerful, gabby approach a salesman needs.
I had only one occasion to visit R.K.'s home. It was about 8 p.m. and we found him, propped in bed in his pajamas, drinking wine. I suppose during all his waking hours, he never went so long as an hour between drinks.
The other member of the trio, X.X., confined his drinking to after market hours and almost exclusively to the A. Club, an expensive gathering place for the town's more affluent citizens. The club's origins dated back a century or more. It was located just a few blocks from the office and X.X. would repair there each afternoon as soon as the market closed, or sometimes even before the close.
He would spend the afternoons drinking and playing cards. Sometimes he would return to the office before I would leave in the late afternoons.
X.X.'s drinking had some purpose. Most of his card-playing companions were customers and he obviously was able to procure quite a bit of business through this means.
He was the only single member of the trio. He made an excellent living for his needs, but was almost always in debt. His tastes were expensive. Aside from the club, liquor and gambling, he spent much of his money on clothes. Not everyone can wear expensive clothing well but X.X. could. He would probably have been on the list of top-dressed men in Mobile if such a list had been compiled.
X.X. knew his business very well and, had he worked hard at it, would have been a most successful broker.
He was one of the most selfish people I've ever known. Later, when he took over sole control of the office when P.D. was ousted, he saw to it that he got the lion's share of the money. He probably averaged less than four hours a day in the office and let others do much of his work but he got paid for it all. Ultimately, this would lead to a revolt which almost ruined him, as his entire force of brokers left on the same day.
However, X.X. seemed to be like the proverbial man who could fall in a cesspool and come out smelling like a rose. Somehow or other despite his venal actions, things always went his way.
These were the people I was associated with. Had I known all of this the day I first talked to P.D. back in the fall of 1951, I might have stayed with the City Recreation Department rather than go into the world of finance.