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Vita Sua in a Bygone Mobile

Part 5 in a series: "O' lucky day, an ugly Yankee comes my way." Previous installments: 1, 2 , 3  & 4.

Mobile Bay Times
He had come in the office a month or so before, and was in almost every day before  he opened an account. He was a Northerner, sharp in speech and seemingly suspicious. I'd have to say, in truth, that physically, he was quite unattractive. Short, with a limp, a little stout, with a big nose.

He was obviously quite knowledgeable about the market.

We all, myself
included, gave him a
rather wide berth.
We were sorta
hoping he wouldn't
open an account.

We had all heard of
"sharpies" who came
down from the North
and "took" brokers
in little country
towns like Mobile.
I guess we all sort of suspected that Charlie might
have been a sharpie.

But it fell my fate to inherit Charlie. Little did I dream that it was to be the most fortunate thing that happened to me in my career. I was not at all anxious to accept his first small order and couldn't wait until I got the word that his check had cleared.

It turned out that Charlie S. was a trader, a one in a million trader, a fellow who belied the old rule that traders always go broke.

He had an eye for the tape. He could see things on it that nobody else in the office could see.

He probably would have made a great field commander in the Army, although one has to laugh when he pictures the 5'-5" diabetes-plagued Charlie out directing troops. But he had that rare quality, the ability to make a decision promptly. And, that even rarer quality, the ability to nullify that decision quickly if he discovered it was not the proper one.

Charlie was to contribute a large percentage of my business over the next few years but, almost as important, he was to bring me new customers and encourage my old ones to do more business.

He always spoke his mind, in language laced with profanities which caused his lovely wife to wince. M was constantly with Charlie, who had difficulty driving, and, in fact, probably would have been long dead if not for her loving care.

Here's Charlie in action with one of my toughest customers, H.A., a real pain and a bore who could never make up his mind. Charlie, aside to me, "Watch me, I'll get some business out of that S.O.B." He walked over and sat down by wife M, near H.A. He'd whisper something in MN's ear and then come over to me. "Buy 100 shares of XYZ (or whatever) at the market." He had whispered so he couldn't be overheard. He would go back and sit down.

H.A. couldn't stand it. He'd pester Charlie. "What are you buying?" "None of your goddam business," Charlie would reply. Still, H.A. wouldn't give up. "Well, you S.O.B., if I tell you, will you buy it? You know somebody has to pay the light bill here. This isn't a welfare office. Get off your dead butt and buy it if I tell you." This latter tirade in a voice that could be heard down the street.

Shamed, H.A. had no choice but to buy what Charlie had bought.

It usually was a wise decision. So often, in fact, that as time went by, H.A., probably the hardest character to do business with of all my acquaintances, left a standing order with me -- "Whenever Charlie buys something, buy 100 shares for me. You don't need to call me. And when he sells his, you sell mine."

Remember the fable about the ugly beast who became beautiful in the sight of the princess because of his kindness? Well, for me, and I'm sure for M, that was the
case with Charlie. I honestly thought when I first met him that he was the ugliest person I had ever seen. As
the years passed and I got to know his character, I came to love him. And not just because he was such a help to me in my business. He was truly a good person.

Charlie's finest hour by far and the most outstanding trading feat I have ever seen came the day that SRC opened its new office in a fancy new building April 19, 1959.

It was opening day and the office was banked with flowers. There were many visitors on hand, particularly from the local banks.

It was late in the market day, but since New York was on Daylight Time and Mobile was not, there was still a large crowd on hand, who had come over after lunch when Charlie performed his feat.

He came over to my desk and said, "I'm gonna put on a show for your opening."

He shouted to me, so all could hear, "Buy 100 Zenith at the market."

Now Zenith was selling at about 285 and in our town anyone who'd toss in a market order to buy that much stock commanded immediate attention, particularly from any bankers present.

They all looked at the squat little fellow, who nobody had noticed until then. They were probably thinking, "Who could this be? We know everyone in town who has money, but we've never seen this little fellow before." You could hear the buzz.

I darted back to the wire room and sent the order. I got the confirmation back at 2:18, 12 minutes before the close at a price of 285. I informed Charlie, who now turned to me and shouted so all could hear, "Now sell it at 300."

Not a soul left that office. People were already overdue from their lunch hour but no matter. They weren't going to leave this show.

Zenith climbed steadily on the tape. It hit 288, then a big block at 290. It crawled along, racing the clock, now bearing down on the 2:30 closing hour. It hit 295 right at the close, but the runoff, the last splurge of late trades went on for several minutes after the actual close. It punched ahead, 296, 297, 298, 299, then, with a big final string of trades, it hit 300!

Charlie rose from his seat, bowed to the left, to the center and to the right, then sat back down.

Charlie made a lot of believers that day.

Now anyone could have done it, you say. I say no. I am not a believer in magic but I must confess that I do believe that Charlie had some special sense given to maybe one in 10 million people. He did not sit there and think, "well, maybe I should do something spectacular for my friend. Maybe there's a chance that Zenith will have a big move in the last few minutes." No, he KNEW Zenith was going to have a big move in the last few minutes. How? Don't ask me. I'll never know.

I just know that, like Babe Ruth, standing at the plate, facing Cubs' pitcher Charlie Root, and pointing out to the center field bleachers, Charlie knew that he could deliver.

Do you think that the $1,500 profit meant much to Charlie? No way. He took it of course. But he had told me and I'm sure that he was telling the truth, that he didn't really care to make a fortune in the market. He had always made enough for he and M to live well on and that was all he wanted.

Delightful man.

Chapter VI: Profits ... and a great loss.)
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Some of Mobile's latter day Southern belles in crinoline grace the entrance to the old Roxy Theater at the local premiere of "Gone With The Wind." photo courtesy of USA archives