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What's Your Story?

Some of you already know that I'm new to blogging.  I doubt that any of you know why I'm here, really.  These days, I find myself often asking people to tell me their story.  People that I used to  mostly avoid.  The ones who want to clean your windshield in a parking lot, or that you see diving into a dumpster.  I'm not the man I used to be.  I can still relate though to the sentiment that an entrepreneur builds his or her own business.  After all, no one else cares whether they fail or succeed.  I mean really cares.  That being said, we have all received help somewhere along the way.  Every one of us.  Whether it be from a mentor, or an old teacher, or whomever, someone said something or did something to make a difference.  And we all have a story.  If we can't appreciate that, then God help us.

I'm going to share with you a tragedy.  One that pales in comparison to a story of losing a loved one to drugs, or any of the tragedies we shudder to think of, but a tragedy nonetheless.  A story of loss which I hope someone will learn from.  It has been my struggle since 1998 to not let it define my life.  It is a good story, but a bit complicated.   Perhaps bullet points?

*  Twenty year old man-child leaves small town.  A part of Trump land that many consider 'fly-over' country.  The giant sucking sound which Ross Perot warned of is all too real there.   NAFTA - which resulted some years after I had already left, was just one more blow to a community deserving  more.  I had an itch, and set out for what a newspaper said was Boom town USA.  That would be Midland Texas.  The year was 1981.  

The boom didn't last long though, as West Texas was not diversified.  History does record that the price of oil collapsed shortly after I arrived, and every bank in town failed not long after that.  It would take more than twenty years for most home prices to recover to a break-even point. 

*   In 1985 with my back against the wall, I started a business.  I was twenty-four and had a new beautiful baby daughter, whose mother I sadly took for granted.  It was our shared trials over the years that undoubtedly caused me to wake up one day in 2002 with the scales finally fallen from my eyes.  Praise God and his loving patience.

*  In 1986 I enlisted my wife's help in the business.  Let's just say she must have loved me an awfully lot even then to endure it.

*  The business was all consuming.  Can you relate?  At one point when we were still struggling (but I felt we were about to turn the corner), I promised Mary that by 1998 we would sell our business and move back to Western PA., so that she could help care for her mother, and our children could know their grandparents.  The business eventually gained traction, and in 1998 I could claim it as a success.  I was proud to be able to keep my promise.  We then thought we were millionaires.  We remained very much down to earth though and didn't buy anything.  Anything that is but a few lousy internet stocks and another stock of a holding company named CML.  I was so young, and naive.   Who knew back then that a company listed on the NYSE could actually go to zero.  It's wasn't a 'green sheets' stock.  It was the NYSE for goodness-sake.  The timeline preceded Enron.  Before Tyco.  Before Bernie Madoff.  No one cared back then that the books had been cooked, or that the CEO had gone into retirement and taken millions from the company as a retirement gift, just before he hired an ex Harvard Professor to take the company into bankruptcy.  The late Richard Rainwater of Bass Brothers fame told me in a phone call that the editor of the Forbes 'Streetwalker' article had been shorting the stock while also talking it up.  To this day I don't know whom to believe.  Not knowing any of those things at the time, as CML dropped I purchased more stock.  Dollar cost averaging again and again, and again and again.  I probably chased it so hard because I felt invincible with my early success, and desperate having lost a couple hundred thousand dollars in a single day while being without our business or even a job,  newly replanted in western PA with a family of five to support.   I even partially regretted having given away more than $200,000 to employees when we had sold.  And, I tell myself that I had intended to tithe, but it all happened so fast.  It had been just three months since my Mary and I had done the jump of joy celebrating the sale of what we had worked so hard for.  It would get worse.   Much worse.  I chased that NYSE stock all the way down.  Can I say it again.  So young and naive?  

* They're no longer just bullet points are they?  Sorry.

When the money was nearly all gone, I still had excellent credit and thought I needed to jump back into business.  With a larger family now, I needed to grow it quickly, but for the first time in my life I was depressed.  Some would say I was suffering from my own type of PTSD.  I was a mess.  Road rage.  Tears.  Not for myself, or even the money, but for what might have been for the children.  For generations.   And for Mary.  That second business failed in the second year.  The gross margins had been better than industry average, but I had known before I had started it that I would need the CML stock to recover some or I’d run out of money.  The equity that I had been using for the capital equipment purchases needed to build out the business, had come from personal credit cards to the tune of over $100,000.  The CMLstock never recovered.  

I took it as a compliment when a friend once told me that I was a very plain man and was going to die very plain.  He said it with a smile. 

I sometimes wonder if I should have done what Trump did.  File bankruptcy quickly.  I had found it necessary to give my personal guarantees though.  And, my wife and I weren't raised that way.  We liquidated nearly everything we had so that we could repay as much of our business debt as possible. Including our home.  Still, it wasn't enough.   Personal bankrupty followed.  Relocation again.  Driving an old Impala in the winter with no heater.  Five of us in a two bedroom apartment.  But some people have real problems.

Personal debt was never our problem. It was all debt from the second busines, but I had given personal guarantees and used personal credit cards for the business.  Can you relate? 

Mary and I lived very modestly.  We always will.  My father had been a truck driver most of his life, until the company he worked for went bankrupt.  He landed on his feet though, and worked the rest of his life at Penn-Dot.  My mother was a beautician throughout my childhood, then a Prudential agent.  Those things didn't define their lives completely though either.  I'm getting side-tracked now.  My point is only that my wife and I are each from middle class stock.  I tell you that to feel better about myself, reminding myself that relatively  few have accomplished what Mary and I once did.  Twenty years later now, having clawed our way forward, I still find myself daydreaming of what I would say to that CEO of CML if I had him tied up somewhere.  I don't think many people can appreciate that I truly would rather he had just shot me, providing of course that I had lived and eventually recovered.   Instead, I can only beat myself up every day for having been an idiot.   I now have no compassion for white collar crime.  The death penalty is more deserving for such cold calculating individuals than for any crime of passion.  It is only the responsibility of being a husband and a father, and perhaps God's Grace that kept me from doing something crazy when no justice was to be found.  I'm so very thankful for my family. 

Easter is a good time to remember though, I do forgive the swindlers all.  I don’t even remember their names.  I forgive them for my own sanity though mostly.  

I don't know whether to be proud or ashamed that I still have a need to redeem myself by leaving something significant for our children.  That  I won't relent until I succeed or die trying.  This is why I'm writing you.  My wife and I once again are building something which I believe our ancestors would be proud of.   It comes with a no hassle money back guarantee.  Truly unique skin care products containing nootkatone.  Now available at naturalnoot.com   Natural insect repellents too good to be natural.  Without the Ick factor.

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