High Pressure | 41 New Cases | New Health Order | Pet Chia | Old Fort Bragg | Kenny McKinney | Feathered Hope | Ransome's Cellmate | CEQA Consultant | Pit Bull Genetics | Herd Spy | Ed Notes | Mama Nature | Yesterday's Catch | Big Buddha | Walmart Model | Metamorphosis | Merge | Just Q | 1951 Playoff | Not Gay | Market Manipulation
HIGH PRESSURE ALOFT will continue to promote a period of dry weather through the middle of next week...with variable cloudiness each day. A cold front arriving on Thursday may bring rain and high elevation snow but amounts are expected to [be] mostly light. (NWS)
41 NEW COVID CASES reported in Mendocino County on Saturday bringing total 3573.
NEW HEALTH ORDER
Attached is a health order from Dr. Coren which addresses the need to comply with California Department of Public Health directives regarding all things related to vaccinations. This is especially relevant for our clinic partners who are now moving toward vaccinating their patients and holding vaccination events. The order will also be available for viewing this evening on our Covid-19 page under the "Health Order" tab: mendocinocounty.org/home/showpublisheddocument?id=40403
If you have any questions we will be happy to forward them to Dr. Coren. We are happy to announce Dr. Coren will be on KZYX's Mendo Latino broadcast this Monday at 9:00 am, and a member of county leadership will answer the public's questions every Friday on KZYX at 3:00 pm. Soon, you'll be receiving a tri-weekly brief that we hope will help answer basic questions and alert you of upcoming events.
UKIAH SHELTER PET OF THE WEEK
Our photos of Ms. Chia do not do her justice, as she is THE cutest dog in the shelter! We had a wonderful time during her evaluation, and everyone enjoyed her friendly, playful personality. Chia likes playing with stuffed toys and sitting in your lap. When Chia came to the shelter, we noticed she did not put weight on one of her rear back legs. Unfortunately, this is still the case even after limited activity, so she will be going for x rays and a treatment plan will be developed from there. Chia is 2 years old and a svelte 60 pounds of sweetness.
For more about Chia, go to mendoanimalshelter.com. While you’re there, read about our services, programs, events, and updates regarding covid-19, as it impacts Mendocino County Shelters in Ukiah and Ft. Bragg and check out our adoptable dogs and cats! Visit us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/mendoanimalshelter/ For information about adoptions please call 707-467-6453.
REMEMBERING KENNY MCKINNEY
by Ken Hurst
Kenny McKinney died on January 7, 2020. That is more than a year ago now and to the best of my knowledge no one around here knew he died. Bill Long (AV High class of 1958) told me about Kenny's passing after finding the sad news with a computer search.
He died at the age of 80 in Arizona.
Kenny McKinney and his father Denver and mother Grace and brothers Gene and Tim moved to Philo and started the Philo Café. They came out of Missouri to find a better life.
After graduating from AV High School, Kenny moved to Safford, Arizona and began a career as a police patrolman where he became Assistant Chief of Police. In 1974 he became a criminal investigator.
After retirement from the police department Kenny began to work for Pierce Aviation where he was in charge of their firefighting planes. Eventually he became the head of the firefighting Pierce Aircraft all over the United States.
Kenny McKinney had three boys. All their names started with the letter “K" and they had lots of grandchildren whom he loved to watch play sports.
His lifelong best friend was the late Roger Tolman, a classmate at Anderson Valley High school Class of ’58. They were members of the last high school class at the old high school next to the elementary school. I was in the first class to graduate from the new high school in 1959 built by Shine Tuttle.
When I first entered high school in the 1955-56 school year, Dick Sand had the loudest voice and Kenny McKinney was the most popular guy in high school. Everybody liked him.
Kenny always wore Levis and a Pendleton shirt with the shirt collar up, a style common among high school boys in the 1950s. He was 5 foot 10 and slender and wore his blond hair combed back his whole life.
He and Roger Tolman vacationed together and phoned each other once a month.
On one trip to Mexico they took together it was a bit dusty so Kenny wanted to get his shoes shined at a one-man stand. The sign said it was $1 for a shoe shine. The Mexican shoe shiner shined one of Kenny’s shoes and asked for the dollar. Kenny said, “Shine both of my shoes first.” The vendor said, “That sign says shoe shine, $1, not shoes,” (plural). A bit angry, Kenny said, "Shine both shoes!" The vendor pulled a pistol out of a box and shot at him near the sole of his shoe. Kenny gave him $5 and the vendor said, "Thanks," and shined Kenny’s other shoe.
I asked him why he gave the vendor five dollars.
Kenny replied, "To keep from getting machine-gunned possibly."
My father pulled off old Highway 66 once to go by Safford at my insistence to possibly see Kenny. We went to a cafe and soon Kenny came by in his patrol car in uniform and opened the cafe door and told a couple of nearby teenagers, "Get a haircut," and then he came over to our booth. With my mom and dad and sister, he pulled up an extra chair and we talked happily for quite a while. Then Kenny said, "I'm on duty. I have to roll,” adding, to the counterman, “Put their bill on my tab!" That was him, generous all the way.
When I went to the little red schoolhouse for the third grade, there were too many students to fit into the building. So several of us had to move to the fourth grade across the street — Billy Triplett, Ernie Blattner, August Cook and me, Ken Hurst, and Olivia Hollifield and Karen Baxter. I was depressed because I thought I would never be able to play sports because the older captains would never choose me. But before our first long recess to play a sport, Kenny McKinney was a captain and he chose me first. I was so grateful. He didn't know me but he knew how I would feel.
In my sophomore year of high school I was the starting quarterback and Kenny was playing wide receiver. He told me to pass it to him in the first game even if he were covered. I dropped back and saw that McKinney was covered like a blanket. But I passed it high to him and he had his arms in a flapping position and he threw up his arms like he was flapping and all the defenders jumped high and then he jumped higher as the other defenders were coming down and he caught the ball. Touchdown! He had great hands.
Bill Long was surprised when he called me about Kenny’s passing. He had called lots of his classmates and no one knew about Kenny’s death. I called Olivia Hollifield who had dated Kenny for a while. She hadn't heard anything either.
The obituary in the Gila Herald said there would be no funeral service for the man still remembered as the most popular, beloved person among the young people of Anderson Valley in his time here.
* * *
Kenney McKinney passed away on Jan. 7, 2020, in Tucson at the age of 80. He was born in Kirksville, Missouri in 1939 and was raised by Denver KcKinney and Grace and Jay Haralson, with siblings Gene, and Mike McKinney. He grew up in Northern California and moved to Safford when he was 19.
Kenney worked at the local gas station until joining the Safford Police Department as a patrolman in 1965. During this time, he was blessed with his three children, Keith, Kent, and Kyle McKinney. Kenney later became a sergeant, assistant police chief, and, in 1974, became a criminal investigator. Kenney served his community for nearly three decades.
After retiring from the police department, Kenney became a superintendent for Pierce Aviation, managing the firefighting aircraft contracts all over the country. Kenney later retired from Pierce in order to attend his grandchildren’s sporting events.
Kenney is survived by his children, Keith McKinney, Kent McKinney, and Kyle McKinney; his brother, Gene McKinney, and six grandchildren.
He is preceded in death by Denver McKinney, Jay and Grace Haralson, and his brother, Mike McKinney.
IT’S DANGEROUS IN HERE
This as Gerald Crandall Simpson writing it to say I feel violated and racially discriminated against by inmates, staff, members, and correctional deputies.
They took me from C-Mod 3 to C-Mod 10 and then covered my window and door with plastic sheets and put my friend in the hospital. He is now dead. He will be missed. I hope I will continue on for a lot longer. I am a 51-year-old Native American Indian and I had negative results on my covid-19 test until January 7 and January 9. I was put in the same cell as Ransome Anderson and was exposed that way against my will. I had no say in where they put me in C-Mod and it is still that way now.
I am fighting to keep away from infected people and inmates. Ransome Anderson was in my cell room for one month when he got sick and went to the hospital where he later passed away from cancer, or so they are saying. But we were in quarantine at that time. He got sick and put me in a plastic window and door covered room with three other inmates who were all positive for the Covid-19 virus. I was the only one not sick in my cell at the time. Everyone else was with symptoms of the coronavirus and could have the coronavirus. I got tested on January 7 and was positive and again on January 9 was positive. They kept me in with three other infected people until I caught the virus myself.
I am now in A-tank with five other inmates and myself. We are over the virus but we keep our masks on when out of the room and our cell so we all don't give or get the virus again.
As for Ransome Anderson, he will be missed and was liked by a lot of inmates in here. He was a great guy with a lot to say and will be missed by me. He is my relative from Covelo. His passing has opened my eyes to the covid-19 virus and how dangerous and serious it is and how easily we can pass away in here and no one cares.
Here is a little about the food we get: three meals a day — cold cereal breakfast, lunch is called “hot” but it's cold when we eat it. Dinner is two sandwiches with milk and an orange. That's our meals here and has been the whole time I've been here. We wash in our own sinks our cells for 14 days with no showers. We have never left our cells once while we were on quarantine for 14 days. The whole C-Mod was locked down and we were the only ones with the virus.
Mendocino County Jail
951 Low Gap Road, Ukiah, CA 95482
PITBULLS, AN ON-LINE COMMENT:
Myth #1: It's the owner not the breed
The outdated debate, "It's the owner, not the breed," has caused the pit bull problem to grow into a 35-year old problem. Designed to protect pit bull breeders and owners, the slogan ignores the genetic history of the breed and blames these horrific maulings -- inflicted by the pit bull's genetic "hold and shake" bite style -- on environmental factors. While environment plays a role in a pit bull's behavior, it is genetics that leaves pit bull victims with permanent and disfiguring injuries.
The pit bull's genetic traits are not in dispute. Many appellate courts agree that pit bulls pose a significant danger to society and can be regulated accordingly. Some of the genetic traits courts have identified include: unpredictability of aggression, tenacity ("gameness" the refusal to give up a fight), high pain tolerance and the pit bull's "hold and shake" bite style. According to forensic medical studies, similar injuries have only been found elsewhere on victims of shark attacks.
Purveyors of this myth also cannot account for the many instances in which pit bull owners and their family members are victimized by their pet dogs. From 2005 to 2019, pit bulls killed 346 Americans, about one citizen every 16 days. Of these deaths, 53% involved a family member and a household pit bull. Notably, in the first 8 months of 2011, nearly half of those killed by a pit bull was its owner. One victim was an "avid supporter" of BadRap, a recipient of Michael Vick's dogs.
IF YOU CAME IN LATE, real late, a Caspar woman named Katie Smith became regionally infamous not long ago when, instead of taking the dog she no longer wanted to the Coast Animal Shelter in nearby Fort Bragg, she took him out into some nearby woods and shot him several times, having intended to kill him, but only wounded the otherwise healthy animal.
Dubbed ‘Thunder the Wonder Dog’ by the woman who found him and nursed him back to health, Ms. Smith was soon identified as Thunder's would-be assassin. Animal people and non-animal people alike were shocked and dismayed at Ms. Smith's callousness, but even if she'd neatly dispatched the poor beast with a single well-placed shot, one has to wonder at her sloth in not driving her dog a few miles north to the shelter to give him a chance at life with a new family.
Meanwhile, at the DA's lair behind the office's junta-like one-way glass at the County Courthouse in Ukiah where, undoubtedly besieged by outraged animal lovers, the DA charged Smith with serious, jail-quality felonies that Ten Mile Court Judge Clay Brennan bundled up into a misdemeanor and no jail time. The judge did impose several years of probation.
DA Eyster was so unhappy at Brennan's… Well, you could call Brennan's decision way too soft or you could call his decision simple humanity, a recognition that Ms. Smith, rightly denounced far and wide for her unintended cruelty — she wanted to kill her dog, not maim it — as she made herself a pariah in her community and probably locally unemployable at only age 35.
Had the Judge thought she'd suffered enough? Whatever Judge Brennan thought, DA Eyster, never too keen on Brennan in the first place, denounced the judge and vowed to avoid bringing cases before him. And then the DA had the forces of law and order visit Ms. Smith's Caspar home to see if she'd violated the terms of her probation, the primary one being that she could not own animals, not even the six chickens the probation search revealed happily scratching away in their pen on Ms. Smith's place.
DA Eyster would have his pound of flesh after all — several pounds — if you think the DA has temporarily lost his sense of proportion.
In a Caesar-like blast out of his Ukiah bunker, the DA thundered, “If I conclude that the animals found today constitute a failure by the defendant to obey all laws, specifically a failure by her to obey the statutory prohibition that she cannot be around animals, we will initiate proceedings to violate her probation.”
If this double pursuit of Judge Brennan and the Coast pariah, Ms. Smith, is concluded according to the DA's apparent desire for twofer vengeance, Ms. Smith will be packed off for a year in County Jail for violation of the no-animals condition of her probation, and Judge Brennan will absorb another big Gotcha lobbed at him by the DA.
* * *
READING THE SAD STORY about crooks ripping off memorabilia displayed for years at the now-closed Cliff House, I wonder what happened to the oil painting of a valley vista that hung for years in the office at Anderson Valley High School. It was very nicely done by some unsung local artist? Last time I looked, it was gone. While I'm wondering about the present whereabouts of important Valley artifacts, remind me to ask Eddie Carsey about the old bar at the Boonville Hotel, the bar with all the old coins and bills under its glass top. The old bar was a treasure trove of cool old stuff, from animal heads to ancient guns.
THAT ALLEGED “ATMOSPHERIC RIVER” that swept California last week soaked the County with much-needed rain but we're still woefully, worrisomely short of water, as water trucks continue to trundle up and down the back roads where green rush hoop houses demand to drink copious amounts of water year-round.
CATCH OF THE DAY, February 6, 2021
SHANKARA CASEY, Redwood Valley. Failure to appear.
MIRIAM KESSLER, Santa Rosa/Ukiah. DUI-alcohol&drugs, child endangerment, probation revocation.
ANDREW MAYNARD, Fort Bragg. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation. (Frequent flyer.)
SUNEE MITCHELL, Talmage, DUI w/BA>.15% with prior, reckless evasion opposite traffic, assault on police officer, suspended license for refusing drunk test.
ARTEMIO ORTEGA-REYES, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
MAX PHELPS, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol.
CHRISTIAN REYES-ALFARO, Ukiah. Disorderly conduct-alcohol, probation revocation.
REBECCA RODRIGUEZ, Ukiah. Failure to appear, probation revocation.
KENNETH SILVA, Upper Lake/Ukiah. Felon-addict with firearm.
ERYCKA SMITH, Willits. Disorderly conduct-drugs&alcohol, stolen property, trespassing, paraphernalia, probation revocation.
KIMBERLEE THOMPSON, Gualala. Failure to appear.
ON LINE COMMENT OF THE DAY
In other capitalist societies there is usually – in any field of commerce – a range of companies, with a few big players in robust competition, then a much larger group of medium-sized ones, and then a lot of small players who find a viable niche in the market – certainly enough for a family to survive.
But even in a time of plenty, Americans will travel further to get butter at 20c a pound cheaper, and the same for a wide range of things that the country still does actually produce.
For a wide range of other stuff from China – from shoes to bedsheets to crockery to tools and flatscreen TVs … small providers have almost no chance to compete. We have all been seduced by lower prices, and a “good enough” attitude towards the quality of so many things.
The cost of this consumer cornucopia is very high indeed. And Walmart will dominate until its business model no longer works … its supply chains are broken, or there are hardly any customers for what it sells.
I WAS SOMETHING that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.
Willa Cather, My Antonia
THE SHOT HEARD AROUND THE WORLD
by J.W. Grimes
Ten-year old Robert, “Bobby B,” so-called, because there were two other Robert/Bob’s in his third grade class, was seated in the first row in Miss Fritz’ classroom. He was particularly fidgety that third day of October, 1951, so much to think about, so much to do, so soon. She was winding up whatever she was talking about as he looked up at the wall behind her where the Timex clock read 3:27PM. Why there was a clock in school classrooms he didn’t know, thought it a distraction, if he ever thought about it at all.
His two classmates, Carl and “Pinky,” the latter so-called because his hair was carrot orange but they couldn’t call him “Orangey,” or they didn’t, were seated two rows behind him and he knew they were fidgety too.
In three minutes the bell would ring, ending school for the day.
The three boys had planned exactly what they would do when the bell rang. Walk together, silently in line with their classmates, out of the classroom, slightly increasing their pace down the hall, and out through the front door. Then, removed from the school’s jurisdiction, they would run with all they had, the full block, to the intersection of Lincoln and 16th Street where they would have to wait for the crossing guard to halt incoming traffic and flag them across.
By then it would be maybe 3:35PM, and the game could be over. Bobby B thought it had a 1:30PM start time. Maybe it was two, he hoped.
Bobby B, a lefty, was carrying his first baseman’s mitt. The other two clutched their fielder’s glove. Crossing the street, the three raced another block, past the car wash, over the bridge of the rock-ladened creek, past Boopka’s barber shop, dodging a lady with two bags in her hands coming out the entrance of the tired IGA, and to their destination: the soda fountain at Wilson’s Pharmacy. To the kids at school, it was “Willie’s,” and for many, mostly the boys it was once or twice a week after school, the home of either a fizzy chocolate soda or the syrupy chocolate sundae with two scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a maraschino cherry produced by the perky waitress, Madeline, behind the counter with her flaxen pigtails trailing her every turn of head and with her crooked smile. She always added a straw. Twenty cents. Mr. Wilson, the proprietor who, to the kids in school, looked a hundred years old, worked in the back section of the premises, filling prescriptions and counseling customers, but he was not hesitant to express his opinion with a scowled face, raised voice, if too many kids at the counter were clamoring for this or that.
It was important for the three boys that they get to Willie’s before other kids. And, they had an advantage, being third graders. The fourth through eighth grade kids—-it was the boys they worried about—didn’t get out of school until 3:45.
* * *
October 3, 1951. A Wednesday. The first time in Major League baseball history there would be a one-game playoff to decide the National League champion team. The season pennant race had ended in a deadlock between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. The winner today would go uptown (the Dodgers) or cross town (the Giants) to play “The Damn (Bronx) Yankees,” as Carl’s father called them, in an all-New York City World Series. Today’s game would be on national television, on the CBS Television Network, which was lucky because their small city had but one TV station—and its programming was half CBS and half NBC. This afternoon, of course, was all CBS.
Baseball was the American pastime.
The boys’ favorite team, or at least Bobby B’s and Pinky’s favorite team, (Carl rooted for the American League Indians,) was the cellar-dwelling Pirates, whose night games could be heard on that clear channel Pittsburgh radio station. Didn’t matter anymore, the regular season behind them. This was a historic day and anyone who loved baseball would be watching, listening to today’s game. Having thought about playing hooky, the trio rejected it because where would they watch the game? Couldn’t sit here in Willie’s for a few hours while school was going on Carl argued and he was right.
If grades were given in school for baseball knowledge the three would be honor students. They diligently read The Sporting News, the weekly bible of baseball information, all year in fact. It included in-season box scores of every game the previous week as well as current batting and pitching stats. Even minor league team and player highlights. Carl’s dad subscribed. They were the third grade leaders in the popular activity of baseball cards collection. Arguably they would be the entire elementary school leaders since by the time boys reached seventh or eighth grade the card fad usually waned. Nonetheless, at least half the boys in the school were B-card collectors of some fashion. Many, like our boys here, collected vigorously because it was competitive to have the “best,” the least produced cards of any star player by its maker, The Topps Baseball Card Company. Others, usually little, short guys, collected just to show they weren’t fairies; and still others who faked baseball expertise, or tried to, because they thought it gave them an advantage with the girls when they wore a pouch containing a few dozen cards attached to their belt—a show of macho, maybe like what else could be in that pouch?
But it was only a dozen or so, including our three boys today, who throughout the season, like once a week, purchased for a nickel at the IGA store, a wrapped pack of Topps Double Bubble gum, three juicy hunks of a cavity-creating, chewy sugary substance with five baseball cards tucked within. It would take a week or so of handling, trading, and flipping before the cards would lose the sweetener smell from the wads of the bubble gum.
On one side of the card was a color picture of a Major League player in uniform. If he was a hitter, a good hitter, he’d be shown swinging a 44 inch Louisville Slugger, a mean “I’ll-kill-your-fastball look in his eyes.” If the face on the card was one of a weak hitter, a guy with a batting average under, say .225, he would be shown as a fielder, crouched, head down, eyes up at you, preparing to snatch a non-existent grounder. A pitcher, those God-blessed players who saw action only once every three or four days, would be pictured on the mound, leg stretched skyward, in windup motion, peering at the unseen catcher’s mitt, or maybe having just released the ball, in follow-through pose, leaning plate-ward. The all-star lefty, Warren Spahn’s picture showed the best windup of any pitcher in either league, the three boys agreed.
On the other side of each card was the player’s previous year statistics, as well as a career summary of everything he did offensively and defensively: number of at-bats, BA, hits, runs scored, stolen bases, RBI’s, BOB’s and K’s, and fielding chances, errors, assists, and put-outs. A pitcher’s stats would include Ks, BOB, ERA, complete games, innings pitched, W-L record. It was all there on a piece of cardboard 2.8 inches wide and 3.75 inches high.
The boys traded cards. “I’ll give you a Musial and a Kiner for a Mays.” They had a card game; the three boys, often joined by a few other collector players, flipped a card towards a wall, usually ten feet away on some kid’s front porch. The card closet to the wall won and its flipper took the other cards flipped. Cards were currency. Cards were hard facts, mucho data in your pocket nearly a century before the silicon chip. The boys had found leather pouches in which to house their card collection, and they attached it to their belt. Never know when a trade or game of flip might materialize.
Baseball, with its daily newspaper box scores, its nightly clear channel radio live game coverage, its nationally distributed baseball cards, and now a tad of television coverage was as much the American culture as the nightly railroad whistles, the outdoor drive-in movie theaters, and the Chevy fin-tailed convertibles. It had particular resonance that day because of the one-game playoff, the TV, and, in no small part, because combined, Bobby B, Carl, and Pinky owned a card or two of every starting lineup player on both the Dodgers and Giants. So many All-Stars too: Pee Wee Reese, Jackie Robinson, Gil Hodges, Don Newcombe on the visiting Dodger team. Willie Mays, Monte Irwin, Alvin Dark, Sal “The Barber” Maglie, and a third baseman named Thompson. History on deck for three third graders in Wilson’s Pharmacy, and with no TV sets in their homes, they could watch the game and look at the card of the player batting or pitching for more information than any announcer could possibly deliver.
* * *
At the door of the pharmacy Bobby B, Carl, and Pinky slowed their base-stealing pace, knowing a nonchalant, slow gait entrance would not attract attention from Mr. Wilson. To their concealed delight only two of the ten seats at the counter were occupied. Two elderly ladies were nibbling on toasted cheese sandwiches with a pickle on the plate and a glass of Coca Cola from the soda fountain.
The boys scored seats on the Naugahyde, revolving metal stools as close as possible to the TV set, which was neatly lodged on the wall behind and high above the counter.
What they saw on the black and white, thirteen inch screen, periodically populated by white dots, which were called “snow” in those early days of broadcast television, excited the boys. There was Pee Wee Reese, the Dodger shortstop, facing the camera in his white uniform with a large black number 1 on his uniform chest. He was standing on what appeared to be a chalked baseline, between home and first, Pinky said, speaking to a tall, paunchy man in a short-sleeve shirt. There were palm trees in the background. None of the boys had ever seen a palm tree, just photos in a magazine. Must be in Florida, Carl observed. A foot maybe taller than Pee Wee, which Bobby B commented was why he was called that. Pinky plucked the shortstop’s card from the batch in his pocket. Harold Peter Henry Reese, five-nine, 145, born in 1918 in some small unpronounceable named town in Kentucky.
Pieces of snow drifted past the towering man who, without holding a microphone, could have been your neighborhood plumber, or patrolman Duffy if he wasn’t wearing his policeman uniform. The audio from the TV was just loud enough for the perfectly positioned boys to hear the voice from above but not so loud to bother the two women several seats away, who, Carl noted enviously, were now “chowing down on a piece of pie with a scoop of vanilla on top.” Pinky said envy gets you nowhere. He’d heard his mother say that a hundred times.
Carl’s dreaded thought, which he could not refrain from sharing, was that this could be a post-game interview with Pee Wee, meaning sadly, horribly, they had missed any of the live action. Game over. Unknown National League Champion.
“No way,” said Pinky, “there’s no palm trees in New York City. Even I know that.”
The man with the mike, call him Announcer:
Announcer (A): Pee Wee, tell us about your activities with young boys in Brooklyn. The good work you do in the community.
PW: There are a lot of young boys who love baseball and don’t have the means to get any training. Gil and I have a clinic, actually several during the off-season here in Florida during which we give them advice on baseball, and yes, Al, on life.
A: Does that include grooming advice, Pee Wee? I think everyone knows the better you look the better your prospects in life are.
PW: You got that right, Al. I tell them to wear clean clothes, speak respectfully to all and tell them when they begin to shave be sure everyday to have a clean-shaven face. Your face is your calling card to the world.
A: And do you tell these young men to shave with the best razor in the world, the Gillette razor and its ultra-fine blades, Pee Wee?” It was a stretch to call it a question, Bobby B said. No kidding, said Carl, it’s an ad.
PW: You know I do, Al. I use the Gillette razor every day, sometimes twice. The best shave goin’. Major league shave. He used his gloveless hand to caress his face. Smooth as silk, Al.
The second half of the commercial featured a hard-sell pitch from A looking in the mirror of presumably his bathroom, shaving cream on half his chubby face; the razor looking like an extension of his hand, poised to snugly finish the job. Clean as a whistle, smooth as silk. Aren’t TV ads silly, mused Pinky to no one in particular.
The boys still didn’t know whether the game was over. No sense asking Madeline. She was the bobby-sox type, probably didn’t know the game was on. They’d know in an instant as A was wrapping up the Gillette pitch. The screen went black for a long second. Then—Oh, shit, Carl said—another ad, this one showing a couple—-young marrieds according to Pinky, like how the hell would he know—sporting satisfied grins on two well-fed faces, sitting on a living room couch watching a console TV. The jingle rang “With Zenith TV don’t bother to turn the lights off.” Pinky said that’s why he wouldn’t buy the set—ha, ha—what’s the point of not turning the lights off when watching moving pictures on a screen like in a movie theater?
Two chocolate sundaes with the cherry on top and Pinky’s chocolate soda arrived just as the screen brought into view the long lens shot of the Polo Grounds. Black and white specks in the upper decks some three hundred feet from home. Players in gray uniforms hustling to their field positions. A batter in the batter’s box taking practice cuts. Bobby B heard the melody in his head, the one played by the beer company that sponsored the Pirates on radio.
Take me out to the ballgame,
Take me out to the crowd.
Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks
I don’t care if I ever get back.
He knew the additional four stanzas and remembered it was Pabst Blue Ribbon, the beer that made Milwaukee famous, a point he was about to make when he heard the voice from above, “Bottom of the ninth. Dodgers lead 4-1.”
The boys slapped happy. “Game aint over, buddy,” said Carl to his two buddies. Pinky said no team ever comes back down three runs in the ninth. A half inning, three outs, said Pinky. Better than nothing, Carl said. Think if the game were at Ebbets Field, he added, we’d be out of here. Carl was one of the smartest kids in class.
The voice of the announcer from above. “Al Dark will lead off against Newcombe who has been virtually un-hittable—-three singles and a scratch double, one run for the home team.”
Carl said we gotta root for the Giants. Keep this game going.
The boys agreed on that as Alvin Dark ambled to the plate. “He’s a hitter,” Pinky said, already studying the Giants’ shortstop’s card which showed him grimacing in the batter’s box, .291 last season, twenty-two homers, thirty doubles.
The announcer says Newcombe waves off a catcher’s call. Crowd noise increasing, the boys up on their haunches.
One strike, one ball pitch. Dark makes the smooth swing, connects solidly. They watch the white dot sail though specks of snow over the second baseman’s glove, an opposite field single.
Pinky says, “Not so fast.” Carl says not a lucky soul has left the stadium.
Don Mueller follows with a first pitch single. Dark slows into second, not wanting to risk taking third, ending what could be a rally. Drum beats in the upper decks, says the announcer. Fans spewing new noise.
Monte Irvin pops up. A can of corn.
Whitey Lockman, known as a tough out, on an 0 and 2 count, lines a double to left that outfielder Andy Park momentarily bobbles. Dark steps on home. Mueller slides into third, injuring his leg and is removed for a pinch runner.
“Second and third occupied, one out, bottom of the ninth,” reminds the voice above. Carl, eyes fixed upon the screen, standing tip-toed now says, “Holy shit! What do you guys think?” He was thinking wouldn’t an extra inning game be great.
Bobby B says, “Look, the manager’s yanking Newcombe. Going to the bull pen.”
Behind them now is the sputter of late arrivals, the older boys streaming into Wilson’s for a view. Look at these lucky little shits, hogging the good seats, Bobby B thought they were thinking. What’s the score? What inning? Who’s up? Anyone on? Speak up, little shits.
Reliever Ralph Branca strolls out of the bull pen shadows. Pinky says “I don’t have Branca’s card. You guys?” Carl says he’s a reliever. Doesn’t pitch that much, not a hot card, you know. I traded him with a bunch of other non-starters after the All-Star game. That’s that.
The announcer, who the boys learned later was named Russ Hodges, had found his voice, come to life. “Two on, one out, down by two and Bobby Thompson coming to the plate. We’re still alive. The Polo Grounds has erupted. Branca’s got the call. Righty hurler versus righty hitter. People standing throwing paper, confetti of some sort from the left field bleachers spilling over outfielder Andy Pafko who looks distracted,” says the now-invigorated, Giants-rooting announcer.
“What the hell,” says Pinky, “throwing stuff on the field!”
The older boys behind them pushing, bodies on their backs, vying for the best possible view.
Dodger first baseman, Gil Hodges, was a few steps off the base protecting, said Russ Hodges, against a game-tying double down the line. Couldn’t be brothers or cousins, could they, said Carl, not interested in anyone’s response. Not that anyone heard him.
“Branca stares at Campanella behind the plate. Gets the sign. No runner on first and he winds up, no stretch. Runners taking careful leads off third and second. The pitch.” The screen shows Thompson swing, but the TV transmission freezes at that instant, and no viewer knows whether he hit the ball or not. A long moment, maybe 1.5 seconds of silence and no visual movement, just Thompson’s bat on hold like it was on his baseball card, though now, here in black and white, fighting snow.
Then, it’s back, live. “There’s a long drive…I believe it’s…I believe it’s…..The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!”
Nothing but crowd roar, confetti streaming from every corner of the stands. The picture totally a snow blizzard. Fans hurtling over the fences onto the field. Hodges screams, “The Giants tackle Thompson at home.” Bobby B shoots a little fist at Carl. Carl, the larger of the two, returns the favor with a mini-Indian wrist burn. Pinky doesn’t even notice; he’s on the set, in the set, at the game.
Russ Hodges again. “The Giants win the pennant!” And again.
Gil Hodges drops his mitt on the bag and walks into the dead dugout.
The boys erupt, struggling out of their seats, big boys behind clamoring over and on them.
Chaos at the counter.
Mr. Wilson, at the other end of the counter wearing a confused look, unknowing Thompson has just hit a pennant winner, on his RCA TV set, in his pharmacy, four hundred miles away from the stadium in New York.
Out on the street, Pinky shouts,” I got three Bobby Thompson cards.” Carl says, “You lie,” and the boys chase each other, grabbing, hugging, happy as if they were there in the stream of happy and sad fans at the stadium. Thanks to baseball the boys knew Brooklyn and the Bronx were neighborhoods in New York City. Not that it mattered very much. Not like knowing George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware River to beat the Brits out of America.
* * *
Bobby Thompson’s three-run homer became known in sports parlance as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” Those millions of baseball fans who recited that assertion thought little about whether Thompson’s homer was heard around the world. Who wanted to think that hard.
Robert Bellinari knew the phrase was initially coined to describe a more important shot: the first musket fired in Concord, Massachusetts, the shot that ignited our War for Independence. But that was no reason to denigrate that moment forty years ago when he, Bobby B then, sat with two friends he had lost touch with after high school, forgetting to finish their sundaes and soda as the rain of paper and noise on the small TV screen was etched in his mind forever, the fervor and the fever of that day.
The day at Wilson’s pharmacy and soda bar, the game-winning homer, the joy and heartbreak it created in all America, had an importance to Robert Bellinari that was irrevocable. An eidetic memory. The sound of Russ Hodges repeating the concise declaration, The Giants Win the Pennant, in his mind when his mind went unconscious. Earworm forever.
Until he died last year Robert Bellinari had become a sort of “The Shot Heard ‘Around the World” baseball expert, scholar, researching everything that happened that day, not only on the field, in the stands, in New York, but reactions of fans throughout the country. He met with people who said they were at the game, got their memories down on paper. He interviewed nearly every player on both teams and many of their stories, narrated by him were published in a variety of newspapers and magazines. He was a frequent and popular radio talk show guest. He sought out several people who claimed they had the ball Thompson hit, were in the stands that day. Pocketed it and ran. “60 Minutes” did a segment with Robert on this story.
Most interesting, Robert learned from reading Don DeLillo’s acclaimed American novel, Underworld, that on that heroic day there was a group of four high-profile men who sat in an owner’s box along first base. Toots Shor, the proprietor of a legendary and eponymous saloon next door to the CBS building on 52nd Street; John Herbert "Jackie" Gleason, a Brooklyn-born brash comedian, actor, and TV star in the The Honeymooners series, who was supposed to be in his studio back in Manhattan rehearsing for the next episode; Frank Sinatra who was Toot’s best customer when he was in town and a hanger-out with Jackie who he referred to as “the missing Rat Pack rat.” All three had sudsy cups at their feet and one in hand. Incongruous as it may seen, the fourth member, a short bulldog mug of a man, was the widely-feared, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the man who Toots said “knows everything,” J. Edgar Hoover. Little known is the fact, confirmed by Bellinari forty years later via a document in the Freedom of Information Act, that during the seventh inning stretch an FBI agent arrived at the box, whispered something in Hoover’s ear and lead him to an isolated spot down a long ramp where the special agent recited the details of his message.
President Truman wanted Hoover to know that on this day, about the time the first ball had been thrown out by Acting New York City Mayor, Vincent Impellitteri, the Soviet Union had conducted an atomic bomb test at a secret location inside its border. They too now had the Bomb. The Cold War would become quite hot. This news would not become public for forty-eight hours. It was the unheard shot around the world on a day when America’s eyes were on the television screen; their hearts set on boys’ play. When Bobby Thompson slammed the three-run homer, called “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” when Bobby B, Carl and Pinky grabbed the first row seats at Wilson’s Pharmacy, and when the best chocolate sundae in the world cost a dime and two nickels.
‘THIS IS FOR YOU, DAD’: Interview with an Anonymous GameStop Investor
by Matt Taibbi
Thursday, January 21st was a critical day in the story of the video game chain GameStop (ticker name: GME). Retail investors, including many subscribers to a Reddit forum called wallstreetbets, pushed the company’s stock from $6 to $43.03, but experts said playtime was over. It was time for the big shots to clean up.
According to Citron Research, one of many funds that had bet on the brick-and-mortar store to fail, those investing in GME were “the suckers at this poker game,” and would soon be sorry when the stock went “back to $20 fast.”
They were wrong. Instead of amateurs being shoved aside by hedge funds, it was the pros who had their backs broken, as GME soared to $65.05, beginning a steep ascent that would become an international news phenomenon.
It was the “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” moment for Wall Street. The pros had been sloppy. By late 2020, shares in GameStop were well over 100% short.
A sudden rise in value would force shorts to pay exorbitant prices just to get out of the trade. By the afternoon of the 21st, all the “suckers” on Reddit had to do to beat them was nothing, and they did just that, behind the rallying cry “diamond hands,” signifying a determination to hold at all costs.
Why hold? One of the millions of subscribers to wallstreetbets posted a note, explaining what the trade meant to him:
This is for you, Dad.
I remember when the housing collapse sent a torpedo through my family. My father’s concrete company collapsed almost overnight. My father lost his home. My uncle lost his home. I remember my brother helping my father count pocket change on our kitchen table. That was all the money he had left in the world. While this was happening in my home, I saw hedge funders literally drinking champagne as they looked down on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. I will never forget that.
My father never recovered from that blow. He fell deeper and deeper into alcoholism and exists now as a shell of his former self, waiting for death.
This is all the money I have and I’d rather lose it all than give them what they need to destroy me. Taking money from me won’t hurt me, because I don’t value it at all. I’ll burn it down just to spite them. This is for you, Dad.
The post went viral, scoring over 70,000 upvotes the first day and ending up on the front page of Reddit. The author, who had gone to lengths to keep his identity private, saw his Reddit handle “Space-peanut” inundated with press requests, from podcasts all the way up to the New York Times. Stuart Varney of Fox Business News read his post out loud on live television.
Meanwhile, on wallstreetbets, Redditor after Redditor responded with similar tales.
“My mother lost her house that spent 20 years saving for in 2008 while raising me and my sister,” wrote one. “I remember sitting on the curb, trying to keep it together myself at 16 while watching her break down uncontrollably…”
“My dad is a carpenter and thirty years of work, retirement, and savings was nearly wiped out,” wrote another, adding: “This is for you, Dad.”
A third letter described a man who, having lost his dairy business after the crash, attempted suicide by shooting himself in the face in the woods. He survived, leaving his son to “carry his blown-apart body to the house,” only to finish the job by throwing himself in front of a train soon after.
“Space-peanut” watched in awe as stories piled up. The thread soon read like the untold history of America after the 2008 financial crisis: The original poster, whom I’ll call SP, was unaccustomed to attention. A one-time military man and father of two, he had no other social media presence and joined Reddit exclusively to comment about stock on wallstreetbets. He was overwhelmed by what he calls “just an endless Rolodex of sad stories,” nearly all referencing the same period after the crash.
“I think that's why my post, however terse, hit such a nerve,” he says. “So many people were saying, ‘I have deep pain from this point in time, too.’”
An acquaintance of a long-ago source of mine, the man reached out this week. Across several conversations, he explained what GameStop meant to him, and why. For a variety of reasons, mainly having to do with his professional situation, he asked to remain anonymous.
SP is cautious, articulate, and well-read. In our first call, one of the first things he told me was that even growing up, he’d “always wanted to work on a trading desk.” I asked why. The answer was a three-decade story that ran all the way to GameStop. It’s reproduced below, in Q&A form.
Since 2008, the tendency among mainstream commentators has been to shrug off reverberations from the crash that force their way into news, usually on the grounds that the millions who lost homes, careers, marriages, lifetimes of savings, health, and in thousands of cases, their lives, are not truly poor or “working class,” or are only “relatively low-wealth,” as New York magazine recently put it. In the case of GameStop, there’s been a parade of stories describing investors as dupes, dummies, financial Trumpists, irresponsible gamblers, even crooks, their trade pegged as almost everything but what on some level it surely was and is, an echo of a suppressed national disaster.
Was GameStop “recreational” investing gone haywire, or a climax to a story building for a generation? Here’s one person’s answer:
SP: I grew up watching my parents struggle with money. Money was discussed all the time. They fought all the time. The older I got, the more I felt I had to do anything to keep my own kids from going through the same thing.
My parents worried in different ways. With my mother, I regularly knew how much money was in her checking account because she would stress-yell the amount whenever I asked for anything. It was really difficult for her.
My dad was the opposite. He wanted you to think he had money, but you were looking around and thinking, "I'm pretty sure we don't." Because I don't have a bed, and my brother is sleeping on a couch. So if you've got it, maybe we should use it, I don't know. So they were different in that regard.
From the time I was eight and nine, I was spending summers working. When I was with my father he thought it was important for us to do the hardest manual labor possible.
Taibbi: Was that supposed to be about character-building?
SP: So my dad thought it was a good idea, but at the same time, I think he needed to go to work. And that was the best place for us to be, because I don't think he could leave us alone all day. So he was like, "I know what we'll do. I'll bring you to work. You can work and then we'll be together." (Laughs) That was character-building, yes.
I built a lot of character out there. I'd say that much. I had way too much character.
To this day I know I can outwork people in physical labor simply because my threshold for what is considered difficult is much higher, because I spent summers as a child doing that. I'm not sure where that squares with labor laws, but it happened.
Taibbi: What kind of work?
SP: At that time, we were doing field work out where we were from. So you're doing a lot of leaching, which just is basically watching a big field fill up with water to prepare it for planting. One summer, we were doing that. And then we tore down houses. We were working with other guys who were grown men and didn't speak English.
Those guys would do anything to get here and take that job, especially the day laborers. They wake up super early, go to a spot where they know a contractor is going to drive by, and try to pick some of them up for the day. I mean, not an easy existence. So it's difficult to hear people lambast a specific group of migrant workers. I feel like saying, "Hey, I know I've done work with migrant workers and I'll tell you what, that would be difficult to say, ‘This is what I'm going to do my whole life.’ I'll tell you that right now.
Taibbi: What did your mother do?
SP: After the divorce was over, she moved to a new state, and she spent years starting up a new business, a dining guide in a big city. Put her own money in it. There was a lot of driving, over an hour every morning to get to the city, then appointments all day. She was a single mom at the time, so she had to get back, get the kids, take care of us. But she was doing well. She had advertising contracts lined up and after years of work, was just about ready to launch, when the dot-com bubble burst and she lost it all.
Almost overnight, the only thing really left of the business was a fax machine in our apartment. Before, companies would be faxing her signed agreements, letters of intent, and so on. All the marketing calls would come back to that number hanging on the fax machine. So basically, anything connected with her company was coming back there.
For a long time, she would just lay on the couch, locked in depression. The fax would go off from time to time and she wouldn’t react, she would lie there in a daze. Looking back on it, it must have been painful every time that fricking thing rang, a reminder of the thing you failed at. Just imagine, you're so close to making it, and then an exogenous shock prevents you from achieving the dream you’d set out for yourself.
She could've just let that beat her down forever. But she eventually got her shit together and was like, "Hey, I need to retool myself." She went back to school, got a master's degree, started teaching. My dad, on the other hand, didn't do that. He never got over what happened.
Taibbi: This was the concrete company?
SP: Right. In the 2000s, he was a superintendent at a concrete company that was very successful for a time, employed hundreds of people. I worked there, too, when I was 19. Again, there were a lot of migrant laborers doing this work too, guys who were supporting families back in Mexico. And 2008 hit, another financial collapse.
There was such explosive growth, and all of the sudden, it was gone. My father lost his job, his house, and he just got worse and worse and worse. He’s got heart problems now, he’s on a bunch of medication. I just expect to get the call any day that he's going to be dead. He's just circling the drain. He's been in and out of the hospital. He doesn't take care of himself.
One of the people who answered my post on Reddit talked about how he felt the crash basically robbed his father from him. That's how it was. We used to talk five times a day, man. Talking to my dad was the most reliable thing that I could do. I talked to him and my brother four or five times a day for fifteen, twenty years. And then over the past probably four or five years, it was less and less. I think I went a full year without talking to him. He didn't know I got married. He hasn’t seen my second daughter.
I’ll tell you, when you look in the eyes of a grown man who has no options to support his kids, that’s devastating. I decided when I first saw that in him, I would sweat blood to make sure that never happened to my family.
I put myself through school, going for the cheapest state tuition, and did the same for the MBA program. I was able to take out a loan and I was able to start the program a semester early, while I was still finishing undergrad, so I could economize the cost. And then I went straight through both summers and got it done really quickly, overloading my class schedule because I didn't want to take out more loans. So I got it done for $25,000, and I was working full-time too, while I was there.
Later, I was able to save up enough to get it completely discharged, though in order to do that, I had to have five roommates for four years.
Taibbi: Why business school, why finance?
SP: By the time I was getting ready to go to college, my brother had already been in the Marine Corps for a few years and had already done two tours in Iraq, and it was the worst time to be there. He saw a lot of carnage. And he was saying, "You know, if you still want to be in the military, it's a much better route if you go to college first, from what I've seen." And every single person I'd ever done manual labor jobs with had said, if they could do one thing differently, they would have gone to college. They’d be on the job and put a hand on my shoulder and say, "You don't want to have to do this when you're 50." Like I'm 50, I'm hanging drywall. It's my company, but it would be nice to not have to do it.
Anyway, I got into being a Wall Street trader when I was an undergrad. I liked the high energy. I also knew a bunch of people from my home city that grew up to be traders. (Laughs). Some of them were really dumb and some of them didn't even finish high school, but they knew a guy who was on the floor like (mimics a Chicago accent) "And my boy Tony, he hooked me up with a jawb on the exchange…”
But they made a lot of money. I thought, "This is ridiculous. I'm more intelligent than that guy." He could barely do math, but he’s trading options. Still, I liked hanging out with those people. Some of them were not real class acts, but… I liked the idea that it was challenging. I just wanted to study everything I could. I knew I was going to be competing with people that had way better educational pedigrees than I did, and I needed every single edge that I could get just to get myself in the door.
I got really interested in the question, "what were the things you look for when a company starts going into financial dire straits?" That led me down the path of finding good books that had been written in the past about major bankruptcies and collapses, books like When Genius Failed, Predator’s Ball, and A Colossal Failure of Common Sense. I was studying companies like Long Term Capital Management, which got bailed out in the late nineties.
At the time, it was just interesting to see how, when people did their homework and took a big risk on some distressed debt, they could make a gigantic payday in one day. And I was like, man, that would be exhilarating. I even saw the original movie Wall Street and I was like, "That's badass. Even though these guys are criminals, just the idea of being on a trading floor seems really cool."
Now I look back at that and think, if I’d become that person, I’d be sitting in the place of some of these hedge funds who do this all day. They go out and find companies that are going to be struggling at a specific date and time, and that's when they start buying massive put spreads, shorting the piss out of the stock, putting it in the dirt, ensuring it will fail. I look back on it now, and it's like, “Goddamn, that would have really sucked.” They're two very different paths I was going down. I'm glad I chose this one.
Taibbi: What was the other path?
SP: Look, I originally did all that reading because I was looking for insights on how to make money. But studying firms like Drexel Burnham Lambert, Long Term Capital Management, Lehman Brothers, I learned two other things.
One is that these guys get bailed out. The second is that they never go to jail, even when they’re dead to rights. I think the two people that got prosecuted first after the financial crisis were the two Bear Stearns hedge fund managers.
The implosion of those two hedge funds was the canary in the coal mine, because that was the death knell for the coming crash. These two guys had emails back and forth, talking about how fraudulent their products were. Talking about how they're totally screwing over clients, in writing! And not one of them went to jail. And who did they go after at that time? Bernie Madoff. He was the one person who went to jail. Why did he get prosecuted? Because he stole from the rich!
Taibbi: They even made a movie about it, starring Robert DeNiro…
SP: Exactly! How come they didn't make any movies about these other horrible people that profited off of the destruction of the economy? The people who ran Countrywide, or the people who were working at the ratings agencies, who knew the things they were rating were fraudulent? Even just down at the mortgage origination level. They made tons of money, and not one of those people went to jail.
Anyway, I didn’t go that route. After I got my MBA, I joined the military.
SP: My brother at the time had already been out of the Marines for a while. He was working for a hedge fund out in California. And his boss was very, very old, in his nineties. I thought, "Man, you can literally die at your desk at 100 years old in finance, but there's only a short window that you can serve the nation, and once that, once that door closes, it never opens again." So I joined, went to Officer Candidate School, got in, went to other countries, saw a lot of very, very poor places, which gave me some perspective. Long story short, I ended up working as a software engineer.
Taibbi: How did you get into online investing?
SP: I was still keeping up with all my financial periodicals, because I knew one day I was going to step back into that world. I was able to start making stock picks for myself. The first real investment I made was in Netflix when it was still double digits. I made a brokerage account with my bank and threw some money in there and started going at it. The industry was really changing. Robinhood's slogan is “Democratizing Finance,” but really it’s the computer science industry democratizing finance, because all those tools that used to be proprietary are free now, included in your trading app.
If you make a TD Ameritrade account, you can run, think or swim. It’s like a mini Bloomberg terminal. You're not going to get the same richness of data, but you're going to get a significant amount that you normally wouldn't ten years ago. And in places like wallstreetbets, I was meeting people who clearly used to or still did work on Wall Street, who would teach you, for free, how to do things like recognize distressed companies, research their debt covenants, look up public data about who was invested in what, and so on.
There’s one guy, he goes by the name fuzzy blankeet — it’s surreal on wallstreetbets, you discuss such serious topics with such ridiculously named people — who was teaching us how to be distressed debt buyers. These are really intelligent people, just giving away knowledge.
A lot of the tools we have now, it used to be only people working at the top hedge funds on Wall Street had access to that information. So a lot of the barriers had collapsed. But the system is still skewed, which I started to see more clearly when the pandemic hit.
Taibbi: How so?
I remember last March, just as the pandemic was taking hold, I was watching CNBC, and Bill Ackman, the big hedge fund guy, basically saying it’s the end of the American economy. He’s saying, “Shutdown is inevitable,” and calling for everything to be closed except essential services:
At the time, I was wrapped up in the doom, on the side of, "I don't think we're prepared for what's coming." Because I was watching the videos coming out of China and thinking, "There are people just passing out. That's not normal. I think that's bad." I saw a video of somebody being welded into his apartment, and I again, I thought, that seems bad. Seeing Ackman on TV, I was like, "I think he's right."
As time went on, though, that moment bothered me. I thought, “That fuck, he’s causing the panic.”
I guarantee a lot of people were like, "Bill Ackman's a smart dude. He's a lot more successful investor than I am, and he says shit's about to hit the fan. I better start buying some protection. I don't know, short really volatile, high flying stocks, and maybe buy a lot of put spreads." But then we all know what happened after that.
Taibbi: That broadcast was March 18th, so the $2 trillion bailout was announced a week after. The market had been plummeting straight down, but it bounced right back up and kept going.
SP: It’s the COVID-19 sell-off and pump. It’s what these guys do. It really does feel as though CNBC is a participant in market manipulation for the rich. These hedge fund guys go on air and it’s like they’re trying to spook the herd in the direction of their trades. They tell everyone to get out when they’re short, and once all the meat is all off the bone, they go long, just in time for the recovery. They get to call the top and the bottom of the market. It’s totally fucked.
The bailout and the pandemic just exposed how there are different sets of rules, not just for different types of investors, but different types of businesses. Your favorite sandwich shop? Closed. If you've got 200 of those sandwich shops? Open.
If you had sufficient capital to lobby whatever your government is, you could get an exemption, but if you were a small-time business owner, you were out of luck, and that just made no sense to me. I was like, “We're just making this up on the fly.”
Taibbi: When did you first pay attention to GameStop?
SP: I remember people posting about the GameStop potential short squeeze last summer. I definitely didn't catch any of the attention earlier than that, but I didn't get the trade. I'll be honest with you. I saw the potential there. I really did, but I was like, there's just so much going against you on that. And at the same time, the business needs to make money and they're in debt and they're not making money.
But at some point, once this all started, I started to think about it. We’re in a pandemic, and there are all these people who couldn’t work all year. Or they’re small businesses that don’t have the political impact. They’re going to take the loss. And in the middle of all this misery, you have a group of the most cancerous rent-seekers on earth, aligning to destroy this company GameStop, because they decided it shouldn’t exist anymore.
And it was GameStop! It’s such a visceral symbol for people in my generation. Even for me, in all those bad times growing up, it was always a nice memory just to go to a strip mall, go in the store, check out a game or two. I like GameStop. Everyone remembers going to GameStop. It’s part of what made it such an obvious rallying cry.
That was it for me. I found myself thinking, I didn’t care if I lost every last dollar doing it, I was going to put it on GameStop, just to see them panic for once. Even if for just one moment they have to think about how they’re going to make their payments for their Manhattan apartments, that’s worth it. They’re playing these games while there are people out there who can’t afford Christmas presents for their kids, can’t afford food. What are these families supposed to do?
Meanwhile those guys at the hedge funds, they’re not sharing that fear. Why should they? They’re going to get bailed out anyway.
Taibbi: One criticism of the GME traders is that while there are billion-dollar shorts losing on the other side, there are also big money managers on the long side, essentially using what some call “recreational” day-traders as camouflage. What do you say to that?
SP: There are definitely some high net worth individuals in wallstreetbets, and they were probably making good money early on, incidentally getting some good research done for free and getting in on some trades early. But there are a lot of small-time investors in there, too. The forum is so big, there's probably a healthy bell curve of every demographic in there now. To say that the forum is made up of people who are just sitting in the basement, and don't really have anything to lose, that’s not right. A lot of people may not care about the money not because they have too much, but too little. It may be their stimulus check, and they’re saying, "Well, I don't have anything anyway. This was my only way to maybe make something, but I’d rather send a message with it."
Taibbi: What’s Robinhood’s role?
SP: Imagine that Wall Street is a big building, Robinhood is basically letting you into the lobby. The barrier to entry to buying and trading and stocks and options with apps like Robinhood really is very low. What we've discovered in the last ten days, though, is that the pen they built for us does not scale well. Big shocker! It's ironic, for a brokerage that's primarily run by software engineers, that they seem never to have thought about the edge case of millions of people transferring in thousands of dollars in one day, and all buying the same security. I don't think that they really thought about, "Hey, what if this happens?"
Taibbi: GameStop crested last Thursday, January 28th, when Robinhood and other platforms began restricting trades in GME and other stocks. Robinhood obviously makes its money selling its “order flow” to a major high-frequency trader, Citadel, which was likely also the firm that made capital calls on Robinhood during the GME frenzy. A lot of Reddit investors believe Citadel and its billionaire CEO Ken Griffin used those collateral calls to pressure Robinhood into restricting trading in GME. Some press analysts think that explanation is conspiratorial. What’s your take?
SP: Whether or not they were pressured to kill the rally doesn't matter. The effect was the same. Robinhood’s restriction killed the rally, a hundred percent. That was the only thing that gave all the firms that had short interests a chance to try to recover. Now, the thing that is really insidious is some retail brokerages that locked out their retail traders, if you had an account with a certain minimum amount of money in it, you could call the customer service line that was reserved for your level of account and they would turn trading back on.
So two people using the same trading app could have different market access. It’s just like we were talking about before. When the GameStop thing started, the shorts were like, “Hey, let's just kill this business because it's a pandemic, they're going to close anyway, let's just destroy it.” And then, once we started kicking it in the balls, they changed the game and killed the trade. It was like, "Okay, of course, of course." As for the conspiracy charge, it makes me laugh. JP Morgan Chase last fall settled for $920 million or whatever in a case involving spoofing in the metals markets.
Before that, they would have said, there’s no such thing as spoofing! Same with manipulation of LIBOR. Once upon a time, if you accused the banks of manipulating LIBOR, they’d say, “That’s a conspiracy theory.” Then there were settlements and now everyone knows it happened. With these people, it's always a conspiracy until it isn't. Once they’re found out, it's like, "Oh, you caught us. You're right. It wasn't a conspiracy. But this other thing, that's a conspiracy. That's not happening."
Taibbi: What was your reaction to the press coverage of GameStop?
SP: The majority of the media that I've seen on WallStreetBets is just incorrect. The stuff that came out really early was trying to label it as a far right-ish type movement, and they got smacked down really hard on that because that’s the opposite of what happens in there. The forum is not political at all. If you post any political bullshit, that is the fastest way to get banned. There’s literally a rule, “No political bullshit.” Nobody wants to hear it. It’s strictly to talk about trades.
Taibbi: What’s the future of wallstreetbets?
SP: I'm fearful of what could happen. The forum is big now. It’s never going to be ignored again. There are two opposing forces. You have big businesses that are going to try to channel this movement to benefit themselves. But at the same time, you've got a lot of long-time people who've been on there who can sniff out a fraud pretty quickly. It’s going to be a cat and mouse game. We already see it happening. The biggest one was in silver. Silver is often used as a way for large owners of silver, like in the SLVETF, to cover losses elsewhere. Last week I saw zero advertisements to buy Gamestop stock. Over the weekend, I saw countless news articles and advertisements all over to buy physical bullion. They’re saying, “Silver is going to get pumped. The Reddit crowd is turning to silver.”
Taibbi: Yahoo! had “Silver Squeeze: How to join the Reddit Bandwagon.” CNBC had, “Is Silver the Next GameStop?” It was like wallstreetbets went Hollywood.
SP: I'm like, "I’ve got to call bullshit on this." Now, if a large institutional owner of an asset was to, I don't know, take out a bunch of ads and hire some people to post on wallstreetbets and maybe hire some botnets through a cut-out, would that be legal? Sounds like a pump and dump to me, but it also sounds difficult to prove. I'm not saying it's happened. I'm saying it's odd, and it's very possible.
There's going to be a constant battle to direct the Sauron-like gaze of this board now. It’s going to be very difficult to get ahead of that, just like it's difficult to know what the number one meme is for next month.
Taibbi: Was a message sent in the GameStop story, and if so, what was it?
SP: You had a leaderless group rise up and use whatever market power they had, whether it was buying a hundred thousand shares, or one. Some very established traders who trade for themselves frequent those boards. And then you had people who saw the message, they saw the Batman symbol and they rallied to that. You know how many messages I saw in the thread, of people just lining up? It meant something to them. They got to buy a fractional share of the hero's journey.
But the trade was destroyed. Whether or not that was intentional is not for me to say. All I can say is what happened. Retail brokerages all of a sudden stopped allowing their clients to trade, unless they were of a certain net worth. Banks could do it. Hedge funds could keep doing it. They could still be in the trade. But you and I could not. We could only sell. We could only do the one thing that they would need us to do, to get themselves out of the quagmire. And it wasn't about price at that point. It was about control of physical shares that would allow you to cover. So yeah, a message got sent. But one was also received. They basically said, “We understand the message you're sending. And here's the message we're sending back.”
But it was worth it.