Jun

28

I hadn’t mentioned George Soros for decades until recently because there was no reason to. I don’t read the news and didn’t know a world stand he has climbed to. The fact is I met him hoboing.
 
I boarded a Seaboard freight in Jacksonville, FL and held down flatcars, boxcars, grainers, vans, and containers for two weeks along the east coast to land in Newark, NY. I alighted from a boxcar on the ballast to behold, across the Hudson River, the skyrise of Manhattan. It was an easy stroll through a traffic tunnel into the center of the financial world. I caught a subway to the upper east side, and ran into the raised eyebrows of a doorman in a brownstone, who buzzed up to announce to Victor Niederhoffer, ‘A hobo is here.’
 
Niederhoffer in the mid-90s was the #1 commodities speculator in the nation for four years running. ‘Doc Bo,’ he pinched his nose. ‘I knew you’d be coming one year or another. Jump in the shower, and I’ll lay out clothes for you. We’re going out to eat.’
 
Ten minutes later I had traded my bib overalls for a suitcoat with an apple core and a $100 bill in the pockets. The coat describes the character of Niederhoffer, who had managed George Soros’ Quantum Funds, famous for breaking the Bank of England, before striking out on his own.
 
We took a cab to the esteemed Four Seasons on East 52nd. The table of five included George and his wife Susan, Victor and his wife Gail, and me. It was Thanksgiving, so the order was automatic. I was surprised no drinkers sat at our table.
 
‘How did you like the meal?’ Soros soon asked. I answered with my mouth full, ‘It mashes any Thanksgiving dinner at missions across the country.’ Soros called the chef to our table and made me repeat. I did, and couldn’t understand why the chef laughed, because savory is as much a result of hunger as palate.
 
There was an hour table talk of financial and political dessert that I didn’t partake. My value is always on empty pockets to survive by my wits, with the fewer dollars the more adventures to tell to be treated to such a feast. I felt like the Elephant Man of London celebrated for being different.
 
Thirsty from the long railroad ride, I guzzled bottles of Perrier, until asking one of five waters for a restroom. He pointed to a basement elevator, where I stepped out into the clutch of a man in a tuxedo who yoked me by the elbow to an open urinal. He stood behind like a shadow in a rank of other gents relieving ourselves with towels on the crooks of their arms in case of splashes.
I returned to our party where the table conversation was wound down, and Soros suggested I ride with him and his wife to their Long Island home to meet their 10-year old son. It was proposed that I become his bodyguard, in an era where kidnapping and ransom of children of the wealthy was in vogue. I was shocked and happy when the position was not cleared.
Soros offered instead a game of chess. We played two, with me winning the first with white using a King’s Gambit, and he the second with white using a Queen’s Gambit. He asked where I had learned to push the pieces, and I replied that while my plate was never full the first twenty years of my life, the chess board at our Idaho house always was. I had matriculated across the states to junior chess champion of Jackson, MI. ‘But’ I told him, ‘You have a better chess mind, and if we played more I should be at the losing end.’
 
He grunted competitively, and explained that he had been a baggage boy on a Hungarian railroad, and graduated a philosopher from university before attacking finance. That explained the man to my satisfaction. He owned a hermetically sealed mind from philosophy, was an objectivist, a self-honest fair man, and cheered the working underdog. He concluded instead of a tiebreaker, ‘You have a chip on your shoulder,’ and I cannot help but think he was talking about himself.
 
We met a few times later over the years in Manhattan. I did go on a 13-country tour of the world emerging markets in search of moderate risk with high, fast payoffs in 2nd-and-3rd countries having fresh exchanges that were becoming engaged with global markets. I spent a week each in India, Siri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, Korean, Thailand, and others to identify opportunities for Niederhoffer and, later on, Soros. The former made millions per day for weeks from my overnight dispatches of the low life indicators. These are the signs of economic times from the ground up including the length of cigarette butts and price of prostitutes. The honeymoon ended with ‘Black Tuesday’ when Niederhoffer lost much of his net worth due to my non-exacting observations in Thailand and to a quirk in the market.
 
Later, I was sent by the pair, Niederhoffer and Soros, to seed capitalism around the globe. I became Michael Anthony of the TV series ‘The Millionaire’ forty years hence taking cash into 3rd world countries to distribute $3 -5000 each to individuals who met my two criteria of self-honesty and a strong idea for a capitalist venture. These folks on three continents had get-rich thoughts without startup capital for a shoeshine stand, taxi business, barber shop, English school, and a hotdog stand where the delicacy was untasted. I carried cash since ATMs were nonexistent and traveler’s checks were nonnegotiable in backwater towns. The tour ended in Caracas where I was stabbed multiple times with a knife, causing superficial bleeding because of a coat of armor of $100 greenbacks sewn in my clothes that protected me, and robbed. I left on lighter feet, and the project terminated.
 
The Soros I knew was self-honest, which meant the truth hurt but fooling yourself will enslave you. He was fair so attracted birds of a feather. He was also a libertarian who advocates minimal state intervention in the free market and private lives of citizens, granting the right to anyone to go to heaven or hell in his own way. I don’t know if he’s changed, but note he has risen to global influence.

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