It was my first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to the meeting at that church at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway. I thnk it’s the oldest church in the country. Or the city. Or the “oldest” “something”of “somewhere”. We were in the basement and donuts were served. There were about six rows of seats and a dozen or so people were randomly spaced out on them, as if none of us could get too close to each other.
We went up and down the rows introducing ourselves. When it came to me I wasn’t sure what to say. I had never been to a meeting before so I more or less copied everyone else. “My name is James and this is my first day of no alcohol.” At that, everyone gave a little bit of a clap. “Welcome, James”. The leader of the meeting said.
The thing is, I wasn’t an alcoholic. I didn’t drink at all. And I really didn’t want to go to this particular meeting. To make it even worse, an astrologer had told me to go to a 12 step meeting of Business Owners Debtors Anonymous (BODA). But there were no BODA meetings that day so she said, “go to an AA meeting instead. They are all the same.” But they weren’t all the same. What are you supposed to say if you are not an alcoholic and now it’s your turn to speak? I felt like a secret agent behind the Iron Curtain. But I liked the clapping. I felt some pleasure at being so welcomed. But I also felt a little guilty and when the meeting was over I ran away.
A few weeks later I found a BODA meeting to go to at a church on 31st and 7th. Everyone was sitting around in a circle. I liked that. I felt we could all go around in a circle telling stories about ourselves. Like Show-n-Tell in 1st grade. I felt like my show-n-tell would be better than anyone else’s. I was there for ego purposes. I wanted all of the other kids in the circle to love me. The truth of the matter even here, though, was that I was neither a business owner at this time, nor a debtor. But here I was, at business owner’s debtor’s anonymous. I also was under the delusion that all of these people needed my help. That I had something to teach them.
People started telling their stories. One woman I remember said, “the good thing is that since I’ve been going to these meetings is that I don’t need as much money.”
At the time, I didn’t necessarily think that was such a good thing. I felt like she was just fooling herself. Of course she needed a billion dollars. She was being hypnotized into settling for less. I didn’t think she was a “loser” but maybe I was thinking only one level higher than that.
There was one real pretty girl in the BODA meeting. I aimed my story at her. I told the whole thing. I expected intense clapping and whistling at the end but there was none of that and people just went on to the next person. When it was the pretty girl’s turn she talked about how she was in intense debt, she didn’t like her employer, but she had done something ‘so horribly shameful [she] couldn’t even admit it in BODA’.
We were all sort of silent then. I’m sure all of us were thinking the same thing. She was wearing a short skirt. What could she have done? I was insanely turned on by her. But then the group went onto the next person.
I can’t remember anything else about the meeting. After the meeting was over, the pretty girl disappeared. People were milling around talking but nobody really talked to me at all so I left.
Outside I had one of the weirdest coincidences for me ever. About two years earlier I had invested $300,000 in a company called (don’t laugh) gooey.com. They were an Israeli company and I ended up on the board of directors of the company. Try not to go on the board of directors of an Israeli company. By the time the experience was over it was so bad I thought I was even going to have to sue myself.
They had software that would turn web pages into chat rooms. So if I had the gooey software downloaded and you did also and we were both on the same web page then we would be able to see each other via the software and start chatting. In other words, everyone visiting jamesaltucher.com right now would be able to see each other and start IMing through gooey about why they were all here at the same time. I thought this was the “new new thing” in instant messaging. I put in $300,000 and I got a bunch of other people to put in about $700,000. Two years later gooey.com declared bankruptcy. And about three months after that I found myself in my first AA meeting.
So right after I left the BODA meeting there was a homeless guy sitting about a half block from the church. I’m not exaggerating when I say he was lying in his own urine. I’m not exaggerating when I say, coming out of this BODA meeting where I just described, among other things, losing $300,000 on this company, this homeless man lying in his urine was wearing a gooey.com t-shirt. The shirt had a very distinctive logo and colors. I went right up to the guy to make sure I was seeing it correctly.
It was definitely the gooey shirt. I felt like God was sending me a message. I still don’t know what to make of the coincidence. I had never even seen anyone other than myself wearing the t-shirt before. I left the man a $20 dollar bill. I don’t think he noticed. [As a sidenote, every single thing I write in this blog is dead true. Please don’t even comment that this story is not true. Although if I must be honest I don’t remember if it was a $20 dollar bill or a ten dollar bill I left with the guy but I’m guessing the higher.]
About a year earlier Gooey had an offer to be acquired for about $100 million from Star Media, the Latin American portal company. I would’ve made about $4 million on the deal. This was the peak of the bubble. I was begging the company to take the offer. I arranged for the deal to be entirely hedged with a collar put on by Morgan Stanley (dba Justin Weil, “the mad collarer”) the second the deal closed so the Star Media stock would be as good as cash.
I visited with the top guys in the company. They were in a random apartment one of them had rented on the west side. At the time their software had about a million downloads but no revenues. “We don’t want Star Media!” they told me. “We’re Gooey! We want someone prestigious like Yahoo!” Israelis playing video games while discussing $100 million acquisitions always talk with exclamation points. Otherwise I wouldn’t be so liberal in their use. So that deal went down the toilet. As did another potential deal gooey had with the company that is now SIGA Technologies for $150 million. A year later they were bankrupt.
I barely remember the AA meeting, and I only feel mild disappointment now when thinking about what could’ve been with a Star Media acquisition. Things have worked out for the best in my life without that $4 million I would’ve made on the deal. Thank god they didn’t take it. And 12 years later I even managed to convince myself to invest in another Israeli company. I got over my hatred of Israeli entrepreneurs. I love them now. And I relish coincidences. The homeless guy in the Gooey tshirt can only be topped if I tell you it was also raining outside, which it was, and I had no umbrella, which I didn’t, so I was completely soaked, staring at my $300,000 literally down the drain in a pool of urine, and I was thoroughly depressed.
But not because of this homeless guy.
I knew that all the coincidences in the world were not going to make my dream that evening come true. Because the pretty girl who sat across from me in the BODA meeting had just confessed in the meeting to doing “the most shameful thing I had ever done”.
And in my imagination I saw us twenty years later, all our worries behind us, smiling into each other’s faces in our cozy house with a fireplace and maybe some kids running around. And maybe right when she was about to drift off into blissful sleep that night twenty years in the future she would finally whisper into my ear, and I would barely be able to hear her – she would finally tell me the shameful secret she had been holding back from me after all of these years.