RISMEDIA, February 17, 2009-In retracing the steps that brought our financial markets to a standstill, it’s hard to ignore the footprints of the rugged individualists who turned the investment world into a recreation of the wild west.
And while the American public is treated daily to a news menu featuring billion dollar blunders by banks, automakers and insurance companies – as well as multi-billion dollar fraud and corruption from the highest levels of Wall Street – there are some behind-the-scenes stories that make these headlines seem mundane by comparison.
H. H. Chandler, author of Running Naked, (www.runningnaked.net) knows the real story of the wheeling and dealing that led up to our current crisis, running with the likes of guys like John DeLorean as they hustled together for investor money back when investors juggled millions of dollars like the clowns at a circus. As a business partner, friend and confidant, Chandler logged more Truth-Is-Stranger-Than-Fiction miles with DeLorean than Hunter Thompson on a three state bender.
“It was like the wild west,” he said. “We should have been wearing cowboy hats and boots, the way we worked,” Chandler said. “A lot of times, we’d be making it up as we went along, all the while dodging creditors or collection agents. The irony was that we had to look like we were successful, even though most of the time we didn’t have two nickels to rub together. In order to look the part, we had to live way beyond our means, with the idea that just one big deal would take care of all the back bills. The only problem was, the goal posts kept moving back every time we got close to a score.”
The rollercoaster of that life, working on a shoestring with hopes of hooking the big fish, was symptomatic of the attitude that underscored the mistakes leading to the credit crunch. Living on DeLorean’s estate for more than six years, he met with scam artists who posed as Saudi Arabian royalty, had his car repossessed from the parking lot of a posh charity benefit he was attending, and even helped DeLorean use magic markers to hide the flaws of antique rugs he intended to sell to pay his legal bills.
“It was crazy,” Chandler said. “We would do whatever it took to make a deal, and we didn’t really worry about the consequences so much. We weren’t driven by greed as much as we were driven by survival. At one point, my Mercedes was repossessed by someone posing as a parking attendant at a posh $1,000-a-ticket charity ball where I was trying to schmooze high society. And it got more surreal than that.”
In those days, people like Chandler and DeLorean were trying to dig themselves out of the hole, having gone from riches to rags in a very short period of time.
“We lived by the deal and died by the deal,” Chandler said. “Some people were bricklayers or doctors or truck drivers – those were their jobs. Making deals was what I knew. It was my job, and it was part of my identity. And when the vultures started to circle, the line that separates what you will do and what you won’t do for a deal get blurry. And I think that was part of the culture that has led to where we are today.”
Chandler’s best advice? “Two things: keep your feelings of greed at bay and if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
H.H, Chandler was born in Herndon Virginia and at 18 years old, with his parents long since divorced, Chandler asked his father permission to live with his mother in Greenville North Carolina. Shortly after arriving, Chandler purchased a motorcycle and drove to New York City to become an actor. Some (hard) years later, H.H. Chandler became successful as an actor with starring roles in off-Broadway shows, as well as playing lead characters for more than seven years on daytime television dramas; Detective Sam Fountain – The Edge of Night, ABC. Doctor Rico Bellini – The Doctors, NBC. Ben Harper – Love of Life, CBS. Max Decker – Texas, NBC. Blue Nobles – Another Life, CBN. Voice-overs for radio commercials were also a mainstay in his career.