The Blog Of The Securities Industry Professional Association

Man on Fire



Mistakes of the past tend to get repeated


(Part I of a  II Part story) 

I was recently chirping back and forth with former classmates on Facebook and even in that sentence I reveal how out of touch I am with today’s digital world.  Chirping is for Twitter and Facing is for Booking, right?  Anyway, we were all reminiscing about the various locker fires and other things that happened over 30 years ago and for the record, the statute of limitations have passed since nobody was hurt ok?  Over the course of 30 years I have learned many valuable and important lessons and try as I might to finally learn from my mistakes, I keep making them over and over again, just like our banking system.

I was a freshman at Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) and had broken my leg in about 5 places and wore a cast and used crutches for over half of my freshman year at this private catholic school.  During the course of the year I became very, shall we say, anti establishment?  I didn’t like rules, dress codes, being quiet in class or listening to people of authority.  I guess in 30 years not much has changed, just ask FINRA and the SEC.  As the year progressed and I dealt with various issues, suspensions, detentions and grades that would make Mike Tyson blush, I came to the conclusion that I was probably going to be kicked out of school at year’s end and I was resolved to this fact. I didn’t even bother to study for any of my finals because I thought my ticket out the door had been punched for me.  As finals week approached, I walked (without crutches) down the hall as students emptied their lockers into a giant plastic bin on wheels for the janitors (now known as ‘Sanitation Engineers”)  to dispose of later.  As I was walking past the bin, I noticed that it was filled with loose leaf paper, notebooks, folders and pens and pencils.  One of my genius friends (who shall remain anonymous) mentioned to me how one single match could make that go up in smoke.  He then proceeded to show me his matchbook and said: “I dare you to throw a match in there”!… Oh Crap!

Now in the history of mankind there are only three rules that are infallible:

  • Never get in a land war in Asia
  • Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line
  • Never dare me to do something

I guess I didn’t really think this one through and grabbed the match, struck it and threw it in the bin and walked briskly down the hall.  I decided to go to my locker and clean it out for what would surely be my first and last time. Suddenly I noticed a bright light shining on the lockers across from me.  I went over to the corner and to quote John Belushi in “Animal House”:  HOLY S#IT!!! HOLY S#IT!!!.  It was around this time that I decided that the bin on wheels was too close to my locker, thus making me guilty by association.  To throw off the scent, I make the remarkably dumb choice to push the flaming garbage bin on wheels down the hall, where suddenly I start hearing shrieks from my fellow students because a 4 foot high bon fire on wheels is rolling toward them!  In a panic, I take off for the stairs and leave the building in a panic and escape campus all together as the sound of sirens come raining down.  Suddenly I’m less concerned about being asked to leave the school in a few weeks and more concerned about spending 5-10 behind bars.   After a couple loops around the block I do what every criminal does and I show back up to see what’s going on and there are about 400 students and faculty outside.  Mr. Walsh, our dean of Discipline is already eyeing me and I am waiting for another student to walk up to him and then point at me but remarkably, it doesn’t happen!  There might be hope yet!  I start praying to God that if I can escape this I will right my life, I will study, I will become the good Catholic , almost sort of Irish boy my mother always dreamed of.  They announced that the finals that day are cancelled and I go home with my stomach churning and every time I hear a siren or a car goes by I check the window like a criminal at a hideout.  I spend the next two days studying for the two tests (which had been cancelled) all day because I was afraid to go outside and be picked up and interrogated by cops.  I was a paranoid mess and told nobody, not even my dad about this. I usually told my dad EVERYTHING but this seemed too much even for him.   When school resumes, I walked gingerly into our H.S. and I tried going straight to my locker but Mr. Walsh sees me and points at me and motions for me to come over.  We say good morning as my bowl of Cheerios comes up to my tonsils and I am literally about to throw up or just confess on my knees because I can’t handle it anymore! I have not slept in two days; I haven’t eaten and every time my dog barks I hide in my closet for ten minutes in the fetal position!  He asks me point blank  “ you know anything about the fire the other day”…I tremble, of course I know about it I set it! I think about crying crocodile tears to make me look sorry or pathetic and possibly avoid jail time. I was about 95% on the way to saying “YES IT WAS ME, IT WAS ME, I’M SORRY, TAKE ME AWAY”!!!!…..and then out of nowhere, I casually shake my head and said “not a thing”.  He looks around and tells me to hurry off to class and wished me luck on the finals.  As I walked away I kept waiting to be shot in the back like they do in those Nazi war movies but I made it to class.  I took the test and actually aced it saving me from failing the course.  I went to the next final fully expecting by now that somebody would have said they saw me pushing it down the hallway but by this time I had already concocted my rebuttal: “Yes! I saw a fire burning out of control and in my effort to be a leader I took the heroic step of pushing it away from some women and children “ I proceeded to take the next test and aced that one too and suddenly my grades were improved enough that I was not failing out of school.  Sure Mike Tyson would laugh at my report card that year but I was generally impressed with my ability to study under pressure.

One would think that after a harrowing event like this I would learn my lesson, but alas, some things are never meant to be.  Sophomore year started with a new principal named Fr. Corrigan who pulled no punches with me.  In fact, he actually talked at length with my dad and received permission to “Knock my head against the F-ing lockers” if need be.  Things were running smooth except for a couple of minor things.  Today the sports world would call it “Off field distractions”, back then we called it “a bunch of underage teens drinking southern comfort.   By and large though, the year progressed with little if any major incidents until the spring.  That is when that little voice of a friend (again he will remain nameless) showed me some firecrackers he had.  I have a fireworks addiction that has existed since I was three.  I can never say no to blowing things up.  It’s the greatest expression of manhood! Forget hunting or catching a marlin with your bare hands.  Lighting a pack of firecrackers and throwing them is by far the manliest thing a guy can do.  As we walked down the hall we noticed a locker was left open…oh no, there’s that little voice again.  We look at each other and I immediately flash back to last year but then we reason that it would just explode and if we close the locker the sound would be muted.  What a dilemma we were in.  After careful consideration I made the intelligent decision to just keep walking and finish the year without incident. Then I heard those famous words once again:  “I dare you “…oh crap.

I lit the fuse, threw them in and shut the locker and walked briskly away to the sound of gunfire. Nobody was anywhere around so I felt confident nobody would know it was me but then the alarms got pulled and within minutes the school was exiting.  Apparently, if you throw a pack of black cat firecrackers on top of a bunch of papers in a locker, the possibility of igniting a fire increases by roughly 95%. (I really need to take Chemistry more seriously). I spent three days with a churning stomach waiting for the inevitable fall out.  The previous Dean of Discipline retired after my freshman year (Gee, I wonder why?) but the new one was on to me.  He coached me in basketball and he wanted answers and was persistent with his questioning.  I kept thinking what is the big deal? So what? There was a little locker fire, it’s not like somebody lit a bonfire and rolled it down the hall!!!!   He was the type that would get people to rat you out and threaten other students with punishment if they didn’t.  After a few days and a few prayers it finally subsided and I once again thanked God and promised no more fires and never again to mess with fireworks.  This time I really and truly meant it.

Fast forward 20 plus years to 2006 as I begin furnishing my new log cabin in the North Carolina mountains.  We were one week away from moving into our vacation home and were moving furniture and beds into the place. My friend Mike and I are drinking beer, soaking up a sunny spring day in the mountains and moving all the stuff my wife should have thrown away into a second home.  Country music is blaring in the background and I’m wearing a black cowboy hat because it makes me look like one of the locals. (it really doesn’t when you wear gym shorts and sneakers with it). My buddy Mike reaches into the car and pulls out a huge bottle rocket called ‘The Window Rattler” and launches it up in the air and the explosion reverberates for a minute in the mountains.  After a few more are lifted off into the mountains, Mike hands me one and puts it on my deck railing on its side and says: “I dare you to light it like that”….Oh Crap!


I light it like a fool and it goes about 25 feet exploding violently into the woods surrounding my house.  We laugh with delight and pop open another beer and have a toast to good friends and good times, when suddenly Mike’s eyes open wide and he points to a forest fire burning on the side of my house!!  I quickly turn on the hose only to discover there is no water yet!  We start stomping around like a bunch of Irish dancers doing a jig, as the leaves begin to catch fire and spread right next to my new house, we run to his truck and get rakes, shovels and after about 20 minutes we finally contain the fire. I was so scared, I said right then and there, I will never do fires or fireworks again lord, this time I’m serious.

As of today I can safely tell you that despite these near misses in life and near disaster, I have continued to have bonfires, explode fireworks every New Years and Independence day and I somehow think that it won’t happen again.  In some regards, this is exactly what our banking system has been doing for 30 years and in our next part we will explore BANKS ON FIRE and the ramifications should scare you.

As special thanks and shout out to all my OLL class of 1984 alumni.  I promise no more fires or fireworks…..Yeah right!


* Part II will focus on the absurdity of our Banking system and how they continually make the same mistake (like me) over and over again and put the system and our economy at peril. 

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February 17th, 2016



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