Friday, August 24, 2007

Benny The Shark

#285 Benny the Shark

It was a few years ago. Benny the Shark is sitting in the back of Moe & Flo’s Diner on Fordham Road and he’s got the Wall Street Journal on the table and he is scratching his head.

He’s thinking about business. He’s reading the business trade paper. He’s seeing that he’s been outclassed, outflanked and outranked.

Benny is in the business of making what he now thinks of as “sub-prime” loans. It’s a family business. He’s been at it for decades, as were his father and grandfather before him.

It used to be simple. All you had to do was find some guy who was down on his luck and lend him a few bucks when the banks wouldn’t. Then you’d collect the interest every week and eventually – sometimes, some infrequent times – the principal.

“The banks are putting the little guy out of business,” he complains to Rosario, who has just brought him a health salad and a glass of V-8.”

“Benny, chico, you can’t smoke in here no more. Put out that cigar the other customers are complaining.”

Life is unfair, thinks Benny and he puts out the cigar.

“If you can’t smoke in here, howcome you got ashtrays on the tables?”

“Not on the tables, only your table… so when I tell you for the 100th day in a row to put out the cigar, you put it out in the ash tray and not on my floor. Again.”

Life is unfair, thinks Benny and pushes the salad away. Used to be business was booming. Then, along come the banks and they’re practically giving away money. No one’s got gambling debts. No one’s got house payment debts. No one needs guys like this anymore.

Fast forward to today. Benny’s at the same table, eating what could be the same salad, with the same cigar crushed out in what’s probably the same ash tray. Rosario is still the queen of Moe & Flo’s and the banks are going out of business.

In fact, some of his best new customers are guys who worked for banks, made lousy loans and lost their jobs and are up to their eyeballs in debt of their own.

“Amateurs,” thinks Benny. “Dopes.”

“See what it is, is these guys did only half the job, these banks. They get a guy who needs some bucks, they don’t look at him too hard, they lend him the money, he can’t make the payments, and they take him to court. Court! That’s not how to stay in business. They’re finding that out the hard way. You don’t take the guy to court, you put the paper out for collection. And that’s something else they don’t do well. I should be a loan consultant to the banks. If there ARE any banks after all this court crap.”

Rosario has gone off the floor. Benny eyes the cigar and goes for his Zippo.

But right about then, this guy walks into the door. He’s wearing Armani. He’s got that dazed look men like that wear when they go into a place like Moe & Flo’s. Looking around.

“Ah,” Benny, that’s probably a guy who used to be from GreenPoint Mortgage. He’s my 4 o’clock, and he’s right on time.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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