By Alan Graham
When Citizen X landed in Coronado, California amid the turbulent times of the late sixties, he stood out from the “maddening crowd” of the local population in a very big way.
He was a 30’s-something Arizonian real estate developer who had made his mark when he was a very young man. They called him, “The Kid Builder”. He was smart, gutsy, and even though he was still wet behind the ears, he was fearless amongst his larger and more shark like peers. His talent was and is, “the art of negotiating the deal.” He loves to run the numbers, and he can tell you in a hot minute whether or not the deal is real and if it could fly or fail.
At the time of Citizen X’s arrival, there was a civil war raging in the mostly retirement-age community between the young people and the old guard.
The city council meeting was packed to the roof with angry teenagers who were up in arms because the older folk wanted the treasured game of baseball to be curtailed. There was a most lovely acreage near the entrance of the NAS North Island that had been used by the avid fans of recreation, and in particular, the devotees of the all-American game of baseball. The old guard wanted the antics to cease even though it was just an innocent game.
Some of the more ardent members of the physically fit youth were rather adept at slamming a missal like projectile across the green and into someone’s back yard. This, along with the cheering and jeering from each team, jangled the nerves of the older folks.
A rather large piece of irony was present here due to the fact that on the base next to the green sat a landing strip. All day long, fighter jets would practice take-offs and landings. Monster cargo planes, AWACS, plus an assortment of old prop planes were active and noisy even into the night. So the noise factor was irrelevant and the kids shouted down that complaint with much booing. “All we want to do is play baseball,” exhorted the pissed-off kids in the tightly packed city council chambers.
Citizen X stepped up to the microphone to speak on behalf of the kids. His hair was long and he wore cool clothes. He did not look like his peers in the community who wore the traditional attire of suit or sports coat. He was out of place with older folks but very much in sync with the kids.
I watched from the back seats as he sauntered up to face the council members, some of whom were quite angry at the kids for being so boisterous in their sacred chambers. Citizen X took one look at the red-faced officials and said, “ I feel like an anchovy in a bed of sharks.” The stunned members laughed nervously but the kids squealed with delight. He went on in a serious tone chiding the council for being so restrictive to its youth. “I have four children and I want them to run free and play their games. So let’s give them a break.”
The crowd applauded, and after some deliberations, the city council relented. Forty years later, the green still stands and the locals employ and enjoy one of the very few opens spaces left in town.
X is now a senior citizen and he lives alone in a giant house on the beach. It looks like a British stately home, well kept, and surrounded with bowers of gorgeous flowers. He rides an old black bike to the local Starbucks every morning where he holds court with a cadre of his peers. He sits listening patiently to the group of mostly older men. Even though he always smiles from ear to ear, one can sense a certain sadness or an echo of loss in his soul and on his face.
Citizen X is an expert Chess player and is adept at the complex game of Backgammon; but as the old saying goes, “Lucky at chess, unlucky in love.” As if not allowing himself the private introspection needed for the peaceful resolutions one makes with oneself, he rejects this sort of pensive relief and perhaps it is again because of the fear he will show signs of weakness. He is a lonely man on an island, and within his own island, in our “Magical Kingdom by the Sea”.
Back in the Day
One morning, back in the early seventies, I saw a house for sale on Third and B Avenues. It was a little white structure that needed a little tender loving care. I found X jogging in the sand trying to lose some of his summer blubber from inactivity and self- indulgence. I waved to him and he jogged over to talk to me. I told him of the deal and how much profit we could make. He was in agreement. He would put up the money to buy the home for cash and I would make the purchase and be responsible for the remodel and resale. We would then split the profits 50-50 after the expenses for real estate fees and construction costs.
I went to make an offer to the owner, but on the way out of the door, I got a phone call from a local aggressive and unlikable real estate broker. He had heard of my interests in the property and was trying to worm his way into the deal. He would not be the last to attempt that parasitic maneuver.
I told the salesman that I was busy and perhaps we could talk tomorrow. I went directly to the listed owner’s address in Pacific Beach and was met with a “take it or leave it” stance. “I want 30,000 dollars in cash and that is the only deal I will accept, period.” I called X who felt that he could get the price lowered if he had a one-on-one with her. She was as intractable with him as she was with me. So I told X not to push for a couple of thousand dollars because there was enough profit for us even at that price.
X figured we could make thousands more using his experience and his knowledge. So we bought it for cash and the deal was done.
The very next evening, I was having dinner at the Chart House when the very same irritating real estate fellow approached me and said, “I am in touch with the owner and I think I can get that property for you at a great price.” I informed the determined agent that not only had I purchased said property yesterday, but I had in fact sold it this day for a handsome profit (twice as much as X thought we could get) thus avoiding the unnecessary and obsolete service he was offering. He gave me such a look of anger. It was as if I had cheated him out of a deal that rightfully belonged to him. When, in fact, the deal was made with such swiftness and stealth, it merely illuminated the vast chasm between the old paradigm, which he and his old-fashioned ways of doing business did business, and the very new one, which was us, the present, the future, and the essence of American entrepreneurship.