Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Duane Eddy's Twang

I received the following message from Duane Eddy's wife Deed, about my chapter on "Surf Music" at LEGENDARY SURFERS and thought I would share it with you and invite your comments:


Hello Malcolm,

I was reading, with great interest, your article about surf music. I felt
compelled to write to you in order to correct one very important point.

My husband, Duane Eddy, was a working musician in Phoenix, Arizona in the
mid-50's, making his first record with Lee Hazlewood in 1956. This was also
Lee's first experience recording in the studio.
They continued to work together, as partners, and together developed an
enormously successful run of hit instrumental records based on Duane's
unique style of playing, and Lee Hazlwewood's creativity with sound in the

At the same time, a musician named Al Casey was also working sessions in
Phoenix, playing
guitar, piano, and bass on a number of recordings. He worked on Duane's
sessions, playing piano, bass, and only occasionally, rythym guitar. He
traveled on the road with Duane for a few weeks, playing bass.

A writer named Phil Dirt has, for reasons unknown, proposed his own theory
that it was Al Casey behind Duane Eddy's success, and he also says that the
unique "twangy" sound associated with Duane for nearly fifty years has been
wrongly crediited to him. This is most unfortunate, as the internet makes
everything so readily available, writers like yourself will unknowingly come
across "Mr. Dirt"'s writings and take it as fact.

I would very much appreciate your attention to this. There are numerous
biographies of Duane available. Wikipedia, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,
the information is out there. I realize it might appear a small matter, but
when you realize that this is actually music history, it's quite important
that we all get the correct information.


Deed Eddy

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Waves of Warning 15

Chapter Fifteen - Downtime

(Continuing Glenn Hening's WAVES OF WARNING)

[ This chapter also readable in PDF format at: 15-Downtime.pdf ]

The morning breeze was dying in the palms . It wasn’t quite seven a.m. and the day promised to be a scorcher. The South Seas may be the romantic idyll of dreamers around the world, but with a long day of problems ahead of him, it was just another place to earn a living for Mac Owens.

He walked across the hangar floor, entered a small office and was happy to see a trail of paper falling out of the fax machine. He took the fax to the machine shop and straight to a long metal table where the parts of a disassembled motor were arranged in an orderly fashion. Checking the cutaway diagram and parts list on the fax, he then studied several parts in the center of the table. They were bent, twisted and torn. Next to them was an open box with the replacements. He picked up each broken part, then the new one. His eyes went back to the fax, then back to the parts.

“Son-of-a-” He caught himself just in time, or it would have cost him a buck. He fined himself every time he broke his New Year’s resolution, and the jar on his desk was already half full of bills and a lot of change. He went back to his office and hit the send bar on the radio transmitter.

“Victor Tango, this is Grease Monkey, cum in please.”

“Grease Monkey, this is Victor Tango. Good morning Mac. Wrong parts, right?”

“Morning Tina. Yup. Ya know I wouldn’t be havin’ these problems if it wern’t fer Ian Clark an’ his damn jetskis.”

“Don’t get started, Mac. What do you want to do?”

“Fly back ta Florida an’d walk in the factory an’ throw this piece o’ crap at whoever can’t read simple English.”

“Well, you did say trying to use electric hoists instead of hand-winches was something that might work, as opposed to something that would work.” Owens had to laugh.

“That’s correct, Madam Captain. Six differnt makes, five pieces of s-h-i-t. An’ the one that did survive still failed ‘fore she got ta two thousand pounds. An’ then I do ‘em a favor an’ pinpoint the damn problem, an’ they send me the wrong damn parts!”

“Hmm, so far that’s four bad words, even if you spelled one. But to a lady, well, better put a twenty in the jar, Mac.”

Owens almost cost himself another five, but bit his tongue.

“Will do, ma’am. My sincere apologies.”

“Apology accepted. Any good news?”

“Engine work on schedule. Electrical panel re-wired. Landin’ gear greased, and - - -” Mac Owens stopped in mid-sentence. He grabbed a pencil and scribbled a quick sketch to cut his jetski lift problems in half.

“What, Mac, another idea?” Tina Sanchez knew her flight engineer well.

“Mebbe. Anyway, the starboard engine is almost ready to re-mount, an’I’ll get on the port one next week. Valves within spec, but I can tell ya with alla this weight an’ drag, if we have any seaway problems gettin’ outta there, we’ll hafta run tha heads at max temp to git on step. An’ then the problem won’t be the valves, it’ll be the head itself. An’ if we ever hafta replace it, she’s gonna cost an arm and a leg.”

“Well, if me mory serves correctly, all our costs will be covered.”

Mac Owens had another idea.

“Say, Tina, why don’ I go ta Florida? Only way I’ll ever be able ta trus’ this ‘lectric hoist is ta go ta their factory, stress test the units, an’ have ‘em make me sumtin’ that won’t break.”

Tina Sanchez could hear a lot more in Owens’ voice than just his need to go to the source of his problems to solve them.

“Mac, I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

“What’s a wonderful idea?” It was Victor Sanchez, walking onto the porch of their open air home with a Hawaiian sling spear and goggles in one hand and a string of fish slung over his shoulder.

Tina turned to her husband with a smile. “Mac thinks he needs a vacation.”

“No I don’t, Tina!” said Owens, but his tone had a laugh behind it, “I jes need to git ‘xactly what I need an’ there’s only one way ta do that.”

“Well, let’s just call our friend Ian Clark and tell him we’ll be spending some of his money,” said Victor, “How about first class to Paris, and then a hop to Miami at your leisure?”

“As much as I’d like ta stick it ta Clark under entirely honest circumstances, January ain’t much fun in France. I think straight home would suit me jes fine, thankee!” Owens let his Florida drawl syrup all over his words at the mere thought of seeing St. Pete again.

“What do you think, two weeks?”

“Nah, Tina, I don’ like the place all THAT much. I’m only goin’ fer parts, not a snowbird vacation.”

“Only going for parts! You DO need a vacation,” said Victor Sanchez, “Three weeks then. Let’s get you out of here tomorrow morning. I’ll call Clark right now. I hear he’s a pretty good travel agent.”

“No, I’ll call him, dear. You go make us some breakfast!”

“You want to fly Mac Owens Tahiti-Miami round trip first class for some parts? You can’t be serious!”

“Ian, I don’t think you understand, so let me spell it out for you, ok?”

“Sure, Tina, go right ahead.”

“The problem is you sold Wavelife on using the Skyhook to get everyone and all their equipment to the reef. The wings can take the load of the jetskis, but the problem is the original bomb hoists for a PBY were cable-and-crank systems to be used on a runway, not the ocean. So hand-cranking won’t work. It’s too slow.”

“Well, so what? We’re in no hurry.”

“We would be if for some reason we’d have to get airborne quickly. It’s our biggest problem right now, and Mac’s been testing electric hoists that’ll fit in the wings.”

“So that’s what those invoices were for. Couldn’t you have found cheaper ones?”

“How cheap do you want to go when your whole project is on the line?”

“Ok, ok, I get the picture,” he said reluctantly, knowing she was right.

“Ian, we simply have to trust Mac when it comes to anything mechanical. You may not like him, and he certainly has his feelings about you. Shackleton didn’t like McNeis H either, but he saved the entire expedition.”

“Yeah, I know. L.J. told me that story too and - - - “Clark caught himself at the mention of his old partner. Back in better times they had some ideas about adventure surfing in the Southern Ocean after Merrill became fascinated with the lore surrounding Ernest Shackleton’s expedition in 1914. They even went to South Georgia Island to scout surf sites close to where Shackleton had landed after a miraculous voyage in a small boat fixed up by ship’s carpenter Paddy McNeish to survive the Southern Ocean.

“You know, Ian, maybe you should - - -”said Tina Sanchez, thinking wistfully of L.J. Merrill and how this whole thing was somehow off kilter. But Clark closed down his heart fast. One glance at the data stream on his computer and it was back to business.

“I should get off this phone and get Mac his tickets. Anything else?”

“Mac needs the jet skis themselves when he gets back in three weeks. We want to start test runs by early April.”

“Ok, will do. Bye, Tina.”

“Take care Ian,” said Tina Sanchez sincerely, her woman’s instinct sensing a man who was his own worst enemy and doing nothing about it.

* * *

A tall Florida boy in his mid-50s, dressed in bulky overalls and a woolen cap, was working on the port engine of his PBY Supercat. A cold snap was wrecking the orange crop across the state, but Clem Charleton wasn’t about to slip his maintenance schedule for anything short of a hurricane – or the surprise appearance of an old friend.

“Son of a gun! Mac Owens!”

“Clem, if I’da known it was gonna be this cold I’da stayed in Tahiti!”

“Well all ya gotta do is get on the ol’ Internet these days. Got alla info ya need fer practically everythin’, ol’ boy!”

“Yeah, I know, but who wants ta know more’n they needs to? One thing did catch my eye, though. Saw ya got yer own website an’ all tryin’ to sell yer Cat. Any bites?”

“Nah, not yet.”

“Mebbe half a mill is a bit steep, doncha think?”

“Nope. I’m pre-qualifyin’ her next owner, so ta speak. Say, Mac, ya ever run into a problem with the clutch discs inside the starter motor? The dang things keep crappin’ out on me.”

“Yeah, they started usin’ auto tranny discs. Git ‘em in Mexico ‘cause they ran outta the ‘riginals. Ain’t aircraft spec anymore .”

“Yeah, I thought twas sumtin’ like that,” said Charleton as he finished tightening the motor mounts before climbing down to greet his old friend. “How long ya stayin’?”

“’bout three weeks. Didja g it my e-mail?”

“Probly. What it say?”

“‘bout the ‘lectric hoists fer the wings.”

“Well, Mac, as I recall I did git an e-mail fulla cussin’ when y’all broke a bunch by tryin’ to put twice the spec load on ‘em!” Charleton laughed.

“Yeah, the one ya recommended lasted longer ‘n all the others, so - - -“

“So lemme guess – they sent ya the wrong part, an’ you’re here to raise hell with ‘em!”

“Yup, an’ mebbe raise sum hell with you, too!” laughed Owens as a cold winter wind blew through the hangar, “Say, how long ya gonna work out here in the frozen north? Let’s go get a drink, whaddayasay?”

Clem Charleton needed no encouragement.

“Someone flies seven thousand miles fer parts, I’ll buy ‘em a drink!”

* * *

“Remember when we worked tha orange groves ‘round Orlando? You wouldn’t believe what they got goin’ on up there now. Damn convention center so big they run four shows at the same time. This week ya got yer hotel operators, yer mainframe computers, motorbike ‘cessories, an’ surfin’ stuff. Next week gonna be diesel engines, water beds, an’ who knows what all. I tell ‘ya, Mac, only way to make a livin’ anymore is sellin’ stuff!”

”Well, here’s to the great marketplace, Clem, may it never darken the doors of our hangars!”

The two men clinked their tumblers of whiskey and rye as Tom Petty came over the jukebox and the men sang along, “One foot in the grave, one foot on the pedal, I was born a rebel!”

“Clem, ya say they got a surfin’ show runnin’ up there?”

“Yeah, m’ daughter told me ‘bout it. She ‘n my son-in-law got themselves a surf shop. She’s mindin’ the store with my grandson cuz Tommy’s over there buyin’ stuff. An’ he’s got hisself a booth, too. He’s tryin’ to drum up a bizzness sellin’, hell, I think he’s sellin’ surf trunks made outta plastic or sumtin’. ”

“Hey Clem,” drawled Mac Owens as the whiskey was starting to soak in,

“Let’s take a ride. I haven’t seen yer daughter since she was this high, an’ I better take a look at yer grandson. Make sure he ain’t takin’ after you!”

“Sure, Mac, why not? The little guy’s gonna be a pilot sumday, I tell ya,” said Charleton, “Here’s to the future o’ aviation!”

Glasses were drained and re-filled.

“But mebbe first we should stop by an’ say hello to Tommy while we’re at it,” said Owens, “I gotta hunch ‘bout sumtin’.”

“Nah, parkin’ round there’s a nightmare. We’ll jes wait ‘till Tommy comes home. ‘sides, why the hell would we wanna go to sum goddam trade show?”

“’Cause there might be a guy there who wants to buy a PBY. An’ he can meet yer price!”

“Well, in that case, what are we waitin’ fer? Let’s git on it!”

They knocked back the rest of their drinks, tossed twenties on the counter, and told the bartender to keep the change on their way out. The veteran seaplane pilots had their engines revved, their flight plan agreed upon, and they weren’t about to wait for clearance to take off.

The run up A1A brought back a lot of old times for two ol’ boys in a vintage black Charger. But memory lane ended at the Orlando off ramp, with Disney World, Magic Mountain, Sea World and dozens of restaurants and hotels in every direction. It would have been a bit of a shock except for the 110 proof fueling their impromptu adventure. They were oblivious on their own terms and loving every minute of it. Finally they saw the huge convention center buildings in the distance and Clem Charleton pulled out his cell phone.

“Tommy, Clem here! Y’all never guess where I’m callin’ from. I’ll give ya one hint. Jes which of those hangars you in?” he asked, looking out across the thousands of cars at two huge buildings the size of a dozen football fields.

“What the hell ya doin’ here, Clem? Come alla way up ta visit yer grandson? Dana an’ the baby are at the shop.”

“I know, an’ that’s where we’re goin’. But I got an’ ol’ buddy a’ mine sittin’ here, an’ he wanted to stop by first cuz he says he knows sum honcho who might be here. Guy’s lookin’ to buy a PBY!”

“Well, first we gotta gitcha in here, Clem. Look fer the signs that say west pavilion, concourse one, an’ park close as ya can. Then head fer the main gate.”

“We gonna need passes ta get in or sumptin?”

“Damn right. I’ll have ‘em ready fer ya at will call.”

“Ok, boy, where we gonna find ya in there?”

“Ask ‘em fer a map. I’m way out in the low rent district!” he laughed.

“All right, Tommy, here we come. Over an’ out.”

Charleton clicked off the phone as he wheeled into the main parking lot keeping the Dodge power plant at a rumbling idle.

“Ok, Mr. co-pilot, we’re looking for a tie down somewhere close to that big hangar to port. Say, Mac, this runway don’ have any landin’ gear skid marks on it – we must be the first blackcat to ever set down here!”

“Yup, well, why doncha jes fix that right now!”

Clem Charleton slammed the Hurst into first and floored it. He peeled rubber for fifty yards, and you could hear the rebel yells over the roar of the four twenty seven.


Roberto Mercante had stationed a Wavelife employee outside the pavilion’s main entrance to call him the instant Sonny-boy Noaloa, Heath Larson and Bruddah arrived. When he got the call, Mercante signaled his trade show manager to get ready to start up one of Wavelife’s famous show-stoppers announcing Noaloa’s arrival. Then he made his way quickly to the front entrance to get his surf star ready. But when he saw the three men waiting just outside the entrance, he suddenly had big problems. Sonny-boy Noaloa was on crutches and people were starting to recognize him and Larson. Mercante saw some space behind the palm trees and plywood facade that had been set up as a portal to the show.

“C’mere, guys.”

A second later, the four men were effectively hidden from public view as Mercante tried to hatch a plan.

“Jeez, Sonny, I didn’t know your knee was that bad. That kinda messes things up.”

“Roberto, this whole place is messed up,” said Heath Larson.

“Yeah, Heath, I know what you think,” said Mercante with no patience in his voice, “But it pays the bills, including yours. Next time we’re surfing fifty footers, I’ll listen to you. Right now, you and Bruddah kill some time and then come over to our place. Sonny, here’s the deal.”

He flipped out his cell phone and hit a pre-set. “Johnny, hold off the parade until I call you back.” He listened for a second.

“Oh, shit.”

He glanced through the plate glass doors and saw a phalanx of gorgeous women in high heels and bikinis marching down the main concourse towards the entrance. Two were holding a banner that read, “When It Counts!” Six more carried surfboards, and the rest had their arms full of goodie bags. Mercante had to think fast.

“Ok, Sonny-boy, lose the crutches and just take a few steps towards the door, ok?”

“Roberto, I do a lotta walkin’ it gonna hurt like hell!”

“Then it will hurt like hell, Sonny-boy. There’s a lot of money riding on this,” said Mercante, turning to Larson and Bruddah, “See you guys inside. Wait for me in my tent around the back.”

The arena PA came alive.

“Now arriving at the main gate, this year’s Pipeline Champion, Sonnyboy Noaloa. The two time world champion will be signing autographs over at Wavelife.”

Mercante knew Sonny-boy’s entrance needed to have as much impact as his first wave at Pipe, and it did. When the women got to the door, Mercante spoke quickly in Portuguese. The two strongest, volleyball players from Brazil, immediately lifted Wavelife’s top surf star to their shoulders. A second later, a booming rap bass came out of the arena sound system. A samba beat dropped in on top of it. Buyers from Midwest chain stores stopped fingering tshirts made in Malaysia. Strippers grinding for the sunglass companies were ignored. The beat got louder as business stopped in its tracks throughout the arena. Even the noise from the skate ramps was drowned out.

A crowd began to gather and exhibitors along the trade show city’s Main Street gritted their teeth. The surfboards were held high and surrounded Sonny like spears. They were molded plastic made in Romania and looked exactly like the one Sonny had ridden at Pipe. Each had a large number attached. Then the trombones picked up a groove over the rhythm tracks on the P.A. and Wavelife’s chairman became the Music Man leading the big parade.

“Win a board just like Sonny’s! Find the ticket and win the board!” shouted Mercante, throwing raffle tickets high in the air.

Quickly a ringer picked one up off the floor and handed it to Mercante.

“We have a winner!”

Mercante gave the daughter of a Wavelife manager one of the boards, and she marched off with a big smile on her face and out the front entrance, as instructed. People started to scramble around on the floor grabbing the raffle tickets. Teenagers began running towards the main concourse. The schwag bags were tossed to the crowd like loaves of bread to a starving mob. Things would have been out of control in just a few more seconds except that Mercante was a seasoned pro at this stuff. Security was right on time and six thick men and women in Wavelife tanktops stretched yellow “Do Not Cross” tape around a moving perimeter to protect what was, for the moment, the core of Wavelife’s marketing machine as it paraded through the heart of the trade show.

At the red carpet entrance to the Wavelife sales center, Noaloa’s bearers turned so he could face the cheering throng as the last of the surfboards was given away. Mercante liked the “Caesar entering Rome” imagery, though for Sonny-boy Noaloa it felt more like a shot of whiskey to a dried-out desert prospector. He was on top of the world smiling in the sunlight of stardom - until the v-ball betties lowered him to the floor. A shot of pain went from his knee to his brain, but Roberto Mercante was right there to hold him up until an assistant slid a chair under the former world champ . Mercante hit a preset on his cell phone, barked an order, and a second later, the horns-rap-samba music cut off and the P.A. announcer read his script.

“Sonny-boy Noaloa is signing autographs right now at the Wavelife center – don’t miss your chance to see this year’s Pipeline Champion! He’s at Wavelife right now! Get your poster of Sonny in the barrel at Pipe – right where he’ll always be when it counts!”

As the slogan echoed throughout the arena, the banner was stretched behind Noaloa by two smiling models falling out of their bikinis. The music cranked up again, though now through the mega-amp sound system built into the Wavelife installation. Two Wavelife models positioned a table in front of Sonny-boy. Two more brought boxes of Pipeline posters and souvenir pens.

The security detail used more yellow tape to herd the crowd into line. Within minutes Noaloa’s scribbled name was practically illegible, but penmanship was hardly an issue at this point because there were fans lined up around the block. Mercante waited a while until the end of the line was finally in sight, and Noaloa’s hand was a massive cramp, before he made his next move. With a showman’s instinct to always leave ‘em asking for more, he picked up the stack of posters and began to give them out to the people in line.

“Come back tomorrow and Sonny will sign ‘em for you! Thanks for coming! And don’t miss our fashion show at five!”


“Well, finally! Yer out in the boonies, aintcha, Tommy!” said Clem Charleton as they walked up to a bare-bones booth next to a nose-ring wholesaler and across the aisle from the latest skater shoe company.

“Hi Clem, hi Mr. Owens, how y’all doin’?”

“Jes fine, son. How’s business? Anybody stoppin by?”

“Nah, Wavelife jes’ did sum big shebang when Sonny-boy Noaloa showed up. I’ll be lucky to see anyone down here fer the rest o’ the day.”

“So Tommy, where’d ya git the idea fer these trunks?” asked Mac Owens, fingering a sample on the display table.

“Long time back an outfit called Patagonia did a line of clothes made from the same stuff. But no one ever followed their lead, so I figgered I saw me a niche.”

“Helluva good idea! Keep all dat plastic outta the landfills! I bet yer gonna do real well, young man!” said Clem Charleton.

“Well so far I’m gittin’ nowhere. All the big industry players got contracts signed to kingdom come with offshore cotton mills an’ garment ‘semblers jes this side o’ sweat shops. An’ I can’t sell ‘em to the surf shops o’ the chain buyers neither. They never take a chance on anythin’ new.”

“Well, mebbe I kin talk to someone over at Wavelife,” said Owens, “Say, Tommy, tell me, ya ever heard of a guy named Roberto Mercante?”

“Hell yes. Guy’s an asshole fer as I’m concerned. Why ya askin’?”

“I met ‘im cupla months ago an’ we’re gonna be flyin’ him ‘round Tahiti later this year. Said he’s interested in a PBY.”

“Hell, with the kinda money he makes, he kin afford it!”

“Well, let’s go see what he’s up to. We’ll be back in a little while,” said Clem Charleton.

His son-in-law watched the two men walk away down the empty aisle.

There wasn’t a buyer in sight, so he settled back in a folding metal chair and wondered what it would be like to own a seaplane. He closed his eyes for a second and rubbed the weariness out of them. He thought of his wife and baby boy and realized he still had hours to go before closing. He looked at his samples, and then looked up to see a buyer walking down the aisle. He jumped to his feet like a surfer who wasn’t going to let a wave go by.

“Hi, I’m Tommy Pratte, an’ kin I show you something new an’ important for the future of surfin’ an’ our environment?”

Roberto Mercante did a quick walkthrough of the sales center on the way to his “office”. He made sure the “When It Counts!” graphics were everywhere. He checked the point-of-purchase displays of all the shoes, shirts, jackets, hats, watches, wetsuits, backpacks, cellphones, bikinis, surf shorts, and three dozen other products branded by Wavelife International. Marketing had signed off on the entire installation before it was shipped from the setup warehouse, but business was brisk, and he had to keep checking on everything since as soon as Surf Expo ended, he’d be doing it all over again in Vegas for CIGAM and then on to New York for the spring runway shows . He felt like a rock tour manager, complete with backstage problems.

Heath Larson and Bruddah were sitting with Sonny-boy Noaloa after two models had carried him on their shoulders around the outside of the Wavelife sales center to the enclosed pop-up. The tent flap opened and Mercante stepped in like a man who’d just been through a hurricane and now had to deal with a mudslide.

“Ok, Sonny-boy, What’s the deal with your knee?”

“Da guy on Maui say I have to stay off it much as possible. Heath got me take alla dis homeo stuff fo’ help to heal, but - - -“

“What about the jet ski training? What happened to that?”

“We got him one da kine brace, get lotta driving practice,” said Bruddah.

“But marching in parades was not something we’d anticipated,” said Larson with a distinct edge to his voice. But Sonny-boy didn’t mind the parade so much as what he had to do when it was over.

“Hey, mahalo fo’ da parade an’ stuffs, but next time, no make sign so many postah, ok Roberto?”

“What else can you do with a bum knee? And now I’ve got to figure out what we are going to do with you for the rest of the show.”

It was obvious to the receptionist at the Wavelife sales center that the two flyers, in their leather jackets and smelling faintly of good whiskey, were not buyers with appointments. But they weren’t going to take no for an answer.

“Lissen, honey, I jes know Mr. Mercante wants ta see us eeemeedeeatly,” drawled Mac Owens.

“But sir, your names are not on the list. And I’m sure he’s very busy.”

“Well, kin ya do us a favor, dear, if ya please? Kin ya page ‘im? An’ jes tell ‘im the flight engineer from the Skyhook is out front. An’ thankee very much fer yer trouble, ma’am.”

While the receptionist dialed a number, Clem Charleton got a bit antsy.

“Mac, ya sure ‘bout this? Tommy didn’t think too highly of this guy.”

“Well, Clem, les jes see what happens next,” grinned Mac Owens, “I think y’all jes might be pleasantly surprised.”

“What he gonna do da rest of da show? He gonna do nutin, brah, cuz he need stay offa da knee,” said a glowering Bruddah.

“Yeah, Roberto, we’re here because Cheryl needs us to meet your new backers. Then you tell us to stop by here on the way,” said an equally unhappy Heath Larson, “but you never said we’d have to deal with a bunch of trade show bullshit!”

”Yeah, I know, but hell, that parade was something, wasn’t it? C’mon, guys, gimme a break!”

His cell phone beeped.

“Mr. Mercante, two men are here and said you’d want to talk to them, but their names aren’t on the list.”

“Well, then don’t let them in.”

“I know, but one said to tell you he was the flight engineer on the Skyhook . Should I - - - “

“I’ll be right there! Sonny, stay off the knee. Heath, Bruddah, I’ll be right back. There’s someone you guys should meet.”

Mercante exited the tent and walked through the sales area where a buyer was starting to make a stink and getting loud about it.

“You never made me put 50% down before! This is bullshit! I don’t need to be treated this way! I’ve got a fat open-to-buy budget, and - - -”

Mercante recognized the guy as the owner of a chain of surf shops in Texas. He knew there wasn’t any money in servicing those small accounts, but he didn’t need any more headaches.

“Bob, good to see you again! Is there a problem? Julie, be sure to give Bob his usual terms . Good to see you, bro!” Mercante nodded to the Wavelife rep, who immediately re -engaged her customer.

“Two ten e.o.m. - does that work for you, Bob? And no interest for ninety days, ok? Now, can I show you our new thongs?” She called over to where a group of models waited salaciously. “Maria! Tawny! Why don’t you change into the Rio line! I’m sure you’ll like what you see, Bob.”

“Now that’s more like it,” said the Texan.

“Mac Owens! What are you doing here? I thought you were working on the Skyhook !”

“Well, Roberto, that’s what I’m doin’ in a roundabout way. In fact, Clem here helped me with the hoists we’re gonna need to get yer jet skis under the wings. Lemme introduce ya, an’ by the way, he’s got a PBY fer sale.”

“Well, that’s, that’s, that’s great, Mac!”

It took Mercante a few seconds for everything to register. But since gladhanding was a core competency at trade shows, Mercante’s auto pilot was functioning as he extended his hand to Clem Charleton.

“Hi, I’m Roberto Mercante, pleased to meet you, and thanks for helpin’ out on our project. And you’ve got a PBY you want to sell?”

“Yeah, well mebbe,” said Charleton, sizing up the Brazilian millionaire as if was the last guy in the world to whom he would sell his beloved Catalina, “I don’t know if I want to sell her right now.”

“Well, let’s go in and talk about it. Is she a 5A or a 6A or is she a SuperCat? Does she have the 1830-92 engines? How many hours you got on ‘em? What’s her fuel consumption fully loaded? Oh, and that reminds me, Mac! I want you to meet the boys who’ll be surfing the reef!”


Thursday, January 04, 2007

Waves of Warning 14


[ Viewable in PDF format at: Blizzards.pdf ]

The line of cars stretched unbroken and unmoving down 7th Avenue. Cheryl Corlund sensed something wrong and looked up from her briefing
book. Across from her in the limo was June Wilson, leafing through Wavelife’s latest internal financials, completely immersed in data and unaware
of time or space. Corlund glanced at her watch and at the traffic ahead of them. At this rate they would be late, and she did not want to start her pitch by
apologizing for anything, even if it was a blizzard.

She looked out the window and saw the snowfall abating somewhat. That did it. She looked at her shoes, and then at Wilson’s.

“June, June! Give me your shoes.”

The analyst looked up and it took her a second to process what she’d heard.

“You aren’t going to - - -“

“Just give me your shoes.”

She took off her Guccis and put on Wilson’s fur-lined snow boots. She pulled a snow hood up out of her parka and cinched it down around her head.
The limo inched forward, but Corlund’s mind was made up in more ways than one. She was ready to deal with New York on its own terms, a state of mind
that gave rise to the thought of pulling the plug on the Wavelife surf team.

“And use the extra time to run through a valuation if we decreased marketing’s surf team budget by ninety percent,” she paused and opened the
door, “And make it across the board: salaries, travel, contests, everything.” The driver looked in his mirror and couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
He jumped out and came around the back of the limo but there was nothing he could do except get out of her way.

Wavelife’s CEO walked down the middle of the street between the line of cars until she got her bearings. She was in the heart of the garment district, and
she knew all the shortcuts. She cut between two taxies and ducked into a doorway to enter the huge open assembly floor of a big women’s wear label.
She walked briskly through the aisles of Puerto Rican women concentrating at their industrial sewing machines. She avoided the glassed-in offices inhabited
by old garmentos yelling at each other in their usual conversational tone. She dodged open bins filled with assembled garments and made a mental note to
call Wavelife’s design team. It looked like preppy was coming back. At the far end of the floor she pushed through two scarred and battered double doors into
the cold of the loading dock. She walked down the concrete steps just as a truck backed in.

“Hold it Mack! Hey, lady, what the hell youse doin’?”

Corlund was not about to stop for any chitchat with the warehouse crew.
The shortcut had saved her two blocks and she didn’t have a minute to lose.
She glanced at her watch and smiled. She lowered her shoulder and headed
into the storm, becoming more invigorated with every step. She didn’t mind
dealing with a blizzard in New York. She could have cared less that she wasn’t
safe in first class at thirty thousand feet or poolside dozing in the warm winter
sun in Newport Beach. She was exactly where she wanted to be, and a brisk
walk through the garment district in a blinding snow storm was a good time to
remind herself of the facts of life on her way to Wall Street.

There was no more room to grow in the surf industry because the action
sports apparel business is notoriously volatile in the young male segment.
Our early investors made money thanks to creativity, innovation, and
offering customers new choices. We hit a peak in the department stores, and
did it again with the big box retailers.

But now creativity and innovation don’t mean a thing. Bargain hunters
have put us in the off-price outlets. Our shareholders made a lot of money for
a long time. They bought in low and sold out high, and while we were climbing
all the time, it was easy to find new investors.

But now our return on capital is turning negative, and that’s the only
thing of consequence to the analysts. Our sales numbers are up, and we’re the
undisputed leader of the surf industry. But margins are down, revenue growth
has stalled, and that’s the only thing that matters on the Street.

Being on top means nothing in a world where greed is everything. No
matter how well we’ve done, they always wanted more, and when they didn’t
get it, our stock went south.

So I have to change everything. I have to start over. And I’m going to do it
on my terms, not theirs.

Corlund turned a corner and saw her destination through the heavy
snowfall where she would tell a panoramic story of her plans to use Wavelife’s
current plateau as a launchpad for herself and a few backers.

* * *

“Cheryl! Come in, come in! I’m happy to see you! Isn’t this weather the
worst! When I didn’t hear from you I thought something must have happened!”
Ben Jeffries was a people person because it was good for business. The
people who made money with him didn’t know, and probably wouldn’t have
cared, his heart was alone and aloof and his being the gregarious sort was just
a cunning and shrewd strategy.

“Why would I call? We said ten o’clock, and here I am.”

She extended her hand to Jeffries. Her manners were impeccable, as she
knew they had to be.

Sit down, sit down! I’m afraid the gang will be a little late, what with this
storm and all.”

“Well Ben, if a California girl can make it through a blizzard, I guess you
New Yorkers are getting soft!”

His smile let her know he appreciated her moxie.

“Can I get you anything, Cheryl? Coffee, tea, a shot of brandy?”

“Yes, thank you, Ben. Coffee, black with a shot of Courvoisier. Oh, and
while you’re up, will you also get me nine-hundred and seventy-two million

Jeffries looked her straight in the eye, his eyebrows lifting slightly.
“Well, nothing like a woman who knows exactly she wants!”

They both laughed. It was a good beginning.

* * *

It was past noon when Cheryl Corlund pushed her chair back from the
conference table. The men around the table moved their chairs to stand as she
rose. The meeting had gone well so far, and Corlund was confident she could
leave the room for a few minutes.

“No, please, gentlemen, be seated. I’ll be right back.”

As soon as the door closed the best-dressed man at the table got straight to
the point.

“Ben, I think we can do a bit of business here, don’t you?” said John
Vutara, leaning back in his chair and taking the reading glasses from his nose.
“Should be a piece of cake!” said Jeffries, looking at Peter Lasserman
who’d seen enough executive summaries to know this deal was within spec, so
far. It wasn’t big money, but things were a bit slow on the Street and with
Jeffries leading the charge, the downside for his company would be minimal.

“Concur,” said Lasserman, who then looked at the man sitting next to
him. But Bruce Kaufman was engrossed in a legal pad that Lasserman could
see was full of abbreviations and figures.

“Don’t you have a staff for that stuff, Bruce?”

Kaufman looked up and stared at Lasserman. “Well, I don’t like to waste
their time if things don’t add up for me. And since it is my name on the door, I
don’t have the luxury of double-talking my investors.”

Ben Jeffries quickly moved in to de-fuse the friction. “Well, I think we’ll
all do just fine here, don’t you, Bruce? Say, its lunchtime! Oh, and I hope you
guys like swordfish. Can’t get it in the restaurants anymore but I flew some in
from the West Coast. Let me call my chef and see if it’s ready.”

Cheryl Corlund walked with authority down the richly carpeted hallway.
She opened a side door into a room looking like someone had left a window
open and the blizzard had blown in. But there were no windows. It was a
blizzard of paper and data that covered the table and all four walls.

The room was filled with a dozen men and women along with sheaves of
documents, spreadsheet print-outs and laptops. June Wilson was carefully
guiding three men through Wavelife’s cost centers displayed behind her on a
huge white board covered with product icons and sales figures. A small group
was seated at one end of the table watching a powerpoint. Others were deep
into spreadsheets printed on fanfold printouts hanging from the walls. One guy
was standing in the corner waiting to feed a document into the fax machine
after it was done spewing out a stack of faxes.

Wilson saw Corlund come in and excused herself from the presentation to
the lead analysts representing Jeffries, Lasserman and Vutara. All the other
people in the room worked for them.

“Jeffries’ people seem pretty excited, though Lasserman’s wish there was
more money in it just to make things interesting.”

“Well, we’re not here to entertain them with a ‘Barbarians at the Gate’
circus. How about Vutara’s crew?”

“Steady as she goes, though they do count their pennies.”
Corlund saw the guy at the fax machine.

“I told you nothing was to leave your sight!”

June Wilson was a pro. She reacted as if Corlund’s comment had been a
snake crossing her path. She didn’t hesitate to pin its head to the ground with a
spiked heel.

“Here are the non-disclosures. That guy is faxing an order for some
Chinese takeout. I’ve got everything under control, and why aren’t Kaufman’s
people here?”

“The money isn’t big enough, so he’ll be running the numbers himself,”
admitted Corlund sheepishly while remembering that Kaufman had not signed
a non-disclosure, “I’d better get back to Ben’s office.”

“Yeah, good idea, Cheryl, and don’t forget their non-disclosures . And
wiping out surf marketing increases our return on capital by point-eight-zero -
three per share,” said Wilson with a look that almost had Corlund cowering.

“Uh, that’s great.”

“That’s better than great, Madam CEO, as I’m sure you are well aware .
Anything else you want to know Miss Big Shot?”

“Touche!” she laughed, “How much longer do you need?”

“After lunch, about another two hours should do it. Oh, and I want my
boots back. These stupid Guccis are killing me!”

Cheryl Corlund smiled as she closed the door on the boiler room and
headed back to the eagle’s aerie.

* * *

The light through the floor-to-ceiling windows was fading early thanks to
the storm blowing hard outside. It was pushing four o’clock, but Cheryl
Corlund’s clothes were still pin perfect. As for her pitch, it had been equally
expensive and decisive thanks to a mind that had only become sharper as the
meeting wore on.

“And you are certain your board will pose no difficulties?” asked John
Vutara, thinking about the optics of the deal.

“Since today’s exploratory talks have gone well, I strongly anticipate
getting the directors to act, and quickly.”

“Well, as you know, board cohesiveness and unanimous approval are
essential in these situations. We can’t afford any delays, or else - - - “

Vutara left the implications hanging in the air. Peter Lasserman flew them
home. “With the company in play, who knows who else will try to match our
bid. And we don’t want that, now do we?”

“Gentlemen, the directors recognize their fiduciary responsibilities to the
shareholders. This buyout is very much to that end. We will execute it quickly
and quietly.”

“That’s good enough for me. How about you, John?” Lasserman looked at
Vutara . He was taking the wire-frame glasses off his nose and putting them
carefully away in his breast pocket.

“Yes, there is nothing amiss here.”

They both looked at Cheryl Corlund, and with a slight nod of their heads
they confirmed their readiness to back her plan. All three then looked at Ben
Jeffries, but he was looking at Bruce Kaufman and didn’t like what he saw.
Kaufman was examining a painting on the wall, obviously ignoring the
exchange between Corlund and the investment bankers. Too obviously.

“Say Ben, I didn’t know you collected Pollock. A bit abstract for a guy
like you, no?”

Jeffries instantly got the message from Kaufman. He was out, and this had
all been a waste of his time.

“Well, it’s tripled since I bought it, and I’m never one to pass up a good
investment,” he said. The implication was clear, but Kaufman didn’t bite, and
that was that.

“Cheryl,” said Jeffries, turning away from Kaufman and beaming a fresh
smile across the table, “Barring any surprises from down the hall, and I’m sure
there won’t be any, you can count on us.”

“Thank you. And thank you for your time gentlemen. I know you all have
bigger fish to fry - - -“

“Or bigger waves to ride!” chuckled John Vutara.

“Or bigger waves to ride,” said Corlund. She knew any sign of wavering
or contingency plans would hurt her cause. She touched the nail in her pocket
and concluded with one last pitch.

“Gentlemen, thanks to your support, the Wavelife LBO plan will stand the
test of time and deliver substantial returns on your investment.”

“Cheryl, I think we all agree with you,” said Ben Jeffries.

Speak for yourself, Jeffries, Kaufman smirked to himself, Once these old
guys get a hint of their sexuality revitalized, they’re goners.

“Well, I’ll give you a call if I need to see all the data for myself someday,”
he said, “and but for your excellent hospitality, Ben, I might have been more
comfortable with the bean-counters down the hall. It has been a pleasure,
Cheryl, and we’ll be in touch.”

He stood up quickly, surprising Corlund and the men at the table.

Kaufman reached over to shake hands with Vutara, Lasserman and Jeffries, all
sitting within arm’s reach. But Corlund was at the far end of the table. For a
moment he hesitated, waiting for her to stand up and walk around the table to
extend her hand as is customary for a lady to do to a gentleman. She stood up,
but that’s as far as she would go. The slight was not lost on Bruce Kaufman,
though of course he didn’t let it show.

“Thanks for your time, Bruce,” she said, “I look forward to providing you
with more information as necessary.”

They both knew that was bullshit, but they both smiled anyway. Kaufman
turned and walked towards the double oak doors. Jeffries quickly stood up and
hastened to open one of them.

“Thanks for a great lunch, Ben.”

“Thanks for coming, Bruce.”

Jeffries gave him an old boy slap on the back. Kaufman returned the
gesture with a thin smile and a nod. Jeffries watched him walk down the hall
and the smile disappeared from his face. He let the door close slowly before
turning around and back into his usual beaming self.

“Say, guys, ready for a martini? How about you, Cheryl? You did very
well this afternoon.”

“Thanks Ben, but I’ve got to get going,” said Corlund with a wink, now
that she could let her guard down, “I just hope it was as good for you as it was
for me. I’ll give you a call tomorrow!”

“That’s what they all say!”

Everyone laughed loudly, and the cordial goodbyes from the three
gentlemen to Cheryl Corlund left a glow in the room that was the essence of a
good deal in the offing.