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PAWN SHOPS AND BLACKJACK TABLES




The below crazy story is one of 4 interludes placed among the 40 lessons in my upcoming book, When Not If: A CEO's Guide to Overcoming Adversity, Forbes Books, January 16, 2024.  This one, like running TO prison instead of FROM prison, are just stories that needed to be told.

 

The nuclear fallout of the closure of MICG swarmed around me. Beleaguered as I was, I took stock of my situation. Money was quickly flowing out the door. I don’t care how much money you have. When you spend $55,000 in monthly bills going out, and your income drops to zero overnight, that loud sucking sound you hear is your money market account being depleted. Guilt stopped me from cutting up the ex’s Platinum American Express, and her justifiable anger at me was expressed in a purchasing extravagance worthy of any American Idol winner.

 

Barred as I was from the profession I knew best, I threw my energy into consulting engagements designed to grow sales and revenues for the companies of three friends. And though my friends were more than satisfied with the results my work generated, I was not successful in winning business from people that didn’t already know me. I call it The Google Factor. Just typing “Martinovich” into a search bar instantly created page after page of make sure you run from this guy as fast as possible!

 

Meanwhile I had a family to support. That I managed to do, just barely. But my income simply could not match the outflow to attorneys, forensic accountants, expert witnesses, storage facilities, and other costs my defense team required.

 

I took some comfort from being on the long tail end of commission checks flowing predictably from Fidelity, Oppenheimer, John Hancock, and a long list of previous investments partners. I wondered how long these would last. As expected, the checks slowed to a trickle until one day the mailbox was empty.

 

I racked my brain to find a short-term solution for income. I felt if I could survive just long enough, I could fix this debacle, rebuild, restore, and write a successful final chapter to this nightmare story. I would not allow myself to think how unlikely this successful final chapter was.

 

Then as I walked back from the mailbox one day, disappointed there were no window envelopes containing a much-needed commission check, I saw a mailer from the Bellagio Las Vegas Resort. In better days, I organized annual golf trips to Vegas for my close circle of Air Force friends. As a result, the mailer reminded me I had earned a substantial Bellagio VIP account. These credits covered the cost of rooms, food, and even entertainment. Moreover, the mailer reminded me I had a $20,000 credit line awaiting one last chance to allow me to survive just a little longer. All I had to do was arrange the flight and the rest of the expenses were complimentary.

 

Desperation leads to desperate thinking. A plan started forming in my mind. All I needed was one lucky break. I sat in my small kitchen and considered whether gambling really was the answer to my misfortune. I asked God if my plan was more insane than everything else I had tried. The money was gone. The credit cards maxed out. The stack of bills was getting ever higher. New lawsuits arrived daily. I didn’t have any better idea. All I had to do was to get to Vegas and try my luck.

 

There was only one problem. I didn’t have money for the airfare. Then I looked at my wrist and the one remaining artifact I had from my fat cat days. It was my last asset, a Cartier Roadster watch. So, I googled “Pawn Shops” and made my way to the closest, Nathan’s Lynnhaven Pawn Shop. I introduced myself and tried not to look desperate. Moments later I was out the door, my left wrist bare, but with $4,000 in my pocket. My first purchase was a one-way flight to Las Vegas.

 

I knew this plan represented a one-time last shot the universe was offering me. I booked three days to allow me to implement a cautious, by-the-book blackjack strategy. I promised myself I wouldn’t drink any Glenlivet until I finished playing for the day. This may have been the most difficult part for me since I had set brand-new records for day drinking since my ordeal began.

 

At the Bellagio Las Vegas Resort, I pulled down $20,000 off my credit line, and with my blackjack rules card tucked in my coat pocket, I sat down at a table and made my first wager.

 

Day one was up a little, day two was down a little, and my brilliant idea seemed to be little more than holding off the inevitable. The third day was no better. At least I was even for my efforts. Then, the third, and last, evening was upon me. My luck turned and I started to win. I increased my bets as the forward progress continued. My heart pounded with fear the fates would turn on me and take it all away. Still, the stack of colored chips in front of me kept growing. Some people noticed and a small crowd joined in the fun. The pit bosses kept their eyes on the table and awaited my likely, eventual downfall. But the stacks in front of me kept growing.

 

I was practicing my math skills to track the cards and counts. I prayed I would know when enough is enough and I could get up and walk away. An hour later, I estimated that the stacks of colored chips in front of me represented $60,000. For once in my life, I had the discipline to say “Stop!” Enough is enough. I wished my new friends at the table future success, tipped the dealer well, and colored up my chips. I had the presence to not pay off my credit line for the moment, as I knew I needed every cent of my replenished war chest for what lay ahead of me.

 

I walked down the long Bellagio hallway to the Petrossian piano bar by the entrance. I added to the glass tip jar on the piano and requested some Frank Sinatra and a martini. I sat at my table overlooking the flow of gamblers, few of whom would be as lucky as me on this day.

 

I raised my eyes and said, “Okay, for some reason, You just won’t let this end. There has to be a reason why You won’t let me die.” It was my first experience with the power of the grand design. Over and over for the next decade, through the pain, I would experience incredible breaks, rewards, and good fortune which, inexplicably, enabled me to keep going one more day or to find motivation to believe, eventually, everything was going to be okay. But, for this moment, I simply enjoyed an amazing martini and, knowing I had a few more months of runway for my defense, watched the eclectic world flow by.

 

Have a great week!

 

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