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Through the Broker Looking Glass

Glass was first intentionally created about 5,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age, which might easily have been called the Glass Age had those who designate historical epochs considered paying attention to something other than the materials used to manufacture weapons. At any rate, two or three thousand years later, people (the same species that came up with glass) combined glass with tin or mercury or lead to create relatively flat surfaces that reflected light with minimal distortion: mirrors. Later, some rich, drunken Romans made mirrors, similar to the ones broken by rich drunks today, by coating sheets of glass with silver or gold foil.

But it wasn‘t until late last century -- the Advertising Age -- that people began to experiment with mirrored office buildings. The advantages over nonmirrored structures were obvious. Citizens grew to depend on skyscrapers to assist in combing hair, applying makeup, clearing eye barnacles and wiping spinach from between teeth; air-conditioning costs went down a bit; and there was privacy. Office buildings became two-way mirrors from behind which businessmen could mess with the outside world with impunity. Then someone came up with the idea of creating several mirrored buildings in the same business district. Now not only couldn’t we find the businessmen, we could no longer distinguish which were the buildings and which were the reflections of the buildings.

What‘s going on on the other side of the building-shaped two-way mirrors? Last Friday I went on a field trip to downtown L.A., into just such a mirror and into the office of one Butch Meredith, to find out.

A tie seems like a good idea for such a journey. I select a subtly psychedelic one sent to the Weekly as a promotional item, for Jerry Garcia Wear, back in ’98. It goes well with my white skin. And with the black wool Hart, Schaffner & Marx overcoat I bought for two bucks at an uptown Chicago thrift store in ‘86. The idea is to blend in, and this, unfortunately, is as close as I can get. Fuck it. I’m a white man with a Jewish surname wearing a tie and an Italian after-shave. No one will dare notice.

Unless when I show up I find out it‘s ”casual Friday“ -- a term I recall from my part-time Century City filing days -- and I’m the only one wearing a tie for miles. (Fortunately I still have my Jewish surname--Italian after-shave ensemble.)

Butch Meredith and I went to the same college at the same time. And now here we are on opposite sides of the mirror. Meredith‘s an investment executive -- a broker. What does a broker do?

”Brokers like to gamble,“ Meredith says. ”Tend to bet on sports.“ He has two computers in his office. One for work, one for play. The play computer’s monitor displays the current standings in the Masters Tournament. (There‘s an office pool.)

Meredith walks me around the suite, along the rows of glass executive offices and secretarial cubby units. Someone else is wearing a tie. (And after-shave. Looks Jewish or Italian.) ”Different kinds of offices for different levels of brokers,“ Meredith explains. ”The big corner offices with good views are for the top brokers, the ones who make the most money. About half the brokers here are millionaires, some of them many times over.“ The brokers who make the least money (roughly 10 times what you or I make) are given secretarial cubby units. Butch Meredith claims to be a ”medium-level“ investment executive. His modest, 120-square-foot office has windows, but they don’t face anything good. They‘re close to the kitchen, however. Meredith controls $80 million in clients’ assets. That‘s $666,666.66 per square foot.

The phone rings. It’s a client. Meredith‘s quick with the Monroe Trader II -- a low-profile sport utility calculator that allows him to console his clients with important financial information faster than you can say ”Well I’ll be darned“ or ”Son of a gun.“

”Sixteen thousand eight hundred fifty-six dollars and nineteen cents,“ Meredith says and hangs up.

What does Butch Meredith do?

”That‘s pretty much it,“ he says. ”I sit here. I talk to rich people all day. And we invest their money. Wisely.“ I point out that he said ”I sit“ and ”I talk“ but ”We invest.“ Butch Meredith nods.

* * *

High in 2049 Century Park East, a freshly retired Reagan and his portable personal militia used to ride the fast, shiny elevators up to his fast, shiny office, where he’d sit at a big desk and look out over his fast, shiny kingdom, smile, nod and go home. If such imagery makes you cry for either reason, put on a yellow tie with blue dots and come reminisce at the Reagan Information Interchange (www.reagan.com), where you‘ll find gobs of Reagan speech transcripts, portraits, video and audio clips. Except for everyone’s favorite audio blooper, which you can hear at EarthStation1 (www.earthstation1.com HistoryFilesbombing.wav).#