A long, long time ago, when cars had eight cylinders and gas cost 19 cents a gallon, Joseph Thomas -- a director of the Getty Oil co. -- told his young son Michael a prophetic tale:
"We are really going to be in the soup if the Arabs learn to read English and find out how much we're making off what they're giving us."
Not that young Michael had to be personally concerned. After all, Dad not only sat on the boards of umptyump giant corporations, but also was a senior partner at Lehman Brothers, one of the nation's bulwark investment firms. You might say the boy learned to enjoy the good life early on -- even if he did spend one summer of his college career driving a cement truck in Oklahoma.
For the sake of brevity, we'll flash forward now about 30 years -- past college, and teaching art history at Yale, and being curator at the Met, and a partner at Lehman Brothers, and Mr. Haywire (the husband of Brooke Hayward) for two years, and an investment adviser in Dallas and God knows what else -- and we'll find Michael Thomas, aged 41, sitting in the last row of the coach smoking section of a Pan Am 747 flying from New York to London.
("I'm safe enough in my ego," he reflects, "that I didn't and don't need to have 16 Concorde tags all over my luggage or stay at Claridge's.")
At that very moment we would have been able to observe firsthand the genesis of a BIG IDEA wadding up in Michael Thomas' slightly slogged brain: He's reading Paul Erdman's "Crash of '79," not quite believing that Erdman has milked a best seller out of what used to be called current events, and Michael Thomas has a vision.
You have to understand that he is a little upset right now -- better call it righteously jealous. His ex-wife Brooke had just hit it big writing a book, His ex-girlfriend's ex-boyfriend was a hotshot newspaper reporter. And he thought: Here I am, rich, big-deal investment banker, and nobody's jealous of me. But, face it, I'm certianly jealous of all these people who are getting attention as writers.
So he has this idea for a book -- "noithing anybody couldn't have thought of who's followed what we call the business press for the last 20 years," he says -- about a crafty, suave, shrewd American wheeler dealer who convinces an Arab to invest heavily in the stock market and then drive up prices by announcing a huge reduction in crude oil prices.
"Maybe it seems a bit preposterous," says Thomas, "but these things do tend to be relative. If you had said 10 years ago that the Japanese would be dominating the car market today, people would have acted like Casey Stengel and said, 'No way. The Japanese? They have such little hands. They can't build cars.'"
Getting back to preposterous, Wyndham Books didn't think the idea was and forked out $100,000 in advance money to Michael Thomas, unpublished author. Last month the company published his "Green Monday" -- the day the Dow Jones doubled after the Arabs announced the oil price cut -- and it is getting the same sort of attention Erdman's book received, including a rave review in Business Week.
It is not the stuff that great literature is make of, although one can easily imagine many copies scattered about Wall Street and the beaches of America this summer.
"For whatever sick reason I really wanted to write, and obviously the way to do that is to write something incredibly commercial. Besides, novel writing is the only form of social commentary a decent man has left."
Many advance-readers of "Green Monday" found protagonist David Harrison a bit chauvinistic, ever ready to take advantage of the woman he meets. Still, when there are millions to be poured into the stock market, his eye is invaribly on the ticker tape.
"People keep asking me," says Thomas, "'Is Harrison you? Given the choice between the market and women, I would always have gotten [the woman]. c
"What I tried to do in this book is write about things with confidence. Judith Krantz writes about wine like she's reading information off a brochure from a liquor store."
Indeed, there are many references to Stag's Leap Cabernet and 1964 Haut Brion and Pol Roger (Winston Churchill's favorite champagne), not to mention scenes at 21 and the Bohemian Grove and enough roman a clef characters to keep sun worshippers amused:
"The President was a Cajun pig farmer from the canal country who'd sold the United States a simplistic agrarian vision, which the war weary nation had bought without kicking the tires."
And now, Michael Thomas is waiting -- waiting for the upcoming paperback auction of his book and the movie sale by a high-powered Hollywood agency. Big money, you might say. Not that much, really, to a rich boy, but he's made this from being a writer.
But don't think for one minute that the crazy plot of Michael Thomas' book never got a shot at actualization.
Remember that we're talking about an operator, a guy who handled a lot of money on The Street, as these financial guys call the place. And so before he put his plan down on paper for any mortal to buy at $12.95, Michael Thomas made certain discrete inquiries.
"I tried to get to Yamani," he says, refering to Sheik Ahmed Zake Yamani, the Saudi Arabian oil minister. "But that didn't work. So I wrote the book."