They always tell you when the government is taking over a bankrupt savings and loan institution, but they never tell you who in the government is doing it.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is charged with stepping in when a bank collapses and trying to separate the junk from the bonds.
Unfortunately, there are so many S&Ls going under that the FDIC is running out of employees to do this.
During my talk with Worldly in his office, this suddenly became very clear to me. He was handed a fax message that he read aloud: "The Forget-the-Alamo S&L has gone down for the third time, and they're sending us the keys to the men's room by UPS. We have to have our own team in place by tomorrow morning."
"You must be used to that."
"We're out of people to take over banks," he said. "When it comes to surplus staff, we are not the Defense Department."
At that moment there was a tinkling of a bell outside the office. The coffee cart was coming down the hall.
"You want coffee?" Worldly asked.
"Yes," I replied. We both went out into the hallway, where Big Sam was pouring coffee into paper cups for people who were standing in line.
"Wait a minute," Worldly exclaimed. "Something just hit me." He went up to Big Sam and said, "How would you like to run the Alamo S&L in Texas?"
Big Sam answered, "No, thank you. This is a good job and it keeps me moving."
"But you would be handling billions of dollars of debt, and trying to salvage a corrupt system recently run by knaves, curs and scoundrels. Doesn't that appeal to you?"
"There must be something wrong with it if you're offering it to me."
"Big Sam, you are very much part of this agency. We couldn't straighten out our savings and loans problems if we didn't have our coffee breaks. Your decisiveness, particularly when it comes to knowing who gets black and who gets cream, makes you a perfect candidate to run a billion-dollar bank."
Big Sam said, "I don't know how to run an S&L."
Worldly told him, "Neither does anybody else in this country. As a matter of fact, the less you know the easier it is to keep the bank afloat. Believe me when I say that there's nothing to it. You give customers money and then they give you back more -- and the difference between what they borrowed and returned is your profit."
Big Sam asked shrewdly, "If it's that simple why did so many S&Ls crash?"
"I guess the FDIC was just lucky."
"I'd rather stick with selling coffee and bagels. It's a cash business," Big Sam said.
"Pepe, what if I told you that the president of the United States wants you to take over the Alamo S&L?"
"Why does he care?" Big Sam laughed.
Worldly replied, "It's not for him, it's for his son."