June 1976

“Go, go, go! Hurry!!”

The three boys pedaled their bikes as fast as they could, trying to stifle laughter as they rode. Jimmy was out front with the stolen mail, the others were right behind him.

Mr. Parker had seen the boys conspicuously ride by his house a few times and had a suspicious feeling. He knew Jimmy Phillips could be a little brat sometimes, so he kept an eye on the kids through the living room window. Sure enough, a minute later he watched Jimmy open the mail box and take its contents. His first instinct was to run outside and catch the little troublemakers, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to catch them.

It didn’t matter because Mr. Parker knew Jimmy’s dad. Everyone did.


Out of breath and their legs screaming, the boys pulled their bikes up the alley and behind the large oak tree. They looked at each other with mischievous grins and Jimmy pulled the matches from his pocket.

“Hey, wait,” Scotty said. “I think Mr. Parker saw us.”

“So?” Jimmy didn’t see a problem.

“So, what if he rats us out to your dad?” It was a reasonable thing to worry about. Mr. Parker worked for Mr. Phillips, after all.

Jimmy laughed. “Well, if he does that, then I’ll fire his ass!” He struck the match and lit each piece.


“Rick, it’s Greg…Yeah, I’m good. Look, I just saw Jimmy and his buddies grab my mail and ride off on their bikes with it…I’m not sure, but thought you should know. I’m going to need that back, you know…Okay, thanks Rick. See you tomorrow.”

♦ ♦ ♦


“It’s not about that, Jim.” Her tone of voice was matter of fact, but she was happy they were having this conversation. “The real problem is your entitled attitude! You walk around this place like you own it, like you’re better than everyone else. And frankly, Jim, I don’t like you.”

Entitled? I’ve busted my ass for everything I’ve ever gotten. I didn’t just marry into this like you did! And as a matter of fact, I am going to own this place someday. Watch me!”

“Hate to break it to you, Jim, but that’s not happening. Because you’re fired.”

FIRED?!?! You have no right to fire me! Who do you think you are? But you know what – I don’t need this. You don’t have to fire me because I QUIT! I don’t need you, and I don’t need this company. This place could burn to the ground for all I care.”

Jim stormed out of the office, white-hot with anger. How could she do this to me? He was livid with her. But more than that, he was livid with his dad. How could he let his new wife fire him like that? Whose side was he on here? Well, he knew the answer to that question already.

“I remember going into my dad’s office afterwards, tears down my face, feeling unwanted and unloved, and yes, livid,” Jim recalls. “Being fired should never come as a surprise, and this took me on a total 180 based on the responsibilities I was given by her.”


Almost two months later Jim was sitting in his car, still stewing about that conversation. The first week after being fired from his own company – well, his dad’s company – had been spent blowing off steam. But after two weeks, reality settled in. He was unemployed for the first time in his life, his marriage was in shambles, and he had a daughter he needed to provide for.

A few days after getting fired, he started getting his resume together. It was the first time he’d really needed one. Unemployment wasn’t fun, but his mom was still supporting him financially when he needed it. Now he needed to focus on his interview with a different textile company. It wasn’t a competitor of his dad’s company, per se, but he sort of wished it would have been.

♦ ♦ ♦


“Oh, hell!”

Without another audible word, he slipped out from behind the desk and hurried around the corner. In his late forties, he decided the embarrassment of hiding for a few minutes would be less than the embarrassment of being seen.

“Hey, where’d Jim go? He was just here a second ago.”

“Yeah, he went down aisle 5 to get a base paint, I think.”

Bill took a few steps back and peered down aisle 5. No sign of Jim. That’s because he was hiding behind the end cap trying to avoid being seen by David Tornquist, who was out picking up supplies for a DIY kitchen plumbing job. The same David Tornquist who had been Jim’s client just a year prior when he worked at Merrill Lynch. He couldn’t bare the idea of David seeing where he’d ended up. Working the paint counter at The Home Depot.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

In general, we like “rags to riches” stories. There’s a certain charm to them. The subjects of these sorts of stories are the types who have persevered, hustled, and flat out refused to give up even in the face of failure. We like these stories. They inspire us, they encourage us, and they give us hope of something similar happening to us.

Have you ever considered a “riches to rags” story, though? Until recently, I hadn’t. What first comes to mind when you read “riches to rags”? Be honest with yourself. Isn’t there at least a tiny part of you that wants to enjoy it? Sort of a “oh how the mighty have fallen” sort of attitude, perhaps? It makes sense – just as much as we enjoy underdog stories, we similarly like seeing those in power get knocked down a few pegs. Well, unless we’re the ones getting knocked off the pedestal, of course.

Let’s start at the end, shall we?

Nowadays, he drives a beat up white minivan around town all day. A good number of his friends call him “Banjo”, because he’s from Kentucky, and because, well, stereotypes. He works in construction, the type of gig that has him showering at the end of the day instead of the beginning. At least it’s better than the paint counter at The Home Depot. And all in all, he enjoys the work.

Jim and I have bonded over some similar experiences over the past three years. One, we both love F3 (have I told you about F3? Let me tell you about F3…), which has helped both of us to get back into shape, provide an outlet for our competitive nature, and, more importantly, offer some structure and accountability to our lives. Second, we’ve both been through periods of unemployment semi-recently. It helps to have someone to commiserate with when you don’t have gainful employment. So when Jim agreed to do an interview for – which, coincidentally, is a byproduct of my own stint of unemployment – it dawned on me that I didn’t know much about his life prior to a few years ago.

The Jim I know now is completely different from who he was when he grew up. I had no idea he was living a “riches to rags” story. In his words, he explains he was “raised with a silver spoon, and now living with a plastic spoon.” And sure, the “rags” part of this story is fairly overstated. But where he is now is a far cry from where he started.


Part II: Downfall
Part III: A New Legacy