(homestore toilet paper…er, stock certificate)
Before we continue the fourth installment of the Home Movie travelogue, it should be noted that back at homestore.com headquarters the slimy executives were positively exuberant.
You see they had put out on IPO on homestore stock which opened at $21 dollars a share. In the following weeks, the price doubled, tripled and quadrupled. In fact, at its height the price went up to $140 a share, about seven times the original price.
We were to find out, later, that this was not because Stewart Wolff and his crack team of entrepreneurs were acute businessmen. Or even just damn lucky.
Turns out they were cooking the books.
"Homerunning", I believe is the appropriate white collar term.
Every deal, every barter, every transaction that involved homestore was recorded as revenue or income. They did this to fool the venture capital people to keep funding their house of cards. Consequently, this pumped up the stock price.
When rumors that the SEC was poking around, there was a huge company gathering at the Thousand Oaks Auditorium, where the faithful were assuaged by the WolffMan himself.
"Everything is good. We're profitable. And we're confident. Hold onto your company stock. Hell, buy more. We're going to be bigger than MicroSoft."
That's hard to do from the inside of 8 foot by 10 foot jail cell.
May 21, 1999 -- Palos Hills, ILWe arrive in Chicago about 7PM and check in to our hotel off Michigan Ave. It's my first time in the Windy City but I almost didn't see it. We were at a Westin and I had been upgraded to a junior suite on the 42nd floor.
Keep in mind this was a long time ago, when ad agencies recognized business travel for the sacrifice it was. And in return for giving up free time with friends and family, treated employees more like human beings and less like indentured servants.
It was there I encountered the Heavenly Bed™, Westin's branded bed, that quite frankly cannot be topped. I put my bags down and while admiring the floor-to-ceiling view of the lake, fell asleep and almost didn't make the trip with the production crew for a night on the town. And way too much deep dish pizza.
The following day, we load up the vans and head to Palos Hills, where we meet Ben Skora. Like Wild Bill, he marches to the beat of his own drummer. This, as Director Chris Smith often told us, is more important, much more important, than the house themselves.
Ben's house, which was all electric and featured Star Trek like doors, robotic mannequins and a potted plant that could turn into a potty, were all run of the mill gadgetry. To be honest, the craftsmanship was on the shabby side and his taste in furniture was less 1999 and more 1979.
Ben introduced us to Arok, a hand built life size robot. And we met his "friend" Darlene, an aspiring actress who was convinced that with the right headshot and one good break she could be the next Julia Roberts.
Sadly, her appearance in Home Movie was not that epiphany.
The highlight of the day happened at lunch time. While enjoying authentic Mexican-ish style fajitas in the backyard, Ben told us of the time when he and Arok were invited to judge the Miss Nude World Contest in Las Vegas.
He was itching to show us the pictures and went inside the house and came back with no less than 8 photo albums detailing the debauchery that took place at the old Riviera Hotel on the Vegas Strip.
I spent the remainder of the day poring over those photos. Through the magic of Polaroid I saw men in bell bottoms. I saw women who had never heard of the French or Brazilian wax. And I witnessed firsthand many of the astonishing things Miss Kentucky could do with balloon animals.
Coming up tomorrow -- the birthplace of the Westboro Baptist Church and an all expense paid trip to the swanky Mauna Kea.