He lived The Big Short, now he bakes bread.

“Now that I’m having a son, this watch will be his. And it’ll be ‘daddy’s watch.’”

On a trendy bench seat in his own charming store front, the bakery owner proudly carries a crisp and loved Rolex Submariner on his wrist. We’re sitting at a cherry-wood table drinking Nitros — some love-child of cold brew coffee and beer — as he shares familiar greetings with locals, a kiss with his mother, and a brilliant, welcoming laugh with fresh faces. This is a young, excited father, business owner, community member, and, you guessed it, watch geek. Let’s dive in.

The first watch he bought was a Rolex, while in college and working at local New Jersey mall. That coke-bezel GMT shared his shadow on the street, at work, at the gym. “One day I was driving and I looked out my rear view mirror and saw my watch on my wrist. I thought to myself, ‘this watch is worth more than my car. There’s something wrong there.’” From Prada to Gucci, college life became a shallow game of keeping up with the Jones’. Thinking back, he said, “I thought I was like these people. The only thing I had to show for it was that watch.”

MORTGAGES; THE ULTIMATE DRUG TRADE

He graduates college with a degree in finance and is offered a friend’s internship spot. During the time of the offer, he takes a trip to the shore. “A friend down the shore rolls up in a BMW M3, a brand new watch, and spends crazy money at the bar. I said, ‘Dude, are you selling drugs?’ and he said, ‘I’m selling mortgages. Come work for me.’”

Do you start at the bottom of a corporate food chain and work your way up or go where the immediate cash is? At just 24 years old, he chooses the latter.

“We weren’t taught how mortgages worked, just how to make money. How to get paid. Meetings were always about the prize for salesman of the month.” But the real end goal — spending. A car, a house, another house, vacations. “The owner wanted you in debt — he knew that once he had you in debt you weren’t going anywhere else. He owned you.”

Fresh out of college, and fresh into the debt trade. Ready to make money, but unwilling to take a criminal jump — unwilling to intentionally compromise the welfare of his clients — he tried to take a sound, conservative approach to his business. Unlike many of his colleagues, he urged people close to hitting capital NOT to refinance their homes. But keep in mind, his coworkers weren’t finance guys. They were car salesmen, people off the street, anyone willing and capable of convincing someone with 50 grand and a high credit score to buy a million dollar home.

The mortgage game appeared to have one rule — make it work. Since no one verified jobs, assets, or income, that information was up for grabs. If you were a broker, you worked in an office and submitted mortgage applications to banks. The real dirt was providing the information. Jane Doe makes 45 grand a year, but she’ll need to make more to get that mortgage. You only get paid if Jane Doe gets her mortgage. So? You unlock the PDF (which required a special machine and program), re-assign Jane a brighter salary, and forge her signature. Need a higher appraisal? No problem. It was (for-dummies-version) that simple.

TOXIC LENDING

Correspondent lenders, on the other hand, had a different kind of control. “You get a credit line of 300 to 400 million and now you’re writing mortgages. You hire a team of processors and if you sell someone a mortgage, the first payments come to you.” You bundle mortgages up and sell them as mortgage backed security on the securities market. Those bundles were graded credit-wise. “It was all toxic. The problem with that, is that the lender (not supposed to own the title company) does own it, and has full control.” Without proper checks and balances, the money is shuffled not from bank to title company to seller (in escrow), as it should funnel, but the seller’s money paid the title company’s big expenses for the month. Who pays the seller? Someone else’s mortgage.

PERCEPTION BECOMES REALITY

Fresh into the game, three young mortgage brokers make there way to Ross-Simons. They all get the same Breitling — alligator strap and bracelet. This new wrist game signified a new direction — the bland game of shoes, watches, cars, houses just to outspend your coworker was the life of the broker. Keeping up with the Jones’ would be a lot easier if they played the game right. The only thing was, he hated to play the game.

“From the outside, you’d see a guy with a black card, a Maserati and a Bentley, huge home in New Jersey, two shore houses, this that and the other thing, taking us out to clubs, getting tables. The money doesn’t stop. You think — I want to be like this guy.” Guess what — those guys, the ones he worked for — they’re all either broke or in jail. A few stragglers he worked with left before sh*t hit the fan — and one actually did the right thing, he created a secure mortgage company.

After witnessing the deceit, the forgery, the messiness of the work, he quit his mortgage deal and started over — he learned to bake, to love it, too. At that point, the shiny Breitling was a source of darkness in his life. “After a while I just started to hate the watch. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the watch when I bought it. But that feeling I had when I initially bought it was gone.”

So he swapped it out. Goodbye mortgage game, goodbye Breitling.

He walked up to the same salesman who sold him that first coke-bezel GMT, which then sat fitted on his wife’s wrist. He purchased a stable investment — a historically significant, beautifully crafted Rolex Submariner. “I guess I’m superficial in that sense. It is cool to have that name that nobody knows about, but — as brother said — ‘you just feel better wearing it.’”

DADDY’S WATCH

“I wear this watch all the time. At the beginning, I brushed all the little scratches out with a stainless steel brush, and then I started getting over it. Sometimes I’ll put it on in the house and think, ‘I’m just gonna wear this to sleep.’ It just makes you feel good.” His young daughter now spots “Mommy’s watch,” the GMT and “Daddy’s watch,” the sub. The GMT will pass on to her grown wrist, from her mom. The fate of the sub — a symbol of new direction, of family, of redemption, “Now that we’re having a boy, this can be his. ‘Daddy’s watch.’”

(This story was written by our editor, Anna Griffin — for more, try theoandharris.com)

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