The Friend I Never Knew

One of the curious side effects of our modern, connected world is that we often “meet” people online and then build a relationship with them – perhaps for a very long time – all without ever meeting them in person.  I have a number of such friends, acquaintances I have met on various photography, motorcycling, fishing, shooting, and finance online communities.  It’s actually a rich and wonderful way to hook up with people, literally around the world.

What doesn’t change is when something happens to someone you care about in those online worlds.  In that respect it’s little different than when it happens to “real life” people.  I remember the utter shock a number of years ago when a young woman whom I had befriended online was killed in an accident.  You log in one evening, just like you always do, only to be confronted with devastating, shocking news you never expect.  You might think that having an online relationship, versus a real-world one, would largely temper the feeling of loss.  But, amazingly, it doesn’t.  I wrote “Katie,” a story published in Sport Rider, about that first experience.

Now, again.  Sonnypage was a friend of mine on one of the financial boards I frequent.

I don’t know what to say.

I first joined this financial community in 1999 or thereabouts. Back then I was working for a dot-com start-up and had visions of quick riches and an early retirement. So I spent most my time on the, ahem, Retire Early board.

Sometimes things don’t work out how you think.

Fifteen months of unemployment later, a lifetime’s savings spent and a portfolio crushed, well, you see the world in a little different way.

I suppose it was probably around 2004, after being back to work for nearly a year – struggling back towards the light – that I wandered back, wondering what had become of that online financial community that had once teased me with its promise. The Retire Early board didn’t much interest me anymore. Somehow I found Mish’s old board.

And it was sometime during those first few weeks that I came across the first post I had ever seen from Sonnypage. Talking about Atlanta and real estate and the Thai Thai.

I didn’t always agree with his sentiments. I was already convinced that real estate was headed for disaster.  But what a writer! You could almost feel the love and enthusiasm for his profession coming off the screen.

And then a few weeks later he posted something very special and very personal… a long soliloquy of his time as a lieutenant in Vietnam. It was some of the finest, most heartfelt writing I had ever seen.

And from that moment on I always looked for the Sonnypage byline. He was the one poster – the only poster – whom I automatically read, regardless of subject line or number of recs. We have always been blessed on the board with an unusual number of savvy, smart people. The financial acumen here is infinitely higher than almost anywhere else I go. But Sonny was the best writer, bar none. How could you not love reading his posts?

2004 was significant for me in one other respect. For that was the year I abandoned my long-standing stocks-for-the-long-run way of thinking. An ardent equities bull for two decades, I began to see things that gave me pause. By the time the year ended I had moved 50% of my tattered-but-slowly-recovering portfolio into cash; and the other 50% into… gold.

That, of course, put me square in line with Sonny’s own evolving thinking over the next couple of years. As his real estate business slowed, and then tripped, and then expired, Sonny came to own the precious metals story. His storied move into silver – and Silver Wheaton – became legendary.  That’s when he and I had the first of our several offline dialogues – and where I first discovered that ‘Sonnypage’ was really a nom de plume. I had to laugh when Sonny first told me of its origin. But it was one of his favorite books – maybe his favorite of all time – and so I went ahead and ordered myself a copy.

One of the things Sonny and I shared was a love for reading. The brown truck from Amazon shows up at my house a couple times a week – to the mild consternation of my wife Ginny – and so there’s always a long queue in front of me.

Tonight, when I get home, I think I’ll pull out that old, yet-unread favorite of Sonny’s, and make that next up.

In the meantime, life is funny. You never really know what you’re going to get served up. Or what road you might end up on.

Many of us love finance and economics for their inherent fascinations. But there is a serious side to it all. A part of it that, should we get it wrong, holds the promise of much woe.

And that is… the number. How much do we need?

Retire too early, save not enough, and we see the prospect of exhausting that which we’ve counted on to see us through.

Retire too late, keep building it ever higher… and we may never get to enjoy it.

It hurts me that Sonnypage was much on the latter side of that difficult question.


Though we might debate the merits of this strategy, or that approach, on a public forum such as this, in the end these are questions that come to us in the dark of the night… and must be answered by ourselves, alone.

We live today in a world of unparalleled financial peril. When I consider my portfolio and its 75% weighting in gold, I console myself that Sonnypage was a kindred spirit, both of us riding the very outer edge of today’s fiscal mores. I couldn’t have asked for a finer companion.

Godspeed my friend.


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