BBC - Ouch! (disability) - Features - Electroboy goes on a decade-long spending spree

Home > Features > Electroboy goes on a decade-long spending spree

Electroboy goes on a decade-long spending spree

by Andy Behrman

27th April 2004

It all started right after I had graduated from college. I was only twenty-two years old when I got my first credit card - American Express.
In the mail on that same day came a Visa card. All of a sudden, I was no longer poor. I had a $25,000 credit limit on my American Express card as well as a $25,000 limit on Visa. In my young mind, I was rich. And, oh dear, crazy.

My first order of business was to create the ultimate bachelor pad, due to a strong desire to exude a sense of success and look rich - even though I was not using "real" money - just credit lines that totalled $50,000. I also rather liked the idea of spending the money as quickly as I could, so I hopped in a cab and headed to Bloomingdale's, a department store on the East Side of Manhattan, where I knew I'd be able to find just about everything I needed.

I barged into the store, and to the credit card company I charged: a sectional couch, a modern glass coffee table, a platform bed, halogen lighting and the most up-to-the-minute sound system, TV and VCR. In less than two hours, I had used up all of the available credit on one of my cards.

The next day, everything was delivered to my apartment and I was shocked when the delivery man arrived. Did I actually buy all of this stuff? I invited him in, he unpacked it for me, and I gave him a generous $100 tip. All of a sudden, I was a big spender.

I was a little nervous living in an expensive apartment surrounded by expensive items that already owned me, and quickly decided I had to find a job.

I sat down at my new word processor for the next three days straight, with barely no sleep, and wrote my first screenplay. I was going to be a filmmaker.

The following day, I made an appointment with a corporate lawyer and started a company called "Smash Films, Inc." - just a name I made up - and soon I was meeting with investors who began writing me cheques to fund my first film. The only problem was that I didn't know anything about making films, though it seemed I could talk a good game and charm these people rather skilfully.

I spent the money that they invested in my new company on everything from electronic gadgets to artwork, clothing, lavish dinners, limousines and vacations. I was in trouble.

Manic depressives can be extremely manipulative and clever, however. I decided that I must leave the film industry and quickly make some money in another business; so I could pay back those investors whose money, I'd said, had gone towards "development".

I started a public relations and marketing business, promoting all sorts of clients including authors, diet gurus, plastic surgeons, exercise specialists and restaurants, in local and national media. I had only had two months experience doing this back when I was nineteen years old, but I gave it my very best shot.

Not to my surprise, I was extremely successful, and in that first year I earned more than $500,000 - plenty of money to pay back my investors. But you'd think that I'd be careful this time and put some of the money away? Absolutely not. That's not what a manic depressive on a "high" does. He or she goes out and continues spending, which is exactly what I did, for the next ten years.

My illness is one often characterized by dramatic overspending - in my case through frenzied shopping sprees, credit card abuse, excessive hoarding of unnecessary material goods and bizarre generosity with family, friends and even strangers.

The story doesn't get better for me now folks, in fact, it gets much worse.

Eventually, I decided to leave the world of public relations and become involved in the art world. I started working for Mark Kostabi, an artist who in the 1980's was very well known for NOT painting his own paintings, but paying artists he hired to paint his ideas. All he actually did was sign the canvases. Some of these pieces sold for upwards of $40,000 and everyone was buying them including celebrities like Sylvester Stallone and galleries from Europe to Japan.

I had found myself an even more lucrative position, but these were earnings fuelled by illness: my obsessions, my compulsions and my risk-taking behaviour.

Soon I was travelling internationally four or five times a month. Paris, London, Munich and Tokyo; all to make huge sales for Kostabi.

My ever-present mania meant I was never phased by staying up twenty hours a day or by the different time zones. I was Superman.

Kostabi was soon grossing more than $10 million a year and I had never seen so much money in my life. But easy access to cash created more problems for me. I had almost $1 million in cash stored in my freezer. I always thought it was a safe place to hide the money; I couldn't put it in the bank and it was more readily accessible than Zurich.

One day, a friend of mine who worked with me at the Kostabi World paintings "factory", approached me with a plan. She was a painter and she suggested that we start creating our own Kostabi works. She would paint them, I would sign them and then sell them to my regular customers. After all, they wouldn't look any different, and instead of making my typical 10% commission, we would make 100%. I said that I'd have to think about it.

About a half an hour later, I called her back and told her I was ready to get to work. Granted, it was a crazy idea, but since then I have heard crazier money making schemes "committed" by manic depressives. Like, for instance, a young woman who raised millions of dollars for her company which was going to create twenty four carat gem encrusted Lego Sets for wealthy customers. The development of the project when nowhere and she lost all of her investor's money. But my "partner in crime" and I were able, in the next two years, to make our business work, and work well.

We created millions of dollars worth of these "fake fakes," as we liked to call them. I travelled around the world selling them ... and my insane spending continued, but not just on luxury items. Sometimes I would go into a supermarket at 4.00am when I couldn't sleep, and spend literally hundreds of dollars on ridiculous items: fifty cans of tuna fish, twenty jars of marmalade, one hundred packs of chewing gum. The cashiers would look at me as if I were crazy. "No, I'm not crazy, I just have manic depression," I felt like saying. "I just don't know why I do it."

Money is a huge issue for manic depressives. Sometimes the problem is not nearly on the same scale as it has been for me, but nonetheless, it's difficult to deal with. Many get themselves into debt that can take years to clear up, write bad cheques, shoplift and borrow huge amounts from family and friends.

Unfortunately, the federal government caught on to our art fraud scheme and I was convicted in December of 1993 on one count of fraud, for which I served five months in prison and five months under house arrest. Luckily, my partner was not indicted, as I chose not to testify against her, or anyone else involved in the crime.

After I finished 'doing my time' - and having reached an even keel through psychotherapy, medication and electroshock therapy - I had to face the idea of starting over.

First I had to support myself and live within my means, I couldn't spend frivolously, those days were over. I started working again. My first job was painting apartments, which I found ironic, considering my recent past. The money was enough to live on, I was comfortable. When I got my first cheque for $1000 though, I spent half of it on clothes. I hadn't solved the overspending problem, it seemed.

Even today I get a certain 'high' or 'kick' from buying things that I can't afford - it's an issue I'm working on. I still get telephone calls from credit card companies reminding me that I owe them money. I'm mostly shocked that, with my history, they have allowed me extended credit in the first place.

The saddest thing about my spending history though is ... I never splurged on a ride on the Concorde. What was I thinking!
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.


There have been no comments made here yet.

Bookmark with...

What are these?

Live community panel

Our blog is the main place to go for all things Ouch! Find info, comment, articles and great disability content on the web via us.

Mat and Liz
Listen to our regular razor sharp talk show online, or subscribe to it as a podcast. Spread the word: it's where disability and reality almost collide.

More from the BBC

BBC Sport

Disability Sport

All the latest news from the paralympics.

Peter White

In Touch

News and views for people who are blind or partially sighted.

BBC Radio 4

You & Yours

Weekdays 12.40pm. Radio 4's consumer affairs programme.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.