James Altucher On America's Last Golden Decade

Shlomo died in a plane crash last year over Russia while looking for diamonds. He told me a joke once: two diamond merchants sitting next to each other on a plane. One keeps moving around, he can’t get comfortable, he keep squirming in his seat. The other asks him, whats wrong? The first diamond merchant says, “I’m sorting the inventory”.

Because many of the diamonds you wear, or you buy for your lovely wife, come into the US through very inauspicious means, swallowed in a plastic bag by the jewish merchant who then peddles it on 47th Street in Manhattan after excreting it out in conjunction with a good meal. They avoid customs that way.

We did a website for Shlomo in 1995. It took me one day. I got paid $17,500 for it and used that money to move into the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It’s the first time in my life I had more than $100 to my name. Within four years I had $15mm to my name. Cash, not paper. And within one year after that, I had negative to my name. Maybe negative million. I never calculated the exact amount. I only count positive numbers.


(the first website I did for money)

Shlomo taught me everything I know about the diamond business. Which amounts to just about nothing. But I built his website anyway. He had a cute girl working in his office. She had some sort of scar or birthmark reaching from her eye to the tip of the mouth. I liked that. It was like she was permanently sneering.  I would’ve asked her out but I had no confidence. Israelis cut me down too fast.

I asked out another girl. She was one of the most creative web designers out there.  Nobody knew anything about what the web was then. Was it an art medium? A money thing? We didn’t know. She said “yes” to me. But then a few weeks later she kicked me out of her apartment. “Ugh,” she said, “I could meet a truckdriver down the street more interesting than you.” It was three in the morning. The problem was I was so nervous and intimidated by her (she insulted me constantly) I couldn’t “perform”. I would wait outside her apartment for a half hour trying to psych myself up. But then when I got up there…nothing. I was half a man.



I asked out another girl. A girl who worked in the cubicle next to mine. Her father had died of AIDs a few years earlier. He was a Black Muslim. I tried to kiss her but she told me her father would turn over in his grave if he knew she was kissing a jewish person. That was just an excuse. She didn’t like me in that way.

I get it.

I took her to a concert for Salt n Pepa, the rap group. I had just done a website for them. I introduced her to Salt. Salt was her hero. You would think that would’ve been enough to keep her father at rest in his grave but it wasn’t. He was turning left and right, upside down. He was turning OVER. I highly recommend people listen to the classic Salt n Pepa song “Shoop”.



In the beginning of the song Pepa says:

Oooh, how are you doing babe.

No, not you.


I’m that guy so eager to please. So eager to please. Did she just pick me? Did she point to me? Am I supposed to talk now? Does she want me? Should I go over there?

No, not YOU.


She goes on to say, “the bow-legged one.”  In general, I’m not even good enough to be the bow-legged one.

A few months later I developed a better technique. I was doing a project for HBO interviewing people in the middle of the night. I would mostly interview women. We had a camera crew and I would pick out whoever I wanted to interview. I would get them to laugh. Then I would get them to put their phone numbers down on the release forms. We couldn’t air anything if a release form wasn’t signed so they had to give us their phone numbers.

The next day I would call up girls off of their phone numbers on the release forms and would ask them out. Totally unprofessional, unethical, perhaps illegal.

It worked.  I had some dates. I performed some magic tricks. There were occasional sparks.

It was the 90s. Magic things happened. Diamonds turned into websites. Websites turned into dates. Interviews at three in the morning turned into the occasional spark. My brother in law and I were starting a company. We were making good money. We would have meetings late at night. Sometimes people would yell at each other. One time a potential partner of ours threw a table at us in a restaurant. None of us knew what we were doing. People were passionate. Hypertext was art. Feelings were hurt. Everyone is friends now.

We want the 90s back. It felt like there was so much opportunity. New media was birthing new art forms and nobody knew where it was doing. We were Bill Gates? Or Picasso? Or somewhere in the middle. We were all artists and businessmen and programmers and designers at the same time. I could make cash in one direction, and my heart could break in half in the other direction.

But the 90s are never coming back. Nobody uses the word “hypertext” when describing the internet anymore. Nobody even says “World Wide Web” anymore. Salt is retired. It costs almost nothing to make a website now.  Zynga has a billion or so in revenues. And Shlomo is dead.


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My New Year’s Resolution in 1995

My Dating Techniques in 1996


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