'Black Monday' Plunge: From 'High Life' To Street Life

Oct 18, 2012
Originally published on October 23, 2012 10:03 am

Robert Griffo was living the high life at an investment firm on Wall Street when the stock market crashed 25 years ago on Black Monday. Along with the Dow Jones industrial average, Griffo's life tumbled.

Griffo tells StoryCorps he worked with the investment company for 11 years.

"I was making a lot of money," he says. "I used to walk over homeless people at Grand Central Station when they were begging for money, and I'd say, 'You need to get a job.' But I lost myself on Wall Street."

When the market crashed on Oct. 19, 1987, Griffo thought he would be let go.

"Week to week, I would just watch colleagues near me just be escorted out of the buildings, and I quickly fell apart," he says. "I would be awake for days, because I was using cocaine and heroin.

"And I ended up not only losing my job, but I lost my children, my beautiful wife, and I ended up in the streets."

He went to the 207th Street bridge in upper Manhattan, intending to jump.

"And one time, I stood there at the rail for about 30 minutes, trying to convince myself that this was the right thing to do," he says. "My family would be better off with me gone, and I just said, 'Let's just get this over with.' "

Griffo didn't jump — he says he always had some hope left that he would be able to fix things. In November 1991, five men from an Alcoholics Anonymous group came to him at the box he was living in on the street. Other homeless people had asked the men to help Griffo, who, they said, didn't belong on the streets.

After restarting his life, Griffo got an apartment. But it was far from glamorous.

"I had a metal chair that was my couch. I had an upside-down box from a TV set that was my coffee table," he says. "I had a $15 voucher from the Salvation Army to buy pots and pans and forks. And I started my life over."

Griffo, 57, now works at a suicide-prevention hotline.

"I've lost an awful lot. But I tell a lot of people that today I'm rich, and some day I'll have money again. As far as I'm concerned, I won the lottery: I got my life back."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Yasmina Guerda.

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Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

On Fridays, we hear from StoryCorps, everyday people telling stories of their lives. Today marks 25 years since the stock market crash that came to be known as Black Monday. That crash in October of 1987 saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunge 508 points in a single day. Robert Griffo was working on Wall Street then. He recently sat down for StoryCorps to remember what happened to him after the crash.

ROBERT GRIFFO: I worked on Wall Street for 11 years for an investment firm, and I lived a very high lifestyle. I was making a lot of money. I used to walk over homeless people at Grand Central Station when they were begging for money, and I'd say, you need to get a job. But I lost myself on Wall Street. October 19th, 1987, the market crashed and I was so worried I was going to get laid off.

Week to week, I would watch colleagues near me just be escorted out of the buildings. And I quickly fell apart. I would be awake for days, because I was using cocaine and heroin. And I ended up not only losing my job, but I lost my children, my beautiful wife, and I ended up in the streets. I was a mess. I went to a bridge in upper Manhattan trying to get the courage up - at the time I called it the courage - to jump. And one time, I stood there at the rail for about 30 minutes, trying to convince myself that this was the right thing to do. My family would be better off with me gone, and I just said, let's just get this over with. Obviously, I didn't jump. There was always some hope that maybe I can get out of this.

And finally, five men from an A.A. meeting got me out of a box that I was living in in the streets, and they said, we're going to get you some help, man. The bums on the street came in and told us about you. They said there's a kid on the street, can you please help him? He doesn't belong there. And they came and got me.

When I started my life over, I got an apartment. I had a metal chair that was my couch. I had an upside-down box from a TV set, that was my coffee table. I had a $15 voucher from the Salvation Army to buy pots and pans and forks. And I started my life over. I've lost an awful lot, but I tell a lot of people that today, I'm rich and someday I'll have money again. As far as I'm concerned, I won the lottery: I got my life back.

MONTAGNE: Robert Griffo at StoryCorps in Canandaigua, New York. He now works at a suicide prevention hotline. This interview will be archived at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. The StoryCorps podcast is at NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.