2006.08.09 Fiscal Responsitivity

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

I’ve never much been one for finance. I couldn’t finance my way out of a Swiss Miss-soaked paper bag.

Yet, I’ve always been fascinated by financial terms, like deductible, annuity, commodity and liquid asset, even though I have no idea what they mean.

I listen to Marketplace on National Public Radio with relish. I cheer when Kai Ryssdal announces an increase in the 10-year T-note. And when he reports that Federal Reserve Board chairman Ben Bernanke recommends lowering interest rates by a tenth of a percent, I pull my car over and honk the horn.

It’s kind of like an Englishman cheering alongside Americans at an NFL game. Sure, he mightn’t have the bloodiest clue what’s going on, but it’s fun to be part of the crowd.

That’s me. I’m a finance poseur, and my friends, who are business school graduates, call me out on it regularly.

“The time to buy Google stock was May 2002,” I said last year over an elegant dinner at Big Ten Burrito. “If we would’ve pooled our money and invested then, we’d all be millionaires.”

“But Jeff,” replied my New Jersey-ite friend Ben, “Google didn’t even have an IPO in 2002.”

“Oh, well, of course, but I mean, we should’ve pooled our money in anticipation of the IPO when it came out...the...next...year?” I bluffed convincingly.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about, do you?” said my South Carolingian friend Phil.

I shook my chicken and bean burrito at him accusingly. “What do you know!?” I shouted. “I can recite the opening soliloquy of Richard III! I listen to NPR!”

I swung the burrito towards Ben. “And you! You think just because you have a marketing job with Time-Warner you know stuff? Who wrote ‘Trout Fishing in America,’ huh? Who? Come on, tell me!”

Which reminds me. It’s fun to compare the post-college lives of my native Michigander friends and my non-native friends.

Well, I guess it’s not that fun. The Michiganders stayed. The non-natives left. But, with the exception of me, the non-natives took much more interesting jobs.

For instance, Pat, the Iowan, teaches disabled children at an inner city St. Louis elementary school. Oliver, from upstate New York, is midway through a two-year stint in China, teaching students English. Brian attends grad school at the University of Pennsylvania, studying nuke-yuh-lur cellophane astrology or something. He’s a smart cookie.

During baseball season, the aforementioned Phil puts his business degree to use selling hot dogs to Padres fans at PETCO park in San Diego. In the winter, he tows an advertising billboard around the city on a motorized scooter.

As for the Michiganders. Kyle works at a CVS in Taylor. Will, the most intelligent friend I have, is a professor’s assistant at Wayne State University. Joe works at a graveyard. Dolley––Dolley does nothing. He’s despicable.

What always surprises me is that, when we get together, people who don’t know us are always more interested in my and Phil’s jobs than any of the others.

“Really, you sell hot dogs?” attractive girls ask me.

“No. That’s Phil,” I reply. “I’m a reporter.”

“Really? You’re a reporter?” they ask, slightly disappointed.

“Oh, totally.”

“With who?”

“Uh...the Wall Street Journal.”

“Wow!” they say, suddenly lovestruck. “What do you report on?”

“Oh, you know. The usual. Leveraged stock option rebounds. Preferred shares. Rolling it over into a fixed-rate fiduciary market cap, ” I say. “I’m into all that stuff.”

“Huh?” she says.

“Did I tell you I sell hot dogs?” Phil interjects, grabbing them by their shoulders, leading them away.

“Wow, hot dogs?” they say.

“Securities and exchange commission! Ken Lay! The NASDAQ slid 10 points after news of a possible merger!” I shout after them.

I’m just kidding. I never lie about my job. In reality, people are interested in the life of a small weekly newspaper reporter. We, and hot dog vendors, are a rare breed—we have those off-the-beaten-path jobs many dream of working, but end up as bond salesmen and investment bankers instead.

I bet they already regret it. Twenty-five years from now, Ben will say to me, “Jeff, I wish I never would’ve made that million before I was 30. I wish I could’ve lived like you did.”

And I’ll tell him, “Ben, you should’ve followed my advice and taken out a fixed-rate mortgage on those Google shares. Just like I did.”

     - Aug. 9, 2006
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