Below the Beltway

Money talks: But not to Gene

Below the Beltway
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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, October 24, 2010

I control your future. Yours, personally. I have the power to improve your life or to screw it up, with just a phone call. My hand is on the phone. I am thinking.

I obtained this power over you roughly two months ago; but in a sense, it was an inevitable result of my life as I have lived it for 58 years.

A long time ago, I learned something important about myself; I learned that money management is not my strong suit. It is, in fact, a particularly weak and pathetic suit, a clown suit with duck feet and one of those bleating Harpo Marx horns. I am, for example, a financial benefactor of The Washington Post because I never get around to submitting expense forms for reimbursement. Also, every single parking ticket I get doubles in penalty because I wait too long to pay it. Sometimes, it triples.

Because I know this about myself, I long ago surrendered to my wife complete control of my financial affairs, much the way the courts protect the feeble-minded. Now, I am permitted to carry only one check at a time. I am like Barney Fife, the incompetent sheriff's deputy from the old "Andy Griffith Show," who was allowed to carry only one bullet, so as to minimize potential damage to life and limb.

During the last week of August, I awoke one day with a thought. This thought arose in the single financial brain cell I have, and it somehow struggled its way past the New York Yankees lobe, through the voluminous dirty-joke archive, past a few hundred thousand flapping red flags, and popped out, fully formed. It said: Bad days lie ahead.

Feeling heroically prescient, like John D. Rockefeller, who famously saw that his shoeshine boy was dispensing stock tips and decided to pull all his money out of Wall Street just before the 1929 crash -- I, too, decided it was time to get out. Just like that.

And so I did. Bypassing my wife entirely -- greatness requires daring -- I called up Joe, my finance guy, and gave the order. Joe is paid to do what he is told, but he did point out that, in terms of the potential for moneymaking, taking everything out of the market is essentially like putting everything in a coffee can and burying it in the back yard -- which as it happens, is something that a nutty relative of mine once did. Most of it was eaten by gophers.

This knowledge might have stopped a man with two financial brain cells. But, as I said, I have just the one. So I did it.

Yesterday, Joe telephoned my wife -- for some reason, he bypassed me entirely -- to recommend that I undo my order. I wish she hadn't asked why, but she did.

"Because," Joe said, "we've just had the best September for the stock market in 71 years."

My wife didn't ask how much money -- real money -- this had cost me. She just relayed Joe's advice.

So here I am, with my hand on the phone. This is where you and your fortune come in. There is a decision to be made, and, unfortunately, it is up to me.

I can continue to go with my gut and stay out of the market. In which case, because I am me, stocks will continue to soar. Or, I can plunge back in. In which case, the market will collapse like a souffle in an earthquake.

Because of publishing deadlines, this column was written three weeks before you are reading it. If you've been following the market, you know by now which way I went.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.


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