Brad Schiller's a bit of a cowboy - suede jacket, cotton pants, which is dressed up, he says but then, he had to come downtown and see his stockbroker. And since he's had half a million dollars chopped to a quarter million by one of the most rabid bear markets in history, these last two weeks; and since he likes to mess with stock options and your more volatile issues, it doesn't do to show up at Dean Witter Reynolds & Co. dressed for tennis.
Not yesterday, with the first-hour Dow Jones average flaking off 18 points at near-record volume; with the dollar committing harakiri in Tokyo and gold being enthroned at $246 an ounce in Europe - and it's only 1 p.m., with Schiller waiting in the Deam Witter lobby.
"It's the anniversary of the crash of '29," the receptionist offers.
"Everybody's got one leg out the window, eh?" says Schiller with his cowboy insouciance.
As if the market weren't had enough news, Schiller has brought along his good buddy Tom Kitt, a book salesman who is not ashamed to tell you: "I've got a kilo of gold sitting in a safe deposit box - bought it at $205 an ounce."
"I'm here on a margin call," Schiler says, meaning that he bought stock but only paid for part of it; and now that the market is collapsing, Schiller has to get out his suede jacket and his checkbook and come down from American University, where he teaches economics, to pony up the difference.
"You can go in now," says the receptionist.
Schiller strides off. Kitt lingers long enough to hiss: "He just hit me for a loan this morning."
"The phones don't stop ringing. We have a hard time getting quotes," says Charles Provini, senior vice president at Deak-Perera, which sells gold and foreign currencies.
Sleek in gray vested suit and delicately striped pigue shirt, Provini has the hard, glad eyes of a man who sees things going his way.
"We started a gold certificate program last year," he says. "In one year we've sold $45 million in certificates - they store the gold in Zurich. People used to buy gold as a hedge against inflation, not an investment. But these same people who bought it a year ago at $150 see it today and it looks like a good investment, not just a hedge. The Swiss franc is up 40 percent over last year," he says, and Deak can quote you prices out front, if you wait in line: the Deutschemark, the yen, all hitting new apogees.
Deak's Glen Kirsch smiles in front of a gold-foil wall while the telephone ring and a woman types up a list of orders that has hit the floor.
"We don't even keep track of the stock market here," he says.But why should they, being in gold and foreign currencies nowadays - and not in dollars or stocks?
His phone rings.
'I've got bags (coin silver) available but I don't know how much gold I can quote," he tells a customer, and starts punching the numbers into the adding machine.
Numbers, numbers, numbers: at 1:30 in the Dean Witter trading room, the New York Stock Exchange tape is 38 minutes late with 38.67 million shares sold, 89 of them up in price, 1630 down. But the big indicators are the MacDonald's wrappers next to the telephones - "You don't go out to lunch on a day like this," says Patrick Ryan, vice president and manager of the Washington regional trading department.
Somebody shouts a quote to him.
"Buy two," he says, meaning 200 shares.
The phone rings.
"There's no home for that stock," Ryan tells a frustrated seller.
Ryan is a big guy with a big, tense face as he watches the TV screens tell him that a company named Scope, out in Reston, is at 18 when it was 33 a couple of weeks ago, and GEICO is hitting 5, down from 7 1/2.
"Usually, we trade 250,000 shares in a day," Ryan says, studying the screens. "We'd done that by 11:30 this morning an hour and a half after the market opened."
But right now there's a lull, and you hear somebody yelling in the hall: "Did it just bottom out?"
"We wait and see," Ryan says. "Nine out of the last 10 days we've had an inter-day turn (the market's gone up) but then it's headed right back down. The blue chips are getting pounded."
The phone rings. Ryan listens, hangs up and swivels around. "That was the call I was waiting for. We've got a technician who had said that we'd have to see it drop 30 points with a volume of 60 million for it to be a selling climax. (The end of the bear market.) But now he says that 18 points down is enough."
And for the first time Ryan starts to look like he'll take the elevator down tonight and not the window. In a couple of minutes as the TRIN (trend indicator) and the Dow ease from intensive care to critical to serious, Ryan is saying: "The pounding is over. This has been a total overreaction situation," and you get the feeling that before the day is over, he might even get to take a couple of shots at the Putt 'N' Fun machine on the floor - if somebody sweeps up all the paper.
Back at Desk, an old man studies the 50-peso pieces, the Hungarian koronas and the South African krugerrands, nestled like smug little suns underneath the counter - gold! You want to heft these coins, feel them press your damp eager palms, so strangely, wildly heavy; fascinating.
He is 83 and wears a plaid hat and a gray raincoat. He's sure the price of gold will keep going up "as long as the stock market goes down and inflation goes up. I've seen it coming a long time. This country is over the hill."
No, he won't give his name, forget it, leave him alone, and he walks wout with a wary glance at his questioner.
"They remember 1933," says Russell Dawson, a metals trader. "They remember when you had to turn in your gold to the government and the federal agents would come looking for it if they knew your name."
Another Deak customer is Tom Kitt, who accompanied cowboy Brad Schiller to his margin call, next door. Kitt, it turns out, has bought another kilo of gold, but by nightfall he says: "It's a mistake," it's overpriced."
Schiller, contacted after the market closes, (with the dow up 5.80) is not ashamed to say: "I told him so. As a matter of fact I bought stock this afternoon - got Memorex at 26, 200 shares, and the last I heard it was back to 29 7/8." Schiller is also quick to remind you that he predicted no more than a four-point loss in the Dow today; with a total 25-point gain for the coming week. 'And I stand by it."
Kitt, deeper in gold than he wants to be; will say later: "He's been wrong before."
And put Patrick Ryan down for some sundown optimism: "We should open strong tomorrow - unless the dollar gets pounded overnight."