THEY USED to be very quiet and you rarely saw one. But lately the gold bugs have come out of the closet. You can recognize them by the mad glint in their eyes.

My friend Bob Levin is one of them. He's hard to live with these days. This isn't just my opinion -- it's his wife's.

She came to see me the other day. She looked as if she'd been crying.

"You've got to do something about Bob," she said. "He's gold crazy."

"Well, if he can afford it, it's not a bad investment."

"He can't afford it," she said. "He's putting everything we have into gold. He says it's the only safe thing left in the world."

"Maybe he's right."

"I told him I'd rather put some of it into food for myself and the children."

"What did he say to that?"

"He said, 'How can you think about food when South African Krugerrands are going up 5 percent a week?' I told him you can't eat Krugerrands, and he said, 'Maybe not today, but when gold hits $600 an ounce, we can have caviar for breakfast while everyone else will be starving to death."

"He sounds as if he's really got the bug," I said.

"Last week I told him I had to buy shoes for the children. I asked him for $50. He screamed at me, 'How can you ask for paper money when it's losing its value every day?' So I said, 'All right, give me a Mexican gold 50 peso coin instead. He said, 'The gnomes in Geneva would really like that. They're counting on people like me getting out now, just when the market is going to soar.'

"I don't know what I'm going to do. The only thing we've bought for the house in the last six months is a scale, Bob spends his evenings weighing tiny bars of gold in cellophane wrappers. When I tell him to come to bed he says, 'Not until I find out what's happened in Tokyo.' The other night I asked him, 'What has Tokyo got to do with going to bed?' and he said, 'Everything. If you watch the Japanese bankers, you'll know where the dollar is going.'"

"What did you say to that?"

"I said I didn't care where the dollar was going as long as I could go with it -- at least to a store. He said if I just held on for six more months we could buy the store."

"Where does he keep the gold?"

"In the house. He took the insides out of an old television set we have in the attic. Every day he calls up from the office and asks me to go up and check to see if it's still there. He doesn't even like me to go out any more because he's afraid someone will break in while I'm gone."

"Why doesn't he put it in a safe deposit box in a bank?"

"Because he says the way gold is going the banks could close any day and he won't be able to get at his box."

"Has he seen a shrink?"

"He went once at my request."

"What happened?"

"He said he persauded the doctor to put all his earnings into 10 gram bullion."

"I don't see how I can do anything," I told her as she pulled out some tissues to dry her eyes.

"I thought you could talk to him. He respects you and perhaps he'd invest in what you're investing in now."

"I don't think it would do any good," I told her. "My broker has me up to my ears in silver. I've got so much of it I can't even get it into my freezer any more."