Henry Morgan still doesn't understand.
For two weeks, the Armstrong security guard at the Deak-Perera office downtown has watched blue-haired women and pin-striped businesmen plunk down fortunes for their share of the precious metal mother lode.
"It's crazy. They've got silver and gold fever," said the tin-badged security man, taking his usual spot near the window. "Me, I can't afford no gold. I'm puttin' my money in chicken, green beans and cornbread."
Morgan shook his head, whistling a low note. "They lost nearly 150 dollars each ounce [Tuesday], but here they are, right back where they started." At 9 a.m. yesterday, an hour before trading opened, 30 anxious investors waited in line to buy or sell gold and silver, playing poker with life savings, hedging their bets.
"Maybe I'm missin' somethin'," Morgan mused.
What Morgan was missing was anxiety and sweaty palms, a hollow look etched in eyes taht could see only South African Krugerrands in a pot at the end of the rainbow.
As the hours ticked by and the weather outside turned from sun to rain to snow to sun again, a sort of distaster mentality filtered like gold dust through the crowd. Investors consoled each other in their white-knuckled misery, pumped each other for advice. Oil and gold equations, speculation squeezes. Buy. Sell. Hedge. a
And always they watched the tote. Gold opened at $650 an ounce at Deak's. In an hour it was $700. Between 10:33 and 10:35, the price changed three times, from $718 to $725 to $730. By 11:30 it was down to $695. c
"What do you think the price is going to be'" asked a gray-haired woman of the muddy-shoed man next to her in line. "Maybe if I sell now and then wait for the price to go back down and then buy again. . . ."
"Just remember," said the man, "buy coins instead of bullion."
It was solid advice. Deak's didn't have any bullion yesterday.
Standing at the gold counter was Bruce Kraft, investor. He pulled a fist full of dollars from a jacket pocket, fifties and hundreds.
What do you mean you don't know the London closing price," he demanded of one of Deak's employes, 30 minutes before the London market had actually closed. "They're holding back with it." he confided to a reporter. "They don't want to let us know what London closed at so they can make their own market."
Over at the silver window, a woman pulled a sack of silver Liberty dimes and Jefferson nickels out of a yellow plastic bag. "Do you take flatware?" she asked.
"My daughter-in-law is studying for a mental health associate's degree at Montgomery Community College and tution is due," she explained.
"She broke open a real old Peoples Drug piggy bandka and gave me all these coins to sell for her. My husband said I'd get $200 or $300 for them I hope it's more."
It was 16.5 times the face value of the coins, $663.
It was getting near lunchtime and the crowd thickened, three and four deep at each window. Who needs to eat when there's gold?
It was 12:30 p.m. gold was at $702. A Hispanic man with dark circles under his eyes chewed his fingers. He had bought "gold coins, many gold Coins" last week at $853. I'll never get my wife to this country now," he lamented.
"I never was much of a gambler."
Behind a locked partition, Deak's vice president, Michael Checkan, took a rest. He'd been going full tilt for weeks.
'It's a very volatile market . . . But there's a saying that the market goes down faster than it comes up. It usually holds true, and it'll come back, but many of the people buying are first-timers. It's an emotional thing with them. There's panic."
Meanwhile, a family of five from India had carved out a space on a counter near some "Invest in Gold" brochures. The youngest was busy at work with a jewelers' screwdriver, removing gold coins form yards of necklaces as a toothless old woman in bedroom slippers looked on painfully.
"The family coins," she explained.