MY BARTENDER sees a conspiracy, orchestrated by third world mental moguls. The cab driver who delivered me to the bar thinks Texas billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt is being punished for failing to properly grease the international skids.And the financial reporters, whose breatheless obituaries of last Thursday's silver market crash sent me looking for a cab, lay the blame on the dynamic duo, supply and demand.
Me, I can only curse my friend Richie and his damn bowling trophy.
"Dust to dust and silver to bucks," said Richie, after selling his nearly sterling silver cup to a coin shop two months ago for a sum he would only describe as "three figures and worth the walk."
It was Richie's cup, cherished vessel of dark beer and dog food, won 16 years ago in a 10-pin rolloff against half of east Texas, that glutted the market. Not by itself, I'll concede. But added to all the other trophies, charm bracelets and silver teeth that were melted into money in the last six months it spawned a river deep enough to drown an army of speculators. Including me. And my cousin. And my brother.
My cousin I'm not too concerned about. Her husband owns four townhouses near Dupont Circle. My brother, on the other hand, now owns a 1963 pickup truck with a bad clutch, a few dozen ounces of semi-precious silver and a bad attitude.
While I blame Richie, he blames me.
"You said it was bound to hit $100 an ounce. You said Kodak uses more silver every year than is mined in all of South America. You said I'd make enough money to buy a Volkswagen." For three hours, while a paranoid bartender filled our bitter cups, he said what I said before he gambled his life savings of $2,500 on a silver steed that seems to have died in the stretch.
It was hard to avoid giving advice during the good old days of late December. One week after I bought 93 ounces of silver at $26 an ounce, the price jumped $10. A week after that silver was selling for $40 an ounce. Friends congratulated me on my foresight. Editors asked for financial advice. I tried to gloat graciously.
As an addiction, silver was clean and simple. Like any form of gambling, it provided varying doses of anticipation, gratification and shock. But unlike the stock market, it didn't demand that you root for any corporate success. And since the variables that affected its price were so global and complex, there was no advantage in scholarship.
With silver there was nothing to do but check the price occasionally and regularly bring it glittering to mind's eye. A secret delight was to stroll past Deak-Perera during lunch to watch the mob, waiting five deep by the precious metals counter to make their fortune and nudge mine upward.
The first sign of real trouble occurred near the end of January when the New York Commodity Exchange tightened the rules on trading silver futures. The effect was a drop in price from $46 to $40 an ounce in a day. Just cream off the top for me. But the decline continued. By mid-February the price was bouncing between $30 and $36. By mid-March the value had sunk to my buy-in price of $26 an ounce.
The phone calls from my brother were becoming a daily routine. Each conversation ended with a ritualized "hang in there." And we did. All the way to the floor.
By Friday noon the half hearted condolences and gleeful jabs had been delivered. Like witnesses at a train wreck, everyone felt better for not having been aboard. My brother called. Said he wasn't mad or anything, just needed to pick up a leather belt he had lent me three years ago.
I told him to wait at least another hour. First I had to stop by Deak-Perera to invest another $500 in silver. At $13 an ounce, I figure it can't go anywhere but up.