Sunday, July 27, 2008

Panhandle Coin and Gun

Passersby walked down the sidewalk in front of the small shop. “Panhandle Coin and Gun” was a clean place, decorated with framed prints of famous gold coins, and taxidermied mule deer, pheasants, and two big jackrabbits.

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“Where’s your jackalope?” Tinguely smiled. The coin dealer laughed.

“A coyote was the best I could do,” he said. An entire stuffed coyote was perched on a stand on the western wall. A rubber rattlesnake and a spray of creosote adorned the base of the stand. It should have been garish, but was not.

“Coyotes are good. Tricksters are always good. Jackalopes are better, though,” she said. Her hands felt a bit sticky from the SPF 45 skin protection cream she had applied a few moments before. She was trying to protect her skin the best she could.

“That would make quite a trophy,” he said. “Pure fantasy, you know.”

“Sure. Fantasy is what inspires the hunt in the first place,” said Tinguely.

“Let me go into the safe and get what you wanted to see,” said the coin dealer. Tinguely nodded. Her gaze shifted automatically to the television screen.


Two talking heads were utterly fascinated by each other’s insights into the economy.

“It was a classic boom-bust cycle. Most people get in at the tail-end of the boom. So, there are always a lot of late-comers. They were, of course, the major part of the body count. The late-comers lost big. Greed kills.”

“Yes. At that point, there’s nothing to do except to get out the pliers. Pull the gold fillings from the corpses.”

The program went to commercial break. Tinguely focused on the business at hand. She had been commanded by her father to buy gold. The stock market was firmly in bear territory. Bonds were weak. Banks were failing.

“Gold. It’s the only thing that holds up,” her dad said. “It’s the best protection.”

Tinguely did not agree. Gold was the one thing that pushed people over the edge. It was not liquid. You couldn’t eat it. People wanted to steal it. But, she had to do her dad’s bidding. She had agreed to it, after all.


The gold coin dealer was explaining the benefits of the new Canadian Maple Leaf .99999 fine gold coins. Tinguely was not paying attention. All she could think of was the image of a financial planner with pliers in his hand, pulling the fillings from his poor chump client who jumped and landed on the sidewalk several floors down from their posh offices.

The talking head on the left side of the screen smiled sweetly.

“Do you remember Drake Management? The San Francisco-based hedge fund? They lost millions of dollars in one week -- their hedge funds hurt them. They also had traditional fixed income funds.”

The talking head on the right side of the screen looked deeply into the eyes of the left-hand head.

“Oh yes, I do remember that.” Sigh. Inhale, exhale. “It was part of the sub-prime fueled mortgage debacle.”

The coin dealer glanced up at the screen and then looked at Tinguely.

“I don’t know why anyone listens to them. Their “objective” and “fair” recommendations are just on the things that they’ve been paid to promote. I call it an infomercial. It’s not fair and balanced news reporting. I don’t care what they say it is.”

“Investing is a science,” said one talking head.

“Oh yes,” breathed the other. Sigh. Inhale. Exhale.

That was too much for Tinguely. “Investing as a science? Hah! Well, whatever our society calls investing today is not much more than rite, ritual, and mutually gratifying self-delusion. Science seeks truth. Investing is -- well -- it's a kind of truth, but it's fuzzy. ”

“But aren’t you a scientist?” asked the coin dealer. “A geologist?”

“In a manner of speaking. But I wish I knew more about the fuzziness we need to build into our models. It's hard to see people suffer ,” said Tinguely. Her voice was sharp.

“You must have good insights into commodities, then,” said the coin dealer. His voice was smooth, bland.

“How much are the coins? My dad wants to buy a few,” she said. “He is like everyone else. He believes that truth is in the patterns. But where do the patterns come from? If you scratch the surface, they are from someone’s prejudices and beliefs.”

The coin dealer smiled. “Sounds like you had to read Georges Sorel, too.”

Tinguely pictured Sorel sitting on the front bench at a local high school pep rally, thumping and tapping his cane to the marching band and the cheerleaders shouting and jumping.

Strange bedfellows, indeed.

The coin dealer continued: “I remember Sorel – he said science was ‘too much of a conceptual, ideological construction,’ and that it crushes our perception of truth through the ‘stifling oppression of remorselessly tidy rational organization.’”

Sorel said systems always were simply skin stretched tight over belief, faith, and ideology.

Tinguely smiled politely.

“How much are they? My dad’s expecting me to haggle with you a bit. Do you mind?” she asked.

The talking heads were still talking, still reinforcing each other’s prejudices and each other’s rationalizations of the consequences of untrammeled greed.

The coins glittered in the morning light. The voices on the television droned on about predictive models and the science of supply and demand. The multiple working hypotheses were simply variants of dogma.

Frankly, she did not care. She was more interested in tales of the survivors of boom-bust cycles.

The dead coyote smiled. Its canine tooth glinted, the eyes shone dark and black as though to tell her not to bother, not to forget it had been felled by a brass-casinged hollow-point bullet that glittered like gold. Survivors? There weren’t any.

Ask any investor.



Posted by Susan.

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