The Nocturnal Misadventures of Mr T.
“So what can I do for you?”
“Well doctor, I have been having these really weird nightmares. The images are pretty disturbing. It’s gone way past the ‘waking up in high school math class just before my final exams in my underwear’ stuff.
“Well lie down and let’s discuss your most recent incubus.”
I plopped down on a leather chaise and began to describe my prior evening’s phantasms. “I dreamed I was lost in a rundown part of New York City. It was cold – really cold – and I could see down by the East River some fires burning in trash cans in a makeshift camp. It looked like a Depression era Hooverville. I saw men shuffling and stomping their feet to keep warm while one man stoked the fire with small scraps of papers. As I got closer, I saw the bum was feeding the fire with hundred dollar bills and when he turned around, I saw it was my financial advisor. He looked terrible. When he saw me, he shrugged saying, “I know I should have taken you out of equities and into cash but I figured we’d just ride this out. Here, help me burn the rest of your money, will you?” Well at this point, I got mad and tried to grab a handful of my retirement dollars but everyone became hostile saying they needed to burn my money to stay warm. One guy that looked like Hank Greenberg threatened me with an AIG paper weight. Can you imagine? So, I ran toward the river and a guy yells, “Hey buddy, get in!” So I jumped into what looked like one of those New York Harbor sightseeing boats. That’s when things started to get really weird.
I plopped into an open seat and the three guys in front of me turned around. They were the CEOs of the Big 3 automakers – Mulally, Nardeau and Wagoner and for some reason, they were giving me a dirty look. “You drive an Audi, don’t you?” hissed Wagoner. I could not resist. “You run a crappy company, don’t you?” He reached out to grab me but his buddy restrained him. “Come on, Rick, we don’t need any more negative press.” Waggoner held two fingers up to his eyes and then pointed at me and mouthed,
“I’m watching you.”
To my left was Barney Frank wearing water wings and reading Pravda. The boat’s tour guide got on the PA system, “Welcome to post-apocalypse Wall Street, folks. The water may get rough up ahead so please put on your life jackets.” Someone threw me a life jacket. It would only fit a small child. “That’s all you get,” someone snickered. Barney Frank thought that was very funny and giggled his Elmer Fudd laugh. “We’re all screwed,” mumbled the guy behind me. It was Joe Wurzelbacher, aka Joe The Plumber. He perked up when our eyes met, “Hey, you want to buy my new book?”
The announcer spoke up, “If you look over there you will see High Yield Towers. As you can see, there is a fire on the top three floors. Normally there is no more than a 3 percent default rate of junk bonds. We expect that as many as 10 percent or over $150 billion of junk to default.” I watched the fire burn. No one was trying to extinguish it. “Now this area coming up is dangerous. Keep your hands and feet in the boat.” The water had started to swirl and pitch. The boat was picking up momentum. There were empty homes everywhere. It was as if suburban America had been picked clean by aliens or some form of the Andromeda Strain. “We have 12 million homes with an average negative equity of $ 40,000. Unless we find a way to buy out this negative equity, these homeowners will default, sending the market into a free fall.
I looked at Joe and said, “I think I am going to be sick.” Joe was gone. I was sitting next to Hank Paulson, lame duck Treasury Secretary. He just stared ahead like a combat veteran and said, “You don’t know what sick is.” The boat drifted under the soft light of an illuminated waterside boardwalk. We pulled up to a dock and Ben Bernanke jumped out to run to the bathroom. “Alan Greenspan had a much bigger bladder than this guy,” Paulson said sardonically. I took the opportunity to also disembark. I just wanted to wake up. This was the worst nightmare I had experienced in years. In the distance, I could still see my financial advisor and his derelict friends, illuminated by the scabrous dancing shadows of the burning money. My phone rang. I fumbled for it and dropped it on the ground. A man wearing a white cowboy hat walked over ,picked it up and handed it to me. “You dropped this, partner.” I looked up and I was staring into the serene face of Warren Buffett. “ Thank you, Mr. …”
“Just call me Stranger.”
“So Stranger, do you think we will ever recover?”
He though for a long time and sighed. “Oh, we will come back, but not until we as a society learn to live within our means. Americans want something for nothing. We have gotten fat, lazy and insulated. We have produced a whole generation of kids who have never experienced hardship, workers who believe a job is an entitlement and mediocre CEOs who are incented to create the very bubbles that always burst. We were harvesting money out of a gold mine propped up by the rotting timbers of easy credit, toxic financial instruments, inept rating agencies and pathetic regulators. When the forces of the free market caused a cave in, we braced the affected area instead of correcting the engineering flaws or allowing nature to run its course. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. My guess is the Dow will drop to 7,000. Businesses will go under while unemployment rates, high-yield bonds and mortgage defaults will soar. We will go through a deep recession which will shape us into a leaner, tougher nation capable of competing in the century ahead. But it won’t be fun and there will be casualties. Ultimately, we will prevail as we are a great nation of innovators and creators.” He looked out toward the bum’s camp and started to hum. “You hear that music, son? It’s the lonely anthem of a country waking up to its worst financial hangover since 1931. You seem like a nice guy. There is a stock you can buy that should allow you to recover your lost savings. It’s a great company that will surely rise like the Phoenix out of these ashes of failure. Their stock exchange symbol is…’
I looked at the doctor and said, “And that is where I wake up every time. I am going nuts.” He thought for a moment and left the room. “Hold that thought,” he quipped as he raised a finger and stuck his head out the door to speak with his assistant. He turned back to me.
“Well, it’s clear you have a lot of anxiety. This is all symbolism – a manifestation of unrealized guilt over your failure to take action during the recent economic meltdown as well as your ambivalence toward the public figures who you feel are culpable for the mess and its remediation. I would recommend the following: Do not pick up the business section, watch any stock market indices or listen to Jim Cramer for six months. Consider firing your investment advisor as he should have protected your downside risk and failed. If anyone attempts to engage you or ask your opinion on the economy, just respond, ‘You could be right.’ Then go home and watch old Three Stooges reruns. Get plenty of exercise and do not eat pizza after 5 p.m.” I thanked him and turned to leave.
“Oh and just one other thing, you must try to remember the name of the stock that Warren Buffet told you. It will help your recovery. Think…HARD!”
A secretary appeared. “Doctor, your stockbroker is on line two!”
“Tell him to wait a moment, Anne. Now think, Mr Turpin. What was the name of that stock?”