by Gene Goldfarb
sloe gin fizz
I used to have a washing machine which I inherited from the guy who my wife and I bought my house from. Nothing special. It was an old side-load machine which did a decent job. He wasn’t going to hire people to lug it out of his basement. He had it for 14 free-from-repair years. And now I had it for another four breakdown-free years.
So things had gone pretty smoothly, but all those years were beginning to take their full toll. Old Bessie, which is what I called her, had started groaning just before the rinse cycle of her washing, and I knew it was a matter of short time that I’d have to send her off to the town dump.
That’s about when these groans got a bit scary. I went down to the basement one evening, and noticed that these groans which sometimes worked into a loud cyclical banging, were really a cry for attention. As I approached Old Bessie, there was a hissing mixed into the loud rhythmic banging. I could swear it was whispering, ‘Listen, listen, listen.’
I obliged and drew close while still listening. What happened next was more unsettling. I could swear it moaned something a mechanical device such as a washing machine was incapable of doing.
She said, in an unmistakable whisper, ‘Buy BWWP.’ It repeated this in something of a plea.
‘Okay, okay,’ I replied.
Immediately, Old Bessie shut up and smoothed her big rocking banging, and I heard the first woosh of the rinse cycle as it began the end of her work.
When I got back upstairs, I went on the computer so see if I could find out anything about BWWP. After a brief search, I found nothing.
I was still too stunned to do anything but sit down and start watching TV. But I couldn’t watch or keep my mind on what was playing on the TV set. Bessie had intrigued me with what she seemed to have said. I went back downstairs to the basement and asked Old Bessie to repeat what she said. But all was silent.
This was foolish. Again, I looked through the directory of stocks and could not find anything. Finally, with fresh eyes I realized that I wasn’t looking in the two areas that might prove crucial, new listings and initial public offerings. There was nothing under new listings. But then under initial public offerings, I found it.
BWWP was the ticker symbol for Before Women Wore Pants. What a ridiculous name for a stock about to be offered to the public! I checked into it further. It was a startup of a manufacturer of dresses and skirts, based in some small town in Ohio. I wasn’t a gambler. But I always had a yen for stocks and this was investing, not gambling. My hands were a bit sweaty when I got out of the directory. After all, it was basically an IPO.
The next morning, I called the brokerage that was handling the offering and found out that it was only allowing its customers with very large accounts and an associated brokerage house to subscribe for this initial public offering. This meant I’d have to buy at the secondary offering on the market itself. Fine. I was resigned to do so. I had no mind to discuss this with my wife. She was staying with her parents for a while to help them on account of their health having taken a bad turn lately.
A few days later the public offering took place. I was able to pay for several hundred shares at a little higher than the initial offering price. The price then rose a bit more, but settled down below the offering price on the day’s close.
Doubt began seeping into my feelings. This had been too good to be true. I started feeling like a really tremendous fool. But I decided, to hold on. Aside from a brief announcement about the initial public offering, and a few laughs by the business news commentators, nothing more came of it.
But on the day after the opening of Before Women Wore Pants, the commentators had another good laugh when they related how their wives had asked them what was so funny about the name.
For the next week nothing happened, except BWWP had regained its opening price and then some, but not too much. I didn’t mention any of this to my wife. Then one day one of the business prognosticators came on like the Grand Poobah of Wall Street. When questioned about the stock, he smirked and described it as something that would end up a “fleeting curiosity inconsistent with the preservation of investment capital.” Still more chuckles by the commentators. I was annoyed by this arrogant remark and its reception.
The following day, the TV station apologized for having possibly offended “a certain demographic” of its investment audience. Within the next half hour, the stock began its take-off.
By the end of the day, the stock had gone up over 3 percent, a pretty nice gain.
On the day after, BWWP gained another 2 percent. I felt good, the machine had been right all along. Now, how high would it go? And how soon? What would my exit strategy be?
I didn’t have to wonder long. My next load of washing answered that, at about the same time my wife seemed to have grown uncommonly interested in my attachment to doing the laundry. I kept my response boring and credible about lately feeling I should pitch in as to the laundry.
‘But why do you have to sit down there for the whole wash?” she insinuated.
“I don’t want to run up and down to the basement. I can sit there and read.’
I didn’t hear anything more from her about it, but I made sure to bring a book every time I did a load. Finally after ten days, Old Bessie hissed a sell signal. There was a hiss. I edged up close and detected it near the end of her load, repeating, ‘Ss..sell…sell.’
‘But when?’ I implored.
She began banging, thirty times it seemed. ‘Is that it? Thirty days?’ I asked.
‘Yesh…yesh,’ she hissed and moved on to her rinse cycle.
Now I knew that I should get out of BWWP by the end of the next thirty days.
But before the thirty days were up, BWWP went down for two days in a row, not too big, but I lost a night’s sleep before it continued up, more than making up for the brief downward swing.
I remembered someone saying, ‘No one ever got hurt taking a profit.’
So I sat tight and waited out the thirty days, making sure my count wasn’t off. Then I sold my entire holding at a very satisfying price, sure this was the top.
The following morning, BWWP continued going up, but only for the first hour of trading. Then an announcement came out about trading irregularities that a government agency was looking into. Within the following half-hour BWWP began its historic slide. I had my money and didn’t look back.
About a week later BWWP began making even more worrisome banging and groaning sounds. They lasted longer, and now I was sure Old Bessie was going to be Dead Bessie very soon. She emitted another strange noise that unmistakably sounded like ‘IBUB’. I jumped to the new offerings section of the stock directory. And there it was, ‘IBUB – Investigate Before You Buy.’
Meanwhile, I called a washing machine repairman. He came to our house and fixed Old Bessie, saying he couldn’t promise how long the repair would last due to the age of the machine. But he assured me it would run more quietly, a few gears that were the main cause he’d replaced. I had him come over when my wife was gone for the day, visiting our children. So there wasn’t anything to explain about fixing a dying machine.
He found a strange black module in the washing machine that he had no idea about, except that he could not figure out any use for it. He showed me precisely where he in the machine he detached it and claimed it wouldn’t cause any problem and was, in any case, unnecessary for the machine to work. He also said if there was any future problem to call him, but that he didn’t think there would be.
As for IBUB, it was a financial advice company that Old Bessie had recommended. This time I bought a thousand shares. The price increase didn’t raise any eyebrows on TV. It was a steady, boring riser. Then it caught the attention of another financial prognosticator on TV, who merely commended it as a decent conservative pick, but that it was not going to rise very swiftly.
He seemed to be right for a couple of weeks.
In the interim all I heard from my wife, was her surprise about how the washing machine was working so much more quietly. I told her that I got in a retired repairman for a bargain price and he did a good job. She appeared satisfied, and that was the end of it.
IBUB was a real tortoise, moving up slowly on some days, then sleeping on the others. I couldn’t complain, after a couple of months it had made an impressive gain for myself. I was tempted to boast about it, but knew it was best to shut up and say nothing, even to my wife. If she noticed anything it was best to play dumb, as she often thought me uninformed but conservative at a minimum in my stock transactions, the full extent of which she was usually ignorant.
With the module removed from Old Bessie, I received no messages at all. The module
which had a small red glow light didn’t go on. And I had no idea what was happening. A news item had come on the business news of late that indicated a new form of inside trading had begun. It was all electronic and quite sophisticated. I could feel my stomach squirming, so I simply sold IBUB for a safe profit and left it at that.
After about two months, the temptation had grown to where it captivated me. I decided to deliberately take small positions in a few companies, and to be ready to sell at modest losses that could mask the winners. Just in case. Beyond that I went down to the basement and opened up Old Bessie to her inner parts. There I saw where I could re-install the module and see what would happen.
It was actually quite easy. And the red light on the module went on. The following day I found a small load of laundry needing to be done. I loaded it and waited to see what would happen.
Old Bessie did the load like a champ. As usual near the end she began banging. So I decided to set up a yes-no query based on one bang for yes and two for no. Easier on my ears and Bessie’s sides. She first indicated that I should now sell my IBUB. I responded that I had already done so.
For a new business, she seemed to sound out that I should buy TBOT. Okay! Again I went to the directory and didn’t find it at first. Fearing I had lost a great chance to buy a winner I repeated the search. Then I found it there—That Baby’s On Time. A manufacturer and wholesaler of baby products at very low prices for poor single mothers with newborns. The buy signal was solid.
I bought a couple thousand shares on opening day. Thanks to my successful recent trades I had the money to gamble with. This stock was hot from its birth. Several days later an ominous news item announced that a government agency was launching an investigation into suspected insider trading on certain new issues. I felt my stomach squirm again on this news. I went down to the basement and removed the module, and watched the small red glow disappear from its face.
A few nights later, a pickup truck came through the neighborhood. A young fit man got out and knocked on my door. This really was strange and frightening. He identified himself as an assistant deputy director of an enforcement section of his agency. The truck’s driver remained
seated at the wheel of his vehicle. I asked if I could help him. He responded that the reason for the pickup truck was that on the off chance they found the appliance they were looking for they’d need to remove it from its location immediately if there were no objection.
I allowed him in as he explained that household appliances, such as TVs, washing machines, dryers, and boilers were being used to escape detection of hacking into information systems.
I responded, ‘I don’t understand. How does an appliance like a boiler hack into some sophisticated communication system?’
He looked at me as if he were lecturing a child, ‘You see, I can’t say too much. But I’ll tell you this since you’ve allowed us in. These appliances are used to house certain types of equipment where radio signals from lower Manhattan, I can’t be too specific, are beamed out to eastern Long Island with certain information that appears to be valuable to those who know how that information can be used.’ The appliances can make sounds.
‘So how does that involve me?’
“Well, it’s pretty cool. Through an updated triangulation tracker, we can send a split signal over the ambit of the original informational radio signal is sent, and then scan backward till there is a cross contact at the hacker’s interruption point.’
I then I just made a face and replied, ‘Look, it’s all beyond me, but you can look around.’
He went down to the basement. I didn’t notice at first but he had a few tools with him.
I just said as nicely as possible, ‘Just please be careful not to damage anything.’
He opened the rear compartment of the washing machine, as I held my breath. He checked inside for a minute or so.
He then grunted, ‘No, nothing there.’ I let out a sigh as quietly as possible.
‘I hope the machine’s all right.’
‘Well, we had to check. You see the signal seems to be coming from this neighborhood.’
Then he a received a mobile call on his phone as he excused himself. ‘No, nothing. All right, I’m coming in.’
That’s all I heard him say. Then he turned and was about to leave. He gave me a business card and simply said, ‘Sorry to have bothered you, and thanks for your cooperation.’ He left at that point.
I felt some relief. But it there was still too much uncertainty. Still, I thought I would continue to suffer some uncertainty. My wife seemed to notice it when she got home a few hours later. But I was able to credibly dismiss her concern.
On the following day there was a news announcement that a powerful southern senator had called for an investigation of the agency, not the suspected fraudsters, on the issue of excessively zealous enforcement against the ‘hardworking families’ who worked for BWWP, TBOT and, believe it or not, IBUB, and the investing public that believed in these companies.
At first there was no reply from the agency. But a couple of days later, a spokesman from the agency made a statement, that heretofore, there was no further action planned against these companies or investors involved in these allegedly dubious trades. I was overjoyed. The module was going back into Old Bessie for good.
A week later, I saw my neighbor’s cleaning lady, Willisa, leaving their house. I gave her a ride to the train station, as I was going there too. A short conversation ensued.
‘So Willisa, you hear that business on the news about these little companies and their investors, all being investigated?’
‘Oh sure,’ she laughed. ‘These businesses are needed by our people.’
‘Even that little financial firm, Investigate Before You Buy?’
‘Yep, yep, yep.’
‘Yep, it’s a thing that’s been knowed by my people for years. Like my auntie from Ohio used to say, ‘since…before women wore pants.’’
Then a girlish smile skirted across her face as she looked at me.
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