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In the dark about the stock market

By Staff | Mar 12, 2009

I’m still in the dark about the stock market.

Try as I might, I can’t even begin to understand it all. It’s in the news so much now. First it’s down, then it’s way down, then it recovers some and then drops off again. I can’t keep up.

My investment guy sends out letters every once in a while to calm the panic, but the stock market is like a foreign language to me. I guess that’s why I leave it up to the professionals. Win or lose, I just look at the bottom line, and that’s dwindled to pretty much nothing.

I guess I should have learned to play the card game Pit when I had that chance as a kid.

In case you’ve never heard of it, the game is patterned after the trading floor of the stock exchange. Before there were kids’ online investing games and junior day trading, there was Pit. First released in 1904, this classic card game has been teaching kids about commodities trading for a century.

You’re supposed to shout your deals while trading cards depicting the commodities like barley, corn, and soy. You try to “corner the market” by collecting all the cards of one suit, taking care to avoid the Bear, and playing high stakes with the Bull. I could never keep track, is the bear good or bad? Should I avoid the bull or try to find him?

Apparently, play will inevitably spiral into a frenzy of players yelling “Two, two, two, two!” or “Four, four, four!” to attract trades or slapping the bell and screaming “Corner!” when a market is theirs.

I had visions of myself yelling and flashing wild hand gestures like those guys you see on TV. You know, the ones on the stock market trading floor who look like crazy baboons screaming and waving their hands. It looks like so much fun, even if I have no idea how it all works.

I have fond memories of family games around the dinner table, but none of them involve the game of Pit.

We had the game when I was a kid, but no one could ever figure out how to play it. The cards depicted commodities such as rice, corn, wheat, flax, barley, etc. I never quite understood the concept of the game or bothered to take the time to read the directions to find out. I must have had some sort of mental block when it came to the stock market even back then. I just liked to play with the noisy little orange bell.

The current updated version changed the commodities to cocoa, platinum, gold, cattle, oil, rice, silver, and gas. I suppose they have to keep up with the changing times. The new version doesn’t have a bell, either. Bummer. The loud bell was the only part of the game I liked.

I guess unless I’m willing to sit down and learn a thing or two from my investment guy, I’ll continue to plead ignorance. I must admit I feel powerless when it comes to the stock market troubles, and I’m not sure if there’s anything the average Joe can do about it. I receive a sobering reminder of that fact every time I open my disastrous 401k statement. I still can’t make heads or tails of it. All I know is that what was there is shrinking to nothing.

I received an email the other day with a little play on words. It went something like this:

I checked the markets the other day and helium was up, feathers were down. Paper was stationery. Fluorescent tubing was dimmed in light trading. Knives weredown sharply. Cows steered into a bull market. Pencils lost a few points. Hiking equipment was trailing. Elevators rose, while escalators continued their slow decline. Weights were up in heavy trading.Light switches were off. Mining equipment hit rock bottom.Diapers remain unchanged. Shipping lines stayed at an even keel. The market for raisins dried up.Coca-Cola fizzed. Caterpillar stock inched up a bit. Sun peaked at midday. Balloon prices were inflated. And Scott Tissues touched a new bottom.

What else can you do these days but try to find some humor in the stock market? It’s either that or I break down and learn how to play Pit. It would be a whole lot easier to play the stock market in a make-believe world like that. The real world is just way too scary these days.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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