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Catching the Fever

By Dan S. Aibel

Tired of feeling like we were the only people in the country who hadn't profited from the stock market boom, a month ago a bunch of friends and I decided to scrape together some money so we could get in on the action. Christening our makeshift investment club the Kirkland SuperFund (KSF), it wasn't long before we'd opened an account with one of the low-fee internet brokerage houses and started talking about how to allocate our $2,000 war chest.

After extensive and extremely unscientific research, we decided on a pair of stocks. And once we took possession, my daily routine immediately took on a number of curious twists: I found myself tying up computers in places like the Robbins philosophy library, compulsively searching the web for up-to-the-minute stock quotes; I caught myself lamenting the beginning of the weekend on Friday afternoons, knowing that I'd have to face 60 solid hours of market stasis before trading resumed on Monday; and, returning to Kirkland after a day of classes, instead of greeting my roommate and KSF manager Christopher D. Smith '98 with "What's up?" I slowly became accustomed to asking, tersely, "Up or down?"

Amazingly, in no time at all, my careful attention to the stocks seemed to be paying off: Just two weeks after the KSF bought shares in it, Silicon Graphics Incorporated (SGI) signed a new chief executive officer, and the stock responded by jumping a whopping 27 percent!

And suddenly, without ever having taken an economics course and less than a month into my first brush with investing, I was on a hot streak.

But just as watching the numbers was growing into an all-consuming pastime, I was forced to face the unthinkable: With the long President's Day weekend looming, the markets would be closed for nearly four days straight! Suffice it to say that by Monday, I've managed to work myself into a bit of a tizzy. There's no doubt about it: I'm in desperate need of a fix, an opportunity to score some quick, speculative cash.

So I arrive at the Suffolk Downs horse track a little after 1 p.m. on President's Day, and soon I'm inside the grandstand. Taking a cursory stroll down the length of the large room, the place has the feel of an oversized, smoke-filled branch of the DMV. Except that people aren't filling out vehicle registration applications or pouring over license renewal instructions; what they're doing, mostly, is studying the racing form. I pick up a copy and look it over, and it isn't long before I'm ready to, as they say, make a wager. In fact--in the interest of diversifying my gambling portfolio--I place a pair of bets on the fourth race. But all of my horses lose miserably.

And the same thing happen again in the fifth race.

But in the sixth race--the "Isadorable Stakes"--I make what seems to me to be a solid investment, one that also happens to promises an exponential return on my principal: I will soon be a gazillionaire if the favorite and a longshot that looks like a sleeper finish first and second, respectively.

And sure enough, as the pack of horses approaches the final turn, the Suffolk Downs audio system tells me that Land Ahoy and Two Mikes are running one and two--just as it says on my betting slip. As visions of expensive dinners and new compact discs course through my mind, my entire body clenches up and my heart rate quickens.

And soon I hear my voice mixing with those around me, climbing in volume with the crowd in what sounds vaguely like a communal religious ceremony. It sounds that way, at least, if you don't pay careful attention to what's being said. Because while "God" and "Jesus" do get a mention here and there, prayer doesn't seem the best way to characterize the spirit in which all that religious vocabulary is being used. A better explanation is that a great many members of the gathered mass are slinging their most forceful, most venomous curses at television sets.

And I'm right in the middle of it: I am pleading and ordering and begging a video image of Two Mikes not to fall behind Cousin Kelly and Potential Fire, both of whom are gaining slowly on the outside. I am working with everything I've got to coax my horse to Hold Her Freaking Place for another furlong or so.

Yet somehow, she manages not to take my advice; Two Mikes falls off in the stretch run, finishing somewhere in the middle of the pack. And I leave the track having blown a good 15 bucks, feeling somewhat empty and slightly used. But late that very night, an interesting bit of news about Bertucci's (BERT), the KSF's other holding, comes to my attention: The company's founder is making an effort to buy a controlling interest in the restaurant chain and he's going to pay $8 a share--28 percent more than we paid--to do it.

True to form, BERT jumps $1.50 when trading finally resumes on Tuesday, allowing the KSF to cash out with a sizable profit. And not only does the stock's sale leave me with a net gain over my gambling losses; there might even be enough money in there for a couple CD's as well.

Dan S. Aibel '98 is a philosophy concentrator in Kirkland House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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