The economy is tanking. I learned that at a dinner we just went to. While I stood in the line for drinks, three men exchanged remarks about the price of gold, the decline in the dollar and the mounting deficit. They shook their heads, they told me to buy silver, they said a friend advised them to take their money out of the market. That would be the same friend who warned them to get out before the 2008 market freefall.
By then, I was staggering. I hate hearing rumors like this. They make me worry that my own investment philosophy of benign neglect may not be smart. They make me think about money. I hate thinking about money, especially after 5 p.m.
“I think this woman needs a double,” one of the men told the bartender. Amen, brother.
From there, I slunk into the dining room, where I sat next to a lovely young man. Flushed with pride and excitement, he told me about the software company he works for. Growing like crazy! Taking on Microsoft! Just acquired some new outfit!
Halfway into this, I noticed my husband slipping into a chair across the table. The young man offered to change seats with him. I said no. Neither of us is exactly the kind of person who will die, just die, if we are deprived of the other’s company for an hour or so. (On the whole, I tend to wonder about couples like that.)
“It’s OK,” I told the young man. “We’ve been married 38 years. I think we can manage.”
He went on talking about his company, which is involved in “The Cloud.” Oh, yes. I’d heard of The Cloud. I wasn’t entirely a moron. I should probably be investing in his company, since I knew so much about it.
In the meantime, my husband was sitting next to a guy who boomed out, “I’m sitting next to a psychologist! Can you tell me,” he asked my husband, “why my wife doesn’t understand me?”
“It’s probably your own damned fault,” my husband said.
I talked to the women next to me, I talked to the young man, I talked to the wife who didn’t understand her husband, and I occasionally eavesdropped on my husband and his conversations. I decided it was interesting to watch him and listen from a bit of a distance. We’d both have interesting conversations that we could tell each other about on our walk back. By then, I’d know all kinds of new things about The Cloud.
Then the presentation began. It went from bad to boring and stayed there. I watched my husband, who was sitting directly in front of the speaker. His chin sank onto his chest. He jerked awake and blinked his eyes.
The speaker talked on. He used a Power Point that repeated everything he said. He talked about horizontal analysis, he talked about vertical analysis. My husband’s chin sank lower. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he hadn’t been two feet away from the speaker, in front of most of the audience.
I considered writing a note to the woman next to my husband, asking her to elbow him every time he nodded off. It occurred to me that maybe you have to be married to administer that sort of discipline. Fortunately, the speaker finally finished and the applause woke my husband up.
One evening, three warnings of economic collapse, one stock tip. I wasn’t considering changing my investment strategy from benign neglect; I was considering changing my dinner-seating strategy.
Maybe couples insist on sitting together because they know something my husband and I don’t know. Maybe they’re sitting together so they can keep each other awake.
(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)