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What goes up must come down (run!)

December 1, 2000

 

Does it seem to you like it was *ages* ago that the stock market was burning the sky like a space shuttle?

Every week or so it's another spectacular drop. The little squiggly line since March shows the market doing the same thing my Mom's sewing machine did when set to "buttonhole": a crazy zigzag. And it's ending up much like any sewing ends up with me at the helm: zooming downwards off the page.

 

Maybe you know someone (or maybe it was you?) who found themselves richer and richer on paper in the last two years. People were buying Amazon in the early days, and it just kept going up, and up, and up. Everyone I know made money off of that. There was Apple, starting at the bottom for those wise enough to have bought when they were down several years ago; there was Yahoo, which just kept splitting; Microsoft always paid well; tech stocks in general were, well, *hip*. They were as hot and happenin' as any trend, like those dumb aluminum scooters that don't really do anything. Stupid things, their wheels are way too small to be of any use at all.

 

Almost every day, Ashley would say, "Wow, our _____ stock is up five hundred!", or whatever. "We just made $_____ dollars!"

 

And I'd turn from my game of Sim City and say pragmatically, so unfazed by the thrill of it all, "Cool. Did you sell it?"

 

He'd look at me dryly. "No."

 

"Well," I must have said a hundred times -- even though I know nothing about the stock market, this much seems clear to me -- "Then we didn't make $_____ dollars, did we."

 

To be perfectly honest, I think my own husband may have been contributing to what turned out to be absurd inflation of stock values. He was so delighted at their performances that he couldn't seem to conceive that it could go anywhere but up. For a few months it was our ritual.

 

"How's our portfolio?" I'd ask.

 

"Amazon's up twenty points!" (or whatever. I'm just going to keep saying "or whatever.")

 

"Great! Did you sell any?"

 

"No."

 

Sigh. It's so exemplary of the differences in our thinking; Ashley manages the world in a state of abstraction, which keeps him alight of many different concepts and possibilities at one time. I can only handle one thing at a time, which I focus on like a guard dog watching someone scaling his fence. But I'm pragmatic with deadly purposefulness, and many times I wished I had my own stock portfolio so I could do what I perceived to be the right thing: Sell the damn stock when it reached unbelievable heights, instead of just gaping with amazement at the unbelievableness of it all, and waiting to see what other tricks it could do.

 

In the end we did make some money on the tech stock hype; but also in the end we did not sell all of it and once in a while when there's yet another horribly terrestrial moment in the ever-declining squiggly line, Ash will comment how much "down" we are and I shake my head.

 

The last year, it seems like most every hot internet company either lost money in droves or was given six months to live or bit the dust. Some people saw it coming, knew it would happen all along. But a lot of people loved the idea of it all too much -- the nerd-conceived, nerd-operated industry of being a nerd -- and thought the internet making big money for even the most unassuming little companies, using cool, swooshy logos and abstract or esoteric names like "eruditeria.com" (just made that up) and making big money for programmers, especially, was way cool. It's like the unpopular people in high school getting their come-uppance and coming away with fistsfuls of money; and the rest of us, their friends, getting to see what happens when geeks get rich and turn either bored and nihilistic, or just plain psychotic.

 

But there it goes... down, down, down. It's hard to imagine now that tech stocks could ever have looked red-hot; or the words "internet startup" could have meant anything but "duping venture capitalists into letting you use their thick wads of green bills for a particularly spectacular bonfire."

 

Now that we're down, Ash wants to sell the rest and get out. I still don't know anything about the stock market, but it looks simple enough to me: "Sell? When we're *down*?"

 

This time Ashley sighs, looking at all the red ticks on his e*trade screen, wishing I'd just go back to my game of Sim City where I can inflict no real damage.

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