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Notes from a Crusty Seeker

The New World of Finance

“In consideration of your opening one or more accounts for me (‘we,’ ‘us’ and ‘our’ are each substituted for ‘I,’ ‘me’ and ‘my,’ respectively, in the case of multiple account holders, corporations, and other entities), and your agreeing to act as broker/dealer for me for the extension of credit and in the purchase of …”

“Do I really have to read all this?” I ask Jose R. Baez, the bright-eyed ex-Naval officer, present-day financial adviser who is doing the paperwork to shift my considerably diminished annuity from a fixed income account to something with a roll-up or roll-over or is it a let’s-roll-and-don’t-worry-about-nothing guarantee?

“If you want to sleep at night,” he answers without deviating from his mouse clicks.

What the hey, I sign without reading.

It was about half an hour ago, somewhere during the annuities-for-dummies lesson given by Jose R’s exceptionally patient boss, Morris Krimolovsky, that I went into the coma. I thought I’d left Citibank after ten people in India lost my annuity account number and referred me to nonworking Citibank phones, but Morris is in a Citibank office — although he tells me he works for Smith Barney, but don’t worry about it; it’s an ever-evolving thing. He tells me that although his name has been on my annuity statements since 1998, this is the first time he’s had anything to do with the account. “When Laurette left, they just had to put somebody’s name on it,” he explains. Then he takes my history. “Unemployed,” I tell him. “Since December when I was downsized.” He makes a note and asks, if I run through unemployment and my cash fund, where will I take money next?

I can’t remember if I left my stove on. I’m making soup, because I read an article in Shambhala Sun by the good Buddhist Alice Walker that says that the best way to cope with the recession is by making big pots of the stuff. I’ve never made soup before and I didn’t have all the ingredients in my Gary Null vegetarian cookbook that I bought about 25 years ago and am using for the first time. Gary says to simmer things, which I was doing when I got the call from Jose to come in and talk about my annuity. I wonder if I turned off the flame.

“Hypothetically,” says Morris, “if you run out of money, where will you go next?”

Well, my parents are dead, and my siblings don’t like me. But I don’t think Morris wants to hear about my dysfunctional family. “Probably to whichever account is doing the worst. Mutual funds?” I suggest, hoping I’ve given the correct answer.

Morris makes a note and starts drawing pie charts to explain why my diversification is bad. He tells me if I move my shrunken annuity into the new rolling thunder account, I can be more aggressive because even if the stock market tanks, your principle gets this six percent boost of “funny money” which you can’t really take out of the bank if you’re out of food or hit by a truck and your insurance has been cancelled. But nevertheless, funny money is good because it adds to what the bank will give you five percent interest on; you see, you get interest on whichever is higher — your real principle if the stock market goes up, or your funny money account.

I’m making broccoli soup, although it’s mostly carrots. Alice Walker says the best ingredient for soup is snuggling. (I think she was being poetic; you can’t really snuggle in soup without getting wrinkled.) She says snuggling is good because it’s free and that the best snuggling is with a human. I have a dog, but I wonder if Morris is into snuggling. He is holding his face and saying something about how he can see that he’s lost me, and I try really hard to pay attention.

You see, with this new plan, not only do you get to collect funny money and be aggressive, but if you don’t touch your money until you’re, say, 65, you are guaranteed 5.5 percent of whatever is biggest, your funny money or your real money. “Cool,” I say. “Let’s do it.”

So I move to Jose’s cubicle. Morris goes to lunch, and in 20 days I will receive a mountain of papers with little post-its telling me where to sign. And I will sign. I will drink my soup and snuggle with my dog and sign, being extra careful not to spill carrots on the papers. Oh, lawdy, I will sign. I will jump down, spin around, sign a batch of papers, I will jump down, spin around, gnawing on soup bones.

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