Monday, April 21, 2008


Today marks exactly four months that I've been here at my new contract gig in swanky Birmingham. This one's a winner. I'm within walking distance of falafel and crack drink, there is enough downtime during the day for ample Scrabulous and the occasional illicit blog, and receiving a steady pay check has allowed me to cover my heating bills and finish out the winter without using Claire's barbies for kindling. All in all, a great opportunity for daddy. There's just one problem. Despite my serious, protracted and mischievous efforts, I have yet to get Tandy the receptionist to slip me a solid stock tip.

You see, Tandy is sitting in a very lucrative position. Literally. About eight feet in front of the reception desk there's a flatscreen TV as big as an elephant running a relentless stream of CNN all day long. And on the next wall over, in case the angle of this epic-sized screen isn't ideal, a second flat screen is tuned to the same news channel. It's like Bladerunner in there; the flashing current of gargantuan images casting a menacing pall over all who enter and reminding us that the end is nigh. In the midst of this Orwellian gloom sits Tandy our receptionist - pretty, 50ish, always immaculately done up - calmly going about her day. This means that for roughly eight hours a day, five days a week, 52 weeks a year - i.e. 2,080 hours annually - Tandy is being force fed a gush of news and politics produced in the exhaustive, yet clipped, manner of 24-hour ticker television.

Now, I know that Tandy has a whole other list of responsibilities beyond smiling at the foot traffic coming through the agency's doors. And I can only guess that at this point she's probably seriously fucking sick of CNN. But the way I see it, like it or not she's had no choice but to absorb that information by aural osmosis. While she goes about her job, some unused part of her brain is hearing and storing all that market data and educated speculation. I have to believe that years of that have turned her into a raging, if unwitting, news junkie; have given her a doctorate in CNN; that there are few people in the Metro Detroit area more qualified to riff on everything from the subprime lending crisis to the trends in rising crude oil prices than my company's perky receptionist. The way I imagine it Tandy doesn't even have to think about it, it's second nature. Her subconscious is chewing up all that gross information and spitting it back as razor sharp insight. Our confusing and random world appears clearly to her as nothing more than a field of indicators, flowing from side to side like so much wheat. Analyzing broad patterns is in her blood. Her favorite party trick is guessing the price of gas anywhere in the world and friggin' nailing it. At night she counts the S&P 500 instead of sheep and moans hot shit stock tips in her sleep.

Which leaves me, but a humble and clueless hipster, angling for just a taste. For crumbs from Tandy's sage table. I'm like one of Dorothy's ragtag posse, standing before Oz with his hands out. But I'm not asking for brains or courage. Or even heart. I just want to hear the name of a goddman company followed by the words, "Buy, buy, buy."

I haven't come right out and asked. Tandy puts up a good front, totally professional and prim. An unbreakable front. I know that any attempts I'd make at pumping her for info would be met with a wide smile and cold eyes. The closest I got to being explicit was a dead end. I surprised her a few months ago by walking in with her favorite smoothie from the juice store down the street and, while she was still flush with embarrassed thanks and the initial sugar rush of that first sip, I leaned in and said, "You know Tandy, I like my NASDAQ like I like my women; curvy and wildly unpredictable." I waited. Dead silence. "But lately I've been feeling the urge to settle down. Get a little stability..." She just grinned at me blankly and said, "Why Mr. Johnson, you make me laugh. Are you flirting with me?"

But I didn't buy it, her pretenses of being anything less than the Nostradamus of the stock exchange. Because I saw something, quick and small. A flash in her eye at the mention of the word "NASDAQ," and the slight tremors of lip movement as she stared off and noiselessly mouthed something about volumes and "effective spread."

Since then I've tried everything short of straight up grabbing her by her perfectly laundered collar and shaking her out of her coy stupor. It's a delicate dance, this game of cat and mouse we play. Sometimes I drop loaded suggestions into idle small talk, hoping for her to slip up and utter the sacred tip from which I'll make a fortune. Other times I continue with the bribe train, an onslaught of smoothies, baked goods and occasional flowers, hoping her heart will warm to me just enough to grace me with one meager hint. A lead. A nod in the right direction. That she'll toss me a nugget from that statistical goldmine floating around in her manicured head. Can't she see that I'm on my knees here, in a hellish drought of ignorance, my tongue extended and thirsting for just one tiny, precious drop from the heavens of her market omniscience.

And still she just sits there, day in and day out, batting her eyelashes, taking my smoothies and making chit chat with me that never seems to go anywhere beyond surface weather talk and gently chiding me for forgetting my pass.

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