Dear Mr. Berko: What can you tell me about Oil Boom USA? My brother is very excited about this oil partnership opportunity. He heard of it on Sirius XM Radio and wants me to invest with him in a full unit for $160,000. Would you?
Dear RS: I can’t, in the normal way, answer your question. However, I think you’ll come to your own conclusion after reading these comments and understand why I’m unable to give you a knowledgeable response.
When I phoned Oil Boom USA, which is somewhere in Texas, I was put through the usual “first call” screening process. Subsequently, my call was transferred to an intentionally engaging fellow, called Joe— just like the coffee! He continued qualifying me—asking what I do for a living, whether I have the financial resources to afford this investment and about other personal data— and then segued from the formal “Mr. Berko” to the familiar “Malcolm.” Holy moly, my given name is usually reserved for people I’ve known for years, for contemporaries, for folks I meet at social functions and for everyone who reads this column. Heck, even my daughter, whom I’ve known for 45 years, doesn’t call me Malcolm.
Anyhow, I’m often reluctant to tell those whom I’ve just met (especially at social events) what I do for a living. When folks discover I write a financial column for a few newspapers, they grab on to me like a Rottweiler, so it’s difficult to shake them loose without being impolite. Sometimes I’ll suffer listening to their bone-dry stories about the money they made in the stock market (always their ideas) and the money lost, which is always their broker’s idea. Eventually, sotto voce, they ask, “What are you recommending that’s hot?” It’s particularly tormenting when you’re sitting next to someone on an airplane.
Thirty years ago, I would tell folks that I taught high school or was a civil service employee. Then they’d begin a harangue about what was wrong with our public school system or rant about the federal government bureaucracy. So I decided to tell folks that I’m a neurosurgeon or a quantum physicist. Few know enough to discuss either subject, so I’m usually spared the tedium of listening to a well-meaning seatmate on a long flight. A few times, I’ve been caught by a medical doctor, but when I quickly have fessed up, we’ve enjoyed a big laugh.
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