Freakonomics’ Blog wants a new six word motto for the USA. I’ve been wanting to blog this story for a while.
So I was at a dive bar at last call. Now I’ve been know to enjoy an afterhours party here and there. People starting talking about getting a poker game together that would go from 2am to about 5am. I was definitely in. Where to hold it? I couldn’t, nor could anyone else. But someone knows a guy, an Irish carpenter who was out at another bar, who would have the space and it was a short trip. Phone calls were made, and soon half the bar were all inbound there.
Poker started. 4 of us has put in $50 each, and were given 50 pennies, each representing a $1. Actually two of us had put in $50 – two of the others were good for it. Play started, and I was not doing half bad.
After a while the host came to the poker room, incredibly intoxicated. He had been making out with a women of questionable reputation (many people had shown up to this afterhours for nonpoker reasons), but decided he wanted in on the poker. However he was drunk to the point where he couldn’t understand anything. He wanted to be dealt in the full ante, but had no cash on him. However he was the host.
So 50 more pennies entered the table, but no additional currency was in the bank. It is a terrible and uncertain thing to feel instant inflation as we saw the currency on the table grown 20% with no extra reliable currency in our treasurers’ hands, but there it was (my senses were supplemented, but not overridden, by the alcohol).
The real concern was that, no matter how much we told him, the host was not aware we were playing for real money. He’d throw in 5 pennies and go “I raise you 5 pennies.” We’d respond “You know that that is 5 dollars, right?” He’d respond “Sure….[pause]…so 5 pennies to you.” It was discouraging from a monetary point of view.
He went through money quickly. Very quickly. Soon he was out, but still referring to what he owed the table as pennies. Finally he went all in on a pair of sevens, which he lost against a straight. The girl he was making out with earlier came into the room, clearly after ingesting some cocaine in the bathroom, and beckoned the host into his bedroom. As he was being lead away from the room he had a quick moment of clarity, at which point he looked at us and asked “Wait, were we playing for real money?”
At which point I wanted an American Eagle to land by the window and for the National Anthem to play. A carpenter immigrant, right before hooking up with a cocaine girl of questionable reputation, looks at his 50-to-1 leveraged gambles at 4am and asks “Were we playing for real money?”
I think that is a good metaphor for the 2001-2008 investment era. I also think “Were we playing for real money?” should be our national motto in deference to the Bush era that just preceded us. That is my submission to the contest.