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Certainty<br> By Marc Porter Zasada<p> SOMETIMES, even here in L.A., we fail to dream of fame and fortune. In weak moments, we sometimes crave mere certainty: a safe job, a cozy retirement, and yes, a perfectly-balanced, no-load, tax-deferred, guaranteed-return mutual fund. Such a fund would be guided by unimpeachable management. Or at least...unindicted management. <p> Again today the Urban Man finds himself meeting certified financial planners -- this time squeezed around a small table at a chic Beverly Hills cafe. The two of them are talking in rapid, enthusiastic tones about a new fund they're promoting -- but it's the lunchtime crush, and I'm having a hard time hearing over the clatter of dishes and the buzz of celebrities. <p> Nevertheless, confidence rings in the air. The planners show me graphs of comfort and invulnerability. And sometimes I catch a gorgeous phrase like "variable, annuitized contributions." <p> I'm pretty sure they never mention the word "luck." <p> The first planner wears a sober tie and carries a thick prospectus. The second is an athletic young buck with infectious optimism. Whenever his restrained partner mentions a figure like "eight percent," he raises his eyebrows and says, "Oh dude...eight percent!" <p> I'm aware these men are actually salesmen, but I'm open to a new strategy for my modest life savings. For years I've used an approach called "fear and neglect." Under this concept, I buy stocks at their peak and then panic sell when they bottom out. I also spread my cash into lots of little accounts and forget they exist. <p> Meanwhile, like most in the new "ownership society," I fantasize that someday a man with a firm handshake will come along and take control of my future. Like those guys who rent ballrooms at the Airport Hilton to give lectures about instant wealth, he will have wet-combed hair and a square chin. In some mysterious way, he will understand the soul of money. Most importantly, he will promise me certainty. <p> Back at the table, I leaf through a brochure with magnificent wildlife posed on the cover. Inside, I see images of happy, silver-haired models, thanking G-d for this investment vehicle. Still, it's so complicated that I do not comprehend it, even after the sober planner spends a half hour explaining its convergence of performance and guaranties, weighted averages and market balance. <p> "Oh dude," says his handsome friend, "you should act fast." <p> Surely these men are experts. And if I were to reach out across my mushroom and arugula salad to shake his hand, I could turn over the burden of my financial life in a single bold move. If the fund later tanked, I could explain to my wife how I was double-teamed at a Beverly Hills cafe and made giddy with cappuccino. I could show her the graphs and the quantified risk scenarios. <p> I could tell her I had attempted to evade luck itself. <p> "Surely," I might say, "once you quantify risk, you've practically eliminated it." <p> After lunch, we return to the office of the athletic young buck, where a big monitor records a rise in the Dow. He flexes his biceps and urges me to sign. I come very close, and then... <p> "Dude, he says, "you can't buy more certainty than this. Besides it's the end of the month and I really need you to make my quota." Suddenly, I notice the poor cut of his suit and the lack of a really square chin. I think: "What does he know about certainty?" <p> So the Urban Man abandons the dream one more time, shakes the young buck's hand goodbye, and returns to a life of unquantified risk. <p> Copyright - 2005 by Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved. <p>
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