Mike Royko is on vacation. The following column was selected from among his favorites. It was originally published in 1988.
In an aggressively cheerful voice, the caller said: "Mr. Royko? And how are you feeling this morning?"
I said: "Who are you and what do you want?"
That's the way I usually respond to bubbly people who phone and ask how I am feeling. How I'm feeling was none of his business, unless he was my physician, which he wasn't.
And I knew his question wasn't sincere. Strangers who call and ask how you are feeling really don't care. They almost always try to sell you something or put the arm on you for a favor.
So after I asked who he was and what he wanted, he said his name was David Roffman and he was a broker for a company called Blinder-Robinson.
Then he made his pitch. He said he would like to talk to me about some investment opportunities.
See? I told you he didn't really care how I was feeling.
But I was polite. Although he was interrupting me while I was trying to earn a living, I understood that he was just trying to earn a living.
So I thanked him for calling, but said that I was not interested in pursuing any investment opportunities.
That should have been the end of the conversation, but he pushed forward, asking if I bought stocks, if I made investments, and if so, what kind?
Again, I politely but firmly told him that I was working, I was busy, and I was not interested in buying what he was selling. Then I said goodbye and hung up.
About three minutes later, my phone rang again. And once again it was David Roffman of Blinder-Robinson.
"We spoke earlier," he said.
Yes, we did. Three minutes ago. And three minutes ago I told you that I wasn't interested. Why are you calling me again?
"Well, I thought you might want to reconsider."
After three minutes?
"Yes, I thought you might have given it further thought and I'd . . ."
Ah, I understand. You thought that during the three minutes that elapsed, I sat back in my chair and thought: I have blown an opportunity to become rich! If only I had listened to that David Roffman, I might be well on my way to Easy Street by now. He could be making me rich. So, are you going to make me rich, Mr. Roffman?
L He said: "Ha-ha, well, I don't know if I can make you rich."
You don't? Have you made anyone rich, Mr. Roffman? Can you give me the names of people who will swear under oath that your financial wisdom has built their vast fortunes?
He said: "Ha-ha, well, I can't say that, but some of them have done well."
Mr. Roffman, how old are you?
"I'm 24," he said.
You said 24?
"Yes, I'm 24."
Mr. Roffman, the day you were born, it's likely that I was doing what I'm doing today. Batting out a newspaper column and earning a decent living. My family had a sturdy roof over its head. We had food on our table. And our two dogs had food in their bowls. But do you know what has happened in those 24 years?"
I am still earning a decent living. My family still has a roof over its head. There is still food on the table and in the bowls, although the dogs have been replaced by cats. And do you know how I accomplished that?"
I did that by not being stupid enough to entrust my money to some 24-year-old guy who calls me on the telephone out of the blue and asks me to let him play games with my dough.
He was silent, so I went on. At that point I may have been ranting.
Mr. Roffman, I read the Wall Street Journal, which, with a straight face, calls itself the diary of the American dream. And all I read about are financial jackals tearing at each other's throats. I read about takeovers, insider deals, poison pills, Chapter 11s, indictments, investigations, betrayals, back-stabbings, swindles, cons and guys like Ivan Boesky going to a country club prison. I read about computers that bounce stock values like a yo-yo. And you expect me to throw my helpless, defenseless money into that den of thieves and vipers? I would be better off going to Vegas, sitting down at a blackjack table, and taking hits all day on 15. Mr. Roffman, are you beginning to understand what my investment strategies are?
"Uh, you aren't interested."
Very good, Mr. Roffman. But don't feel bad. If you have a hot stock, you should call your ma, your pa, your sisters, brothers and friends and neighbors. Let them get rich. Share this golden opportunity with your loved ones. Why waste it on a stranger like me?
"I see," said Mr. Roffman. "Goodbye."
I waited three minutes. The phone didn't ring. Too bad. I never did get a chance to tell him how I was feeling that morning.