Reno herself was born Socialist. “It happened to me as I entered the birth canal and entered the world,” she suspects. “Because it’s how I’ve always felt, that there is something fishy about Wall Street.” She has no checking account. Certainly no investments. “I’ve just avoided anything about finance.”
Yet the comedic provocatuer on Sunday will go one-on-one on stage with Robert Solow, who is famous not only for winning the Nobel Prize in economics in 1987 but also for being unusually (particularly considering his profession) witty. For instance, though he probably regrets ever uttering the quip, it was Dr. Solow who said, “Everything reminds Milton Friedman of the money supply. Everything reminds me of sex, but I try to keep it out of my papers.”
The 6:30 p.m. show at The Yard is called Money Talks, and it follows a successful New York gig last month with Paul Krugman, Princeton professor of economics and New York Times columnist twice a week.
Reno admits she recently got a subscription to the Wall Street Journal — she calls it a prescription. She can say collateralized debt obligations without breaking the words down into syllables. She can even explain arbitrage, albeit not without virtually spitting with disgust as she does so.
So how did it come to this, the woman who made a one-woman stage show right out of 9/11 just as brazenly trying to make money funny?
Well it began in the hair salon. “The woman who was working on my hair who is a very pretty woman, but, you know, she’s my age, and she says something about her portfolio. And I said, ‘Oh, are you modeling?’ And she said ‘No, no!’ and she laughed and she said, ‘My investment portfolio.” And I said, ‘Okay, you’re a hair colorist and you’ve got an investment . . .’
“And then her pal who works with her, the haircutter, this young guy, comes over all hipped out with the tight, tight black, S& M-y clothes on, and he says, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, the stock market was off the hook for the whole nineties, and, you know, you couldn’t help but make money.’
“And I’m thinking, well, that’s a train that totally passed me by.”
Then there was the bartender at her favorite spot in the corner. “He’s talking — you know how in a bar the guy next to you is talking to him but you’re talking to him too? — and he’s talking about trading and I thought, he can’t possibly be into baseball cards.
“Turns out he’s going home at night, at you know five in the morning because bars are open ’til four here, and trading,” she adds a verbal exclamation point here, “on his computer. You know, day trading — or early morning trading, I guess. And he came home what he called ‘loaded’ one night and made, he must’ve pushed the button twice so he bought double what he expected to do.
“I said to him, that’s why people like us shouldn’t do this. We’re pushing double, we’re trading drunk.”
Anyway, now that she reads the Journal, she is sure: “You have to be completely lucky to make money — not only exceedingly well informed, but you have to dodge the obstacle of lies.
“Although [finance journalism] is high jibberish to me, still, bleeding up through the words are, ‘This company lied, that company lied, the other company didn’t tell the truth.’ So how are you supposed to make an informed decision against people who are on the inside, fudging and changing the rules of the accounting so they don’t have to say this but they might have to say that?
“You have to be a 24-hour genius,” she concludes. Or a game hairdresser or bartender, perhaps.
“It’s very upsetting. When I was a kid, if you went to M.I.T. it meant you were going to try to change the world, you were going to find a cure for bird flu or whatever. I’m finding these people who go to M.I.T. so they can arrange logarithms so they can take advantage of the minute differences in the prices of securities at the same time around the exchanges of the world. That’s called arbitrage. And it’s only possible — back in the day before computers it was possible through chicanery and luck — now it’s only possible I’m sure through chicanery still and tremendous amounts of fast trading through these formulas that the M.I.T. grads make.”
She goes on, along the same melody, with riffs on short-selling, mortgage-backed securities, Bear Stearns’ so-called Chinese walls (“Just after Bear got bought by J.P. Morgan Chase I went up there,” Reno says incredulously, “and if there’s a Chinese wall it must’ve been taken down the day it got sold. Everybody’s near everybody. It’s all cubicles... if you’re inside, you feel it whether somebody tells you or not. Every indicator is out there on the desk.”)
And there is more. CNBC. Her new hero, Warren Buffett. The prospect of having to eat out of a garbage can should she ever think of retiring.
Look, says Reno, “I’m just somebody who is taking on the persona of the nonplussed masses saying, ‘I don’t get this, but it doesn’t look good to me. Try to explain it.”
Which is when she brings on Dr. Solow, a Chilmarker himself, to answer questions from herself and the audience.
She doesn’t expect all the Actual Finance Experts to agree; they certainly did not in New York. But many said the show did explain things well, demystifying money in a way few investment bankers can. Some even called it value for money.
Money Talks guest starring Nobel Prize-winning economist and Chilmark resident Robert Solow, is on at The Yard on Sunday, July 13, at 6:30 p.m. followed by a supper party with the cast. Tickets are $125 for premium seating, $75 for general admission, and $50 for seniors or patron under 30. All tickets include the post-show supper. For reservations and information, call 508-645-9662.