This year’s Algotoona High School’s mock stock-picking contest wasn’t exciting — at first. Mr. Putter convinced two local stockbrokers to offer $100 to the winner from their marketing budgets, so the stakes seemed modest.
But the stakes were far higher than Mr. Putter realized. Word in the boys’ restrooms was that Miriam Lombardo promised to give a hand job to the contest winner, if the winner was a guy, other than Aaron, obviously.
The boys in the class did not call Miriam Lombardo Miriam. They called Miriam Lombardo Lamborghini, because she was totally hot and completely out of their league.
Two boys in class turned the contest into a personal death match. Billy and Dajuan made one of those silent side-glance challenge bets with each other on who would win the contest — and win the Lamborghini.
Mr. Putter had told his Math and Money class about Warren Buffet’s advice to only invest in companies whose products you knew. He also warned against selecting any over-the-counter penny stocks, since most OTC stocks were not real businesses, just scams to fleece people who wanted to get filthy rich without bothering to learn investing basics.
But Mr. Putter was just an old teacher, not a young influencer, so Billy selected a OTC cannabis stock, BUZZD. He figured that any stock priced at 1/1000 of a penny per share had a monster load of upside, and no downside. Not with all the weed smokers burning through inventory in high schools across America. Even the chess club nerds were all stoners, which is
why Ms. Hinky, the chess club advisor, finally gave up on speed chess.
Dajuan had developed crippling difficulties concentrating after puberty, at least when there were girls in the room or on his mind, so he selected XOXO, a can’t-miss OTC company that would disrupt solutions or revolutionize stuff, whatever. He had learned from his English teacher that appearance and reality, like Larry and Janet in his biology class, were not at all interested in each other no matter what people wanted to see.
Both Billy and Dajuan had learned in their communications class to “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Dajuan planned to update his pick-up lines accordingly, once the stock-picking contest was over. Like Dajuan himself on the dating scene, XOXO was flying under the radar, with its stock price quietly bobbing between $0.0001 and $0.0002 for the last decade.
All the students turned in their choices in sealed envelopes. As soon as Mr. Putter posted the choices, the trash talking began, each student ridiculing the others for making a stupid choice. Nathan got a lot of grief for selecting the boring Kroger grocery chain, but he knew that he would have access to insider information from a friend on the inside, a shelf stocker who knew a lot of stuff.
The only students not doing any trash talking or playing grab-ass were Dajuan and Billy. They were focused investors now. They wanted that Lamborghini, and the Lamborghini bragging rights, really, really bad.
The first week was volatile, with a girl in the lead who selected a rent-to-own and auto-equity-loan franchise chain that she often heard her parents quarreling over. Her stock pick rose two percent in the first week despite a choppy market. Both Billy and Dajuan panicked at the thought of losing out on the Lamborghini, and both knew they had to up their game.
Billy first tried to get the other kids to start buying BUZZD gummy products, but he discovered that the company didn’t actually have any products yet, just a brand name and a big slam dunk dream. That didn’t matter much, because all of the social media buzz predicted explosive share price growth really soon, maybe tomorrow. Urgent social media commenters with account names like BzzBoss and Weedwallah posted several times a day, so they probably knew a lot about the product and the sector, and could be trusted.
By the second week, that loser named Laverne was ahead by a wide margin, having chosen FUKU, a patent troll company that just announced their intention to maybe sue Tesla, Meta, Alphabet, IBM, and Congress. Hungry sharks on social media wanted to get in quickly, before the price collapsed, and that drove the price up.
Billy and Dajuan were determined to be masters of their own fates, just like that character in that stupid novel they were too busy to read for English class. “Protagonists make things happen,” Mrs. G told the sleepy class. “Maybe you should try it.”
Mr. Putter explained to his class about how FUKU and other OTC meme stocks were pumped and then quickly dumped, mostly by fake social media commentary. Billy and Dajuan paid attention. By that evening, both were frantically and secretly posting fake social media commentary of their own, using dozens of aliases, trying desperately to burst the FUKU bubble.
FUKU collapsed fast. Billy now turned his attention to pumping BUZZD and trashing XOXO. Dajuan was diligently doing the opposite. Both stocks rose a little but wavered, then quickly sank under a barrage of bearish posts attacking the bullish posts.
On the final trading day of the contest, BUZZD and XOXO had slumped back to $0.0001. Miriam’s parents saw to that, using their secret side hustle, which was running a boiler room employing dozens of paid pumpers and bashers from around the world.
The contest winner? Miriam Lombardo won easily, having selected Goldman Sachs. To reward and encourage her, her parents bought her a new Mercedes.
Stephen Sossaman is the author of Writing Your First Play (Pearson), and his stories and poems have appeared in such journals as Paris Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Military Review. He is an emeritus professor at Westfield State University in Massachusetts, now living in Burbank, California.