by Behrouz Bahmani
San Ramon, Califonia
The combination of turning 35 and sitting here feeding my 3-year-old son Julian his Trix Yogurt has triggered an amazing wave of feelings and memories about Iran and my childhood.
I remember the importance we gave to food, especially snacks. To me, snacks were not just yummy but as it happened, they taught me all I now need to know about investing in the stock market.
Plus, the principles I learned on the playground are serving me quite well in the realm of speculative investing. As a matter of fact, I believe that as we speak, I am breaking even, as long as Netscape's stock doesn't fall.
As I recall, I was in the fifth grade in Tehran. (At this very moment I can sense the anxiety wave that everyone in school felt in those days about taking the emtehane nahaie , or final exams, which determined which type of junior high school you could attend.)
That year, the Ministry of Education had announced a national program whereby the government would fund a morning snack for each child. All schools would be awarded a per student budget to be spent responsibly on the children by the school administration. This was also the time when the first yogurt snacks, so prevalent nowadays, first came on the market.
Produced by the infamous Mimas company, the snack was an instant hit with kids and grownups alike. What a concept! Food that tasted good and that your parents felt was good for you! God is Great!
Our school administrators were wise, entirely fair, decent and good (well, except for the time they chastized me for making creative alterations to girls' costumes for the end-of-year dance program). They decided that the snacks would be Mimas and shirini danmarki , or Danish pastry.
Actually, one of the kids' parents owned the Danish pastry company in Tehran and, well, we don't need to go into that right now. All we cared about was that they were really good pastries.
I mean they were really, really good. They were so good that they were better than Mimas. Let's face it; after you had your 72nd strawberry-flavored Mimas, you were less than enthused. And moreover, wasn't it really a cleverly disguised conspiracy foisted by our parents to get us to eat healthier foods?
It became clear fairly quickly that the snack of choice was Danish pastry. I mean, here was a snack, full of butter and shortening and goo and stuff.
Each day Mimas and Danish pastries were delivered to the school and at the 10 o'clock bell, they were randomly distributed. Within weeks after the initial buzz of Mimas wore off, there began to develop a secret pattern of trading.
At first the rate of exchange was 1:1. This was fair at first because the novelty of Mimas was still effective and the product had a cool smooth exterior and was brightly colored, clearly worth no less than your average limp Danish.
I have even heard stories that there was actually a brief time when Mimas traded 1:2 for a Danish. But soon the rate of exchange changed and reversed to two, three, four, and even five Mimas for one Danish. I myself sold at 6:1 one day. I knew the price would eventually come down and that this was only typical end of recess profit-taking.
Soon we forgot everything and only lived for the exchange rate. We had insiders posted at the kitchen doors to gauge the day's supply of Mimas and pastry. Every nuance became an instant factor in determining the price.
-- "What's the flavor?"
-- "Damn! Again? You promised me cherry!"
-- "Hey, I just see 'em. I don't make 'em!"
For months the price fluttered up and down depending on the supply and flavor of Mimas. Strawberry was the worst and you had better have had a good supply if you wanted a pastry that day. Peach was good, cherry was OK, pineapple, so so.
Unfortunately, I am still bound by secrecy as to how we actually acquired additional units of Mimas, when our official ration was only one, but you don't have to be an Iranian electrical engineer to figure it out. You just need to be Iranian.
(Gheyrati nasho . Relax! Where's your Iranian sense of humor?)
This persisted for months in a glorious, gorgeous orgy of greed and gluttony of the free market system. One day, as is the case with all things, the government regulators stepped in. It appeared that some schools were not as capable as ours at managing the fund.
Rather than spending the money on food for the children, other schools somehow seemed to "lose" the money, or came up with "creative" methods of spending. Other schools were giving the children kalbas and khiar shoor (baloney and pickle) sandwiches at 8 in the morning. (It was unclear to us kids why this was wrong. Lucky bastards!).
So in came the government with their regulations. From then on the government would provide the snack and not the school; we all knew that pretty soon shipments of snacks would be missed, or not enough would be sent, and above all our beloved Danish was going to be cut, probably because of that family connection I didn't want to get into. We didn't mind losing the Mimas though and waited eagerly for the new snack the government would provide.
On the first day of the new program, up rolled the delivery truck. Boxes began to move into the kitchen and the moles scurried to the "pit" we had established, to break the early news that would start the bidding. "It's Petit Beurreh Minoo!" -- plain petit beurre biscuits produced by the Minoo company, they yelled.
-- "What else?" we asked excitedly.
-- "That's it!"
-- "What do you mean, that's it?!"
-- "That's all, just Petit Beurreh Minoo!"
-- "What are we going to do? We've got people out there in the playground who depend on us to set the prices for them, how are we gonna tell them there's just one snack, and it's a lousy Minoo cookie! Minoo! Can you believe it? This is the company that came out with peanut flavored pofak (cheese puffs) for chrissakes!"
We were destroyed. Soon afterward, our school decided that the program was not worth the trouble and convinced the officials in the Ministry of Education that since we were technically a private school and self-funded, we didn't really need to burden the government and the Minoo shipments stopped.
What I learned was invaluable though. General panic can be an opportunity; don't jump to conclusions; don't follow the herd, don't play in a speculative market unless you can handle the risk; a short gain can be worth the risk only if you know tomorrow's shipment; buy low and sell high; and of course
pastry is only good for one day and Mimas must be refrigerated.