This column originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune December 19, 2017
I live with three women, which makes Christmas gift buying about as easy, and mystifying, as unclogging a toilet.
My wife’s apparel sizes seem to alter daily, which is why every item of clothing I’ve ever wrapped and placed under the tree contains a gift receipt prominently displayed on the blouse, the jeans; even the scarf, although her neck measurements seem to have remained steady over the years. Her stocking usually includes a gift card from our local gas station so she can fill her tank, compliments of her loving husband, when she begins returning all my purchases.
As for my daughters, our tastes in music, movies and any form of entertainment differ wildly so purchasing CDs and DVDs is pointless. And does anyone under 25 even utilize those two items anymore?
This year, however, I believe I have found the perfect gift for all three. It’s expensive, mysterious, riotously popular and, here’s the best part, doesn’t have to be wrapped. I just need to come up with $18,000, no $18,492, excuse me, $19,734. Would somebody please hold the price steady long enough for me to make a purchase?
Like 99.9 percent of the human race, I have absolutely no idea what bitcoin is; I only know that everybody is talking about it, as if speaking of bitcoin is the prerequisite to getting rich off bitcoin. Like AOL and Qualcomm stock 20 years ago, and house flipping in the years leading up to the real estate crash, bitcoin has achieved bandwagon “make boatloads of money now” status, at least verbally and through online queries. I recently typed “what is the current value of” into my Google search engine and the auto fill feature enthusiastically completed the inquiry with “bitcoin.” Less popular choices were “copper,” “my house,” “a forever stamp” and, sadly, “love.”
In my health club locker room, where middle-aged men loudly reveal their financial worth in various states of nakedness, bitcoin is on everyone’s minds. I listen while trying to avert my eyes, yet still can’t make sense of this strange currency; even when it’s being discussed by financial pros, who seem equally clueless.
“So, Charlie, where’s bitcoin at today?”
“It’s up 35 percent in the last 20 seconds.”
“Incredible. How high do you think it’s gonna go?”
“Nobody knows for sure.”
“How do I get some?”
“Couldn’t tell you. There’s a finite number of bitcoin.”
“Who decides to make more?”
“Who owns the bitcoin company?”
“It’s not a company. But some Japanese guy owns most of it. Can’t recall his name.”
Again, this was an actual conversation between NAKED, SEASONED FINANCIAL PROFESSIONALS. The Japanese guy, incidentally, is Satoshi Nakamoto, a California man credited with inventing the currency, which somehow makes him a gajillionaire. But there seems to be no proof whether that is his real name or whether he actually created bitcoin, which many believe is being looked at lovingly by drug dealers since transactions can be made without notifying those pesky banks.
Still want to invest?
My research into this cryptocurrency, as bitcoin is known, has yielded two very positive pieces of information pertaining to my girls:
- I can purchase a fraction of a bitcoin, keeping the price in the $50 to $100 grab bag gift range.
- Subway accepts bitcoin.
Regarding number two, I have yet to see anyone at Subway whipping out a bitcoin to purchase their meatball marinara and don’t want to be in line behind the person who does. But it’s comforting to know my wife and daughters can buy lunch without carrying cash or even credit cards.
Now, as the shopping days until Christmas tick down, I find myself reading a tutorial explaining the app Coinbase, which allows you to buy bitcoin on your smart phone. I also have read numerous articles detailing hacker breaches that have ensnared novice bitcoin buyers such as myself. I am concerned, but the massive Target hack of 2013 hasn’t stopped me from purchasing items on that retail giant’s website. I’m ready to buy bitcoin, but I still have one pressing question that somebody, perhaps the naked guys in the locker room, must answer:
Does a bitcoin purchase come with a gift receipt?