1. Grasso Put Out to Pasture

Sure, we made fun of him. But we already miss him.

Yes, we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab have spent the past few weeks making snide remarks about Dick Grasso's supersized pay package and trapezoidal cranium.

But now that Grasso has stepped down from his post as chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, we're suddenly misty-eyed. Not that we were exactly fond of Grasso, but we liked having him around to pick on. Now that he's left the building, there's an empty space in our hearts.

Yes, after Grasso tendered his resignation Wednesday evening, we finally understand how The Washington Post's legendary editorial cartoonist Herb Block felt after Nixon resigned, or how Darth Vader felt after he whacked Obi-Wan Kenobi. A self, in part, is defined by an Other. And one of our Others is gone.

Well, almost gone. Details of Grasso's severance package are no doubt being ironed out as you read this. Which gets us to thinking about one particular event of the past two weeks -- the moment on Sept. 9 when, in an attempt to defuse the outrage sparked by the $139.5 million due Grasso, the NYSE chairman told the board he would forgo an additional $48 million due him.

Good Night, George
This is one less trapezoidal cranium you'll have to polish anymore

Fat lot of good that did him.

Yes, most of us expect that we'll earn some sort of salary in return for showing up at the office. But thanks to Grasso's offer (we've previously conjectured why he made it), Dick Grasso effectively paid a hefty sum just to extend his employment a mere six days.

A hefty sum, indeed. As far as we can decipher from the NYSE's paperwork, some of that $48 million hadn't yet vested, or was due Grasso only if he were employed by the NYSE at some point in the future. But Grasso had already earned and accrued, by our reading, at least $28.6 million of that $48 million. In other words, the privilege and delight of working at the NYSE one last week cost Grasso at least $4.8 million a day.

Hmm. Like Grasso, we look forward to coming into the office each day. But not that much.

Or will this week cost Grasso that much? Yes, we all know he told the board he'd give up claims to the $48 million. But we wonder whether he signed all the official documents we assume are necessary to renounce that kind of money.

And if he didn't do the paperwork yet, is it possible he's having second thoughts about signing all that money away? We don't know. We called up the NYSE to ask about the status of Grasso's giveback, but a spokesman declined to comment.

2. Exchanges, Face the Strange

As we've learned over the past few days, the NYSE's board has no idea how to manage Grasso's pay. So what kind of job will the board do in picking a successor?

A lousy one, we fear.

That's where you come in.

Yes, the board of directors of the New York Stock Exchange needs your help in deciding who will succeed Dick Grasso as head of the most important stock exchange in the world.

Board member Larry Sonsini has already turned down the post of interim chairman, it's been reported. Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, now at Citigroup ( C), doesn't want the job either, reports CNBC.

So who should run the NYSE? We don't know. But we bet you have a good idea.

Thus the latest in our haphazard series of Five Dumbest Things contests: "Who Should Fill Grasso's Shoes?"

If you've got a suggestion, send the name -- plus a brief explanation as to why your nominee is appropriate -- to the research lab, in care of george.mannes@thestreet.com. The winner will receive an autographed copy of James J. Cramer's You Got Screwed!

Entries will be judged on the basis of creativity and originality -- not plausibility. We're not interested in the obvious possibilities, like former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt. We want you to think outside of the box on this one. Way outside.

3. Viacom Draws a Blink

Like all good investors, we at the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab are never wrong. We're just early.

Today's anecdotal proof of our infallibility: An item we published three months ago about Blink 102.7, a New York radio station owned by Viacom ( VIA.B).

Back in June, you may recall, we wrote about the singular Dumbness of the radio station's advertising campaign, which touted an entertainment, news and gossip format the station adopted in April.

Each of the ads, which appeared on buses and bus shelters, comprised an entertainment news item undercut by a punch line hinting that the station had inside knowledge of what was really going on. "The rapper was caught in a heated gun battle ..." announced one typical ad, only to follow up with, "... arranged by his publicist."

Yeah, right. As if the station would have a remote chance of coming up with libel-suit-magnet scoops like that. "Talk about overpromising and underdelivering," we wrote.

The Blink folks were shocked that we would doubt them. Blink "enjoys content partnerships with Viacom siblings like Entertainment Tonight, MTV and CBS, as well as outside partners like Us Weekly and E!, giving us a wealth of celebrity news, information and gossip to share each day with our listeners," said a Blink spokesman in a statement issued in June. "These kinds of relationships give 102.7 Blink an edge."

Well, a pretty dull edge it was. See, late last week, after suffering dismal ratings, 102.7 dumped the news-and-gossip formula and laid off 20 staffers, according to the local newspapers. "It's a situation where you have to take risks," a Viacom spokesman explained this week. "A risk was taken. It was an innovative format. And it didn't work."

4. Buffalo Wing Field

Whenever we at the lab are feeling blue, we print out an initial public offering prospectus to read on the subway home. We're always hopeful we'll find something in there to amuse us, and we're rarely disappointed.

This week's mood-enhancer: A prospectus filed at the SEC late last week by Buffalo Wild Wings, a Minneapolis-based restaurant chain that sells "Buffalo, New York-style chicken wings spun in one of our 12 signature sauces."

The first thing we noticed in the offering document was the restaurant chain's innovative, out-of-the-box approach to describing its business. "Upon entering our restaurants, guests may choose to order at the counter for dine-in or take-out service or order at the table from our servers," goes the business description. "This option allows our guests to customize each dining experience based on their different time demands or service preferences."

Oh my gosh! "Customize each dining experience!"

What innovation! What risk-taking! What out-of-the-boxness!

What a stupid way to say, "We serve eat-in and take-out!"

Whoever drafted this particular document has too much time on his hands.

Anyway, it gets better. Down in the "Risks" section of the prospectus, Buffalo Wild Wings explains,

    If the cost of chicken wings increases, our cost of sales will increase and our operating income could be reduced.

    The primary food product used by our company-owned and franchised restaurants is fresh chicken wings. Any material increase in the cost of fresh chicken wings could adversely affect our operating results. ... Our cost of sales is significantly affected by increases in the cost of chicken wings, which can result from a number of factors, including seasonality, increases in the cost of grain, disease and other factors that affect availability, and greater international demand for domestic chicken products. Because we are currently unable to secure long-term fixed-price contracts for the purchase of fresh chicken wings, a rise in the prices of chicken wings would expose us to cost increases.

Wow. What's better than risks related to chicken wings? After conducting further research, we at the lab can assure you that this is the first time over the past three years -- and, we suspect, the first time ever -- that a company has discussed chicken-wing-related risks with the SEC.

We actually feel a little sorry that these folks haven't been able to secure long-term fixed-price contracts for the purchase of fresh chicken wings. If only Enron were around at peak performance: right now a brainiac in Houston could be cooking up some chicken wing derivative, or even making trades on the company's $20 billion chicken wing exchange.

Wingin' It
Minneapolis-style Buffalo wings

Seeking to assess the size of the U.S. chicken wing market, we found a study from the National Chicken Council indicating that chicken wings are Americans' fourth-favorite chicken snack, coming in behind chicken tenders/strips, chicken leftovers and chicken nuggets.

Which makes us wonder whether we should open up a restaurant chain specializing in leftover chicken.

We'll have the prospectus out any day now.

5. Some People Call Me Maurice Greenberg

Any North Carolinians out there want to buy insurance today for the damage that Hurricane Isabel did to your house yesterday? Perhaps you can get a policy from American International Group ( AIG).

See, last week, AIG agreed to pay a $10 million fine to settle SEC charges that it participated in a 1998-99 scheme to sell what the feds call "retroactive" insurance -- that is, a policy to cover damage that had already taken place.

Ostensibly, AIG sold cell-phone distributor Brightpoint ( CELL) a policy that covered business risk. In reality, says the SEC, it was a sham transaction designed solely to smooth out Brightpoint's financial results.

The SEC further alleged that the Maurice Greenberg-led AIG made "materially false" statements to Brightpoint's auditors, and that during the SEC's investigation of the matter, AIG deliberately withheld a key document and conducted a "woefully deficient" search for relevant documents.

AIG, which neither admitted nor denied guilt, concedes that "mistakes were made" in the underwriting of this policy. But we understand AIG wants to write a key man policy covering Richard Grasso at the NYSE.

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