I’ve got seven monitors in front of me. The max. Status symbol. Information is king. Broker on my Bluetooth is bearish on the buck for ’09. I don’t agree. No trade. I shrug, take the guy on my landline off hold and do a deal with him. Two monitors to the right I see that the Yen has moved up three since the last time I looked. I see on the Bloomberg crawler that the Bank of Japan has scheduled a special meeting next week. They’ll take another action. Will it work? No. I go long on July Yen.
The Nerf football that’s always flyin’ around the trading floor is headed toward Jabba the Hut at the desk next to mine. My left hand’s busy doing the trade, but I reach up with my right and deflect it to the row of desks in front of us. Fat nerd with the coke bottle glasses woulda’ muffed it anyway. Hell of a trader, though, always neck and neck with me for the highest PnL in our group.
Jabba and me are definitely the studs on this corner of the floor. We’ve got the stingiest lead trader in the whole damn company and I still pulled down six hundred K last year. I think Jabba was just a little behind me. That might sound like a lot, but it’s chicken shit compared to what the partners make. I’m in my third year here, and my goal is to make partner in a year or so. Pretty quick, but it’s been done.
I make a few more trades before close, then shut down my book and wait for the day’s PnL. While we’re waiting, I start to rag Jabba. This is our time to bullshit, ‘cause we’re too busy making money the rest of the day.
I’m like: “Jabba, have you ever actually been with a girl?”
Jabba puts on a big grin. “Saint,” he says, “you’d be surprised how much a high six-figure income improves your looks.”
I’m like: “Yeah, yeah. Admit it. You got to buy it.”
“Don’t we all?” he says without losing his grin.
I change the subject to one of our favorite games. “Jabba, who’s dumber? Government regulators or ratings analysts?” We’ve started at the bottom of the food chain, except for “the muppets”—the clients.
Jabba says the analysts win, hands down. I play Devil’s advocate, “I don’t know. The regulators have an office right here in the building and they still don’t have a clue what’s going on in the company.”
“The analysts are still dumber,” Jabba says. “Think about it. There’s this dude in my apartment building, one floor down. He’s unemployed. Used to be a bus driver.”
“So what,” I say.
“Well, he just bought a co-op on the Lower East Side. The bank not only lent him the money, they lent him the down payment. They’ll lend money to anybody. What do they care? They just sell the mortgage to somebody who bundles a bunch of these shaky loans up into bonds. And the analysts are saying these are safe investments. The safest—triple-A.”
“You’re right, the analysts are dumber,” I concede.
Jabba gets serious and tells me the smart money is betting against these crappy bonds. “I’m putting my own jack in it. I hope you are.”
“Yeah,” I lie, “as much as my lifestyle permits.”
All of us prop traders like to brag about how we’re at the top of the pecking order.
I tell Jabba, “About a month ago I’m talkin’ to this distant cousin at a family wedding. He’s from Ohio or Iowa or some damn place like that, and is in B school out there. He’s all impressed that I work on Wall Street. He says he’s gonna get an MBA and try to come out here. I tell him prop trading is where it’s at and they don’t recruit from the B schools. It’s mostly engineering and math majors like you and me. MBA gets you some lame ass job like analyst, agency trader or broker. But I tell him they don’t take your average engineer who wants to sit in a cubicle and design rocket engines. They want somebody who can think on his feet, do complicated math problems in his head and is super aggressive and a risk taker.”
Jabba’s like: “So what’d he say?”
“Well, he pretended that he got it, but to be honest, I think he recognizes that he’s not cut out for this. Not many are.”
At about seven, I go over to Smith and Wolly’s, where some of the guys in our group are at the usual table. Spiky Mikey is already there, Al Kada, and a few others. Toxic Tanya is sitting at the corner of the table sippin’ on a Pickleback—Jameson’s and pickle juice.
“Hey Toxic!” I yell, “Show more cleavage!”
“Not for you losers,” she fires back. She’s one of the few chicks on the floor, and they’re all tough bitches like her. Not anyone you’d want to date. They’d cut your balls off—which is why they’re good traders.
The table has already polished off a bottle of Poligny Montachets, and they’re starting on another. They’ll be poundin’ down a whole bunch of appetizers, steak and lobster and a lot more two hundred dollar bottles of wine before the night’s over—buncha young guys with more money than they know what to do with. I order a club soda and a light seafood pasta dish. I’m like: “You assholes are gonna come in hung over again tomorrow and I’ll smoke your asses, as usual.”
“Sure, Saint,” says Mikey. “Listen to Mr. Healthy Lifestyle.” He puts two fingers up to his nose and makes sniffing sounds.
“Hey.” I say. “Alcohol puts you to sleep. Blow keeps my mind racing, like I want it to.”
And so goes the juicer versus doper debate. Both sides are right. We’re all pissin’ away our money and wreckin’ our health. The only smart one is Jabba. Every night he gets take-out Chinese and goes back to his apartment to play Call of Duty.
I cruise over to the bar area, where I see my main man’s gold chain before I see him.
I call out, “Sergei! Zdrasvatye, Bro!”
“Zdasvetye, Tovarisch,” he says with a big smile.
Having exhausted my knowledge of Russian, we get down to business. We go outside, get in his Carrerra and take a little ride. I leave ten sleeves on his lap and he leaves ten grams of high-grade blow on mine. Back at the restaurant, I go in the men’s room and do a line, and then I’m back at the table.
About nine o’clock I get a text from Amy: “Whr RU?”
She’s this chick I’ve been dating about a month. Lives all the way out in Queens. I get my Beemer Z5 from the valet, head out through the Midtown Tunnel and get on the L.I.E. I’m makin’ good time until I get stuck behind some blue-haired fossil in a granny wagon—maroon Crown Vic. I’m ridin’ her ass and laying on the horn, but she’s not speeding up. Probably can’t hear me. I see a small opening on the right and cut off a soccer mom in an SUV. She flips me the bird. I flip her back.
But I’m around the old coot, and the lane ahead is wide open. I gun it.
I glance in my rear view mirror. Flashing lights about a mile back.
Nothing unusual. I glance back again. They’re getting closer! My throat tightens. Is he after me? He moves into my lane. I lighten up on the pedal. Maybe he hasn’t clocked me. No such luck. He’s crowding in on me. If he finds my stash I’m in deep shit…
My heart is pounding like a snare drum. Easy—coolness under pressure. That’s what makes me good at what I do and that’s what I need now. I ease over onto the berm and crunch to a stop. I switch off the CD player, snap on my never-used seat belt, fish five crisp sleeves out of the center console and put ‘em in my wallet next to where I keep my registration. I put my wallet away. I make as little movement as I can while I’m doing all this.
The cop sits in his car for what seems like forever, but he finally comes over to me. He shines his flashlight around the front seat area of my car for a few seconds.
“Take those fancy sunglasses off!” he barks.
A detail I forgot. I slide off my Louis Vuitons.
I hand him my license and he studies it for about a minute. “You’re a Wall Street trader, right?”
“Figured as much. Twenty four year old kid with a car like this either has a rich daddy, or he’s a trader or drug dealer. You’re not preppy enough to be Ritchie Rich and if you were a drug dealer, you’d be wearin’ sweats and sneakers instead of that designer shirt and fag-ass Italian loafers.”
Good, I’m thinking. This guy’s no straight arrow. He just might go for the C-notes.
I hold my wallet up near the window and fish around for the registration. “It’s in here somewhere,” I say. Meanwhile, the sleeves are sticking out.
He snatches the bills and stuffs them in his shirt pocket.
“Do you know you were doing ninety in a sixty-five zone?” he asks.
“No officer, I had a lot on my mind and just lost track of my speed.”
“Well, Mr. Vincent Santamaria,” he says, “you better slow it down. You just might kill yourself and some innocent people.”
“Yes, sir,” I say in my best ass-kissing voice.
He starts to turn like he’s leaving, then he says, “Just one more thing.”
He leans his head forward and crooks his index finger a couple of inches in front of his mouth and wiggles it, like he wants to whisper a secret in my ear. I lean my head toward him, and in a flash he wheels around and smashes his elbow into the left side of my face. Bright lights flash in my head and I feel an explosion of pain. In spite of myself, tears are rollin’ out of my eyes. I cringe, waiting for another smack, but it doesn’t come. I open my eyes and in the side-view mirror I see his fat ass waddling away, radio on his left hip and gun on his right. Without turning his head, he yells, “Something to remember me by, you little prick!”
I’m shaking from shock and red with rage at the sadistic bastard. My jaw feels like it’s on fire and blood is dripping from my mouth. I reach in and find one of my upper teeth loose. Another comes out in my hand. Goddamn! To get my head right, I get out my hand mirror, roll up a bill and do a line. After a while, I realize I better get back on the road, or I’ll draw another cop. I text Amy: “B L8. Xplain L8r.”
Back on the freeway, I start thinking a little more philosophically. What made him do that? Was he dishin’ out his own punishment? Is he jealous of some little prick who makes ten times his salary? Whatever, I got off with a sock in the jaw and a five hundred dollar donation. I could be on my way to prison.
By the time I reach Amy’s apartment, I’m back in a good mood. I sprint up the back stairs and knock. Through the window I see her and Raj, her roommate’s boyfriend, at the dinette playing some board game.
Amy has red hair, supermodel looks and an awesome python tat that runs across her back from her left shoulder to her right butt cheek. When she opens the door she says “Omigod! Vinny! What happened to you?”
“I got smacked by a cop,” I tell her. My jaw is swollen the size of a softball and a little blood is still trickling from my mouth. I hold out the missing tooth in my left hand.
She’s like: “EEEW! Smacked by a cop? Why?”
“He stopped me for speeding and I guess I rubbed him the wrong way.”
“You should file a complaint against him,” she says. “Did you get his badge number?”
I start giggling. I can’t help it. I manage to choke out, “I’m goin’ to file a complaint against some crooked, sadist cop who already knows my name, address, the car I drive and license number?”
Amy furrows her brow. “Why do you say he’s crooked?”
I say, “Well, because he hit me.” Not that great, but she buys it.
Amy is a nurse, and has lots of meds at home, so she gets to work. She cleans the blood out of my mouth and swabs it with Novocain, then some sticky stuff to stop the bleeding. She’s got some super-duper prescription Tylenol and I take a couple.
After everybody gets over the cop story, we’re sitting around the dinette and I take a closer look at the board game Amy and Raj were playing. It’s cardboard, but looks like old weathered wood. It’s got the alphabet written in old-fashioned letters, and below that the numbers zero through nine. In the upper left corner there’s a full moon and the word “Yes” and in the right corner a crescent moon and star and the word “No.” Under the numbers it says “Good Bye.” There’s a little yellow plastic thing shaped like a heart, with legs and a round clear plastic window in the middle.
“Is that a Weegie Board?” I ask. I’ve got some memories of nerds playing this at college.
“Actually, it’s a Wee-ja Board,” says Raj. He points to the top of the board where it says “OUIJA” “‘Oui’, as in French for ‘yes’, and ‘Ja’, as in German for ‘yes,’” he explains.
When Raj talks, I listen. He’s Indian, second generation, and he knows everything. Dude should totally go on Jeopardy. He’d clean up. He’s got his Masters in advanced math, and is as good at it as I am, but he also knows all the other stuff—languages, literature, you name it. He just got his Ph.D in Classical Studies from Queens College. He’s a graduate assistant over there, but figures he’ll be getting tenure soon, ‘cause he’s a friggin’ genius.
“How do you play?” I ask. I’m not familiar with any game that isn’t electronic.
Amy shows me. She puts the heart thing in the middle of the board, and puts the fingers of her right hand on it, then asks me to do the same. “Touch it very lightly,” she instructs me. “Now we ask it questions.”
She asks the Ouija, “Does Vinny have other girlfriends?”
The yellow heart thing kind of floats over to “No,” which happens to be true at the time.
I’m like: “You were pushing it!”
“No, I wasn’t. Were you?”
“No,” I tell her. “I swear I wasn’t.”
She’s like: “That’s how it works. It just moves! I didn’t think I believed in spirits, but now I’m not so sure.”
“It’s psychophysiological,” says Raj, “the ideomotor effect. Body movements can be independent of conscious thoughts or emotions, you know. It’s very well documented.”
The dude knows everything.
Amy’s like: “Anyway, I’m glad you don’t have other girlfriends.”
Now she asks it to spell out an answer. “When is Raj going to get tenure?” Yellow heart moves around from letter to letter spelling A-U-G-U-S-T.
Raj tells us that’s when the committee votes. This impresses me, since neither Amy nor I knew that. I’m getting some respect for this Ouija, whatever it is.
She asks it a few more romance questions, like whether Raj is going to ask her roommate Suzie to marry him. Ouija says, Yes. Raj is like: “Don’t tell her.”
After a while, I say, “Let’s try this. Should I go long or short on ’09 Euros?” Damn thing spells out S-H-O-R-T.
I try again, “I went long on July Yen today. Was I right?” Ouija says, Yes.
I’m getting some more good intelligence from the spirit when Suzie walks in.
“Hah, guys, whatch y’all doin?” she asks. Suzie is a real trip. She’s a hick from Tennessee or Georgia or some damn place, and she’s a sure-enough fundamentalist Christian. No drugs, liquor, tobacco, nothin’. The only thing her religion doesn’t seem to forbid is acrobatic sex with Raj and two or three other guys she’s got on the line. Raj knows about the other dudes and is cool with it—a real open-minded guy.
Suzie comes over to the table and her eyes get as big as saucers. She starts flapping her hands up and down and screaming, “That’s a Ouija board! It’s the Divil! Git it out of here!”
Raj tries to calm her down, but it doesn’t work. She runs into her room and slams the door.
Raj goes over and tries the door, but it’s locked. “C’mon, baby!” he pleads. “It’s just a toy!”
“Go away, you Godless heathen!” Suzie screams through the door, “I’m not coming out ‘till you get that outta’ here!”
It’s true. Raj is an Atheist. His mom’s a Buddhist and dad’s a Hindu. How he got hooked up with Suzie is a mystery.
Amy seems a little weirded out. “Do you really think it’s the Devil?” she asks.
I’m like: “Beats me. Let’s ask it.” So we ask Ouija straight out, “Are you the Devil?” It immediately floats over to No.
This seems to calm Amy down, but I’m not so sure. Would the Devil tell the truth about whether he’s the Devil? We ask, “Who are you?”
It spells out W-I-L-L-I-A-M-F-U-L-D.
Raj is still trying to sweet talk Amy out of her room. I yell for him to come over.
“Ouija says he’s William Fuld. Who the hell is that?” I ask.
Raj is like: “He’s the father of the Ouija. He popularized it and marketed it in the early twentieth century. By the way, that’s a common Ouija answer.”
I’m like: “Never heard of him.” Then, thinking out loud, I say, “We’ve got a Fuld on Wall Street.”
“Yes,” says Raj, “Richard Fuld, CEO of Lehmann Brothers.” Again, I’m impressed. I couldn’t tell you who the president of Queens College is.
Raj says, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to get rid of this thing if I want to see Suzie tonight.” He yells that he’s throwing the Ouija away.
Suzie yells, “Not innywhere around here! You maght as well leave now and dump it somewhere on your way home. I really don’t feel lahk seein’ you any more tonaght.”
Raj rolls his eyes. He boxes up the board and tucks it under his arm. I’m sure he has no intention of dumping it. “Can I call you tomorrow?” he shouts.
A long pause. “Maybe,” she calls in a pouty voice. That’s good enough for Raj, and he splits.
Amy brings out a pillow and blanket and makes up a little bed for me on the couch. She sits down on the floor and starts gently brushing my hair away from my forehead and saying “Poor Vinny.” So, neither Raj or me is gettin’ any tonight. He’s in the doghouse and I’m an invalid. I flip on the Yankees game and start watching it, but my eyes are getting heavy. Super Tylenol is working. I crash early, about midnight.
It’s been a few months since the cop incident. Got the tooth fixed, and Ouija is doing wonders for my PnL, but Wall Street as a whole has gone to shit. Every day another big company whose idiot managers have loaded up on subprime bonds is going down the tubes. We got our own set of idiots. Rumors are flying around the floor that we’re all gonna get canned.
Sure enough, here’s the e-mail. Meeting in the convo center at ten. Juniors only. High rollers have their own. Everybody’s shouting, even louder than usual. Trading stops, which is unheard of.
At ten, we all file into the convo center and take the seats up front. There’s two suits up on the stage—one from Legal and one from HR. Some assistants are passing out a one-page printout.
Legal Dude talks first. “Today at eleven o’clock, the company will announce that we will no longer be in the business of proprietary trading.” He’s reading from the same paper we all have. “That means, unfortunately, that it will be necessary for us to terminate your employment.” A loud hum comes up from the audience. He goes on reading, “The reasons for this decision are as follows…”
It’s spelled out on the paper, in corporate speak. The company is “on the verge of insolvency,” they’re talking with “high government officials” and “other financial institutions” to “explore solutions.” There’s a “perception” among these officials and “others” that proprietary trading that may take actions that are “inconsistent with the core business” is a “conflict of interest.” “We don’t agree, but…” blah, blah, blah.
I can’t take it anymore. I yell out, “Why don’t you cut all the bullshit and tell it like it is. You’re cavin’ to a bunch of bureaucrats who can’t find their asses with both hands, and you’re throwin’ us under the bus!”
Legal Dude is not amused. What do I care? What are they gonna do, fire me?
Dude is like: “What’s your name?”
He’s like: “Floor name!”
“Saint Vinny or just Saint.”
“How long you been here?”
He’s like: “Well, Saint, I was a trader for ten years before I joined the legal department, and I’m not talkin’ some half-assed Junior. So let me put this in language you’ll understand: The company is fucked if we don’t get some help from the feds. The feds think we shouldn’t do prop trading. Connect the dots. You’re history, asshole!”
HR Dude looks like he’s gonna’ have a stroke, and all the traders start shouting at once. Toxic yells out over all the others, “What about our bonuses?”
This shuts everybody up, and Legal Dude lapses back into lawspeak. Basically, he says that if there’s a bankruptcy, it’ll be a long time before we see “some or all” of the money they owe us. Even if there’s no bankruptcy, there still may be a problem. Something about bonuses being a “controversial political issue.”
This sends the traders into a frenzy. Everybody’s pissed off and yelling. Everybody, that is, except Jabba. He’s sitting back smiling like he just scored a date with Gisele Bundchen.
See, Jabba used all his savings, plus every nickel he could borrow, to short the subprime mortgage bond market. He found a hedge firm that was loading up on credit default swaps, bought into it, and cashed out of them at just the right time. Then he started shorting financial stocks. Basically, he was betting that the housing bubble would burst, and sink everybody who was loaded up on that crap, which was basically everybody on Wall Street. Course, he wasn’t the only one who saw the crash coming, and some of us made a few bucks on it, but nobody put as much dough into it or managed the timing like Jabba. Plus he was real careful about not using insider information. So Jabba could care less that he’s being fired. He’s a very rich man.
It’s been about a month since they canned me. Haven’t done much about trying to get another job. Some of the guys talked about going into business together, but it wouldn’t work. We’d kill each other.
I’m laying around Megan’s apartment. She’s my latest squeeze. Amy caught me snortin’ and gave me a bad time about it, so I dumped her.
I’m doing way too much coke and burning through what dough I have left at a record pace. But today I’m having fun. I’m watching cable news, and they’re covering the Senate hearings on the Crash. It’s funnier than Ron White and Louie CK rolled together.
Today Dick Fuld from Lehmann is up. This Senator is grilling him, real indignant like. I’m yelling at the TV.
“Yeah, you pompous hypocrite! How much money did you get from Wall Street?”
Hypocrite lowers his voice. He’s like: “Since 2000, you’ve been paid more than five hundred million dollars by Lehmann Brothers. Is that correct?”
I’m like: “Five…Hundred…Million…Dollars! I get beat up by a cop ‘cause I make what this moron loses in the seat cushions every night.”
I’ve seen this kind of testimony before. Pretty soon he’ll say what they always say—he didn’t know what was going on in his company. Please! Obviously these guys are either lying or incredibly stupid. How’s that for a defense: “I’m not a crook, I’m an idiot!”
Course, everybody thinks they’re lying, because, well, they couldn’t possibly be that stupid, could they? But what people don’t know, and what’s really scary, is yes, they’re really that stupid… They’re dumber than manatees. They’re dumber than stones. You know those people on that show American Greed who put all their life savings into bonds, because a crooked preacher tells them they’re gonna earn two hundred percent? They’re dumber than those people!
“Hey Fuld,” I yell, “buy low, sell high! Don’t borrow more than you can pay back! Didja miss those classes at B school?”
I text Jabba: “Ultimate Who’s Dumber – Wall Street CEOs or the boards that pay em hundreds of millions?”
Comes up: “Delivery failure.”
I try his cell. “No longer in service.”
Figures. Knowin’ Jabba, he’s on some South Sea Island playing video games nonstop with topless chicks in grass skirts bringing him root beer floats.
Now they’re showing protestors outside the Lehmann building. Raggedy bunch. There’s an Asian dude who’s a little better dressed than the rest. He’s with a tall chick in Daisy Dukes and a halter-top. Camera pans in and damned if it isn’t Raj and Suzie.
I’m like: “Give ‘em hell, guys!”
They interview a protester. Dude has purple hair, gauges in his ears and lightning bolt tats going up his neck. Red-rimmed eyes—he’s been hittin’ the reefer real hard. Dude says all the Wall Street CEOs should be in prison.
I’m thinking, hey, right now this dude and I have the same occupation—layin’ around doin’ drugs all day. And he’s absolutely right! Assholes should all be in jail—one, for tryin’ to steal my bonus; two, for felony stupidity…oh, yeah, and for rippin’ off the muppets and wreckin’ the economy.
Camera zooms out and you can see the signs they’re carrying. One chick has a sign that says RICHARD FULD IS THE DEVIL.
I’m like: “Naaah…he’s not the Devil. He’s the Devil’s brother.”
Thank you to Kevin Duffy for sharing the complete text of his story “Saint Vinny and the Devil’s Brother” for free on the web. The complete book book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1, features seventeen additional stories. Click here to find the book on Amazon. E-books are also available from all major digital retailers, click here for links.
Kevin Duffy is a recovering lawyer. He and his lovely wife Mary Ann are enjoying retirement in Columbus, with their three wonderful children and five grandchildren living nearby. For a sample of Kevin’s poetry, see Columbus Creative Cooperative’s The Ides of March: An Anthology of Ohio Poets.