Unpublished Journalism

Pink Moon Over New York
We were traders. We were misfits, gamblers, washed-up athletes, drunks, and other degenerates. We sat at computers and with the click of a mouse bought and sold billions of dollars in highly leveraged derivatives contracts. It wasn’t our money. Lose too much in a day and a risk manager sent you home. Lose too much in a month and they fired you. But there was never making too much. Trade more, trade faster, trade bigger, they told us.

There was Duggs, poker player and sports gambler, who every few weeks was delivering a thick manila envelope to his bookie; Shane, the Irishman, who’s risk-taking correlated highly with his level of drunkenness; Chaida, the exiled West African princess; Jabbar, a football star who had blown out his knee in college; Jamaican Alex, who sat next to me, stinking of marijuana and babbling all day in patwa; the Swiss-born rich kid, Maxime; and the other Alex, a former boxer, covered in tattoos of a children’s doll he said was his girlfriend and took each week to the movies.

At the back of the trading floor was Johnny Mac, the big dog of the office, who looked and spoke like Nicholson in The Shining and traded the European market overnight in his underwear. On our first day he said never to talk to him if he was still there when we arrived in the morning. "It means I’m down money," he growled, "and I’m not happy." A few years before Mac was dead broke and sleeping in his Honda. Now he was the biggest and most successful trader at the firm. He was what we aspired to be.

Every day on the trading floor we cursed, cheered, smashed keyboards, threw chairs--they didn’t care what you did as long as you made them money. There are only emotional extremes in trading, and if you are to succeed you must learn that losing, sometimes losing very big, is an unavoidable part of the game. After a few months I was making money and thought I knew about my emotions. But it was not until the fall that I learned about fear.

We had only been trading for 20 minutes that morning when the market shook. Bids and offers disappeared and the market jumped up and down wildly. Then the bonds took off. What the fuck is going on? An overnight trader of the European market was seeing the same thing. I lifted a few bond contracts--if it was going up I didn’t care why. I was going with it.

Holy shit! CNBC was showing pictures of the World Trade Center with a massive, burning hole in it. They were reporting a small plane had hit one of the Towers. Terrorists! Its fucking terrorists! Buy bonds! Buy! Buy! I bought more and grabbed the phone to call a friend who worked in the Towers-- no answer. I kept trying and banging in and out of positions as the bond market shot straight down, then up again violently. My P&L ticked up 5, 6, 8 thousand. One of the newly hired traders was screaming he had just made a thousand dollars. Shut the fuck up, rookie! There are people fucking dying!

We kept trading. The market was all over the place. I still couldn’t get through to my friend. The boss had come onto the trading floor now and was walking around with a pleased expression on his face. He knew there was money being made. Then the bonds exploded higher. CNBC was reporting another plane had hit the other tower. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck. My phone rang. It was my dad. What was I doing still trading on the 23rd floor of a building only blocks from the World Trade Center? There were reports of other planes out there. I dumped my positions. I got up and told the guys I was leaving, and they better too.

Out on the street the sky was black and it stunk of jet fuel. I turned the corner onto Chambers and saw them burning, smoke pouring from the Towers. I was still trying to call my friend when I reached the plaza. You could hear the fire burning and glass breaking, and papers floating down. We stood there quietly, looking up at the Towers burning. It was quiet except for the sound of things falling. Then people started falling. We watched people falling. They hung from out of windows and would drop, falling slowly down the side of the building. They came after each other tumbling down. Some fell alone, some fell together.

I didn’t see the Towers collapse. I don’t remember when I learned the Towers were gone. I ran all the way to my apartment in Spanish Harlem, all the way north to 118th Street and 1st Avenue. All I remember is sitting in my apartment listening to the Nick Drake album Pink Moon. Drake was gone too.

Pink Moon is just him singing and playing guitar. It is somber, autumnal music that was never very popular when Drake was alive, though the tender "Pink Moon" would make him famous decades later when it was used in a car commercial. That was how it happened for some of the very great ones. Drake’s melodies are beautiful throughout the album and in it I will always hear the sound of the fall and the leaves changing, and it is September. It was Nick Drake’s last album before his death by suicide at age 26.

We didn’t go back to trading for awhile. When we did it wasn’t the same. For a long time it wasn’t as loud on the trading floor as it was before. But then after awhile there isn’t anything more to say. There can only be so many memorials and New York City doesn’t stay changed for very long. You can never forget, but you just don’t remember as much.

Pink Moon -- Nick Drake (Island Records, 1972)

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9.2.10

    The song "open road" from that record is one of my favorite songs I have ever heard. I think the tempo changes dynamically throughout.


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