Memory, Mexican Food, and Eternity

John Lennon paid attention.

“Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” -John Lennon

Yesterday was busy.  Into the car, out of the car; small chores and smaller talk.  When we’re done we’ll get you a treat.  Strap her in.  Why is your sister crying?  We need gas.

Once or twice I glanced in the rearview mirror and watched as my seven year old absently stared out her window.  Which moment would hang in there and become a memory of dull security and comfort thirty years down the line?  Tires humming, Mom and Dad in the front; blurred trees. Would she try her entire life to regain that vague feeling of safety?  The whole thing filled me with an urge to be better and then, immediate frustration.  It’s just that I’m having a harder time changing as I age.  I think about myself in a certain way, and my anxieties are set.  Eventually I rolled the car back up our driveway and when we entered the house, we realized we never planned dinner.

Judy called in some Mexican food and fifteen minutes later, I backed down the driveway past the electric deer grazing on our lawn, and turned towards town.  The CD player in my car is broken, and since my iPod broke after only 2 years I’ve decided it’s not worth replacing.  So I’m back to old mixtapes.  Their labels have long since lost their relevancy so every time I bring a new one into the car, it’s a surprise.  The one I chose was full of music I hadn’t listened to in fifteen years.

Electric deer.

I thought back to a couple of girlfriends from that era who had attended concerts with me.  We shared good times, broke up, and then I stalked them both for years, but amazingly, neither worked out.  I thought back to another girl, one who would hang out with me in my dorm room.  We’d get high and listen to music and then write.  She moved to Italy and disappeared completely.  What happened to these people?  I felt ambushed by the past as I drove over the small bridge that leads into my town.  Five minutes before I was in my house with my wife and growing daughters and then suddenly, I was in my dorm room with candles melting and a girl swaying to music with her eyes closed.

When you’re young you can’t understand how the past could ever tempt you. I’m getting older.

Anyway, I made it to the Mexican place and parked in the empty church lot across the street.  I love December because it gets dark at 4:30.  We eat early, go to sleep early, and wake early.  The taqueria was brightly lit against the darkness, like a Christmas pin on a goth chick.  No one was around, it was perfectly silent.  The only sound I noticed were the chrome crickets chirping in my ears, a result maybe, of all those concerts I attended.  The moon was full, and its light improved everything it touched.

The girl behind the counter was pregnant.  Maybe a few months…

“Do you need napkins?  Want hot sauce?” she said.

Thinking of my daughters I made a mental note not to check out her ass as she turned around to use the credit card machine.

“I’ll take some hot sauce,” I said.

Through a door that led to the kitchen I noticed a large hispanic man with his arms folded across his chest, glaring at me. Maybe he was just looking at me, I don’t know.  His hat was on backwards and he looked dirty.  He had just cooked food for my family.  I smiled at him and nodded in the way that white people smile and nod at menacing minorities.  He reacted by turning around to scrape the grill.

“Green or red?”

“Which is…”

“The red is hotter.”

“I’ll take the red.”

I wanted to ask the girl about her belly but I didn’t, just in case.  What I didn’t want to do was say something about the miracle of parenthood.  Not that I didn’t believe it, just that I would want it to be meaningful and it wouldn’t end up that way.  She had no choice but to hear whatever I said, so I decided to say nothing and free her of the obligation of having to listen.

More than anything, I felt some silent desire to help her and thought maybe that saying nothing was the best I could do.  I just wanted her and her baby to be okay but I don’t know why I think like that.  Of course they’ll be okay, right?  But she’s pregnant and there’s some mean looking dude cooking burritos a few feet away from her unborn fetus and maybe that’s what made me nervous for her.

I completed the transaction and entered the outside again.

It looked like a white spike.

Just as I started to open my car door the church bells started to ring.  I stood there to listen.  I felt secure.  Comforted.  What could go wrong when church bells were ringing?  The baby would be fine.  My family would be fine, too.  Across the street I could see the counter girl through the window, texting.

I looked away from the girl and up at the spire.  Huge white floodlights lit it so that it looked like a white spike piercing the dark sky.  You look up at a spire like that on a clear cold night in December, it’s so bright it’s almost loud.  And from the spire I looked up and saw the stars.

They were singing to me and I was breathing in planets.

No, you can just never tell what’s going to become a memory and what’s lost forever. So pay attention.
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At The King Kullen

I walked into the King Kullen. It was bright, lit up like a sitcom, and empty. I was there for beer. I passed the fresh flowers that weren’t fooling anyone and walked onto the main concourse, feet clipping. It was me, the products, the surveillance cameras and some hum. The bread aisle was fragrant. Clear plastic rectangles full of split butter tops. Home Pride. I passed a huge poster of a smiling kid near the milk. The poster boasted of the nutritional value of King Kullen’s milk. King Kullen’s milk.

“Ha!” I thought.

I made a sharp turn and walked to the beer. At the case I was overcome with the options and couldn’t make any decision. I just stood there completely blasted for like, five minutes. Red-Tailed Hawks, American Flags. Beer and nature. Beer and patriotism. Dross dripped from the overhead speakers. Some mechanical beat and over it some false voice singing something like, “Don’t you feel so good.” And I just felt like complete shit. And I guess I stood there long enough, and I don’t know, maybe it was my paranoia but some girl who worked at King Kullen came over and started to clean the case, like, wiping down the beer shelves. So I picked some random beer that was at my price point and walked off.

There were no human cashier’s present so I went to the self checkout. There was a screen with a little cartoon person pressing a button and so I pressed the button. I scanned my beer, although it took me a minute to find the UPC code. And since it was beer, a little cartoon hand popped up on the screen, a pixellated palm telling me to wait. Out of a gray wall a gray door opened and a woman walked over, smiled at me, punched something into the computer at the end of the self checkout aisle and nodded. I nodded back. She was allowing me to continue my purchase, and so I did.

An odd pride settled over me. I walked near the doors and they slid open. Effortlessness everywhere. I left King Kullen with a girl who had just finished her shift. She was maybe 10 steps ahead of me and we were walking in the same direction. And I just felt like I was following her, even though I wasn’t. I was just walking to my car. I still felt, even though I was out of the store, that I was being surveilled. Surveilled and surveilling. I heard every sound in that lot.

I started the music in my car, and I drove to a house on a street.

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The Dark Side Of Freedom

Zeke’s face was bright red. He seemed to be holding his breath.

Beads  of sweat covered his brow and collected on his eyebrows. His keyboard  looked moist. In fact, it seemed humid and wet all around him, as if he  had created his own weather system. Dark clouds hovered. A large purple  vein, not a normal feature of his appearance, was prominent on his neck  and looked like a well-fed earthworm. His hair was pulled back, very  tightly, into a ponytail.

From  his lips sprang the same word, over and over again. “FUCK! FUCK! FUCK! FUCK!…” Moments later it morphed into, “They’re fucking me.”  He was staring straight at his screen with his hand glued to his mouse.  He was motionless. It was like he was bracing himself.

They  sat me next to Zeke so I could learn from him. Zeke didn’t talk much,  but I did learn from him. I casually looked over at his monitor. He was  holding a couple thousand shares of VOD which in 1999 (before it split 5  for 1) was very volatile and trading over 200 dollars a share. He was  down over 6 thousand dollars in the stock.

His phone rang.

He  tried to sound calm as he spat into the receiver “It’s just this guy,  he’s fucking fucking me.” He hung up and doubled his position. In a few  minutes he was down over 10 grand in the stock and the risk manager of  the firm, a large man who looked more like a bouncer than a man who was  crunching numbers in a back office, paid him a personal visit.

Zeke knew his time was up.

A  short conversation between Zeke and the risk manager, a man who  everyone simply called “Mr. Bill”, ensued and then Mr. Bill watched as  Zeke closed out his position. Moments later Zeke put his very expensive  headphones over his ears, gathered up his very expensive coat and his  desk belongings and silently left the room.

It  was the first blow-up I had witnessed at close quarters. I had been  trading for only 3 weeks. I looked at my position monitor. I was down  $6.25 in my one position, 100 shares long of AVY. At that moment, I felt  incredibly “light”.

The  next day, Zeke’s desk was filled by some hotshot trader “from upstairs”  who didn’t say much and watched porn in a small video player that he  strategically positioned in a corner of one of his screens. This is a  small example of what the environment was like at my first firm, where I  traded for my first few years. I paid exorbitantly high commission  rates and was yelled at whenever I tried to get those rates cut.

But I have a certain nostalgia for those days. It seemed anything was possible.

Recently  I tried to get away from trading. I applied for other work and tried to  imagine myself at a “real job” with a steady check and a boss. Nothing  worked out and I find myself trading again. I revisited this post to try  to remember what it was that trading once represented to me, to try to  remember those early feelings.

I  traded because it represented a certain kind of freedom. Of course,  back then I only understood freedom as a good thing. You were free to  wear whatever you wanted to work and office politics didn’t exist. The  only thing that mattered to anybody was, “How much you up?” Thinking  like that seems very simplistic now and after 12 years I have a more  nuanced view of freedom.

Freedom  can be a good thing, yes, but it can also be a very horrifying thing.  In short, you are free to work hard and succeed and you are free to ruin  yourself. Worse yet, you can work very hard and still ruin yourself. Or  you can be like Zeke, you’re free to just throw it all away, easily.

There are no safety nets and you make the rules.

A  few years back the book “The Secret” was a big deal. People were all  about your thoughts creating your reality. I tend to scoff at that stuff  and when my mother gave me the book to read I just handed it back to  her, “No thanks, Mom.”

But  maybe there is something about understanding too much about the dark  side of freedom. And maybe for us traders it’s be better to pretend  it doesn’t exist, or even, remain completely ignorant of it.

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How A Pile Of Puke Helped Me Hold A Trade

Some days seem longer than others. Today was one of the long ones.

It started with my 6 year old daughter slapping the side of my sleeping face and telling me to “wake up.” Normally this is a cute, but after a cold weekend on a frozen river in central Maine “smelting” with college friends, I was hurting. “Wake up Mommy first,” I said. (Note: My wife, Judy, is 8 months pregnant and miserable.)

After Judy expressed her displeasure with me by banging the shit out of the pots and pans in the kitchen while she prepared my daughter’s breakfast, thereby disallowing me the luxury of extra sleep, I woke up. I walked into the next room and turned on my screens. The futures were gapping down a bunch. “Finally!” I found myself thinking. I immediately felt a pang of guilt as I realized the market was only gapping down because Gaddafi is a dick. The guilt eased as I decided that wanting a little stock market volatility wasn’t the same as wanting protesters in the mideast to be slaughtered.

Gaddafi is (was) a dick.

Look, as it sometimes happens in this business, what’s good for me is often bad for some, okay, maybe millions, of people.

That doesn’t make me a bad person. Hating handicapped parking spaces might though… they’re always empty. Seriously.

Anyway, I decided that it would be a tough day for support buys. We’ve been going up for what seems like forever, when we turn down for real, could take at least a few days for buyers to show up again. But then I always have difficulty shorting into a gap down. I decided to just chill out, take it easy, and let my long weekend wear off. My wife yelled up the stairs that they were leaving. They were going to have a “mother and daughter” type day. My kid is off from school all week. I said goodbye and the market opened.

Along with my friends at HCPG, I was watching SQM for a support trade at $53. When it opened there, I knew it was going to have to trade lower if I was going to get involved. It made a quick move down to $52.25 and started to bounce. Two minutes into the bounce, at 9:38 a ton of volume went off and I decided to give it a whirl. I picked some up at $52.57, put my stop just below the low of the day, and waited for the sweet money to hit me in the face.

The stock complied moving upwards very smoothly. I didn’t even curse once while I watched its ascent. From downstairs, I heard the backdoor swing open and then splashing sounds and some grunting. My wife was letting it all loose on the kitchen floor. “Hey, I’m trying to trade up here, for chrissakes!” No response… not even the customary “Fuck you” that such insensitivities should elicit. I moved my stop up to breakeven and went downstairs to “help.”

There she was, crumpled against the downstairs toilet, saying goodbye to breakfast. She told me to go check on our daughter out in the car. Now, I had seriously crawled out of bed and started to trade. Since I don’t turn the heat up in the house past 60 nowadays, I sit in a chair wrapped in a blanket my grandmother knit me when I was 13. So yeah, it’s over 20 years old and, well, colorful. I was also sporting the pajamas my daughter had given me for Valentine’s day (think hearts) and slippers.

I approached the car. She was drawing. She didn’t see me coming, but just in case she happened to look up, I decided to do the mock tip toe with a crazy look on my face. Heart pajamas, slippers, funny blanket, mock tip toe, crazy face… Of course, that’s when I saw my neighbor walking his dog in my direction. “Hi Jeff,” I waved. He gave me a strange look. He couldn’t have seen my daughter in the car.

People must wonder what I do all day.

I opened my daughter’s door. She didn’t even look up. “Daddy, I need a brown pencil.”

Back inside, my wife was brushing her teeth. I grabbed a brown pencil and gave it to her. I gave her a hug and apologized for getting her pregnant again. I also reminded her that women used to have many more kids back in the 50s and that if we didn’t have a boy this time, she’d be having another in about a year. She left unamused.

My SQM trade was working out despite all the hubbub in the house. I nearly sold some into S2 at $53.14 but given the severe bounce overtaking the ag stocks like CF, MOS and AGU, I decided to hold it a bit longer. I took off half at $53.36 and then the last half when the stock got rejected by the 20 ema on the 5 minute chart. My average exit was $53.42, for an 85 cent profit.

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