Note: This is Part 6 of a continuing series of posts about proprietary trading in the “early days.” For the full series, check the “my history” category.
Once Albert left, Peter acted like he was alone. He walked back to his desk, sat in his chair, and lit a cigarette. He caught the smoke in his lungs and exhaled. For a moment, he looked tired. Like a stage actor whose scene had just ended, he needed a break..
Peter turned his chair so that his back was facing me and faced a large map of the world that took up an entire wall of his office. It had been abused by tacks. He opened a drawer, removed a shiny gold- colored thumbtack, and walked over to the map. He stood in front of it, contemplating, smoking, and then stuck the tack. “CYPRUS!” he said. The significance of this was not yet apparent.
He sat down again and rolled back to his desk. Two fans blew air back and forth, moving like search lights on either side of the room. His thin hair blew on the top of his head. He stared at his screens with a tired intensity. It was February and cold but the windows to the office were wide open. Nevertheless, Peter sweat through his shirt. Air moved all about the office. It was like the pressure had temporarily been released and every item in the office was exhaling. Every paper in the office, and there were stacks of paper on every horizontal surface, clicked and flittered. I sat silently.
Something on the screen made him smile. He picked up the phone, held it a few inches from his red face and punched a few digits into the keypad. “JIMMY CHU IS UP TWENTY-THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS. WHO IS GOING TO CATCH HIM?”
His voice echoed. It was raspy and powerful. Like a slave worker whipped by his owner, it worked harder than it might have if given a choice. I heard it not just from his mouth, but also from a speaker in the ceiling. It was a squawk box. He had broadcast the taunting message to the entire office.
Someone poked a head in the door and asked, “What’s he in?”
“FIGURE IT OUT!” Peter roared. The man looked at me, laughed and closed the door. And then as if he had snapped out of some trance Peter noticed I was with him in the room.
“IS ALBERT BETTER THAN YOU?” he roared across the desk at me.
After all the silence and the quiet hum of the fans, I was taken aback by the question. Before I could answer, he held up two sheets of paper, our resumes, shook them at me and boomed, “HE BEAT YOU IN COLLEGE!”
He was reading our GPAs. He was obsessed with GPAs.
Now that he had engaged me, his office seemed suddenly smaller. His voice and his presence were too large for this cluttered place. From the corner of his desk, he lifted a stack of resumes. He thumbed through them. On each were illegible scribbles in red pen. Peter’s desk was littered with red pens. He began to read the GPAs off the resumes to me, “THREE POINT EIGHT! THREE POINT SEVEN! THREE POINT NINE! FOUR POINT OH! OH! OH!” He read through the stack, and not one was lower than 3.5. He smiled. He was in control of this stack, these traders.
He patted the pile with his hand and yelled, “ONLY THE BEST! THE BEST!” Peter was proud of his traders, like they were his children and he their twisted father.
He looked directly at me, breathing loudly through his large nostrils. Like bull-nostrils, I thought. His forearms were large but oddly, hairless, and they rested on the desk. His thinning hair was a mess. He had strange eyes nearly lost in his puffy face. Sweat. Sweating. February. I couldn’t guess how old or what nationality he was. He was like no one I had ever met before. And his voice. You’d expect to hear a voice like that screaming through a storm on a doomed ship.
“WHERE’D YOU GO TO COLLEGE?” but he knew. It was like he was putting me through a ritual more than an interview. He held the stack of resumes up and shook it at me again before I could answer, “THESE GUYS WIN.” He threw the stack of papers down. I didn’t know if I should say anything, so I didn’t. Peter stared at me, and without breaking the stare, he reached for a red pen, bit the cap off and spit it on the floor. He picked up my resume and started to dissect it, circling my GPA and making notations in the margins. What could he be writing down?
“GOOD SCHOOL!” He flashed the wolfish smile again.
But a second later he looked up at me shaking his head, and sneered, “BIRDWATCHING?”
Maybe I should have left the “Hobbies”section off the resume. “YOU’RE NOT GONNA MAKE A MILLION BUCKS WATCHING BIRDS. YOU SHOULD SELL BIRDS, THAT MIGHT HAVE SOME PROMISE!”
He snorted at his own joke but I wasn’t overly amused. He looked at me like he had just bestowed some great truth upon me and I didn’t get it. He seemed disappointed. A look of boredom crossed his face. He put my resume down and looked back towards the flashes on his computer screen.
The interview didn’t seem to be going well.
He continued to watch the screen, eyes darting back and forth, up and down. Now he smiled, then, he frowned. His brow furrowed, then it went calm. He seemed to be on some kind of mental roller-coaster but he was just staring at flashes. He was completely absorbed and again seemed to forget I was even there.
He was watching profit and loss numbers and Anvil’s volume totals. I guess to him it must have been like watching a horse race where you see your winnings pile up regardless of who comes in first. The room was silent and the screams and clatter from the trading room outside the door which once were so disconcerting, now seemed comforting.
Suddenly, as if a spell had been broken his face snapped away from the screen and he began to scrutinize me with those crazy eyes. He had been gazing at the screen for so long that I thought I could see little numbers and blips of red and green reflected in his pupils. He was number-drunk.
“WANNA TRADE?” he bawled across the desk.
I hedged. “Yeah, I’m really thinking about it…”
“DON’T THINK.” He interrupted. “TRADE.”
And with that, he yanked open a drawer and produced a huge blue vinyl-clad binder with the words “Series 7 Examination Manual” embossed in gold across the front. He thrust it across the desk at me knocking red pens onto the floor.
“TWO CENTS A SHARE, EIGHT DOLLARS A TICKET. GO GET THE PAPERWORK.”
He stood up from his desk, swung open the office door and yelled “NEXT!” to no one in particular and then stormed down the hallway knocking thumbtack-stuck papers off of the cubicle walls.
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