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.