Sunday, March 16, 2008

Post# 2 - April Fool's...My First Day!

I spent a very interresting weekend pondering the consequences of my decision to take a job in the biggest of all 'Big Business' jobs. What the hell was I thinking! Everything I had done in my life to this point was almost the complete opposite of what I should have done to have a business career. I hated the idea of pure capitalism. I had read Trotsky, Tolstoy and Lenin. Socialist values seemed so much more humanistic that capitalism. I was a dreamer, not a doer. Every political discussion group I had ever sat through in university had demonized the capitalists as evil, calculated, greed motivated assholes. Yet, here I was, not just heading into the lion's den...but directy into the lion's mouth. I should have brought some floss!
I kept thinking that I would hang out and watch for a couple of weeks, maybe the summer, and take their stupid money and run. No problem.
It was April 1st...April Fool's Day! I woke up at about 8:00am on tuesday and had a huge coffee to start my day. I needed it. I borrowed a tweed jacket and a white shirt and tie from a friend of mine and stood looking at myself in the mirror for quite a long time. It was so wierd looking at myself dressed like that and yet not going to a wedding or a funeral. I wondered if this job was going to be like working for the devil while I prayed to God and then I remembered that I was an athiest. I had gotten a haircut, sort of, and felt like that was about as far as I would be prepared to go for a paycheck from the enemy. It's not like I'm selling my soul...I kept trying to convince myself. My bank account balance made that rationale much easier to swallow.
I walked over to the Eglinton subway station from my bohemian apartment at Avenue Rd. and Eglinton, which was a nice way to get the blood flowing. A necessity with my lifestyle choices to date. As I got on the subway train for the first time as a 'businessman' I actually felt like I was in my skin but somebody else was working the machinery. I just then realized that I had absolutely NO idea where the Stock Exchange was. I knew the address was 234 Bay St, so it would be between the Yonge and University lines, somewhere close to Front St. Close enough! I got off at Union Station for the first of many, many times and walked toward Bay. As I walked up Bay St. in the brilliant morning sunshine, on the east side, I looked across the street and saw, for the first time, the exterior of the Toronto Stock Exchange. Looking at that building, in awe, I began to feel a sense of fear and excitement that nearly overwhelmed me. I really needed to take a shit! I crossed the street in a j-walking blur of traffic and stood in front of the wierd and oddly powerful archetectural gem and tried to let it all set in.
As I opened the huge steel and glass door for the first time and made my way inside, my chin litterally hit the floor. I had never seen the TSE before and only knew of it in reputation and repudiation from my former peers. The walls and ceiling height were amazing. The art-deco design was oddly breathtaking. The huge clock, the cool windows, the posts with all those chalkboards and screens. The history was as obviously layered as my own fears and insecurities. Most of all I noticed the dull roar of activity that made you raise your voice, just a little if you wanted to be heard. This was before the opening, and I soon learned that dull roar was just a precursor to the real roar that was to follow the opening bell.
I asked an old guy, can't remember who now, where I could find Steve Curry. He looked at me and turned around and absolutely screamed...STEVE CURRY! Holy shit! Was this how they actually located people here. The answer is YES! Steve walked over and gave me a quick up and down, once over from his rather imperious perspective and quipped, "get some decent shoes". Ok I thought, that was better than I expected. Oh shit! I forgot his double double. The next thing he said was , "where's my coffee"? Oh shit! I forgot his double double. Nice way to impress the new boss. Ok, it can only get better from here. Steve then proceeded to give me instructions to Druxy's to get coffee and toasted bagles with cream cheese. I blazed throught the catacombs of the TC Centre and returned loaded with breakfast goodness and teeth dulling coffee from hell. When I got back, just before the opening bell, Steve told me I might want to loose the earring. I was immediately incensed. He assured me that it was nothing personal, but people were going to hard time me and might think I was a fag. Keeping in mind that in those pre-politically correct days, very few guys had earrings, and absolutely no guy from the floor. It might have been good advice. I didn't take it.
Steve walked me over to what he called 'the booth'. As we walked up a couple of steps, I could feel about a million eyes drilling through me to see exactly what I was made of. In the 'booth' in question I first set eyes on this skinny, kind of 'geeky' looking guy with glasses and a notable glare. Steve said to me, "this is Chris" and then he said to Chris, "this is Jim...teach him"! Then he walked away. I wasn't sure whose shock was more palpable, mine or Chris's.
As the opening bell went off to start the trading day, Chris leanes over and gave me a WTF are you kind of look and plugged some wired headset into the booth and told me to put it on. I did. It took me awhile to figure out what to do with it, but here I was. Chris told me to just listen and try to get a feel for what was going on. The opening was unbelievably intense. People, masses of people screaming, yelling, frantically waving and within minutes people were comming up to the booth and dropping piles of slips of paper in Chris's lap saying things like "bought 1200, leaves a thousand". Chris would yell things like "What's the market?" This, I would soon realize, would become the question that was indeed the most important question of all. How much bid, how much offered? Whose on the bid, whose on the offer? What is Timmons doing? These and about a million other questions were being fired into Chris's ear, non-stop, for about the first hour. I assumed that he was being asked these questions because he kept giving the answers to these questions to whomever was on the other end of the headphones. I just tried to take some notes and not be too noticable. I couldn't for the life of me figure out what all the hand signals were for or what the hell they meant.
When I finally figured out that I had no noise comming through the headset, Chris gave me a disgusted look and flicked the switch to the 'ON' position.
On the other end of the line were these totally wild, wierd accented guys who seemed awfully excited about things...all the time! These guys sounded completely and totally insane. What were they all about? I kept asking Chris questions, mostly of the stupid variety, and he kept dutifully answering and getting increasingly irritated with my presence. I really couldn't blame him. As the day went along and the sureal grew exponentionally, I asked Chris when the breaks were. Then, for the first of time, I heard him laugh. Not just a chuckle, but a genuine belly laugh. It was a laugh I would hear and laugh with so much in the years to follow. When he stopped he told me that when it was busy, there were no breaks and when it wasn't busy, it was a full time break. I thought he was just jerking my chain. He wasn't!
As the day wore on and things got a little more sane, as if, a strange cast of characters started making their way up to the booth. They were comming by to chat with Chris and to check out the new meat. There were tall ones, Kim and Rick. Short ones, Scott and Ralph and an assortment of every other kind, male and female...and then there was Stevie. Steve Gilbert. When Chris introduced us Stevie shook my hand in an overly hard fashion, squeezing the crap out of it. I thought he was just joking, but he wasn't. It was my first indication that he really didn't like me. Ok then, I decieded I wouldn't really like him either.
The rest of the day went by like a blur and as the closing bell went off the noise gradually rolled down to a minimal din. People were running up to their booths frantically reporting last minute trades and fills. I was completely overwhelmed and quickly realized how 'over my head' I actually was. There was no way in the world I could ever fool these people into thinking I could ever do whatever it was that they were doing. Chris hated me, his friends hated me...the building even seemed to hate me.
Chris finished going over the totals and said he had to go up to the office to finish and then he was going to go for a beer at the Cork Room. Did I want to go? Not really, I thought, but yes was my answer.
Steve Curry came over to see if I had survived. He asked me what I thought about the place and the job. As I started to answer he stopped me mid sentence and advised me I could finish that thought with him over a beer at the Cork Room. WTF was a cork room? Was this like a rubber room only made of cork. Seriously, I had no idea it was a bar. Not just A bar...THE bar.

Stay tuned for "The Cork Room"