Cherry red Porsches. Suspenders. Gold ties. Peaked-lapel suits. Escobar’s cocaine. Stretch Lincoln limousines. American hookers. Real expense accounts. Drexel. Milken. Boesky.
Getting paid $1 million when $1 million was still a million dollars. Wall Street was Wall Street. Investor Activists were Corporate Raiders. Henry Kravis still needed us. And there were no billionaire nerds in hoodies leading IPO roadshows.
I don’t know; I wasn’t there. But every banker today knows about ‘The Eighties’.
What Would They Do in The Eighties?
Forget calling a client a Muppet; let’s gouge his eyes outs, take 3 points on the trade, and air hump to the applause of the entire trading floor. Today, well… you can’t even do the jerk off hand motion.
There was no such thing as bullying or political correctness. Sack up, or fuck off. You were praised for sleeping with a female subordinate, not reported to HR. And the hiring of women was openly called ‘The Office Beautification Project’.
The culture of Wall Street and in particular, the trading floor, was legendary. Unbridled Darwinian capitalism, pervasive deviance, moral relativity – call it whatever cliché you want. But it was ‘awesome’, and is glorified in the eyes of today’s Wall Street - and perhaps best personified through it’s sense of humor.
To quote Michael Lewis from the book that brought me, and many others, to Wall Street:
If you ever care to see how all the world’s most awful jokes spread, spend a day on a bond trading desk. When the Challenger space shuttle disintegrated, six people called me from six points on the globe to explain that NASA stands for “Need Another Seven Astronauts.” – Liar’s Poker
Fast forward to today….
Volker. Barney Frank. Sensitivity Training. Business Casual. All-stock bonuses and claw-back provisions. The Indian Mafia. Quants. Swear words blocked on Bloomberg. Profitable trades blocked due to ‘franchise risk’. Silicon Valley, private equity, and hedge funds taking our shine and talent. MD promotions every two years. Email and chatroom monitoring. WTF.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s still plenty of deviance, arrogance, and immorality, but it’s just not the Eighties. In fact, most of the great bankers from the 80s wouldn’t even be able to get a job on Wall Street today.
So what about the jokes today…
“If there’s a zombie apocalypse right after the Zimmerman acquittal, Trayvon will be right there looting with everybody else.”
Oh yeah. They’re worse.
Now, anyone who has followed my Twitter account knows that I generally do not shy away from the offensive. After all, don’t shoot the messenger, right? Some examples have included:
#1: Whenever I see a black guy with my last name, I can’t help but wonder if my family used to own his.
#1: I got retarded last night. Bill was $7k. I tipped 50% and signed it ‘Nate Higgers’
I might have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Offensive jokes or observations have always been part of the fabric of Wall Street, a way that people (white males) communicate or bond with each other. I still remember the joke my first boss told me:
MD: What do you get when you mix a [black guy] with an octopus?
A1: I couldn’t tell you. What?
MD: Who the fuck knows, but it can pick a lot of cotton.
A1: [Laughs…] That’s a good one.
MD: Another beer?
Now while I’ve increasingly tried to tone down the mean-spirited, racially-charged, or ad hominem tweets, it’s not to say that I still don’t occasionally post one. And in all fairness, nothing or no one has been off limits from being the focus of a tweet – minorities, women, gays, Jews, foreigners, Democrats, and of course, poor people. After all, this is supposed to be a fair and unvarnished reflection of the culture of Wall Street. And don’t people understand the real focus of my tweets… that this is a critical social commentary?
Sadly, too many people on Twitter are too stupid, and quickly assume that the feelings or sentiments represented on my Twitter account are that of my own. I don’t care. People can send me angry messages. People can unfollow me. It hasn’t bothered me in the least. In fact, one of my more recent tweets appropriately summed up this sentiment:
#1: How easily someone is offended is directly proportional to how stupid they are.
I have never taken Twitter criticism seriously with respect to the offensive nature of some of my tweets, and the potential impact that they might have. Until now…
While not quite an epiphany, yesterday did give way to a moment of reflection. I was sent the following picture via Bloomberg Instant Messenger:
Hidden somewhere in there is a tiny image taken from the following photo:
Of course, just as I finished writing this last night… This story comes out today about a Goldman Sachs banker getting punched for making drunken and racist comments in a Manhattan restaurant:
People have been tweeting me today asking if this guy is a friend of mine, or even if it was me? Do people really misunderstand me or my Twitter account that much???
And then there’s the reaction to this New York Post story by some friends and fellow bankers over lunch and beers today:
“Is he knocked out? Maybe he’s just Trayvon’ing?”
“Fuck him. Now he’s just one of those guys that’ll start every sentence with, ‘When I used to work at Goldman Sachs…”
These just aren’t NASA jokes anymore.
But they’re still just harmless, right? And there’s not really a genuine racist intent, right? These are educated, successful, and wealthy people – respected and admired within most facets of society. If these people were really racist, they wouldn’t be telling these jokes. After all, it’s often said that the most racist people in America are the ones who never use the N word.
I don’t think so. They’re not just jokes. And even if they’re perversely humorous, they’re certainly not harmless. They are reflective of a serious illness in society that extends beyond banking culture, and permeates white collar America. And I genuinely now think that this ‘harmless humor’ is detrimental to all of us. And even if I think most of my ‘offensive’ tweets are misconstrued or misunderstood, the simple reality is that they do nothing to help – as evidenced by a recent @ reply to one of my tweets:
“Fuck yeah. This is hilarious. This is why I want to work on Wall Street.”
Am I that misunderstood that I’m somehow guilty of inadvertently glamorizing this kind of backward thinking??
So while I will still try and entertain people via Twitter and represent the true nature and culture of Wall Street, there is no need for me to further contribute to the dissemination of this kind of hatred (racist or bigoted) anymore… even if I am just the reporter.