I went to an engagement party.
That’s pretty much it.
I mean, I figured eventually the ladies of The View would be calling me out for something, but thought it would more likely be, for example, when my idea for a craps table with built-in urinals took off. I’m pretty good at leaning on stuff, and I’m really good at drinking, so I thought any televised leaning/drinking exploits would be looked at in a more positive light. Apparently, leaning/drinking and looking downward at a mass of people that have suddenly marched onto the street was an unnecessary flaunting of my privileged, son-of-a-truck-driver-with-poor-financial-acumen social status.
Let me revisit the sequence of events that led to that woman on Whoopi’s left likening this party to one of Marie Antoinette’s legendary soirees. A good friend recently got engaged, and in a shocking and extravagant manner, the newly betrothed couple decided to invite their friends and family to celebrate said engagement at a nice restaurant. (I did not know this practice was only customary for people who work on Wall Street, but judging from the shocked look on the hosts’ faces above – “OMG people in jackets and dresses smiling and drinking during the day!” -it must be.)
Being that 2011 is apparently the year of extreme weather in every season – with fall being no exception – many attendees (which, to my knowledge did not include the heads of any major investment banks or hedge funds) chose to enjoy their cocktails on the balcony. (There were appetizers as well, but given the moral outrage that the mere sight of people drinking on a balcony caused – I am hesitant to reveal any details of the food that was also available on a balcony.) At some point – I’m going to guess I was on drink number four – a bunch of protestors showed up on the street below the restaurant. I know it sounds irrational, but I – and some other “swells” – could not resist walking the three feet to the balcony’s ledge to see what was going on.
At this point, basically no one had heard of Occupy Wall Street. There were some interesting signs and a little bit of the 99% chant, if I recall correctly, as the group coalesced into a semi-organized mass, conveniently right below the restaurant. (I’m not really following the 99% thing, though. Is it supposed to mean that 1% of the people in the country control the economy and you’re pissed that it’s impacting you in such a manner? If it is, isn’t that more a political issue? I don’t think it’s based on taxes paid, either, which would make more sense to me, if it’s a financial issue. Anyway, I guess it’s catchy. I have some experience in activism myself – I got Gristedes to change the price of Arriba salsa storewide from an absurd $7.99 to a still-absurd-but-it’s-Gristedes-and-it’s-the-only-place-that-has-Arriba $5.99 with just a couple emails to corporate.) We waved at some people, checked out what was going on; I didn’t really get an animosity vibe from the crowd and i suspect they got only a curiosity vibe from we, the balcony people (although if they really only had peanut butter and sh*tty veggie pizza that first day, they probably should’ve revolted to get some of our food). I finished my drink, went inside for another (the true error in judgment was probably allowing me access to an open bar) and forgot all about the “encounter.”
Then the next day someone posted the video on youtube – as I said, I didn’t get any hostile vibe at all during the actual five minutes that I was “looking down on the crowd”, but whoo-boy were the youtube commenters a different story. “You should’ve firebombed the f*cking place!” and “Id have shot everyone in the throat and had sex with they’re corpse” and “that gray-haired f*cker has a big nose!” (Note: I’m all for making fun of people on the internet – hell, that’s one of my (money-losing) jobs – but I think suggesting the mass murder of a bunch of people you don’t know might signal a need for some internal reflection, or least a reduction in the amount of Red Bull consumed.) Frankly, it’s pretty amazing how quickly a few graphic death threats can tarnish the memory of a nice celebration.
I resisted the urge to comment on that youtube video and forgot about it again. Then I got an email from an Italian friend and somehow that image above (could have been the entire video, not sure from screen grab he sent) made it to the website of Italy’s biggest paper. I had to wonder if my unphotogenic nature was somehow giving this image legs, like that one of Katy Perry without makeup? Then I forgot about that, too, and have been in Arkansas helping with my dad for a couple of weeks, and then Saturday someone sent me this:
Whoopi: call me, happy to discuss as you suggested. I suspect you’ll be disappointed at the divergence from the presumed narrative, as my lofty status in life is largely due to the considerable points I’ve racked up on my Qdoba Rewards card. I won’t bore the seven regular readers of this site with a replay of my life story, but I’ve worked in a Tyson turkey processing factory with a bunch of Sling Blade types, spent some time sleeping in my car after failing out of college (Nissan 280ZX – surprisingly comfortable to sleep in, except for the fact that it somehow gets to be twenty degrees colder than the outside temperature), and toiled at the lowest ranks of the U.S. Navy. Poke around this site if you want more details – but I’m happy to play Costanza to any Andrea Dorea survivors who want to compare notes on background. Several of my friends literally laughed at loud at the idea of Chilly, child of privilege.
I did, obviously, catch many incredibly lucky breaks later on in life; I would love to say it was just intelligence, a winning personality and hard work that put me in the position to succeed. But a whole bunch of it was just good fortune and taking a modest chance here and there. After being laid off in late 2008 I’ve spent a lot of time having fun and trying my own ventures that have ranged from disappointing to wildly unsuccessful, so I’ll likely be working for the man again someday soon. It probably won’t be on Wall Street, as the Silver Fox look really only works for senior Managing Directors, not mid-level scrubs. (And if I were to become a victim of mob vengeance, I have to think the mob would be sorely disappointed in their selection after reviewing my bank statements. Likely epitaph: “They got the wrong guy. This motherf*cker’s broke.”)
But for clarity’s sake, at this particular party, there were certainly some financial types in attendance – think Associate level, not Jamie Dimon level – but also many people who work in IT, teaching, non-profits, etc. I’m not sure why anyone would begrudge a 27-28 year old their job on Wall Street; generally anyone in that position has made significant lifestyle compromises to get that position in the first place (worked hard in high school to get into good college, in college to get offer, and then once on the job the first 3-4 years are fairly brutal). And not everyone who works on the Street is out synthesizing CDOs or creating other crazy derivative bets – at each institution there were probably only a handful of folks responsible for the mortgage mess; I didn’t know any of them at my firm.
As I said, I’m happy to go on The View and discuss the party and any other issues you want to talk about, like how much money bankers really make (hint: you aren’t rolling around Scrooge McDuck style for a long time) versus how crappy the lifestyle is, which tie brands are acceptable for meetings and how many days per week the average banker has foie gras for breakfast. You have my info sent via email.
(P.S. I’m the dude in that picture above, just in case it wasn’t clear. I don’t know what’s up with that picture though, looks like I’m somehow parting my hair on both sides. I have no explanation, but am considering wearing a football helmet when outside from here on out.)
(Edited to add: I revised this post several times, and am still not too all that happy with how it turned out. Wanted to maintain my trademark* “I’m an asshole” style, but I am also somewhat sympathetic with the protesters; also didn’t want to sound apologetic, as I/we didn’t do anything worthy of an apology. I have, however, been saying for years that the ridiculous costs of going to even state schools are likely going to be a bigger problem than even the mortgage crisis going forward – the benefit is likely to come up well short of the investment – and the average OWS participant is pretty young. I field a decent number of questions about college/grad school decisions, and I almost always have the same response – you need to try and figure out what is a likely/realistic return on your investment and see if that return justifies such an investment. Eventually, undergraduate degrees aren’t even going to make sense for everyone, just too damn expensive if state schools are going to run you close to $100k in loans. Since most jobs end up being mostly sales gigs in the long run, what’s the huge benefit of a four year degree, as long as you understand your products?
My secondary point, which is hard to glean from the text above but becomes more apparent if you peruse some of my older posts, is that I likely have more in common with the typical Occupy Wall Street protester than the people they are protesting. Did I eventually have a pretty good job and make good money for a few years before getting canned? Yes. Did I pay a sh*t-ton of taxes (single, no dependents, owned nothing)? Yes. Did I give to charity? Yes (but Operation Smile – you are f*cking pushing it. I gave you money, I obviously know you exist: please quit mailing me four packets per week – and these days address labels aren’t all that helpful!) Did I waste (opinions vary – I still hold that spreading multiple awful bets across the craps table is more therapeutic than -EV and everybody needs to have a few drinks now and then) most of the modest excess money I made? Yes. No regrets, everybody needs to do what they need to do. But 23 years ago, I was in a pretty similar situation – few options, none of them particularly attractive. I ended up on the right end of a bunch of coin flips, things pretty much went my way. That doesn’t mean I don’t recall how sh*tty it was before things turned positive.
I applaud the OWS protesters for making a dent – people asked me about this non-stop at home, even those that didn’t know I used to work on Wall Street, so awareness is very high. But given the young age of the average protester, I would probably caution against putting all chips in on long-term change. Affecting political/policy change takes somewhere near forever, there is a danger of losing prime years in the shuffle – need to simultaneously try to make inroads under current systems. Despite the terrible economy, it has never been easier to try your own thing – f*ck, these days you can start your own gig with little more than a $10/month hosting fee, a good idea and some hard work. (I’m not a great example of this, but will keep trying. I did score over $5 last month!))
*also the trademark of everyone else on the internet