Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Great Cough

I stepped into the ruckus and heard the great cough.

Let me explain… Surrounding the brightly lit trading floor that I had just entered, were many smaller offices where some of the "back office" people worked. I don't actually know what these people did, but they were an odd presence. They’d shuffle by, ignoring the 23 year old dude shouting obscenities at his monitors while simultaneously trading and watching porn, and go about their business. They were mostly older and respectable looking and it was hard to understand how we could both be employed by the same company.

Had you spent some time watching their movements, you’d notice a pattern. They’d all routinely make visits to the corner office. There was never a light on in there and the door was never fully opened. Gray curtains were drawn over its large glass walls. Perhaps they were all part of a strange cult and worshiped there, or maybe, and this is more probable, the boss worked there. One thing was obvious, the man inside the corner office was very unhealthy.

He coughed all day long like a sick barking dog. A great wet cough that signaled impending death. The cough sounded like a mix between an oil burner starting and the sound mashed potatoes might make were you to hurl them against a wall. It was, in a word, disgusting, and it was the first thing that “greeted” me as I walked onto the trading floor.


In my two years at Anvil I only once caught a glimpse of the man responsible for "the great cough." And I only got close enough because I lost a bet. I peered through the crack in his office door and saw him bent over at the waist, wearing a black shirt, face red, eyes wide, coughing his brains out. Hacking.

But that cough was a presence on the trading floor as large as any trader. The man was always at work before anyone got there and no one ever saw him leave at night. Certainly he’d die in that office. One day he’d be coughing in there and something inside would give out and he’d bounce off the edge of his desk and land with a thud on the floor. They’d find his wet black lung lying next to his still body.

No one would attempt to revive him.

This dark office on the bright floor, this constant reminder of death was fitting. Death and trading made a good mix. I constantly think about death now. “Is trading aging me?” I wonder… “Is the stress killing me?”

Or just listen to the words and phrases you hear from other traders. “This SPY is killing me!” or “Whatever happened to that dude who blew up?” Even if you're doing well, you're "killing it!" Meanwhile, ask a trader who is getting smoked how he's doing and you might receive a simple one word answer as a reply, "Death."

If it’s good, it’s death. If it’s bad, even more death.

Stocks crash and they die. In an odd twist, traders are constantly seeking out the life blood of the market while risking death. We spend our time searching for a stock that has some life, hoping it doesn't kill you before you kill it…

It's a precarious position.

Anyway, while it was initially off-putting, I eventually used the cough for "perspective" reasons. Whenever I heard it, I thought of death. When I thought of death, I thought of the phrase, "this too, will pass." Bad trades die... good trades die... they all pass. Better not get attached to any trades. Indeed, as a daytrader, attachment to anything in the market is almost always a bad thing.

So looking back, "the great cough" taught me my first trading lesson.

I learned my second minutes later as I settled into my seat. Equality doesn’t exist on the trading floor.


TL said...

If you make the history posts into a book, I'll be the first one to put it up in the Trader Book Club library.


Dinosaur Trader said...

If I can write one a week for 2009 and thicken the plot with some sex and violence...


Fritz said...

Best DT post ever.

Dinosaur Trader said...


The check is in the mail.



Dinosister said...

I'd like to make a request - since Friday is your sister's last day of work at her current job, if no one "sprays" the office - can I have the music pick??? Pretty Please???

Dinosaur Trader said...

You got it!