Over the last twenty years, if you took all the times I slept in past the market open, they could be counted on one hand. Even if that hand had some sort of terrible accident involving a hay bailer, and it lost a couple of fingers, it would still do the job. Point is, it is a very rare occurrence, but that is what occurred on the morning of 9/11.
The week leading up to 9/11 was particularly stressful for me for some reason which I can no longer remember, and being on the West Coast, I had decided to give myself a couple of precious extra hours of sleep. When my alarm went off at 7:30am, out of habit I turned on the TV which was always set to CNBC, and then flopped back in bed for an extra 5 minutes.
When the picture came up, I saw a shot of the twin towers, from the perspective of looking across the water from the New Jersey side. Smoke seemed to be obscuring one of the towers and there were helicopters flying around the top of the other one. What was happening was not computing yet in the haze of my semi-waking state.
Then I heard the late Mark Haines say these words that I will never forget.
…what the people on the scene don’t seem to realize, is that one of the twin towers has collapsed. One of the two towers is gone!
I just sat there is stunned silence, then suddenly my thoughts turned to one of my closest friends who lived in New York and worked in the Twin Towers. I called her, and miraculously she answered. Having worked late the night before, she decided to go into the office at 10:00am instead of her usual 8:00am, a decision that very well may have saved her life.
As the hours went on, and the full magnitude of what had happened began to be clear, I found myself spontaneously crying. Crying for the children whose father or mother would not come home that night. For the first responders who gave their lives trying to save those of others. For the people on the floors above the impact who experienced such horrors that they took the “better” option of leaping to their certain death. I was going through the same emotions that millions of people around the globe were going through.
Then I got angry. And when I got angry, the first thing I wanted to do was trade.
It may seem a strange reaction at first, but in times of crisis or confusion we turn to things we know, things we are comfortable with. However I was not thinking about trading from a purely profit motive. I wanted to trade, but for the first time in my life it was not just about making money, but engaging in the pure act of buying and selling. Like so many other people who were feeling powerless at that time, I wanted to do something symbolic. Something that showed my national pride. Something American.
Trading is not an American invention. I’m sure cavemen traded tools for furs at the dawn of mankind. Merchants in feudal Japan traded rice and in the process created my beloved candlestick charts. The first stock exchange wasn’t even created here; it was created by the Dutch. But the ultimate evolution of trading is embodied in the US Stock Exchanges, whose form and function, not unlike jazz, is quintessentially American.
It was five days before the exchanges decided to re-open, and in that time there was a constant call in chat rooms, on message boards, and from the talking heads on TV about how people should buy the stock market to show their patriotism. I thought that this was bullshit! Going into the market September 17th with a long only bias was not trading. There were strong emotions that were driving me to trade, but the trading itself, as always, had to be as free of emotion as possible. If there were short opportunities, I was going to take them.
Short selling has been around as long as stock exchanges have. It’s the boogey man that gets trotted out every few years as the cause of everything from price manipulation to market crashes. There have been attempts to outlaw it and short term bans have been put in place, but it has never gone away, because it is part of the mechanics, the fabric you might say, of the stock market. Our markets exist on buying, selling, and short selling. You may not like short selling, and you can refuse to participate in it, but if you don’t acknowledge it as a critical component of a freely traded market, then you are not a trader.
I took a number of short day trades on the 17th, as well as buying some longer term holdings, most notably in the airlines. I made a good profit on the day, and I did not feel a bit of guilt about it. In fact I felt good about it. I felt like this was my personal “Fuck You” to this 15th Century retard named Bin Laden. He and his followers caused death, destruction, and terror, on a scale that had previously been unimaginable, but I took all of that, and in the most American way made an albeit tiny positive out of it.
That night I walked out onto my front yard. I was thinking about the events that had happened to our county. How for the first time in my life our country was at war. Not the type of war I had seen on so many movies of the week of my youth, but a new type of war. A war I feared would still be ongoing when I was dead and gone, and my grandchildren were reaching adulthood.
I thought about a similar night like this, just six days before. How I looked to the sky and heard the sound of jet planes overhead. How a chill went through me as I realized that the only airplanes in the sky at that time were warplanes. Warplanes manned by brave men and women who were protecting me and my family, and my ability to trade in a free market. I don’t know why, but at that moment I felt ashamed, like a coward who took a tiny risk to achieve a theoretical win, while others were taking the ultimate risk in order to achieve a real victory.
The next day I took all the money I made the day before, doubled it, and donated it to the families of NYC firefighters. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Since then I have never forgotten that the markets I love so much and have been so good to me, are in the end an abstraction. They emulate highs and lows, and pain and pleasure only through the emotions we ascribe to them and that can never be confused with real life.
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