Have Some Perspective

I puked once during a losing trade.  It wasn’t like a full-on “too many shots of Jäger” puke, but more like one of those sick to your stomach, “I can hold it in, I can hold it in”, dry heave type of pukes.

Puking has no place in the world of trading.  It should be reserved for rollercoaster’s, twenty-first birthday parties, and State of the Union addresses, and it was a sign that I was way too emotionally invested, instead of being objective and dispassionate.

I couldn’t help it though.  Each losing tick of that trade was like a dagger to my stomach.  I wasn’t even losing that much money, but it seemed as if I was in a tail-spin that I could not pull out of.

My field of vision narrowed to the point where the only thing that I knew still existed anymore was my trading screen.  Like Billy Mumy’s character in the Twilight Zone, I had wished everything except that damn screen into the cornfield.

All perspective was lost on that trade. That trade had become my whole world and everything about me.  My value as a human being and my place in this universe was dependent on the outcome of that trade.

In retrospect it’s not surprising that my trading was out of control, as I was going through a tough period in my life.

I was recently married, imprisoned in a business I hated but was too afraid to walk away from, and my ultimate fear, having children, seemed to be coming towards me like a runaway freight train. All this was messing with my head and I couldn’t trade my way out of a paper bag.  Day after day I was making bad choices, ignoring risk management, and pulling my stops, and it felt like there was nothing I could do to change.

Then John Nutting died.

My first memories of John start right after my family moved into our brand new tract home back in 72′.  He and his family were “original settlers” as well, having moved in just a week before we did.  One day there was a knock on our door and when my dad opened it, there was John.  He explained that he was getting all the “guys” in the neighborhood together to help out on a project.

It seemed that when the movers delivered all their belongings to the Harker family down the street, they refused to move the piano into the house and had just left it out on the driveway. John reasoned that if all the guys put their heads (and backs) together, they could figure a way to get that sucker in.  That’s the type of guy John was.

I will never forget the wonderful scene I watched that warm summer day as my new friends and I rode our bikes around the cul-de-sac.  There had to be ten fathers standing around that piano, studying it with intent looks; each proposing options and methods of ingress.

But the best part of the show was how after all the grunting, and yelling, and sweating was done, a case of cold domestic beer miraculously showed up, and this newly formed “band of brothers” luxuriated in the afternoon shade, reveling in their Herculean feat.

My father liked John right off the bat, which is probably why I initially liked him as well. Like my dad he too was handy, and his garage was full of old radios, vintage bikes, and a 57′ Chevy, all of which were in various states of repair.

When you’re a kid you regard adults as if they are entities from another world. You can’t relate to them, and the more they try to relate to you, the weirder it gets.  But with John it never seemed that way.  As a kid, talking with him was like talking to a best friend; always a relaxing and easy endeavor.

A fixture in the neighborhood; if you didn’t see him on one of his twice daily jogs, or working on a project in his garage, you would inevitably run into him at the local supermarket where he was the manager.  He was always there to help, always there to lend a hand, always the embodiment of the concisely descriptive Yiddish word “Mensch.”

As I got older and moved away from my parent’s house I saw John less frequently. When I would go to visit, it was strangely reassuring though to drive by his house and receive the same friendly wave I had remembered since I was a kid.

After my father died, John always made a point of checking in on my mom to see if she was okay or if there was anything she needed fixed around the house.  My mother would talk to him on a regular basis, and on some level he became a proxy male presence in her life in all the best and most platonic ways.

One day in 2003, after forty plus years in the grocery industry, John had finally decided to retire.  His wife and he planned to travel the country in the new RV that was already parked in front of their house.  A large portion of that travel involved visiting his grown daughters and his numerous grandchildren of whom he spoke about with great joy.

One month to the day that he was to retire, John got a call from the manager of one of his company’s other locations wanting to know if he could cover his shift.  Always willing to help out a fellow employee John agreed.  He phoned his wife at work to let her know the change of plans and walked out the door.

Less than three hours later he was dead, lying in a pool of his own blood, with a samurai sword driven through his heart.

That morning a mentally deranged employee entered the store, spoke to the floor manager, then drew a sword from under his coat and in one stroke nearly decapitated her.

A fellow employee recalled at John’s funeral what happened next.

Customer’s and employees ran for cover as the swordsman looked for other victims. People were running away and those trapped in the store began to grab items off the shelves like trashcan lids and beach chairs to defend themselves.

John was in his office away from the initial attack, but came running out when he heard the commotion.  As he saw the killer chase after and wound other victims, he ran towards him trying to distract his attention, putting himself directly in harm’s way.

He tried to talk to him and reason with him but the attacker took his sword and ran it through John.

John died a public but lonely death.  There was no last kiss from his high school sweetheart wife.  No final encouraging words for his loving daughters.  No last press of a slight hand from the grandchildren he cherished so much.  All there was, was a cold steel blade robbing him of every moment he had ever lived or ever would live.

Perspective can come to us in both subtle and dramatic fashion.  John’s death brought it crashing into my life in a way that made me feel small and petty.

Just days before my head was “messed up.”  I was going through a “tough period in my life.”  I was “spinning out of control” and I was puking.  Why?  Because the red and green lines on my computer screen were not doing what I wanted them to do.

It’s easy at times to forget that this is what we are doing; trying to make money off the movements of the red and green lines on our screens.

And it’s hard on a daily basis to keep macro events like John’s senseless death in mind to provide us with perspective.  Our brains are not wired that way.  But without perspective, we often lose the context that keeps us balanced and reminds of this great gift called life, and the good things it has given us.

I try to remember that when I am at a light and see a man in a wheelchair cross in front of me.  Or when I read of the wife and child that a fallen soldier or policeman has left behind.  Or when I feel that I don’t have enough, when I have so much.

Although I still occasionally wring my hands or shout out a brief curse word when a trade doesn’t go my way; I haven’t puked ever since John’s death.  And the thought that I could have lost so much perspective that I once did, makes me feel silly and ashamed.

The Los Angeles Times Report On The Incident That Caused John’s Death

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22 Responses

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  5. Your gift of writng that you so kindly share with us is beyond remarkable. I feel the emotion you put in your words. Although named Brian you are or will be the same type of man that you so eloquently wrote about. I would be proud and elated to have you as a neighbor.

    I once had a trading moment that brought my lunch up as well !

  6. I love your blog. For some time I wondered how you could be such a good trader (I’m terrible at this so consider the source). You have depth. Almost like “too much of a deep feeler/thinker” to be good at this. But today’s post clued me in. Yesterday I came to the realization that “the joker” would be the worlds best trader. People that believe in chaos, and dont really question cause/effect ethics. Your post gets at the heart of this: no body owes us anything. Least of all red and green lines on a screen. We are entitled to nothing. We get what we get. Beyond that, we should be thankful for each and every breath. Almost a zen or buddhist type of thinking…

    • Hah….well if you check my “About Me” page I only describe myself as a “decent trader.” Much better traders on the streams on StockTwits. You make a good point though, so much of trading is having (and maintaining) the right mindset. That can be the hardest thing to do.

      Thanks for reading.

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    • Funny, I always assumed by childhood was just like everyone else’s. I am realizing now though that I might have been processing it different as it happened than others do. I guess it is just another type of perspective.

    • Hey thanks Mark. Tough having this happen to somebody you know, but nothing compared to what his family must have gone through (and still probably does).

    • This one was interesting, because when it originally happened it was so random that I don’t think I ever processed it fully. Writing about it was cathartic.

      Thanks for reading.

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