Assassinations. Acts of war. Man’s capacity to visit death and destruction upon his fellow-man. These are the originating events that spark that age-old question used to mark a moment in time, “Do you remember where you were when…..?”
For my grandparents and parents generation it was Pearl Harbor and JFK respectively. For my generation it’s 9-11. With my kids generation I’m pretty sure it will be the day they discover that Justin Bieber is in fact a zombie cyborg, sent to this planet by an evil alien race in order to hypnotize us through musical pablum, before starting the invasion where they will rightly lay us to waste.
But life is also full of many other memorable though less dramatic events, and the way in which we remember them varies from person to person.
For example, my wife remembers places and events by the food associated with them; a typical conversation between her and I will often go like this….
“Hey honey, do you remember that cool little restaurant we went to up in Los Angeles for our anniversary?”
“Hmmmm…..no I don’t really recall the place.”
“C’mon, you remember! It was where they had the great view of the ocean?”
“Yeah…um…its not really ringing a bell.”
“I can’t believe you don’t remember. There was a five alarm fire in the gunpowder factory right across the street during our meal!”
“You know…..I am just not good at remembering things like that.”
“But it was that place where a bunch of movie stars were eating, and I got into a fist-fight with Brad Pitt after I yelled ‘Salt sucked!’ at Angelina?”
“…..It’s just uh…nah,…. not getting it.”
“You had the grilled Chilean sea bass with mango salsa…..!”
It’s my belief that one of the criteria for truly calling yourself a trader is not related to what your job is or even if you make money in the markets, but your ability to always have an answer to the question; “What was your position when…….?”
And I don’t just mean during macro events like when the market dropped 23% in one day back in October of 87′. That doesn’t count because it was on every mainstream TV newscast as well as the front page of newspapers across the world. Even my mother knew her portfolio got crushed that day (I told her not to fade Paul Tudor Jones).
No, I am talking about when you say to someone “flash crash,” and they instantaneously reply, “short 500 shares of $AAPL, covered one point from the low tick of the day.”
Or say, “short sale ban on financials?” And faster than a HFT algo comes the response, “long out of the money $ICE calls. Fucking suweeetttt…..!!!”
Traders are, in the very best “Bill Murray in Stripes” sense, “mutants…and there is something very, very wrong with us,” that these positions are forever tattooed on our cerebral cortex.
Wife’s birthday……”uh, give me a minute.”
First time you got really drunk…….”must have been that one summer…..?”
First time you had sex……..”yeah probably around June of my senior year!”
First time you had sex without actually being drunk………”uh, that’s a tough one.”
Day Buffett announced he took a stake in $GS…….”Long S&P index options, and day traded the shit out of $SKF.”
I can tell you exactly what position I had on October 17th, 1996. I was long 1000 shares of $OO (Oakley Sunglasses). I can also tell you what time I woke up that morning, what I had for breakfast, what I did most of the day, and what time I went to bed that night. That day is burned into my brain because it was the day that $RAYS (formerly Sunglass Hut) decided they were closing a number of their stores. This would cut into Oakley’s sales, and the stock dropped 25% while my account lost 50% of its value. And here is where it gets weird.
For over 15 years I didn’t tell that story to anybody; not because I was ashamed or embarrassed about it, but because nobody couldn’t relate to it. My friends and family aren’t traders, and although they could understand it in an “oh, you lost money” type of way, they just wouldn’t get it in a “yes I’ve read all the Market Wizards books three times” type of way.
But then a magical moment happened.
I was out at the Trader’s Expo in Vegas last October and was having a drink after the day was through. I struck up a conversation with the gentleman seated next to me at the bar, who happened to be in town attending the expo as well. As the drinks went down and the night went on, we began to trade “war stories” about our trading over the years, and I brought up my $OO trade.
Suddenly time stood still. His gaze met mine and as if a thousand drops of glycerin were placed in them, his eyes began to water. The lights in the casino dimmed and one lone spotlight shown down on us. His lips began to tremble and his voice began to quake as he uttered the cathartic words….
“I was long $OO on that day too……”
In this moment I had found a soul-mate. Someone who without speaking a word knew my long suppressed pain. Someone I wanted to take into my arms, rub with baby oil, and cradle in my arms in the most heterosexual way possible. A trader.
The other criteria for calling yourself a trader is when you become completely and pathologically fluent in symbol-speak. When you inner dialogue, even away from the markets, automatically begins to use the three or four letter, capitalized, abbreviated language of the markets.
This weekend I went shopping with the family at $TGT and $COST and I couldn’t believe they had better prices on flat screens than $BBY. After that we had lunch at $MCD and then went back home where right away the kids started fighting over the $AAPL iPad. I just said “screw it” and started watching Breaking Bad on $NFLX.
You think I am kidding right? Well let me tell you how this trait manifested itself not too long ago.
After being together for 16 years my wife and I finally have our “mall” strategy down pat. She hates the stores I like, and I hate the stores she likes, so after years of getting her to first bring her cell phone, then actually turn it on, and finally taking it off of “silent” mode, we are now able to split up and then call each other when ready to meet.
We headed to our respective stores and after a while I decide to check out the Nike store on the other side of the mall. So I send her a text to let her know she can find me there when she is done with her shopping. Almost 30 minutes goes by as I am engrossed in all the cool workout shoes and clothes that I will never buy or use, and then finally I wander out into the mall atrium area…..and there she is….steaming mad.
“What’s the problem,” I say.
“Well to start with, I tried to call you three times and you didn’t answer.” (Turns out it was me who had the phone on “silent” mode by mistake this time. D’oh).
“Yeah, but you knew where I was because I texted you,” I said.
“Really?” she annoyingly replied. “Cause I have no idea what this is supposed to mean……”
With that she turned her phone screen towards me to show the message that I had sent her.
It read, “I am heading down to the $NKE store.”
I looked up at her, and although the husband in me gave a sheepish look, the trader in me was grinning from ear to ear.