Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Coming Clean, Step By Step, Summer 2007

So the first thing I set out to do was to get another certification to my name. The examination was called the NYSE Series 14 Exam, which qualifies someone to be a Compliance Officer at a Securities firm. It's not an exam many people take, so there aren't a lot of study materials available.

I spent a good month preparing for this exam. I figured it would be a good way to segue into another area of the industry. I was what they call a "Floor Official" at the Exchange, which charges you with responsibility for trade compliance through consultation with Specialist firms and brokers from other Brokerage firms. I had hoped to make a transition to Compliance in-house at Merrill, but time ran out, obviously.

Well this was another instance of mistaken suppositions. I passed the exam on the first try, and thought that I'd be good to go. I was wrong. The first obstacle I hit was the one that vexes nearly every person who is seeking employment: The Experience Catch-22. No one is hiring anyone without three to five years' experience; can't get the experience if you don't have the job. Round and round.

I had my severance pay, but I know that was finite. I had three years' salary saved in addition to that. I thought I had prepared well.

Wrong again.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Coming Clean, Going Home, May 2007

Well I went home feeling pretty crushed. That ride on the Ferry was the first time I think I'd ever ridden without keeping an eye out for an opportunity for humor. I was looking through the pictures on my phone, and I realized I started worrying about layoffs quite some time ago. I remembered that I kept telling myself to take pictures in and around the Exchange, seeing places, things and people in an environment that I might well never see again. I remember then snapping photos on the walk from the Exchange to the Ferry, on the ferry, and going home. I wanted to remember exactly how I felt that day, at each moment.

I left that meeting with my severance package. I left that day with some minor agreements worked out. I left a piece of my soul in that building, but I left with dignity intact. I knew that this was a situation that was inevitable.

A number of people thought that I should consider litigation. I was a handicapped person who was cut loose from a cold corporation at a time when I needed it most. Others suggested filing for permanent disability payments. But I figured I'd get back on my feet soon enough and as long as I was physically able to work, then I should be working. I believed things would work out and this episode would just be a chapter in my life story. I had no idea it would become such a major part of the plot.

I went home and, remarkably, slept.


I'm lying here at 4 AM. I'm angry with God right now. Not for the obvious reasons, though.

My youngest girl is 11 years old. She's one of the lights of my life. She's incredibly sensitive and loving, and wise beyond her years, which isn't always good.

She played a carnival game the other night. She used her entire $10 allowance to win a goldfish. A silly goldfish. Didn't even come with a fishbowl. Just a fish in a bag.

Well she loved it. She got very excited at the prospect of being a pet owner. That's how 11 year old girls think sometimes. Those of you who might raise large tropical fish know these goldfish are often used as food for those fish. For my girl, it was a chance to love.

I took her first thing next morning to Petco to get a bowl. She was so into it. Got gravel too. Neon-colored gravel for a 1 gallon bowl.

Then she spotted it: A copper-colored goldfish swimming in a tank alone. She spent the next 10 minutes or so bonding with this silly creature. I couldn't resist.

There was a time when Daddy would have gone hog wild and would wind up purchasing an entire aquarium set-up. It would have been typically over-the-top. But the world has changed to the point where I have to consider a $3.99 purchase of a silly fish. the love in her eyes for this creature made up my mind for me. Done deal.

She took such pride setting up her little bowl. Washed the gravel, laid it in there carefully. She added the water gently, added water conditioner. Her eyes were glowing. She named her two fish Fido and Maurice. Fido was the new guy. She insisted that his name was pronounced "Feedo". Hey, her fish, her name, right?

She spent the entire afternoon and evening doting over her new loves. She ever so carefully fed her little critters, being mindful not to overdo it. This was pure love.

Today however, the world was mean to my girl. Little Fido didn't survive the night. I've taken full punches to the face and a bat to the head. I've broken a lot of bones in my body in my life. Nothing hurt me anywhere near the kind of pain I felt at the moment I realized my Girl was crying over her lost Fido.

It's the worst pain a Dad can experience. The pain you can't fix, or make all better. The fish is gone. Can't change that.

Didn't even get a full day out of it.

I know the world has a lot more serious troubles to worry about. But when you're the Dad and your Girl is hurting, it doesn't matter.

Yeah I'm a little annoyed at God right now.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Coming Clean, May 2007

On May 24, 2007 my world changed. It was not an entirely unexpected change, but it didn't knock the wind out of me any less. I guess no matter what the situation, we always believe we'll have more time.

My 29-year-11-months career at Merrill Lynch came to an end. I'd been an employee since 1978, went from High School Intern to AVP, then VP, then Director through that time. I was an active Member of the NY Stock Exchange, on behalf of Merrill on the Floor of the Exchange. I went through the 1987 Crash, the Internet Bubble Burst, the 9/11 Attack and the Sub-prime lending disaster. Somehow I'd always managed to get through. But automation had come to the Exchange. The Specialist scandal, which saw some people face criminal charges, the front-running fiasco which saw some brokers sent to jail, all brought about a call for change. One of the ironies for me is that I helped design the very system which essentially put me out of business.

But in late 2006, early 2007 I sort of sealed my fate for another reason. I needed three leg surgeries and a back surgery. (2 surgeries on right leg, 1 on left). A number of fellas, over the years, had to use disability time for injuries, surgeries and the like. Somehow, they were all let go shortly upon their return to work at Merrill Lynch. I remember at one point, Merrill did a purge of the upstairs trading desk, and coincidentally, all the women who were let go at the time were pregnant. But anyone who had used their disability insurance were shown the gate. Coincidence as well?

They sent a guy around the Exchange to tap guys on the shoulder one at a time. Each guy then walked to an upstairs office off the Exchange Floor, where they got their walking papers. The only thing that bugged me, truly, about this process, is that the guy they sent around to do the taps was one of the worst weasels I'd ever met. A guy who sold his soul to Merrill and who did anything it took to keep his job. There were other guys who could have been elected to be the Tapper. But, no matter.

I got my tap around 11 AM. It was funny because I was wearing leg braces and walking with crutches as I walked into the office. The HR person didn't look too comfortable with that. We got down to business. I asked them to skip the insincere expressions of regret and cut to the chase. I was given a deal that was somewhat generous, considering my time of service. They offered me 54 weeks salary.

I did a final lap around the Exchange Floor to say my goodbyes. Took a couple of photos for posterity and then went home. Very strange feeling, to say the least.

Question of the Day

Here's something I'm curious about today.

There are times we need to address strangers, or get their attention politely without screaming, "Yo!". I've heard a million different ways of doing it:

  • "Excuse me, Sweetie"
  • "Pardon me, Lady"
  • "Yes Ma'am"
  • "Thank you, sir

No one seems to have a problem with "sir". (Occasionally someone might say, "Sir is my Dad..." but whatever). Everyone has a problem with "Sweetie". But when my parents put me in the spaceship and sent me here, they gave me a lot of instructions, leaving out the one that tells me how to address an unfamiliar woman without issue. "Yes, Ma'am" gets issues.

So, my question is, if "Ma'am" doesn't work, "Sweetie" would get me slapped, and "Baby" - well that's just suicidal- Ladies, how would you prefer to be addressed?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Coming Clean...The Introduction

I have been noticeably absent from the Blogger community of late. The last year as a matter of fact. There are a lot of reasons for that. It seems in times of trouble, I tend to close up ranks and fade away to work out the problems all by myself.

I have often said that there was probably one guy on the Titanic who believed if he just manned those water pumps a little longer, worked a little harder, that ship would not sink. And he believed that right up until the minute the ship went under.

Well it appears my ship is foundering, despite my best efforts. The deck is stacked against me, and no matter how well I'm playing this hand, a happy ending seems unlikely.

I've long gotten past the pity parties. I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I'm at the stage that's just past denial but not quite making it to acceptance. My world has gotten very, very small for me.

I need to put a face on the statistics of the economic damage that has been done by the greed and indifference of a lot of bad people in the financial world. A lot of their names and faces have begun to fade from the public consciousness, but the effects of their actions are still rippling through the population and the economy.

I'm at the very end of a dark road and I'm not seeing much in the way of light. I'd like to share my story, not because it could serve as a warning to anyone, and not because I'm unique. I'm going through the same situation that has a hold of many good people I know. They, and I, am not alone. Don't think that's much consolation though.

I'd like to share my story for a while. I know not many people visit here any more, but I have a feeling that the ones who do won't mind.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Hi There

I'm just going through some things here, and seems it's gotten a little dusty around these parts.

I've joined a lot of people who use Facebook and Twitter, and while they're fun for me, I miss the Blogosphere. To me it's a better way to touch base with the people I got started with. So could you all do me a favor?

Please leave a link to your Blog if you still keep it. I'd love to start visiting you all again. Thanks