NEW YORK – “Our world has changed. Nothing will be the same again.” So read
the email sent by Paul Unger, a bond trader at Manhattan-based firm Franklin
Lloyd. His company escaped the September 11th attacks without any loss of
life, but it didn’t escape the aftershock.
“Everybody was is despair, of course,” he recalls. “At that time, a lot of us were
wondering whether it was time to re-evaluate our lives, to ditch our old values, to
be a little less self-absorbed, a little less arrogant.” He chuckles now at the
thought. “Dumb shit like that.”
Following pleas from Mayor Giuliani for New Yorkers to go about their lives as
normal, Unger and many like him felt the most important thing was to put the
horror of the World Trade Center attacks behind them. But it was hard to break
the prevailing mood of despair. For Unger, the turning point came last Tuesday
night at his favourite restaurant, The Steakhouse. “The waiter brought me Evian
water instead of Malvern, as I had ordered,” recounts Unger. “So I looked him in
the eye and I called him a retard.”
Unger says a moment of silence followed. He thought he might have said the
wrong thing. But an understanding nod from a stockbroker at the next table
put his mind at rest.
“I realised, at the moment, that we had lost something very important on
September 11th: We lost our selfish greed. And it was time to get it back.”
As a gesture of support, the other diners also began calling the waiter a retard
and generally abusing him for the rest of the night. Unger wipes a tear from his
eye as he recounts the tale. “It was a special evening. I’ll never forget it.”
All over New York’s financial district, people are rediscovering their
obnoxiousness. There is a growing determination that the events of September
11th will not disrupt their lives or make them ‘nicer’ in any way.
Derivatives analyst Philip Strecker, like so many others, spent the days
following the terror attacks in a numb state of sadness. He called up old friends
and family just to hear their voices. Sometimes, he just sobbed. “I was in shock,”
he says firmly. “I’m over it now, thank Christ.”
Today, he had a friendly phone conversation with a colleague and immediately
called him a “fucking asshole” after he put the phone down. “It’s not much, I
admit, but it’s a first step,” he says.
Martin Tiller, a stockbroker, decided there had been enough grief in his office.
On Monday morning, he told his colleagues that he snorted cocaine off of a
hooker’s left buttock the previous night after closing a deal that resulted in
3000 people being laid off. They broke into spontaneous applause.
Slowly but surely, things on Wall Street are getting back to normal.
Meanwhile, Paul Unger makes his final call of the day, to arrange dinner at
The Steakhouse. As he puts the phone down, he looks contemplative, almost
wistful. “I hope they fired that fucking retard,” he says. “I really do.”