Wall Street Excess

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Philipp Meyer was a Cornell English major and the son of two recovering hippies before he became a Wall Street trader and immersed himself in its sordid excesses:

I’d been working for the bank for about five weeks when I woke up on the balcony of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. It was midnight and I was drunk. One of my fellow management trainees was urinating onto the skylight of the lobby below us; another was hurling wine glasses into the courtyard.

Behind us, someone had stolen the hotel’s shoe-polishing machine and carried it into the room; there were a line of drunken bankers waiting to use it. Half of them were dripping wet, having gone swimming in all their clothes and been too drunk to remember to take them off. It took several more weeks of this before the bank considered us properly trained.
I put on 45 pounds in my first year at the bank, and, as you might guess, it was not from eating McDonalds. Occasionally I ate stuff like sushi, but mostly it was steak. We went to the good places like Sparks, Peter Luger’s, and the Strip House. We tended to look down on chains like Morton’s and Ruth’s Chris-they were for car dealers or stock brokers, not traders. Regardless of where we ate, we ate in quantity. My standard strategy was to order half a dozen appetisers, plus a steak and lobster, plus a few desserts and much wine as I could drink, as long it was under a few hundred dollars a bottle. Followed by a digestif, typically a 30-year-old port. There’s not any way to justify this except to say I was trying to catch up to my colleagues. We would treat those restaurants like Roman vomitoriums. And it wasn’t the food so much as the wine. Being a junior employee, I couldn’t really order bottles that cost more than a few hundred dollars, but the senior guys could get nicer stuff – Opus One, Chateau Latour. As long as we were out with a client, the bank paid. I remember being stunned the first time I saw a dinner bill for ten grand. But that was just the beginning.

What it boiled down to was austerity for everyone else and rampant consumption for ourselves. I never saw anyone literally set fire to money, but I did drink most of a bottle of 1983 Margaux ($2,000).
One evening, a close friend from the bank, an art history major from Princeton, took a bunch of recruits out with me. I did my normal trick of ordering nearly everything on the menu. There were piles of raw fish, shrimp, paté, sauces that had taken hours to prepare. It was far more food than anyone could eat and I could see some of the recruits were a little stunned at the quantities of uneaten shrimp and oysters being shovelled into the bin. I ate a big steak, put down a few bottles of red wine at $400-a-bottle and we hopped into a minibus we’d chartered for the night (gauche, but we couldn’t find a large enough limo). We stopped somewhere and bought a mixed case of Veuve Clicquot and Moet. Try the difference between these two, I demanded, but by then the recruits were all so drunk they barely touched it. I could tell they were getting a little scared. This stuff is bottom of the line, I told them. You ought to try the vintages. I downed at least two of the bottles in rapid succession. Some of the recruits would not look at me. They did not want to be there anymore. We stopped at a bar. I realised I was going to be sick, made sure my colleague had things under control, caught a cab, and promptly began vomiting out the window. Because of the quantity of wine and red meat I’d consumed, it looked like I was spitting up blood. The cab driver pulled over, certain I was about to die in his backseat. A finely dressed couple opened the door and I clambered out and vomited on their shoes. I don’t remember how I got home. The next morning I discovered a dozen cigars stuffed in my pockets, probably from the restaurant. I told my colleagues what had happened, looking for some moral bearing, secretly hoping to be chastised, but they all thought I was a hero. The vomiting on strangers was their favourite part. My boss, for fun, would sometimes throw cocktail olives, sushi, things of that nature, across the room in restaurants, always at people we didn’t know.

Markets are driven by a very small number of very large investors, he notes, and those people may not be bad people, but they won’t question their million-dollar paychecks.

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