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Saturday, February 05, 2005


The Sucky Jobs I Have Had, Part I

Whitehall Trust
Straight out of college, I got a job with the investment arm of a commercial bank that had delusions of Goldman Sachs. The environment could be described as Boiler Room meets Full Metal Jacket. (I was Gomer Pyle, of course).

Supposedly, I was being trained to become a Big Swinging Dick; in actual fact I was a sort of gofer-cum-frat-pledge for whatever nonsense the bank's traders could dream up. One incident springs to mind. The boss-fella had decided, for some reason, that it was critical to the success of his global currency options trading desk that he find out precisely when King Charles I was executed. Of course, finding out this vital piece of business information was my job, because everything was.

Now, this was in the mid-90s, pre-Google and practically pre-Internet. If you wanted to find out information back in those days, you had to phone people like some kind of Neanderthal. So I phoned up the history departments of a couple universities that owed me favours, but I couldn't dig up anyone whose area of study was "Incompetent and Vainglorious 17th Century Monarchs, Capping Thereof". I told this to the boss-fella, who by the way was a stereotypical Yorkshireman, whom I'll call Byeck. The following dialogue ensued:

BYECK: Bah! Useless, xj! Try the King Charles Society!
xj: Is there a King Charles Society?
BYECK: There must be! Ask directory enquiries!

So I called up "directory enquiries", that is to say the phone information service, and they gave me a number...

VOICE ON PHONE: Hello, King Charles.
xj: Hello, could you tell me when King Charles was executed?
VOICE ON PHONE: Haven't a clue mate, this is the King Charles public house.

That was the sort of thing I did for a living in my first job.

There was also the matter of the hookers.

On my very first day, Byeck slapped a phone number down in front of me and told me, "xj, phone up this number and book yourself a massage."

My first thought was Now this is what I call a sign-on bonus. My second thought was, Wait a minute, this will turn out to be the CEO's daughter, won't it?

But I called up the number and sure enough, I got a hooker. She, ah, read me the menu. I did not in fact book a "massage": calls on trading floors are recorded and I had some vague notion that it might be used in evidence against me.

(It was. Someone got the tape of the call and played it on the PA system. Glad I didn't ask for anything Wonkette...).

It turned out that Byeck suspected the woman living in the apartment above him of being a hooker, and had got her number somehow. Then he had decided that, rather than cut into his busy schedule of... whatever, he was going to get the newbie to do it.

He told me he wasn't surprised that the woman had turned out to be a hooker because only three types of people could afford to live in central London: foreign exchange traders (like him), libel lawyers, and prostitutes.

Y'know, if a young person were to come to me for career advice, I think I'd have to plump for prostitution, as I suspect it would be significantly less psychologically damaging than foreign exchange trading. (Of course, nobody with any morals what so ever would become an, excuse the expression, libel lawyer).

As for the other traders, they were almost all as big or bigger assholes than the boss-fella. One threatened to fire me when he didn't like the cup of tea I brought him from the tea shop across the street. ("That's harsh", commented Byeck. "Just suspend him for a few weeks without pay"). It was something of a relief when the failure of the European currency system to collapse on schedule convinced the bank's executives to downsize the foreign exchange department, and me with it.

Update: Speaking of hookers, I see that Belle is posting again. The Curse of xj has been lifted!?!?

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