O Mangi Questa Minestra…

by John Kaufmann

Sharp Ratio
(publishing December 28th)
Resource Allocation
(publishing December 29th)
Seeds of Love
(publishing December 30th)

Sharp Ratio

At my twelve, there is a bank of clocks suspended from the ceiling.  New York, 0730; London 1230; Frankfurt, 1330, Deli 1550, Hong Kong 0830.  I massage my neck, adjust my lumbar pillow and think, Most men live lives of quiet sleep deprivation.  Next to me is Kumar, plump, trained as an engineer, no sense of personal space.  I open an email in the Outlook tab, type “Eyes on your own screen, fuckface”, and he explodes in laughter.

Some idiot has launched a drone.  It lifts off near the southwest corner of the floor, near Risk Management, buzzes the sad sacks in Merger Arb and hovers for a moment over Mary, the head of the Convertible Arb desk.  She is thirty-five or so, large, asocial, a math PhD.  She doesn’t seem to notice it as it hovers six inches above her head for a minute.  It cuts left over Volatility and Agencies and touches down on a three-by-six-by-four pile of Whitecastles sitting on a credenza overlooking the Harbor.  I see it pause next to the silhouette of the Statue and think, Give me your tired, your poor, your yak-yak-yak.  When it stops outside the glass wall of the Capo di Tutti’s office, he waves it away.   This morning, as all mornings, the Capo di Tutti looks like Toto Riina, with black eyes, black hair, bags below the eyes, short bangs and short, strong hands.  He is in his office with the door closed.  His feet are on the desk, his shoes are off and he is talking to the blond, blue-eyed, ex Princeton, ex football head trader, Jimmy Fitz, laughing.  Behind him, framed, is a page from the New York Times listing the manifest of the ship that brought his grandfather, Salvatore Bisaquino, to Ellis Island.  The Capo wrestled in high school and college and now coaches a local high school team.  I can easily picture him on the mat.

When the drone approaches the Asset Backed desk, I pull an AirZooka out from under my desk, pull back the flap back and release.  Before I can reload, the drone pilot executes an evasive maneuver and banks right, toward ETF Arb.  Kumar says,

“Guruji.  You need tracer bullets.” 

I do a head-wag and says “Uuuuh?”.  I am never sure whether that is offensive or funny.  That’s the point, you see.  I say,

“I need rates to fucking come in line.”

“You need to hedge better.”

“I need ten sticks in the bank.”

The trading floor looks like a football field.  At the thirty-yard line, one of the lacrosse players on the Volatility desk is shouting at Sam, the tax lawyer, on the forty-five, “Hey – Doctor No!  Whaddya say?”

The Asian quants in Risk Management, in the end zone, are huddled over their computers, quiet.

At the twenty-five, McCarthy and Schneider in Index Arb are talking about a sports bet.  McCarthy is tall, broad and balding, wrestled and played football in college, everyone’s friend.  Schneider is a head shorter, pudgy with a stringy voice and three days’ growth of beard.

After the drone disappears, I notice that a small group of traders has gathered by the picture window next to the stack of Whitecastle boxes.  A bunch of guys from FX and Crypto.  The token woman and the soccer player from Agencies.  The head of Volatility, son and grandson of a famous writer.  The Capo di Tutti’s belly leaves his office, strolls over and joins the group.  I squint and see, through the window, hanging off the building across the plaza, a window washer stranded outside the fortieth floor.  One of the two cables that suspends his platform has snapped and the platform is hanging at a seventy-five degree angle.  He is just a speck, but the speck is clinging to the platform’s railing, and appears to be waving its hands.  A helicopter is hovering near the speck, unable to get close enough to rescue it. 

The Capo shouts, “Give me an over-under!”

“He’ll be dead in forty-five”

“Thirty, tops”

‘Make me a market!”

I see instant messages pop up on Kumar’s screen.  “Guruji.  You going to get in on this?”, he asks.  I shake my head, and hear ping, ping, ping.  The gaggle of traders by the window has grown.  An open-outcry market begins to supplement the on-line market. Wu, Chesney and Mary hand hundred-dollar bills to Cesar, acting as stake-holder.  Kumar says, to no one in particular, “I need to hedge my gamma risk, man.”  The sun has just struck the top of the new high-rises on the Jersey side of the harbor and the Statue is where she has always been, holding her torch and her scroll and welcoming the tired, the poor and the huddled masses to the City.

Resource Allocation

When my father was my age, old people died at their own pace.  His father had lived until he was a hundred ten, in what they used to call old-age homes here or, in England, sunset homes.  My mother’s parents had set up house with their oldest son, my uncle, and the five kids who had remained in Taiwan.  My father’s father had ended his days in an old folks’ home in New Jersey.  His second wife died when he was a hundred and two and she was ninety-seven.  When they had married at ninety and eighty-five, my grandfather told my father that he, my grandfather, had robbed the cradle.  By the end, my grandfather had become a cicada, fed his meds by a succession of Black and Filipina women who never lost their patience with him, even when he spat out the meds, shat in his diaper, tore off his clothes or yelled insults at them.  All of my grandfather’s money had been sucked dry and the fee for the sunset home was paid by a now-defunct branch of the government.  “A shitty use of public resources”, my father used to say.  “Land belongs in usufruct to the young.”

Even before he got squashy, my father recycled his content.  He’s at it now.  “You know, when I met your mother, she wouldn’t even say the word ‘fuck.’”

“I know, dad.”

“Her mother didn’t speak with her for a year after we got married.”

“You’ve told me.”

“She came around, though.  I would kiss up to her.  Pat the horse’s ass.  She would giggle when I spoke with her.”

“You know where we’re going, dad?”

“Facetime was –“

“Like a daguerreotype.”

“You take a banker to lunch, you chat about nonrecourse funding, you spill your beer on the ground, and before you know it, you’re a repo man.”

Some of what he says makes sense only if you’ve heard it a million times.  Otherwise, not so much.  My father looks out the car window.  His eyes twitch and he points.

“Me and Sammy Cohen used to fish there.  He called them ‘bigmouth bass.’”

It is only an accident that we are driving through his old neighborhood.  He lives in the City now, and the lustration facility is in Putnam County.  He told me this land was all green when he was young.  It was second-growth forest, low stone walls that marked pre-revolutionary land boundaries, a few ponds, horse farms.  It snowed in the winter and you could walk outside at high noon in the summer without fear of dehydration or cancers.  Now it’s grickle-grass, sand, scrub.  It’s twenty below at night and forty-eight or fifty during the day in the summer (he told me that some of the states that are now Super Dakota had threatened to secede when we switched to the metric system, but I have never seen that confirmed on-line).  The stone walls remain.  There is no water where he and the Cohen boy used to fish, just a brown, sandy depression.

“We called it ‘Tucker’s Pond.’”

“You know where we’re going, right?

“I voted for mandatory lustration in Ninety-Nine, kiddo.” 

When I was little, he would pat me between the shoulder blades three times – pat, pat, pat with an open palm – to show he loved me, and I learned to reciprocate – pat, pat, pat, smile – before I could speak.  I visited the facility a week ago, to drop off his paperwork and educate myself about the process.  The seventy-five-year-olds are dropped off in the facility parking lot, alone.  Their young people do not accompany them into the building.  The staff do not want people not directly involved in the process in the facility during the procedure.  My car is an older Musk which only fits two passengers.  When I bought it, I had it configured for me and one slender guest, so there is not a lot of wiggle-room in the cockpit after you strap yourself in.  I will not be able to fit my palm between his back and the seat in order to pat-pat-pat when he opens the car door to get out.  Most seventy-five-year-olds walk from their car to the gate by themselves.  Those who can’t walk are put in wheelchairs and assisted by a crew of Black and Filipina women in late youth or early middle age who speak little but never complain or snap.  The room where they are brought after processing and registration looks like a college dorm room or a room in an economy hotel – single bed, clean sheets, a chair and a table, light-colored walls and ceiling, a pad and a keyboard to write a final note, linoleum floors, clean, plenty of light.  The government offers three choices for the specific method of lustration, although citizens can also use private options.  I had initially chosen the cleanest and least painful method, but my father had requested the cheapest.  “That money belongs to you and the kids.  Your mother would want it that way.  I’m a cheap bastard, but your mother was cheaper.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“I’ll bring back some new material.”

“I’ll be waiting.”

His back is rounded, as it has always been, and he shuffles a bit as he walks toward the gate.  He waves to another seventy-five-year old man being rolled in a wheelchair to the gates by a large quiet woman of indeterminate age, stops to hold the gate open for them, and then enters the facility himself.

Seeds of Love

I will never forget the night when my eldest, Josh, was made.  My father had moved to Arizona, and I had an apartment above a bar in Seneca Falls.  I went downstairs to the bar and woke up between two girls.  Some lady was standing over us, shouting, saying that she was their mom.  Nine months later, I held my little boy in my arms.  That was the day when I, J.B. Foster Smith, J.B.S.F., became a father.  I was fifteen.

I had seven more (nine, if you count stepbabies, ten in all).  My second, Jesse, was made with Ashley, the girl on the right, a year later.  Then Jayden, Brielle and Jax with Bridgette, Bayleigh with Carolyn, and Jake with Donna.  My wife, Esther, has two kids, Jed and Brenna, with another guy, who I raised as my own.  Her sister, Franny, blessed me with our baby girl, Bree, after Esther and I split up – but I’ll get to that later.

I got Esther out of a jam in Lowville a few years before this all happened.  I loved the way her hair fell over her shoulders, her delicate wrists and hands, the way her jeans hugged her butt and her legs, the black eyes that hid behind her glasses, and the way her cheeks dimpled when I replaced the sill plate on our home, fixed the plumbing, or shot off fireworks for the kids on the Fourth of July.  When she would leave for the store, she would say, “I love you”, kiss me deeply and rub my tongue stud with the tip of her tongue.

I knew something was up when Josh called me last year.  It was seventeen years after the night in the bar with Ashley and her sister and he, Josh, had met some girl and wanted to get out of Seneca Falls.  I was managing a manufactured housing community in Freeville for a guy who lived downstate.  The singlewide that came with the job was tight quarters already – we had two bedrooms and one bathroom, me, Esther, Jed, Brenna, a ball python named Slick and a bearded dragon named Boots and a shepherd mix named Hector.  Josh and his girlfriend, Gracie, made nine – but Josh is blood, and mi casa es su casa.

Gracie had a mouth on her.  Esther told me that according to Gracie, she, Gracie, had done everything she, Esther, had done, twice as good and in half the time.  Gracie was three months pregnant when they arrived.  Just laid on the sofa in the living room covered in blanket and played with her phone.  Esther called her ‘TLB’, for ‘The Little Bitch’.  TLB didn’t get out of bed today, except to puke, she’d say.  TLB left for the day and isn’t back.  Jed and Brenna started saying it, too.  Mama – TLB is hogging the bathroom!  Wait your turn, baby.

I thought it would get better when they got their own place, an empty trailer at the other end of the park.  Sammy Korda, the owner, signed it over to me and told me that Josh and Gracie just had to pay lot rent.  He had a son the same age as Josh – same birthday, same birth year, same time of day he came out of his mother’s you-know-what – and he’d ask about Josh and Gracie whenever he called.  How’s Josh and Gracie, he would ask.  Good, I would say.  They can keep an eye on things at that end of the park, he’d say.  I’m gonna be a grandfather, I’d say.  Hey, Grandad.  But it didn’t get better.  They got into drugs, and Josh started slapping Gracie around, or so she said.  He said she hit him.  The police came by once, maybe twice each week.  The neighbors complained.  I even got a call from Korda, who asked me what was up.  I don’t know, I said.  I think the devil got him.  Tell him to knock it off, he said.  It’s affecting business.  And then I come home from a roofing job in the middle of the day, and I find Josh and Esther in our bed.  I mean, he’s banging her head against the wall, the trailer is shaking off the blocks, the anchor ties are ready to break, he is grabbing her ass and she is screaming at the top of her lungs.  While this is going on, Toni Little and her husband George are sitting on their porch next door in lot 20 B, sipping lemonade and reading the paper and Melissa Rookman, in 24B on the other side is pushing her kids on their swing-set.  When I walk in, Josh looks at the floor and Esther pulls the sheet up around her neck like they do in the movies.  Get out, I say, get the fuck out, and then I leave.  I walk out the door, past old Mr. and Mrs. Little and Melissa and her kids.  I wave to Art Neff, who’s looking out his window across the street, get into my truck and drive out.

Korda didn’t seem to care much when I told him about the situation.  I’m living outside the park for now, I said.  I’m getting divorced.  Oh, he said.  You want to know why?  I said.  No, he said.  She did things, I said.  She did things with Josh, my son.  Is she his mother?  He asked.  No!  She’s not that weird, I said.  Then, Can you hold it together and keep managing the park, he asked.  That’s all he cares about, is money.

So, that was that.  Josh moved out and Esther and her kids left eventually and I moved back.  I still manage the park.  I’ll tell you about me and Esther’s little sister, Franny, another time.  But what’s important here is that, four months after I caught Esther and Josh doing those things, I held my sweet grandbaby girl Blessing in my arms.  That is the day when I, J.B.S.F., became a grandfather.

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