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The Queen and I


Sometimes the best trade is investing in long-term happiness...


Editor's Note: The following is a personal tribute of love and has nothing to do with the flickering ticks. Hard core Minyans who wanna focus on finance can tune into the Buzz & Banter for real-time financial scribes and vibes.

Minyanville was never supposed to feature a Lifestyles section. When I birthed the concept in 2001, it was intended to be a platform for shared learning and financial education. And so it is--five years later, our humble little town has grown into a full fledged community, a venue for folks who are very good at what they do and remain better at who they are. Not a day passes when I'm not amazed at how far we've come, collectively as a family, together as one.

I often say that explaining Minyanville to someone who hasn't read it it is like trying to explain the sunset to a blind man. Sure, there's idea generation and information assimilation, but that simply scratches the surface of who we are and what we do. There's an underlying energy generated from a ground swell of human capital that shares a fabric of benevolence. Yes, we like to make money, but we won't get lost in it. In fact, we've come to understand that net worth and self worth are two different agendas.

I've laid it out there through the years--the grieving when Ruby passed, the loss of Joel, the shock of 9/11, the story of my dad, the professional struggles and so much more. Minyanville morphed into more than a writing platform, it became my catharsis, my outlet, my freedom. The last five years have taught me so very much about who I am and what I'm made of, a real-time evolution of the realization that the greatest wisdom is often bred as a function of pain.

Today, I'm going to share a different discourse. It's a story of fate and is why I consider myself the luckiest man alive. But to understand the power and perspective of this love story, we must rewind six years and several chapters. As I often muse about our state of financial affairs, to appreciate where we are, we must first understand how we got there. The same is true in life and with that, I share this tale...

Whataya Say, Y2K?

It was the turn of the century and life was good. I was wheeling and dealing stocks at my dream job and having my fair share of fun on the side. After a decade on the Street, my focus was on career achievement and I had the dating resume to prove it. It wasn't that I wasn't "looking," it's just that, as my grandmother so often told me, "I was fishing in dirty waters." I didn't care much--the water felt great to me--but something was clearly lacking. Maybe it was balance. Maybe time. Probably both.

I was seeing someone that summer--a great girl, to be sure, but clearly not the future mother of my children. We were spending a weekend at my summer home when she told me that her best friend and her boyfriend were coming by. When they arrived, the two girls broke into a Chatty Kathy contest and I was standing with this shaggy guy named Lionel. "Wanna beer?" I asked, opting for graciousness in lieu of an interest to force conversation.

Lionel and I spent the afternoon connecting. And the next day too. And the following week. Before you knew it, the girls were gone and I had a new wing man. He was a little wet behind his Canadian ears but a cool cat if I ever saw one. He was an architect and an intellect, but not in a conventional sense. But man, did we know how to have fun, running around the city and smiling more than any two buddies I knew.

I remember meeting his kid sister Vanessa at a restaurant about five years ago. She had a great energy and mischievous gleam in her eye but, let's be serious, she lived in Taboo City . She was diggin' me--as women did--but Lionel and I were now full throttle and there are certain things you don't do. Little sisters are at the top of that list and anybody who knows me knows that, if nothing else, I'm all about the list. Respect mon. Ruby taught it and I live it. It's the root of all great friendships and--to be completely honest--the thought of "going there" never crossed my mind.

A Star is Born...

A lot changed between the heights of 2000 and the spring of 2003. I lost Ruby for one, a tough nut to swallow when you're that connected to another soul. And 9/11, which was rough for us all in our own way. Professionally, I made a monster decision at the end of 2002 to step down from my perch at Cramer Berkowitz to pursue other purposes. 2003 was, by all means, the hardest year of my life, a journey that paled 2001 in personal comparisons. Starting Minyanville, my own fund, the Ruby Peck Foundation and being the lone content provider on the site was a recipe for exhaustion. But there was a spark in the dark, a fleeting yet sustained brilliance that left an indelible impression.

Lionel told me that Vanessa had broken off her engagement in Paris and was moving to New York City . I knew she needed work and I knew I needed help, a serendipity that would come to define our relationship. I didn't know how much I could pay her but it didn't matter--we were both confident that we would figure it all out. She was Lionel's sister. She was family. And she had that great energy about her, something I knew from the instant I met her.

At the time, Fokker and I were crammed into a small office. Or, at least it was small relative to what I had been used to when running a large fund. It's no secret that I wasn't very happy or balanced at the time--I was dealing with my life the only way I knew how. I worked harder. I traded more. I wrote like a madman. 12 hour days turned into 18 hour days seven days a week. But I knew this--Vanessa was special and I wanted her on board. I told her I would hire her pending my peeps turning around the paperwork.

But there was a problem. She was a Canuck and, evidently, I couldn't hire her in the post 9-11 world. "Figure it out," I said to J-Dog, my trusted attorney, despite her repeatedly telling me that it wasn't going to happen. Vanessa was a tiger with intense passion and incredible energy and I knew that the best way to build a growth business is to surround yourself with people who can themselves grow. J-dog kept coming back to me with bad news and each time I asked her to unearth a solution. This went on for a month. Maybe two. After exhausting every avenue--and with much regret--I had to pass on hiring the young Canadian.

I suppose, in hindsight, that everything happens for a reason.

Steady as she goes...

I rode out the rest of 2003 and made some difficult decisions. I was gonna focus my energies on building Minyanville, the Ruby Peck Foundation and running my own money. I knew that I couldn't continue at that pace and, to be candid, I didn't want to. 2004 became a lesson in fortitude and tenacity as I reconnected with myself and steadied the pace of my life. I won't say that I was completely balanced but I was enjoying my journey a bit more. Interestingly enough, as I relaxed the grip on my personal handlebars, clarity emerged as Minyans left the Mountains for the first time.

Kevin Wassong was at MIM1 and approached me shortly thereafter. Kevin is my best pal in the world and someone I've respected immensely since we roomed together in college. He was also a media visionary who founded the digital division at JWalter Thompson. He was always a MV fan but, after spending a few days vibing with the Minyans, he wanted to explore a deeper involvement. We set out to raise some coin and restructure the business, raising our first round as we shifted into 2005 with a full head of steam.

As the ink dried on our new venture, we turned our attention to staff ing needs. "You gotta interview Vanessa," I kept telling Fish, "there's something there." There wasn't a traditional 'role' for her, per se, but Kevin and I both believe that good people define their own role. With a little muscle from J-Dog and a silent push from behind, Vanessa became our first official hire. I was psyched--I knew her family, a solid core if there ever was one. And I knew her, she had that energy. That great energy.

I will pass a lie detector test if asked if I had ulterior motives at the time. How could I? She was my close friend's little sister. She was our newest employee. We had a lot of the same friends, albeit different stages at different times. I would have to be crazy to put myself or my company at risk if I had conscious feelings of attraction. It wasn't on the table. It wasn't even in the building. Trust me on this--I am a man of my word.

A Simple Twist of Fate...

I was attending the funeral of a close friend's mother in Los Angeles when my phone rang. It was Vanessa and she was upset because she was alone for Passover. Her family lived in Toronto and she was unable to spend the holiday with them. I listened to her sadness and felt compelled to ease her pain. I told her I would call her back and, after a quick chat with Amex, booked the early flight home. I would be there by sundown.

I remember the ton of bricks as if it hit me yesterday. We were sitting across the table from each other and celebrating our heritage. One minute, I was trying to keep up with her and the next I was sitting in wide-eyed wonderment. At 36, I've spent a lot of time trying to talk myself into relationships but now I found myself in the unfamiliar position of trying to talk myself out of one. There was something else--I was nervous. And I don't get nervous. I tried to put it out of my mind but it consumed me. That night. The next day. And every day since.

Someone once said that the definition of love is blissful insanity. Try this on for size--I was in love with a woman who I had every reason to stay away from. Further, I had no idea if the feeling was remotely mutual or if I was setting myself up for a mighty fall. I've been on the wrong end of that fall before and I had little interest in being there again. All the more reason to stay away. But I couldn't--I had to do something and I had to do it quick. My mind, which is a crowded collection of thoughts to begin with, was now a fire hazard.

There were two options--play the game or put it out there. I opted for the latter and put pen to paper, scribing the first and only love letter of my life. Here I am, a guy who's seen $30 million P&L swings in a day. A guy who's written 10,000 articles on markets and life. A guy who prides himself on remaining calm under pressure at all costs. I was nervous like never before as I handed off the letter of no retreat.

It's funny how minutes can sometimes feel like hours and hours can last for days. Such was the warp that surrounded my world as I awaited her response. When we finally connected a few days later, there was a muted sweetness and genuine concern. She knew the risks just as I did. She understood the implications either way. She was overwhelmed, as you would expect, and needed time to digest.

So there I was--out there. But I didn't really understand where there was.

Court Room...

Kevin wrote an article on my bachelorhood last week. It was his way of breaking the news but it underscored an important point. I've dated my fair share of women but kept most of them at arm's length. I wasn't a "bad guy," I just didn't find anyone who turned my world upside down. I suppose I took a lot of things for granted--my feelings, among them--so it was somewhat surprising to find myself in a position of non-trivial pursuit.

We finally arrived at a place of mutual understanding, agreeing that if we were to explore any feelings, we needed to progress with the proper sequence of respect. That meant two conversations for me--Kevin, my partner, and Lionel, my brother. While Kevin wasn't particularly enthused at first, he arrived at a place of acceptance as a function of trust. He knows how much I've put into Minyanville and that I wouldn't risk our collective dream. I said to him flat out--"Kev, I'm gonna marry this woman" and I think that shocked him long enough to shake out a blessing.

Lionel was a different situation, one that was delicate on so many levels that I don't know where to begin. I chased him down, telling him we needed to talk, and when we finally saddled up to a bar with a gaggle of geese, he turned to me and said "So what's up? This is either about love of money." "It's not about money," I said as I finished off a few, "it's about your sister." After a few anxious moments, he hugged me and said "You're my brother, I can only hope that my sister finds a guy as solid as you. But remember this--while I'll always have your back, she's my eyes. And I'll always protect my eyes."

With those two discussions under my belt, I turned to find the starting gate. Relationships aren't always easy and working together is an added twist. It helped--and, I imagine, it will continue to help--that Vanessa reported to Kevin and was responsible for her own Minyan duties. As I courted her outside the office, I watched with pride as she blossomed within our four walls and took Minyans in the Mountains II to legendary heights.

As Vanessa and I watched the band take the barn stage in Ojai, we looked at each other with knowing eyes. We made a pretty fantastic team and our Minyan mojo was simply a manifestation of that. We grew, we shared, we traveled and we trusted. We discovered a bond unlike anything I've ever experienced, save Ruby. It wasn't always easy--nothing worth having ever is--but we emerged from each step back with three strong steps forward. It was our journey and I couldn't imagine sharing it with anybody else.

Operation Baltimore

While Vanessa and I have discussed our future, our internal radars were pointing to the back half of this year for potential next steps. We both knew--I knew during that fateful Seder--but we've both got full plates and plenty to do. Still, once I knew the exact ring she wanted, I found myself spending free time in the diamond district. An introduction here. A sneak appointment there and voila--there it was. A sparkler. The one.

Two weeks ago, in hushed tones, I took the dive and bought the ring. As I completed the most harrowing purchase of my life, my cell phone sprang to life. It was Lionel and he just touched down at LaGuardia. "I have a midtown dinner," he said, "Any interest in grabbing a drink?" Serendipity? A sign? The moment of truth? "Sure," I said with a smile on my face, "I'll meet you at Mr. Chow's in 15 minutes."

"I began dating Vanessa a year ago," I started with a serious look on my face, "and I told you that I had pure intentions.'s been an interesting year." I paused intentionally to allow the thought of a pending break-up to permeate and watched as the color drained from his face. "I'm going to ask your sister to marry me," I said with a smile, "do I have your blessing?" Lionel, who's not one to show much emotion, had tears in his eyes as we shared a hug that ensured me that I do.

My family was heading to Baltimore for the holiday--including my grandmother from Florida and my mom from Santa Fe --and Vanessa and I were set to join them. Within five minutes, Lionel and I had his mom on the phone from Israel. By the next morning, she had tickets to the states and Lionel, along with his girlfriend Emmanuelle, had shifted their trips as well. It was gonna be a humdinga of a holiday and Vanessa hadn't a clue.

I'm not one to withhold excitement. I told Kevin. I told Succo. Macke managed to weasel it out of me too. And, of course, both our families knew. But Vanessa? A woman who rightfully prides herself on her own intuition? She was looking the other way as we loaded up my car for the trip south last Wednesday. We had Operation Baltimore stress tested seven ways till Sunday. The plan was simple--I was to call my brother when we got off I-695 and he would set the stage.

She didn't notice that I was digging my fingernails into my steering wheel as she called her brothers and sisters to wish them a healthy and happy holiday. She didn't piece it together when she got a text message from Lionel while he was supposed to be on a plane to LA. She questioned why I took so long at the rest stops as I secretly confirmed train schedules from the back stall. And she seemed a bit miffed when I didn't want to stop and enjoy a mindful moment after I gave the final signal to my brother. No, she didn't see it coming when we pulled into his driveway on a beautiful spring afternoon.

I'm not going to share the particulars of what was said and how--some things are, and should remain, private--but suffice to say that she didn't expect to turn around and see me on a knee. In fact, it took a bit of convincing in the form of a little black box to prove my sincerity, a particularly sweet moment when she dropped to both knees and said yes. After sharing a few minutes together, she leapt to her feet and said "I've got to call my mom." "Call her from inside," I said, as I helped wipe the tears from her cheek.

The Purpose of the Journey....

Late Thursday night, while kicking back at our hotel suite, Vanessa and I were drinking a bottle of wine with Lionel and Emm. It had been a long few days and we were taking turns asking each other questions of "If..." "If you had to pick the proudest moment of your life, what would it be?" The question lingered overhead as my eyes fixated on the neon lights of the inner harbor. Before I realized I had opened my mouth, I was sharing my answer with great clarity.

"Last night," I began, "when I sat at the Seder table with my brother on my left and my bride-to-be to my right, watching our families seamlessly commingle. I asked everyone to take a moment to remember those close to us who were no longer with us, those who shaped us into who we are today. I realized, at that moment, that everyone in that room had that special someone missing. A husband. A father. A grandpa. And I realized, just then, how blessed I was to be starting this new chapter in my life surrounded by my family. My old family. My new family. Now singular."

Minyanville is a forum for financial interpretation and I try to stay true to that mission. With that said, many Minyans have shared my journey for the last six years and understand, as I do, that there can be no good without bad or smiles without sorrow. We've endured some serious stuff together and I simply needed to aptly express the joy in my heart. It's been a long time coming--those who know me understand the magnitude of these recent events--and I'm still in a bit of shock. Todd Harrison is no longer a bachelor but that's entirely alright. I've met the woman of my dreams and she makes me a better man.

And that, my friends, is a feeling that even I can't put into words.


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