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Memoirs of a Minyan: Brokedown Palace


The purpose of the journey is the journey itself.


Editor's Note: "Memoirs of a Minyan" is a first-person account that follows Minyanville founder Todd Harrison as he weaves his way through Wall Street and beyond. This e-Book will publish each Wednesday over 18 weeks. Click here to read previous Memoirs chapters.

Chapter 12: Brokedown Palace

It was a beautiful, crisp September morning as I looked up from my Wall Street Journal to watch the sunrise over the East River. It was a peaceful moment, a pause to reflect on the beauty of the landscape and my place in life.

That was the first thing I remember about 9/11, how sharp the horizon was as day broke on lower Manhattan.

Our hedge fund was bearish on the macro landscape but positioned for a counter-trend upside trade heading into that fateful day. As we settled into our turrets and downed our second cup of coffee, Nokia (NOK) pre-announced a negative quarter and the stock shot 5% higher.

It was a classic sign that the market was washed out, proof positive that traders were caught short and scrambling to cover. We pressed our bet, furiously buying SPY and QQQ, twisting the knife into the sides of the bears that were short and overstayed their welcome.

The first boom shook our office walls. I scanned my trading desk and asked, "What the heck was that?"

Jeff's brother yelled "The World Trade Center's on fire!" as we turned to see flames raging and black smoke billowing into the clear blue sky.

At 40 Fulton Street, we were a few short blocks away and, on the 24th floor, had a bird's eye view. The mainstream media had yet to pick up the story, adding to the confusion we felt as we watched it unfold in real-time.

I turned to write on (TSCM), posting commentary at 8:47 am. "A bomb has exploded in the WTC. May God have mercy on those innocent souls."

The S&P and NASDAQ futures traded wildly in ten, twenty handle clips; we made some sales but when it was reported that a small commuter plane had crashed, we scooped our inventory back and then some.

All of this occurred in a matter of minutes, if that.

I've since learned that the reason we couldn't look away from the towers was that our minds had no way to process the information.

That, no matter how hard we tried to mentally digest what we saw, there was no place to "file" images of human beings holding hands and jumping from atop the World Trade Center.

It's an image I can't shake to this day, bodies falling through a maze of confetti; it's a sight that I wish to God I never saw.

We huddled by our window with our mouths gaped open as somebody repeated "Oh my God!" over and over again. The second plane circled behind the tower and entered it from behind. In slow motion, the KA-BOOM again shook our foundation as the fireball exploded directly towards us.

I thought to myself "this is how I'm going to die" as we gathered our staff and ushered the office towards the stairwell.

I stopped by my turret, quickly wrote, "I'm evacuating our building..." and sent it to my editors, unsure if they would ever receive it.

The Duck and Cover

Our staff left the building and ran towards the South Street Seaport. I remember thinking that worst case, we could dive in the East River and take our chances there.

We overheard someone say that the Pentagon was attacked. The Pentagon? Weren't missiles supposed to shoot down anything that threatened that air space?

The Verizon switching center was damaged and we had no cell phones or Blackberries, no voice of reason to assuage our fears. We were, for all intents and purposes, cut off from the world.

I thought of friends who worked in the towers and resisted an urge to run to ground zero to find them; I was riddled with anxiety but tried to put on a brave face to calm my shaken staff.

The crumbling began with a whisper and grew to a growl as the first tower imploded.

We were on an island unto ourselves in terms of location and communication and naturally assumed another wave of attacks had begun. Everyone scrambled as hysteria broke out, scattering our personnel among thousands of confused people as the wave of white smoke approached.

I'm not sure how Jeff and I found each other but we somehow connected and ran along the river towards the FDR. I eyed the water to our right as a precaution; it was an option that I wanted to keep open as we broke into a sprint.

Jeff offered the cab driver $500 to take him out of the city while I tried to calm a woman in the back seat who was on the verge of hyperventilating. Between weeps, she told me her boyfriend worked in an office that was high up in the towers. As I looked out the rear-view window and saw one of the towers already gone, I was at a loss for words.

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