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Brokedown Palace


Today is a day of reflection, a day of remembrance, a day of personal introspection.


"Crippled but free. I was blind by the time I was learning to see." --Grateful Dead

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 dawn illuminated lower Manhattan.

I was president of a $400 million hedge fund and while bearish on the macro landscape, we were positioned for a counter-trend rally heading into that fateful day. As my driver navigated the FDR and I soaked in the scene, none of it mattered for a few, short seconds.

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 and furiously bought SPY and QQQ hand over fist, 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 my team "What the hell was that?"

One of our analysts 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 from the towers 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 crashed, we scooped back 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 mind had no way to process the information.

No matter how hard we tried to mentally digest what our eyes were seeing, there was nowhere 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 I wish 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 the tower and entered it from behind. In slow motion, the KA-BOOM again shook our office 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 them towards the stairwell.

I stopped at my turret and quickly wrote "I'm evacuating our building…" and sent it to my editor, 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 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 that worked in the towers and resisted the 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 that 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 my partner Jeff Berkowitz and I found each other but we somehow connected and ran north along the river towards the FDR. I eyed the water on our right as a precaution; it was an option I wanted to keep open as we broke into a sprint.

Jeff offered a taxi driver $500 to take us 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 that her boyfriend worked in an office high up in the towers. As I looked out the rear-view window and saw that one of the towers was already gone, I was at a loss for words.

How could I ease her pain?

What was happening to our country?

Was it really happening at all?

I found my way to my home on 57th Street as lines formed at convenience stores. People were hoarding bottled water, canned food, flashlights and other necessities. I had none of that and I didn't care.

I just wanted to find my family, my friends, myself. I needed to understand what happened and establish a framework of relativity, a place where I could begin to assess and digest my experience.

Thirty minutes later, my mother crashed through the door and held me tighter than I've ever been held. The images on TV portrayed downtown Manhattan as a cloud of smoke, a war zone with body parts strewn like yesterday's laundry on the bedroom floor.

Friends began to gather at my apartment; five at first, then ten, then twenty. It was the other side of disaster, a dose of humanity in a sea of horror, a refuge of love in a maze of confusion.

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