Brokedown Palace: In Remembrance of September 11, 2001
If the greatest wisdom is bred as a function of pain, we're blessed with the opportunity to evolve and the experience to remember.
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, and I paused 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 over lower Manhattan.
I was president of a $400 million hedge fund, and while bearish on the macro landscape, we were positioned for a countertrend rally heading into that fateful day. As I settled into my trading turret and downed a second cup of coffee, Nokia (NYSE:NOK) pre-announced a negative quarter - the company released news that business was worse than expected - and the stock shot 5% higher. It was a telltale sign that the market was washed out, proof-positive that traders had bet on further declines and were being forced to buy back their negative exposure. We pressed our upside bet and furiously bought SPY (NYSEARCA:SPY) and QQQ (NYSEARCA:QQQ) hand over fist, twisting the knife into the sides of the bears that 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!" 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; on the 24th floor, we had a bird's-eye view. The mainstream media had yet to pick up the story, which only added to the confusion we felt as we watched it unfold in real time. I instinctively posted commentary online at 8:47 a.m.: "A bomb has exploded in the WTC, may God have mercy on those innocent souls."
The S&P (INDEXSP:.INX) and Nasdaq (INDEXNASDAQ:.IXIC) futures traded wildly in 10, 20-handle clips. We made some sales, but when it was reported that a small commuter plane crashed, we scooped back our inventory 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 nowhere to "file" the 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 like ants from a tree.
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 impact shook the foundation of our building as the fireball exploded directly toward us. I thought to myself, "This is how I'm going to die," as we gathered our staff and ushered them toward the stairwell. I stopped at my turret and quickly wrote, "I'm evacuating our building..." and sent it to my editors, unsure if they would ever receive it.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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