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Brokedown Palace


In remembrance of September 11, 2001.


Editor's Note: Todd posts his vibes in real time each day on our Buzz & Banter.

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 counter-trend rally heading into that fateful day. As I settled into my trading turret and downed a second cup of coffee, Nokia (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 and 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 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. 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.

The Duck and Cover

We left our building and ran toward 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. I resisted the urge to run to Ground Zero to find them and tried to put on a brave face to calm my shaken staff.
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