The Casino Society

At exactly eleven minutes to seven on the Tuesday morning after Labor Day Remi Perelli rushed onto the immense, cacophonous trading floor. She wasn't late by any means, but something about the breakneck pace of lower Manhattan made one feel perpetually late. And consequently impatient that subways, elevators and coffee vendors were never fulfilling their roles quickly nor efficiently enough, no matter how swiftly they moved the hordes of frantic commuters through their morning routines.

It was Remi's job to input all the stock transactions that had been put up in the Far East overnight and to determine any outstanding financial exposure the firm might be carrying as a result. Trades valued at over a million dollars had to be recorded by the time the bell rang at nine o'clock, signaling the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.

She was perplexed not to find Frank, her boss, in his usual place. By this time he was normally in the next chair, squinting at the banks of computer screens while swigging a jumbo iced coffee and bouncing his rubber band ball against the side of their shared cubicle.

The trading floor was already thundering with the activities of two hundred frantic "Type A" personalities, mostly men in their twenties and thirties, many who'd been at it all night. Shouts of "Buy ten thousand Nestle at 5 ¼!" and "Hey Bobby you fucking twerp, you're fucking killing me with these executions!" hurtled over the rows of monitors and across the gymnasium-sized room.

"Where's Jato?" Remi shouted to Chip as she booted up her computer and then Frank's. "JATO" was Frank's nickname and of course stood for jet-assisted takeoff. This was due to the fact that he was known to push back hard against the desk with his Gucci loafers and rocket across the trading floor in his swivel chair several times an hour.

Using his tongue, Chip shifted the pencil he was grinding away at over to one side of his mouth. "Rehab," he grunted while staring intently at the green digits crawling across the screen in front of him. "Yes!" he roared and simultaneously slammed his balled up right fist into the palm of his left hand and then took another bite off the incredible shrinking yellow pencil.

Remi didn't bother to ask what had transpired to produce Chip's sudden euphoria. Same old, same old. Either he bought a stock low or sold it high. Or else screwed someone he hated.

Chip swiftly tap-tapped further instructions into his keyboard and then glanced up at the big emerald-on-ebony Reuters tickertape that danced around the upper perimeter of the entire chamber. "C'mon Vladimir baby, die already," he barked up at a news bulletin about the Russian President's illness. In a more conversational tone he said to Remi, "You know that surprise birthday party for Frank this past weekend, the one at The Four Seasons?"

"Uh-huh." Remi had been more than a little hurt upon discovering that she wasn't on the guest list. She and Frank had slept together one night a few weeks ago, and though nothing had come of it, they'd easily remained friends. After all, they did work side by side all day long.

"It was actually an intervention," Chip stated matter-of-factly. With a flick of his tongue the last inch of pencil disappeared into his mouth, like a frog catching a fly. "He's back at that Duke University Rehab center, the expensive one. A trifecta this time - drug addiction, alcohol abuse and sex addiction. Or is it sexual obsession? I forget. Whatever one Clinton's got."

"Jesus," Remi exhaled and faltered back into her ergonomically-engineered chair only to get clipped between the shoulder blades by the concrete lumbar pad.

"And he made two mil for the firm so far this year. Now that's my definition of an overachiever," added Chip, unfazed.

"Duke University, huh?"

"Yeah, Bobby claims the shrinks down there suck your brains out, soak 'em in Clorox, and then pour it all back in again. Takes about six months and a hundred and fifty grand."

Chip leapt to his feet and raced over to the foreign currency desk. Remi assumed it was to find out if he needed to hedge a sizable purchase of Dutch Petroleum that he'd just confirmed. It would depend upon whether other traders in the firm were short the underlying issue. Traders were a lot like cats, Remi had decided a year ago when she'd first set foot in the colossal brokerage firm. They'd be in one place and then without much warning they urgently needed to be somewhere else.

Chip rushed back to his computer and thumped his mouse to see if he'd bought or sold anything in the thirty seconds he'd been gone. "Oh, congratulations. Murph just announced that you won the ghoul pool."

"What are you talking about?"

"I'm talking about ten grand. You had Gilligan in the ghoul pool. He took the dirt nap. Didn't you hear?"

"Yes. But what's the ghoul pool?"

"You pick the next celebrity to die. Everyone's getting his clock cleaned on Queen Elizabeth. And Ralph was so pissed that Gilligan weaseled his way into the morgue before the great-but-not-yet-late Charlton Heston that he phoned his house on the West Coast claiming to be his insurer just to see if he'd bought the farm during the night. Ralphie thought that maybe the family was holding out for better newspaper placement like Jackie O."

"You mean when Frank asked me to give him the name of my mother's favorite living actor he was actually betting that the guy would die?"

"Heck, you sound as if you're down on Jato. He just made you one quarter of your annual salary. In cash. It cost him a C-note to enter you into that pool. Why'd ya think he was asking, Remiglia? To get your mommy the geezer's autograph for her birthday?"

Ever since Remi's aunt Sissy had called to wish her a happy birthday and Chip had taken the message he'd managed to work her given name into the conversation at every opportunity. Traders had phenomenal radar for mortifying their colleagues. If you were divorced on a Monday, you could count on the transcript somehow showing up as a high-priority office memo by Tuesday morning. It seemed that the traders in Remi's firm had sources everywhere: the courthouse, DMV, NYU Medical Center, even the FBI. And no matter how hectic and frantic things appeared, there always seemed to be enough time to keep the embarrassing document mill churning.

"I can't take money made off of somebody's demise," Remi stated with a mixture of disgust and dismay.

"Course you can," Chip said offhandedly, without looking up from a Value Line Chart of Emisphere, his latest favorite biotech stock. "Otherwise it goes back into the pot and gets paid out to some other sick fuck. Take a little time off. Get laid. Besides, you're not going to have much to do while Frankie's in dry dock."

Sure enough, when Remi logged onto her interoffice mail she had four messages. The first was from Frank's boss, explaining that Jato was taking time off to bolster the value of the nation's healthcare and pharmaceutical industries, and that it was a good opportunity to use her accrued vacation time.

The second communication was an update from Cliff, a trader also known as The Prince of Darkness, because every time something catastrophic occurred, like a nuclear reactor explosion, he raked in a fortune. The more people who were nuked, poisoned, or firebombed, the better his Profit & Loss statement. Cliff confirmed that he'd taken over Frank's positions while his colleague was out for "deprogramming and reeducation."

The third message was from The Man himself:

They've Come To Take Me Away, Ha Ha, Hee Hee…

Hey S&P Babe, men in coke-white coats are here helping me to choose holiday outfits. Lied and told them I had to backup the hard drive. No sense of humor at all on this Alienist - told him all the best dead Kennedy jokes and asked if he planned to continue wearing white after Labor Day. Would hate to snort up his coat by accident. Do me a big fav, Stockgal, and ask Henny the barber to send my stash to Vic Lukas c/o the U. of North Carolina track team along with a gallon of Wild Turkey. Take two G's from the petty cash/abortion fund in my desk and treat yourself to a night on the town and a slinky negligee to wear when you come visit me. I hear the chicks down in Durham are hot, hot, hot. Lots of soccer players. At the end of the day I'm a calf man, always have been. Be swell. Jato

The final missive was from a woman named Angie and sent from Frank's home computer:

Found your Plinney & Ross ID stuck between headboard and mattress while straightening up Frank's place. If you want it back my Uncles Lorenzo and Mooch have it and can be located at the family's Fish Market at Hunts Point in the Bronx. If you ever fuck around with Frank again you'll be trading StarKist tuna, from inside the can. Best fishes, Angela.

* * *

When Remi first took the job on Wall Street after graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in ancient civilizations, which, without a master's degree, qualified her to do absolutely nothing. She'd been forewarned about the predatory environment of the trading floor. All of her well-meaning relatives who'd spent their lives commuting from New Jersey to the better-paying jobs of Manhattan couldn't stress enough that The Street was chockfull of overpaid lecherous males who were "pigs" and "sharks" and kept mistresses in apartments in nearby Park Slope, Brooklyn.

However, Remi soon found all of their assumptions to be entirely without merit, the result of years of hearsay and a sort of fear and fascination about life in the big city, a life which they barely caught a glimpse of between rushing to and from the train station.

As far as Remi was concerned, the frantic trading arenas on Wall Street, where millions of dollars were made and lost in seconds, were instead full of egotistical male cocaine addicts and compulsive gamblers who dropped between five and fifty grand a week on massage parlors, escort services and trips to Atlantic City.

Only it soon became apparent that these macho market-movers were pretty harmless compared to the women of Wall Street. The famous seven-to-one ratio, the number of available Gotham gals to guys, had raised the husband-hunting stakes to being on par with Pentagon war games.

After a year of careful observation, Remi had essentially figured out the pattern. The young women sipped happy hour martinis and paraded their implant-enhanced décolletage to the up-and-coming traders and investment bankers at high class financial district watering holes like Harry's Bar and Delmonico's. After about three dishes of cashews, the panties were discreetly stashed in their pocketbooks, and they proceeded to lead their quarry for sexual adventures in the elevators of The World Financial Center or else while riding through the tunnel on the Path trains to New Jersey. These erotic female gladiators caused the men to fantasize that life with them was going to be one long adventure of kinky exploits, lap dances, edible underwear and membership in the mile-high club. Talk about traders . . . it was the femme fatales who deserved that designation more than any of the guys.

Had Dian Fossey ever heard about the mating habits on a trading floor, she would have dropped her Rwanda gorillas like the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Black Friday. When Claudia, the clerk who sat directly across from Remi, couldn't seem to close on her engagement and fretted that Seven-Figure-Steve might be slipping out of her Lee press-on nail grasp, Remi overheard her on the phone imploring, "Well the only problem is that my girlfriend Missy is in town tonight, and so I can only go out tonight if we can both sleep with you." As if.

Claudia had resigned the following Monday in order to devote her full energies to wedding planning, house-hunting on the Gold Coast of Long Island, and organizing a three-week honeymoon in Tuscany.

But it was almost always the same. A year later, when the Tiffany rock was

securely on their fingers, the starter-mansion with the dollar bill-shaped pool in one of the Five Towns, and a new issue on the way, the guys suddenly noticed that there were fewer sexpeditions and more nagging about the lawn service. He'd become the ride, and she now wore her panties all the time. Fantasy failed. Or entrapment succeeded, depending on how one viewed it.

So now the guy, the insignificant other, dropped his wedding band into a night table drawer at home and stayed out late every Friday night to pursue gold diggers from the Lotus notes pool with big hair and crusty robin's egg-blue eyeliner.

* * *

Remi furtively slipped the worn copy of Alaska Men magazine out from her top desk drawer the way Frank stealthily removed the list of 900 sex numbers he liked to call and put over the squawk box whenever the markets were slow. That way, everyone normally accustomed to hearing quick blasts over the intercom like: "Fed alert! Our inside sources say rate increase on Friday after the Open Market Committee meeting," was instead treated to: "Oh Frank, you hot hunk of man you, tell me what you're wearing." About ten of the guys would start shouting "Donn-a! Donn-a!" Frank would hit speed dial and on would come Donna The Dominatrix with her gravelly southern drawl and unfortunate lisp. "Have you been a bad boy again, Fwankie? Am I going to have to punith you in Donna'th dungeon?"

Remi felt positive there was a lawsuit in all of this, somewhere. But honestly, who could be bothered.

She'd answered one of the Alaska Men personal ads six months ago. Just as a lark really. Something about the idea of tundra and Northern Lights and men working as loggers and fishermen was incredibly sexy. Like going to the lumber mill with her Dad when she was a little girl and watching all those muscular, craggy guys in worn flannel shirts guiding beams through enormous saws with gleaming blades whirring right up against their hands and faces.

The name of the Alaska man who'd struck Remi's fancy was Rick Ryan. A rugged, outdoorsy name, reminiscent of Ranger Rick from her elementary school magazines on fire prevention. The corresponding photo showed an appealing, fair-complexioned man in his early thirties with light blue eyes and a flirtatious smile, sporting a baseball cap and crouched on an outdoor deck next to a black Labrador retriever. Next to him was a colossal red toolbox. In his profile woodworking was listed as the number one interest. The hidden message there seemed to be that he'd built the deck himself.

What else could she infer from this photo? First off, if he was for real, meaning if he wasn't a sex-change or a woman in men's clothing, here in Manhattan he'd be tackled by about fifty desperate and diabolical women the moment he stepped off the plane. Otherwise, assuming the worst, Remi decided he was bald on top (Why else the baseball cap?) and short, perhaps a midget (Why else the crouch? The dog could be a miniature.) And most likely an alcoholic (fair skin, Irish last name).

She'd sent a breezy response along with a photo to the mailbox number for R-squared. It was the kind of missive one might send to a half-senile aunt with lots of boring details about mundane activities such as commuting and the Wednesday night softball team in her hometown of Teaneck, New Jersey.

Rick Ryan immediately responded to her response. They'd written letters back and forth. One night he'd even called her from the logging camp and actually sounded like a normal guy. However, they'd both become a little tongue-tied, and after a long silence, desperate to fill the void, Remi asked the ridiculous question, "So, what's your favorite color?" But Rick had sounded relieved by the query and replied "green." In fact, he'd responded so quickly that she knew he couldn't have been making it up.

"Green is good," she'd said slowly. "It's the color of trees." And it's the color of money, she couldn't help but think. And when spoken it sounds like the word greed. And paper money was made from felled trees. God, she had to get away from Wall Street. She was starting to think like Gordon Gekko.

R.R. was straightforward in his correspondence. He'd sowed his wild oats, he claimed, made a decent living, worked hard, and wanted to marry and have a family. Soon. He invited her up to visit.

For a few days Remi imagined that she was in her favorite girlhood storybook, "Sarah, Plain and Tall," where a spinster leaves coastal New England to join a widower and his two young children for a farming life on the Plains. But of course she knew it was just idle fantasizing. This wasn't the 1890s with mail-order brides arriving on ships for pioneer men out West. Or India and Africa with its arranged marriages. Or even the Moonies with their yearly mass weddings in football stadiums. Computer dating was one thing. The ads in New York magazine were another thing (largely a sex thing, actually). But a logger in Alaska? She stopped writing for a month.

Remi took the plastic liner out of her garbage bin and used it to pack up her desk. After collecting her winnings she immediately wrote a check for five hundred dollars to the Old Actor's Home in California in the name of Charlton Heston. So much for her guilt about that. Though she didn't feel at all guilty about taking the two thousand in cash from Frank's not-so-petty cash stash. After all, how many times had she covered for him while he'd gone out on an afternoon bender?

With the smell of fall in the air and the spring of adventure in her step, Remi caught the number 4 subway train uptown to Paragon Sporting Goods at Union Square and Broadway. She put her credit card on the counter and instructed the clerk to outfit her with the works for a new outdoor life - hiking boots, binoculars, bird books, whale-watching gear, anti-grizzly bear spray. Whatever one needed.

© Copyright 2006, Laura Pedersen. All rights reserved.