The Financial Crash
"Oh my God end the fucking pain!" Howard wailed, a curious mix of helpless venom and ridicule peaking into an entertaining and piercing note, punctuating his dizzied dance atop the tumbling columns of capitalism.
"Somebody, bitches! Anybody! End it! End the mother-of-all flat-lining bear-fucking-the-market pain fest!"
Howard then slumped into his chair and simmered. Outside his Learjet the world passed by at close to the speed of sound. Inside, live televised feeds bubbled away, ripping open the chasm of the crash. Howard's ski tan had faded and failed to conceal his pallid complexion and a mix of revulsion and hunger gnawed from within. On the television screens overdone glowing graphs of stock data tumbled down and if not steeply, lay flat, and then nose-dived straight down again like an alpha kamikaze. Traders and analysts on soon-to-be empty trading floors stood pale and mute at their consoles clutching at what hair they hadn't lost already. On another screen were the witty foxes and pedigree poses of public relations, corporate governance, superhuman over-qualified management, impeccable boards, and general circus masters of the industrial strength deceivers. Some were overpaid and still poker-faced, and the rest, the great sniveling, underpaid and under-rewarded, were gaping to reporters that they had no idea how and why they were now fools in the self-destructing and obviously obliterating credit rush they had mashed together in an orgy of oversight.
The supreme leaders of the packs that formed the arrow head to the great cyclic herd, slimmed by expensive suits and sharpened by media training, once masters of fiscal diplomacy, ubiquitous corporate advice, textbook tact and an undertaker's grace, huddled like sheep to press conferences and mouthed the words fatal to any economy: "Oh. Shit."
"Yes--you idiots! You're an embarrassment to capitalism! End the fucking pain you bitches!" Howard merrily drew his whisky glass to his lips, tilted it one way and his head the other, then washed his words down. "Oh yeah baby..." He drew on the glass again, his eyes wincing then widening, shifting between the many screens blocking the light from the ovular windows: the DOW and the DAX raced each other to where the FTSE already lay. It was a historical multiple car pile-up, a stinging but comical slap across many once smitten fat faces, yet Howard still looked for a pattern in the collapse, something he could bet on, against, with, or at the least, sell. This had gone on too long--a new age had dawned.
On another screen were the politicians bluffing their way through an emergency meeting in London (Howard's destination), resilient and resolved, that come what may, and what ever it takes, they would still be in power, and maybe even stronger, come election day.
"Yeah baby: Double-fisting-fiscal-gang-banging is coming to town! Roll out the red carpet for the Marx Brigade--not!"
Around Howard, in his private jet, sat his team, watching their portfolio and the clients' hard won profits and safe investments, spiral into a statistically and perfectly predictable, but for many psychologically impossible, dark, deep and murky hole. They did not hear the roar of the jets, or the nasal tones of over amplified American reporters, or even their own fretful, jilted breaths.
A great vacuum called them.
The Learjet jolted as they shot through a rivulet of turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean.
"End it. Jesus," Howard muttered, a sly smile kinking his lips, "You know you want to. Or Allah, or any Monetary Messiah. That's what's going through their omnipresent brains!" Howard's pinkie-white index finger ran loops over television screens; bewildered politicians, stuttering spin doctors, morbid 21st century globalize peasants. "Oh, no need to be so damn defeatist!" he roared to the world, his team, and the ember of opportunism still smoking away in his cold calculating mind.
Howard's team numbly gaped at the flat screen televisions, oblivious to the sound and image bytes. Their eyes were fixed and their bodies limp, but ticking away were the constant machinations of analysis and outcomes. Howard sniffed. They'd ignored must of his rants, even pre-crash, and he wondered, what will be the same after the crash? Hadn't everyone who had witnessed the other Great Crash--the Great Mother or all Depressions--gone on to the Great Ticker in the sky? Howard's coarse eyes scanned his team: If he could hold it together, they'd hold it together, and they could beat this, but could those shirt and tie or rags and sacks peasants in modern suburbia or 3rd world ghettos in Suckburbia and Debitstan?
Chan had his doubts. Chan had also read real history, not the latest publishing gimmicks and lowest common denominator socially digestible fads but old fading history books written before modernism re-interpreted the world for fragile minds. Chan was also a brain, not just a Quiz Show Monkey Template Brain, but a Rocket Scientist Boffin who turned down Astrophysics for Quantitative Trading. Now his mind locked on to distant and rapidly disappearing options and triggered alarms and constructed scenarios: Everything was going to shit, gurgling as if a black hole fed on it all.
Sitting beside him, the Financial Times folded in his lap and sanguinely thinking of a pint in the sunshine outside a pub in Mayfair, was Charles. One look and people knew: Old Money. Oxbridge connections. Definite aristocratic inbreeding circa early 19th century. Charles smacked his lips and poured another whisky--Howard was right, for this ride only the best would do. He swung his nose through the vapors of the peaty single malt and palmed the newspaper away. At the television screen he forced a smirk; the media's mandatory portrayal of panic--some souls, unfortunate enough to be on the wrong end of a colonial power leaving its territorial offspring too soon--ran a bank, not with withdrawal slips and a new benchmark for irritating customer behavior, but with old machetes and a trusty AK-47. The savages are back, but can they reach all the way up to the pillars of modern civilization? He sighed, wondering if the US dollar's collapse was over, and if shopping on 5th Avenue would be hilarity, buying up everything in sight, snatching those bedazzling jewels and fancy boutique stuff while the newly impoverished once-so-grand-212-locals could only turn away and cry into their recycled-paper coffee cups. Teach the cocky yanks a thing or two about class. But these fun thoughts evaporated straight up into the ether: This was tough cookies. This was the big one; yet every generation had to face something big. Then he grimaced. This could be the end of it all.
Facing him, and perhaps more sadistically amused, sat Abdul. Think of an oil well, multiply it by a big number, think of a man, his harem of wives, and the multitude of offspring. Now think of the top 20% of the possible inheritors of the oil wells, and you have Abdul. Then think of fun, and then think of the cocaine supply at four AM at the Air Italia flight hostess parties in Milan: Gone. Sucked up. Abdul's first lines of age cracked from the corner of his eyes to the first shoots of grey hair as he wondered: How long will the West suck on that oil, they couldn't forever, but in his lifetime they wouldn't exactly be reverting back to the horse and cart to compliment electric cars. Abdul's majestic Arab features were rock hard, set in thought. But this was different, profoundly different, and he was not riding high with the like of Howard solely because of papa's oil: He was here to learn of the great many things that make the world go round, and sometimes, slows it down. So, he closed his eyes, how slow, dry and mundane, would it go?
Pierre observed his colleagues and wryly spied at the screens. It was all doom and gloom. Revolution and capitulation. The mobs waited centuries for these black swans. But would it lead to guillotines and Berlin Walls? Pierre was a Euro-Hybrid: His middle class father had suavely snuck under the aristocrat radar and wedded a bonbon of a Frauline. The union began with the fizz of the 68er movement, yet unlike many quasi-plutonic matrimonies, they stuck together because there was, as odd as it sounded, a unique love. What a rare commodity, he wondered, much like a touch of intelligence. So for him to slave 12 hours a day in the world of commodities, equities, exotic leveraged bonds and all that jazz, was not a means of replacing a love he did not have or find yet, or because of greed (there was a castle outside Alsace with his name on it) but because it entertained his brain. It was demanding and fun. He could play it. Some men lined up overweight mistresses, some men hedged funds. Some men bet on dogs. Some men enjoyed to be bet on, like dogs.
Howard made an overtly long and sorrowful look at the television screens, then raised and pointed his nose out the porthole style window to the beautiful cobalt blue sky outside. He wailed, with less volume, and tritely more peskiness, "Oh, God ... End the pain." Something far away caught his eye, a distant cloud, a glimmer of sunshine on a jet aircraft like his own, yet he continued: "Now in case there's more than one ... Dear Gods! End the pain!"
The Learjet rumbled as it passed through turbulence. The bankers roared, a mix of awe and adrenalin.
Abdul slapped his thigh. "I think that made him angry!"
"Well, if that's not progress, what is?"
Chan grumbled and nodded politely. "You can talk to the big guy up here but down there we've got a toxic sludge up to our nostrils. Every single one of our stocks dived. And across every industry nothing is safe."
"Oh the mother of all meltdowns," Howard smugly clicked his fingers in the air. "Sell! Sell! Sell! Hold! Buy! All that we've built, the blood, sweat and paper cuts, is crumbling!"
Mildly irritated into action, Charles prosaically interjected, "There must be something we can do."
"Like what?" Howard's torso bunched up and tumbled out into an expired shrug. "Turn back time? Make a rain dance? Tell those panicking peasants that the sky is not falling on their heads?"
"You mean, the market?"
"One and the same." Howard poured a round of scotch. "Moaning fuckers ... No one has ever built a fail-safe system! You see, the bottom of society can ride the highs and lows better than us, the average Joe or Jolene, or no-income-no-job ninja, when the shit truly hits the fan, they just go back to the fields and plow.... Or slump at the call centers ... But oh, when the middle class get scared they have time to moan ... and dump our shares and bonds and our collatorized bond obligations ... Feeding the fire ... Eats us all..." He raised his glass for a toast, "I'll let you know though, our little investment bank may have seen the storm coming, we were one of the first to duck for cover, and even though the world has truly gone to hell in Satan's sperm donor cup, and maybe us with it, there's truly fuck all--and then still nothing--we can do about it. All we have left is our sense of pride, and what ever we paid for in cash while we had profits. Just remember, comrades, I've still got my modern art collection and no one can take that away from me! No one!"
Pierre shook his head. "You fell for modernity but you'll never get art."
"All in the eye of the beholder, Euro pansy." Howard grimly grinned and leveled his arm to the far end of the Learjet, to a small painting hanging on the fuselage. It was a truly magnificent piece, and to try and adequately describe it would be like asking a two year old child to visualize the growing complexities of their relationship with their mother using red and orange crayons on expensive Dutch canvas, which strangely enough was an accurate description of the work itself.
Charles heckled, "Your amazing modern art collection is the by-product of a cashed-up-psychopath with zero taste and too much wall space."
Howard stood tall, adjusted his tie, his New York nasal drone gruesomely decelerating, "So ... Psychological mind games aside, you like it then? You're jealous."
"If 'like' means visual crucifixion, I'm orgasmic."
"So ... you want to buy it? Not just that, but my entire collection?"
"Howard, exactly: Yes. For a fiver. Not a five pound or euro note, oh no, a U-S five dollar note--that pitiful little currency we slaved so hard for."
"Little currency whore." Howard blinked, drained his scotch, raised his chin to Charles and turned away.
Pierre coughed into hand. "That's true, but to be more precise, he's a selective clientele currency whore."
"Actually, there is no clientele.... "Chan sunk into the red leather char, his hands over his belly, fingers splayed, the tips of his fingers touching. "We are just stupid dumb sluts now."
"Oh." Howard stood as if suspended by a drunken puppeteer, "So no deal on the artwork then?"
Abdul said, "I'd give you a hundred greenbacks."
"Abdul, an offer like that, coming from you, now I know my land of McObesity and government funded auto-manufacturers is well and truly fucked up the a--"
"Shut your pretty cakehole, Howard!" Charles yelled, "We've heard it all before."