Po Bronson: Bombardiers

The only book I’d read by Po Bronson was The First 20 Million Is Always the Hardest, and I wasn’t impressed. But when I found Bombardiers on the shelf in the Kallio library, I grabbed it, took it home, and read it. And wasn’t disappointed. I am, however, baffled by how good Bombardiers is, and how bad The First 20 Million is.

Here are the first two paragraphs of Bombardiers.

It was a filthy profession, but the money was addicting, and one addiction led to another, and they were all going to hell. Turner had gone to hell, and Mike McCafferey had gone to hell. Wes "Green Thumb" Griffin developed a wandering eye, while Antonia Zennario, who used to joke that "all investors are made from Adam's rib," lost her sense of humor, and then her smile, and then her job. Carol Manning miscarried. Coyote Jack began to stutter on his numbers and was moved into management. They had all gone to hell. Sid Geeder hated them all and missed them like crazy. The phone rang constantly and everyone suffered cauliflower ears, neck rashes, and cervical pain, and when the sun came up in the morning and they had already been at their desk two, three hours, they went to the 41st floor window and imagined what it would be like to have to ride a bus or find a parking place. The squawk-box cackled as traders in London and New York and Chicago bid up the long bond, then it quieted as the dust cleared and they settled in to wait for retail to continue the rally. Green monochrome monitors tinted everyone's face a pasty color, and Lisa Lisa reached for her pancake of low-lustre, firming-action moisture cream. Sidney Geeder drank some coffee. Nickel Sansome massaged his scalp. Sue Marino flipped through a bridal magazine.

When the sun didn't come up and instead their tower was socked in by clouds and fog, the other world existed even less than usual; they could not see the streets below, or most of the shorter buildings, and they were one of the few spaceships in the sky. The next attack could come from anywhere. The economic forecasts were useless. The fundamentals were ignored. The Federal Reserve was unpredictable. Money supply meant nothing in a global market. The Yanks followed the lead of the Japs, and the Japs followed the Krauts, and the Krauts followed the Yanks. They waited for instructions from the top, but their standing instructions were to sell first and not wait for instructions. Nobody knew where the market was going, but those that knew less than others lost their shirts and had their eyes ripped out and were made to swallow. In the mornings, there was always a chance to make it back. Later, the government would bail them out. But this wasn't later; they got glasses with higher prescriptions and gained weight and rode yellow cabs to work and the market was always the same. This unmerciful uniformity of their days was always something to joke about. They also joked about Coyote Jack's management wardrobe, especially his leather suspenders and corporate initialed cufflinks. And Nelson Dicky's teeth, which were rotting. And the corporation's name, which was mud on the street after the Euro-Floaters deal and had to be changed to revive the firm's image. And Lisa Lisa's testicles, which were made of steel and clanged when she sold the flip from mortgages to high-yield corporates. They joked about these things and they wondered what it would be like not to have a paycheck and though it wasn't easy, they all survived. Then there were things that were not so easy to joke about, such as when Sid Geeder nearly killed himself from drinking coffee. And when Eggs Igino vanished. Or during the Euro-Floaters deal when that kid, Turner, fell asleep and couldn't wake up. They never left their trenches and they did as they were told; they didn't do anything except go to work eleven hours a day, five days a week for a few years of their lives. They gave 110% in service to the firm. In the end, only one of them would be left standing, and everything would be different except the market, which was normal, because it was normal to rub out everything human and leave only the cockroaches and those made of steel. Sid Geeder looked around him at who was left from the old days. Paul DeShews was still there, tipped back in his chair like an astronaut. Clark Kalinov was still there, eating his breakfast and reading the paper as if nothing had happened. Cockroaches, all of them. Sid Geeder slurped his coffee. Nine more months and then he could cash out his company shares and leave here with his head high. He called a customer and sold him $6 million Dai Nippon Floating Rate Notes, which usually would have made Sid feel better. But all his friends were gone, even the ones he hated, and in their place was fresh young meat that believed this would be the last job they ever needed.

You can read the rest of chapter one at Po Bronson’s site. There is also a new introduction to the book, which is worth reading.