Authors: Maureen Sherry
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This book is dedicated to Ella, Kiera, Cavan, and Owen, who have watched me work on this their entire lives. Someday I will miss you getting peanut butter on my keyboard.
to this holiday smackdown nine times. I know the drill: drink one glass of wine and lots of water. It's not the place in 2007 where a thirty-six-year-old should be seen shaking her groove thing. I'll swerve around the room, chat up some partners I don't speak with often, then head for the door and be goneâslipping on home to Bruce and our diaper-clad chaos.
Steps from the entrance I instinctively pause, summoning a more impressive version of me, trying to get her to show up tonight. I stand taller, trying to find inner fabulousness, while I mentally tick off names of men, because they are all men, who will determine my fiscal yearâend bonus. Which of the graying white guys on the executive committee have I not spoken with in the last few weeks and how can I casually remind them of my biggest deals?
I rehearse before the curtains rise. I think potential drama through and summon a false calm, just the way I do when my four-year-old's shrieks threaten to shatter glass. I search for that kind of counter-Zen that gets the men to lean forward and listen. Avoiding the hysterical-female roleâthe stereotype men I work with have of womenâis the key. Staying cool and professional and never slipping into some gossiping, pretty-girl mode is a strategy that's gotten me places.
I mentally list the men with whom under any circumstances I shall not, will not, no matter what they can do for my bank account, dance with tonight. The inner caveman comes unleashed when all of us are together with an open bar and a closed stock market. I imagine every place of employment has a list of suspects to avoid at a party, but the problem with Feagin Dixonâor the problem with men making big money anywhereâis that they can get casual with wedding vows. It's not that they don't love their wivesâI think they doâbut the headiness of that money sucks the scruples right out of them. Any guy who was perhaps a geek in another life, hears the call of his near-celebrity status, and it makes him horny. If ever there was a time of year these men are in heat, it's now, just a few months before bonus season.
Professionals on Wall Street get salaries to envy. Administrators get $50K to $200K a year; vice presidential salaries are about $250K, and mine at the managing director level is $500K. While that's terrific, what comes next is the mind blower. At the end of our fiscal year, in just a few months, commissions will be divvied up and paid out to the people who reined them in: bankers get the commissions on investment banking deals, traders get the cents per share paid to them by the buyers and sellers of stocks and bonds, and nonproducing executives pilfer from every department they ever set foot in. These bonuses put us in the economic stratosphere, usually doubling, quadrupling, or making irrelevant the actual salary. By staying at the top of my game, I hope to work until I never have to work again, cashing in stock options in my wake and being young enough to do something meaningful. I'll take my tribe of three kids and mostly nonemployed husband and go live in some suburb with cul-de-sacs where I will even enjoy using that word. I'll join the PTA, put my kids on a school bus, give sizeable chunks of money to great causes, and learn how to be reverential to my husband and his esoteric interests known to him as “work.” But for now, I'm paying for three private school tuitions, a nanny salary, a dog walker, a housekeeper who only shows up on occasion, rental space to park our car, a mortgage on a family-sized apartment, and the rent on a Hamptons house we run to each weekend to exhale, all with after-tax dollars. I need to work the room tonight.
I stand at the top of the restaurant steps, inhaling the crisp December air, catching sight of myself in the glass doors. I'm not exactly a photo-ready hotshot. I'm an expensively dressed bag lady. Everyone else walking up the steps has primped for this moment. They smell good and their faces glow expectantly. If they've Christmas-shopped their way here, they hold elegant, quadruple-weighted shopping bags that scream the worth of the contents: HermÃ¨s, Mikimoto, Takashimaya, and Prada. I, on the other hand, have garbage bagâsized Toys “R” Us sacks that contain the plastic Rescue Bots figures, a giant Haircut Barbie head (think CPR mannequin head with blond wig), and oversized Fisher-Price Peek-a-Blocks. The whole spectacle doesn't weigh much, but the bulk destroys my attempt at holiday eleganceâthe dress code for tonight. To add to my distress, I've managed to knock my Peek-a-Blocks into full song several times. They are possibly the first battery-
toy ever sold. Each time the sack bangs against my knee, I hear a rousing electronic rendition of “Open, shut them, open, shut them, give a little clap, clap, clap.”
I'm wondering just how far the public walk to the coat check will be when Ballsbridge swoops in behind me.
Marcus Ballsbridge, most often referred to as Ballsy, is a thirty-nine-year-old father of two. He has the sort of thick, dark hair women just want to tousle. Of course, if one of us ever were to do such a thing, it would be interpreted as some call-to-mate move. The news of her flirtation would be broadcast across the trading floor in minutes. A girl can think of tousling but she dare not do it. He has angular features and a southern drawl laced with charm that quiets the cackle of sales assistants and he's probably the closest thing I have to a work friend. Ballsbridge and I sit back to back on the trading floor. We exchange work-related barbs for much of the day in sibling fashion. The second the market closes we don't speak until the following morning. All our conversations occur between the opening bell at 9:30 a.m. and the close at 4 p.m., which makes this moment officially off-limits. Tonight he surprises me.
“Hey, darlin' Isabelle, you and I hitting all the hot spots, huh?” He grins and holds up a sack that looks like mine only with more expensive packaging.
“We're far more evolved,” I say, noting he talks more slowly when time isn't money. From all appearances, Marcus is single-handedly keeping FAO Schwarz out of bankruptcy.
“Are you still in that purple dinosaur stage?” Ballsbridge has an unhealthy fascination with Barney the Dinosaur. He draws him into conversation noticeably often. It's weird.
I proceed to reel off my kids' Santa list, as if my life depended on it. “Bionicles, Peek-a-Blocks, Haircut Barbie, Transformers, and
cards, plus baby books. I know I'm going to forget something and break someone's heart,” I say, and I mean this.
“Honey, you're actually reciting that alphabetically.”
Ballsy is happy, Christmassy. Usually when I overhear him talking to his wife on the phone he is fuming. His concerns stem from the fact she just bought something unnecessary, or had some enhancement or spa procedure that perhaps was necessary, but costly nonetheless. Tonight he's different; he's light and fun, while I'm feeling a tinge of panic. Tonight is important and I look bedraggled.
“Hide me, Marcus. I look like a mother, for God's sake.” I nod toward my bags.
Without missing a beat he grabs my sacks, banging the Peek-a-Blocks hard, and we enter to the tune of “Triangle A-B-C, triangle 1-2-3.”
“Thanks,” I exhale, and watch his back disappear into the coatroom with our wares, and I wonder why he's proud to carry toys around and why I'm not.
Metronome is a ten-thousand-square-foot restaurant that has been transformed into a dance hall this evening. It's the early side of the party, when people get liquored up for confidence, so most are hanging around the bar. The DJ spins innocent tunes, wedding tunes: “Celebrate good times, come on!”
Will that song ever just curl up and die already?
A few women dance with each other, hoping to get the party started, but nobody is cutting loose just yet. The evening hangs in an awkward state of sobriety.
The trading floor, the place most of us work, sets the stage for a mating dance. Daily. A grid of attached desks sits in a space a quarter the size of a football field. There are no walls and no cubicles to separate us. During work hours, everyone is either on the phone or flirting. A trading floor has everything to keep adrenal glands pumping cortisol: breaking news, tragedy, money, racism, sexism, and a little less overt sex play than in the past. The blow-up dolls that floated around in the early nineties have been deflated, and the deliveries of erotic chocolates have ceased. As my closest friend, Elizabeth, says when she visits me at work, “I feel like you work in a nightclub.” She compares us to the technology start-up where she works and says that Wall Street's just in a more evolved stage of lawlessness than her world.
So the holiday party, with its alcohol, low lights, and music, is a show waiting to start, a nostalgic one-night pass back to the old days, and it never disappoints.
I see my first targetâSimon Greene, my direct boss. He's a frumpy, oily, bald, hyperactive guy pushing sixty. He never talks to me unless it's bad news. We haven't spoken in ages, which is a positive sign for my pending bonus. But the time to let him know I'm expecting to be remembered is now. It's time to talk to Simon.
“Merry Holiday,” I bumble out. I had started to say
, did my millisecond correction because Simon is Jewish, and “Merry Holiday” was the result. I'm sure that cost me.
“Hey, Isabelle,” Simon says flatly.
“Cheetah Global is voting soon. I'd like to get you in front of them. Any chance we can visit them together?” I ask.
Who would I put my boss out in front of before payday but my best client? I envision the client singing my praises to Simon just as he inks my bonus check. I doubled the commissions Cheetah paid to Feagin this year. I shake Greene's damp hand and head toward King McPherson, head trader and member of the compensation committee.