The Day I Lost $80,000,000.00
You would think I would remember a lot about a day I lost $80,000,000.00, but it was back in the 80’s, during a summer job, a summer job where I was a temp. Well I was a temp, until the day after I lost $80,000,000.00.
What I do recall of that summer was that I was working at One Liberty Plaza, the old Merrill Lynch. It was my first summer job that didn’t involve working in a warehouse, where I shipped dresses, learned how to wheel dresses through the streets of NY and was schooled on bribing JFK custom officials with fresh canned tomatoes.
The days leading up to the eight figure loss are as murky as the job I was doing. I was on a floor that accepted some sort of Fed Funds to pay out to the holder. We used antiqueated computers to check cusip numbers, but worked mostly from carbon copy papers. The hours we paid out funds was from 10-3, not a second later. It was never crowded until around 2:30 when bike messengers would line up outside a bank teller like window hoping to beak the strict deadline.
I was 20. I was, believe or not, somewhat of a wiseass, whose favorite pastime was to get into fights with the multitudede of Jews for Jesus that used to hang out around Wall Street; that is unless of course it was a cute girl who on one occasion I convinced to meet me at a bar after work to further discuss her ridiculous views. And here I was, assigned to shadow the woman who had the final say as to whether of not these funds would be paid out. It seemed like everything centered on her.
I want to say was named Pat, that or Peg. Either way, she had just been thrust into the spot a few weeks before and was not handling it well. Besides the gallons of Coke, the soda, not powder and hundreds of cigarettes she smoked, things “seemed” to be normal. Then one day, she didn’t show up. Vanished. There was a rumor of a nervous breakdown, but no one could confirm anything. It was years before the internet, so she was basically forgotten.
And once she was gone there was no one to take over the desk by me. This was the 80’s. Anything goes. The manager of the entire department was probably so coked up, powder, not soda, that he thought it was fine to have some kid from Bergen County, who hung out at Paramus Park on the weekends, to be in charge of millions of dollars. It was now up to me to decide on millions of dollars in payments in a moments notice. And while hectic, and cutting down on my Jews for Jesus dating, things went well. I’d love to tell the story about things going haywire, but I kinda enjoyed the power of being able to reject work the second hand reached 3. Clerks were running towards me to get things done, suddenly I was the expert while the manager was taking all the credit.
Things went great for a month. I was making enough money to have my very own Girbaud pants and capezio shoes, the same ones that Lionel Richie wore on the cover of the Can’t Slow Down album. I had outlasted Pat/Peg, by weeks…and then the day came. It started like any other, a woman, who most likely was a hooker in her night profession, came around and gave everyone a back massage and the carbon copy papers began to trickle onto my desk. (fyi – this is not a metaphor). Then an amount I had never seen before $88,000,000.00. It was big. Bigger than any amount I had paid before. And it was faded. I asked someone else at the desk and he said it looked like $88,000,000 to him, but he had just come back from a four drink lunch, the 80’s. Another guy said 88 and even massage woman thought that looked likely so I paid it out and closed out the day.
I knew something wasn’t good as soon as I got in the next morning as there were several guys in dark suits in the managers office. Was he being busted for coke? They left, but he remained. Then I was called in. The next few minutes are a blur, but it was something to the effect of the payment was supposed to be $8,000,000 and I had lost the bank $32,000 in over night interest due to the $80,000,000.00 mistake. A head was going to roll and that head was going to be mine. I had 15 minutes to get out. No pleading my case was going to work. He wanted me gone to save his own ass. Looking back I can’t blame him, he had a nose to feed. I was the temp, low man on the totem pole, the easy sacrifice. I’d like to say I was defiant and walked out in a Jerry Maguire moment, but I can’t because I used my last minutes getting one last massage and more importantly, the movie hadn’t even been made yet.
Thus ended my stay at Merrill. That was until i was hired again as temp the next summer and something even more insane happened.