When one is struggling through something, trying to figure out how he got to where he stands, and the point of this called life, the best thing to do is sit down at some adorable little cafe in the West Village, not a Starbucks but one of those places that draws designs in the foam on your cappuccino and bakes its own desserts, and pleasure oneself to the sounds of one's own voice. It's a little obscene, and common decency (not to mention the law) would typically advise you to not do so in public but this is something that you can't help. You just sound so good. Of course you'd want to do you.
On a recent drizzly Sunday afternoon, a 29-year-old New York banker was sitting in a West Village cafe, eating biscotti with a mocha cappuccino and a glass of grapefruit juice. "I want to retire early and maybe do something else," he sighed.
Oh, don't you love you when you top off cliched statements with that reflective sigh thing? I bet when you paused you had a look of contemplation on your face, too.
"I had these big dreams when I was a kid to help people. But it's much harder than one might think," the young man said. "You have to do your job. You're in the Army, and they send you to Vietnam. It's not a good war, but they tell you to shoot. You shoot. It's very complicated, but people don't see that. I have a job. I tried to do that the best I could."
It is hard. You know what else is hard? You, realizing that analogy sounded even better out loud than it did in your head. Lady Gaga probably would be too, if only she were lucky enough to be a fly on the wall during this conversation.
THE HANDSOME YOUNG BANKER has olive skin and black hair, but slightly mean-looking eyes. He doesn't like working out, though he has shirtless photos of himself on Facebook. His girlfriend is three years younger. He likes The Economist and house music. He owns a few nice suits, which are Hugo Boss and were bought on sale: "I love," he said, "making good deals." He goes to private openings of meatpacking district clubs with colleagues, where they can party while talking business. Last month he saw a Lady Gaga concert with friends: "She puts on a great show, but the music is not that great."
A banker, philosopher and music critic, too? Are you about to lose it thinking of the look on mom's face when you bring home to her? This conversation is going to over in less than two minutes unless someone has some desensitizer on hand.
Early last year, after Wall Street had been brought to its knees, his bonus was only $45,000. "When you work really, really hard--my group was working from 7 to 9 every day, sometimes weekends--to be paid $150,000? I could have been making more." Friends left his bank. "At hedge funds, if you make money, you get paid."
But afterward his salary was raised to $200,000, and he was told about the $650,000 bonus he would get this year if he stayed. He did. Still, that sum didn't turn out to be what it seemed. "Every bonus I see as a jackpot. If I get it, great, if I don't ..." he said, trailing off. "I mean, you're very disappointed, yes. Imagine that happened to you."
Wimper. Don't be afraid to cry. Some of the best sex you've ever had with yourself comes with tears. Makes it that much more intense. Two kinds of release.
"There have been lots of abuses on Wall Street, but Wall Street is a lot bigger than banks. There can't be just one bouc émissaire," he said.
I see you learned at an early age that use of French terms is the ultimate panty dropper. Doesn't much help, since yours are already around your ankles but, you know, good for future reference.
Over another cappuccino, he talked about leaving to travel and start up cafes. His father is an engineer who eventually started a farm, restaurants and an oil company. "I said to myself a long time ago that the day I have enough money to work for myself, I'll stop working. I don't like working for other people."
Then he started thinking about Wall Street people who have to look at screens for 14 hours every day, and that got him wondering about people in general, especially mothers pushing each other on Black Friday to shop for Christmas presents. "It's like, really?" he said. "That's what mankind has created?"
Oh my god, yes, philosophizing about Black Friday and mankind and consumer culture, yes, yes, you're putting yourself over the edge, yes! Do it! Do it to yourself now!