A Bare Sterns Story
August 2008
by William P. Meyers

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Except for Bruce, the San Francisco office of Bare Sterns was a frenzy of money making, or at least money capturing, activity. Bruce dutifully called the list of contacts he had been given, but he did not know enough about their investments to feel confident about recommending that anything in particular by bought or sold by his clients. He read the Bare Sterns analyst reports generated in New York City, with their buy and sell recommendations, but he had already grown suspicious of the analysis department. He tried to think about stocks, bonds, and options, but drifted away to Mark Twain, Jack London, Alan Ginsberg and thoughts of walking over to North Beach to cafes where people were having pleasant conversations about more important things.

No one bothered him. Everyone else was running on high anxiety, infinite greed, multiple cups of strong coffee or even cocaine or even just pure speed itself, prescription or otherwise. There was nothing he could do for them and they sure were not going to give up a penny’s worth of time to help him. The new boss guy was introduced to Bruce and then ignored him. The only sour note was that, because the stock exchanges were geared to New York Time, Bruce had to be at work before 6:30 in the morning, San Francisco time, when the New York Stock Exchange opening bell rang.

The Wall Street Journal changed all that. One would not think that a daily newspaper, even a purely financial one, could work such a miraculous change in an individual. But in Bruce Peck’s case it did.

Bruce had begun to write quite a bit of poetry, and not at night. He had money for the first time in his life, and he was young and handsome, and all of San Francisco’s delights beckoned. Poetry had to be written during the day. Which he felt was fine. No one ever came into his office, but if they did he was ready to look like he was watching stocks go up or down or sideways. There was even a woman at a state pension fund, a client who seemed to like to chat, that he did not mind getting on the phone if he needed to appear to be really working.

Writing good poetry is challenging and difficult even to a guy as talented as Bruce Peck. Not as challenging as getting it published, but plenty challenging. One wants a break from it now and then.

At that time the San Francisco office of Bare Sterns received two copies of the Wall Street Journal each morning. You might think that a brokerage house office entombing almost eighty brokers and traders would need more than two physical copies of the Journal. Recall that this was back in the late 1970’s, before the Internet. The only way you could read the Journal was by holding the off-white sheets to a light and peering at the tiny print. Money, commissions, would be lost if all the brokers came in, sat down, and read the Journal for an hour or two. Brokers, at least serious brokers in the  big houses, had to read the Journal on their own time, perhaps on the way to work. After all, the Journal reported on what happened yesterday. Few more than glanced at the paper.

Each morning the two copies of the Journal were laid out at the table in front of the Bare Sterns receptionist’s desk. One copy was reserved for the chief bull, in theory, but he never took it into his office. He was too busy to read it. So both copies were for everyone else, but the receptionist, possibly having little else to do, kept track of who took them. If they did not bring the copy back in a reasonable period of time, or if someone else was demanding to see one, she would call and remind them to bring it back.

One day Bruce came in late, at about 7:10 AM, after saying up too late in North Beach listening to Beatnik era style poetry complete with bongos and middle-aged people who claimed to have met Jack Kerouac. Bruce was worried his lateness would be noted. What the receptionist noted was that Bruce was young and handsome. He was moderately tall, with dark hair and eyes. The surname Peck was a shortening of a much longer Polish surname, and there was a bit of an Asian cast to Bruce’s bone structure and eyes, a romantic reminder perhaps of the Mongol invasions of eastern Europe during the Middle Ages.

One copy of the journal was in view that morning. Knowing he was too tired to write poetry, and that the Journal could be kind of interesting, Bruce reached for the paper and said to the receptionist, “can I take this for a while?” When the receptionist called to remind him to return it, half an hour later, he said he needed it to write something up for a client, and could he not keep it a little longer? The receptionist, all sweet, said she would call him if someone else really needed it. It was almost noon by the time he returned it. He thanked the receptionist, and that warmed her heart.

The next morning, as other brokers rushed in eager to get their clients to sell or buy on some pretext or another, when Bruce walked in, on time, it so happened that both copies of the Journal were sitting on the reception room table. “I may need this for a while,” said Bruce, picking one up. This may have had more meaning for the receptionist than was intended, for she replied, “Take it as long as you need it, Mr. Peck,” before her inner censor could get to the top of the stack.

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