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My Manhattan Project

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As much as anyone, I had already chased that. Why was I doing it again? As crude as it may sound, I can’t say I was motivated by anything more than the opportunity to make more money. It was sitting there, for me to take, and even for a relatively private person like me, who never dreamed of building my own castle in Greenwich or anything like that, it was hard to resist.

Fortunately for me, Intex threatened to sue. They claimed that CDOs were so similar to CMOs that my noncompete applied. To take the job would mean a legal battle. In a sense, I was saved from my own base instincts. But my oystering permits had been approved. When I looked at myself in the mirror, after working all day hauling 400-pound cages of oysters off the bottom, I looked healthier and more satisfied than I ever remember being when I wore $3,000 Versace suits and thought of myself as a Wall Street success story.

So that’s where I was when the world I had helped create started falling apart. I hadn’t anticipated it, but at the same time, nothing about it surprised me.

Last month, my neighbor, a retired schoolteacher, offered to deliver my oysters into the city. He had lost half his savings, and his pension had been cut by 30 percent. The chain of events from my computer to this guy’s pension is lengthy and intricate. But it’s there, somewhere. Buried like a keel in the sand. If you dive deep enough, you’ll see it. To know that a dozen years of diligent work somehow soured, and instead of benefiting society unhinged it, is humbling. I was never a player, a big swinger. I was behind the scenes, inside the boxes. My hard work, in its time and place, merited a reward, but it also contributed to what has become a massive, ever-expanding failure. For that, I must make a mea culpa. Not a mea maxima culpa, mind you, but some measure of responsibility, a few basis points of shame. Give my ego a haircut.

It hurts when people say I caused this mess. I was and am quite proud of the work I did. My software was a delicate, intricate web of logic. They don’t understand, I tell myself. Perhaps it was too complicated. But we live in a world largely of our own device. How to adjust and control these complexities, without stifling innovation, is the problem.

The other day, Professor Gesiak brought me a pitcher of his basement-brewed beer, bartering for oysters. He mused that the U.S. government would, like Poland’s, make the currency worthless. What do we have, I wonder, that like the vodka in communist Poland, can be counted on to hold its value in this age?


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