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A funny thing happened to me on the way to the studio tonight . . .
Posted By Barry Ritholtz On November 1, 2003 @ 9:10 am In Finance,Media | Comments Disabled
About as embarrassing of an experience as one can have in life. Truly, an open mouth, insert foot scenario. I am a micro-encephalitic idiot.
After a very busy week, I had little on my agenda for Halloween. I wore an old, starting-to-fade-and-fray pair of chinos to work, thinking I would spend most of the day tearing apart my work-station, climbing under and around my desk. We’re fortunate to have a terrific IT department, but I like to get my hands dirty. I can field strip a Dell as well as anyone, slap in more RAM, jam a dual-screen card for the 2 new flat panels I ordered. I just added a backup hard drive and a new wicked fast 52X CD burner to the Mac at home. (This is my idea of fun).
To say I was dressed down is understating the matter — and unshaven to boot. At heart, I’m a jeans and sneakers kinda guy. Casual Fridays aren’t casual enough for me. Sure, you can put me in a crisp white Land’s End button down shirt under a nice British suit, and while not quite dashing, its “not bad.” About as much as any chubby 40 something can hope for . . .
So when the last minute call came in for a 5:00 taping of Kudlow & Cramer, I very nearly passed on it. I was filthy, sweaty, and way under dressed. I was on the way back to the office from a very late lunch when the booker called — and I nearly begged off.
When K&C calls, you want to be able fill in — (How nice is it if they owe you a favor?). But I’m a mess, how can I possibly make a 5pm taping looking like I’ve been putting in drywall all day?
I’m starting to get that sense of horror, not knowing what to do. Wonderful — its Halloween, and I have the frights.
I call Mrs. Big Picture for some advice, but — of course — I cannot reach her. She’s as smart as they come, but a total Luddite. Infuriating for a geek to be married to a technological retard. Absolutely refuses to keep the cell phone on. The one person I need to speak to, and I just cannot tag her. Fuck me.
This is an ongoing battle since 9/11 — I work in the Chrysler Building, and who the hell knows what might happen in the future. Not to be fatalistic or anything, but my nightmare scenario is that the last words I ever hear are her outgoing mobile voice mail message . . . And then she accidentally deletes my final good bye message. Pathetic, but true, and in the event of another tragedy, the odds of that happening are about 85%.
Now I’m nearly in full blown panic. I work with Andy Kravitz, a former Bear Stearn’s broker, who’s always a source of sage advice. I tell him I’m thinking of passing on the show — Look at me, I’m a mess!, and he politely tells me what an idiot I am: “Kill the hysterics. Go downstairs to Duane Reade and buy a razor. Chill out, shave, get washed up. You can either borrow or buy some clothes. Hey, you’re in NYC, — you can get whatever you want in a 1/2 hour. RELAX.”
Good advice. I run downstairs, eye-rollingly buy a disposable Gillette Mach 3 for the absurd price of $7.99. Back to the office, wash up and shave. Not the best shave over a bathroom sink on the 2nd floor, but not too bad. I have my own button down shirt, and now I have a half hour to find the rest of an acceptable outfit before my ride shows up.
I literally walk around the office, peeling clothes off guys my size. I’m a inch or so under 6 feet, 220+ pounds. James Orazio is one of the managing directors of the firm, and were about the same size.
“Jim give me your jacket”
“Huh?” he said as he took it off.
Fits great. I take out Jim’s wallet and keys, give ‘em back to him. As I start to walk out, he says “Can I ask why you are wearing my jacket?” I tell him, he wishes me luck and off I go, office to office. David Fresne is the director of private equity, and always always always wears great ties. Knows Kudlow from their days together at Bear Stearns. I practically rip a red Hermes off his neck. I am now mostly dressed — except for the sneakers, and who’s gonna see them?
I bang out an announcement email, and start reviewing some charts and market internals. Almost immediately, Barry Hyman IMs me back. Hyman and I worked together a few years ago — he’s a terrific investment strategist, and has been on all the financial shows a few 100 times. An old pro. Very professorial, real good market feel, good stock picker, much more fundie based them me. Deep down inside, I’m a quant, — but when you find someone with a different methodology that works, you definitely respect their opinion
So Hyman IMs me — “Don’t wear sneakers to the show.” How the Hell did he know?
I ping him back: “call me.” He does, and the first words out of his mouth:
“You’re in sneakers today, right?”
“Yes.” (Am I that obvious?).
“You have your shoes in the office, right?”
“Um, I did — but I took them home last night.”
“You’ll look silly on the long shot. They are in the new studio, and they are showing it off. You will definitely be seen below the waist.”
Shit, he’s right. The black car calls, they’re 5 minutes away.
I always have not one, but 2 extra pair of shoes in the office. I dropped off the penny loafers to have new soles put on. Last night, I grabbed a quick drink with Matt Schuster, who manages a few 100 millions dollars for Wachovia and works one flight up from me. Great guy, he bought drinks at Campell’s Apartment (in GCS) last night — and I wore my favorite suit shoes home.
I got nothing, I’m on empty.
Hyman says “Go get a pair of shoes.”
I run around the office. Dan usually has an extra pair of shoes. Friday afternoon at 3:20 he’s not in (no surprise there), but the shoes are not under his desk (Damn you Ballestra!). I hadn’t thought about it, but the email must have already been sent out telling the staff of the K&C appearance. One of Dan’s partners asks me what size I am — “9 1/2 to 10.”
He literally takes his shoes and sox off on the spot and gives them to me . . . he takes my sneakers, and says: “Go.”
Last week, I wrote up the “Frankenstein Economy,” and now I am practically lab constructed myself. I am wearing clothes from 4 different people . . . At least the underwear is mine.
The car comes, and off we go. We get stuck in traffic on the FDR. Its now after 4 and the market has closed. I wonder what happened in the last half hour. I call Kevin Lane, chief market strategist of Technimentals, a terrific research firm, combines fundies with the technicals. Kevin is another brilliant guy I know, a voice of reason. My earlier panic is subsiding, and Kev gives me a full data dump. He’s a good guy for me to speak to prior to going on air, ’cause our perspectives are so similar. You don’t want the words of some clown you disagree with bouncing around you’re head when you need to think on your feet. If you haven’t seen Technimentals research product, definitely check it out. It’s very good.
We chat for 45 minutes, and now I finally hit the GW Bridge. My anxiety subsides, to be replaced with a fidgety adrenal nervousness.
Pull up to the new CNBC HQ. Its simply huge, Saddam’s missing palace type enormo. Through security, into the green room.
Now comes the funny part of the story:
More fidgety nervousness as I read over my notes. In comes the guy on after me, some NYU prof. Nice guy, named Engle or something. By now, I’m now in full blown pre-show nervous blabbermouth mode. We talk about our segments, I tell him I’m on the Bull & Bear part. I ask him what his segment is on, and he tells me something on Volatility.
Hey! I just did a volatility analysis of the VIX 2 weeks ago — so I tell him. Called for a short term correction due to complacency, blah blah blah. If you like, I can email it to you. Sure, we exchange biz cards.
We chat more about volatility, he tells me about risk adjusted portfolio management — interesting stuff. (No, really, I mean that). I tell him that the VIX was low in 90s, high since 2000, he agrees. A high VIX is a good buy sign, he tells me high volatility increases risk.
I give him my contrary indicator shtick.
We discuss the market, I try to ask questions and politely listen — but I am simply a fucking chatterbox of nervous energy. Blah blah blah. I’m thinking that this guy must be thinking: “does this guy ever shut up?”
OK. Lemme get academic on his ass. I mention Vernon Smith’s work on Bubble’s and subsequent bubble reinflation, say I want to do more work on that, sounds fascinating, and he agrees. Smith won the Nobel in 2002 for economics. We discuss the VIX versus the VXO. He looks quizzical — so I explain to him the difference (VIX is now S&P500 based, while the older VIX, now called VXO, was OEX 100), and he thanks me for it. We talk a little more, and one Larry’s assistants comes in to say “show time.” Right out of All That Jazz.
I shake the Prof’s hand, wish him luck, and off I go.
Get wired up, Larry chats a bit. I know he’s super bullish, big GOP star, co-chair of Bush-Cheney transition team. (I won’t even vote).
Larry gives me a totally generous intro: Frankenstein economy, why isn’t the market rallying on GDP, all good stuff. Just a beautiful set up — Utterly gracious, considering.
We start with the Bull of the segment, Jason Trennart of ISI (nice guy). I know his boss’s work — Ed Hyman — he’s great, has had some really excellent economic and market calls. I blanche when I see the suit, a dark charcoal, very white pinstripe number — a Chicago gangster Halloween outfit! I hope I’m off camera at the time, cause my eyebrows must have shot up 4 inches.
Whatever temptation I have to make the obvious Halloween joke (Frankenstein meets Al Capone) is tempered by the fact that I have begged, borrowed and stolen practically everything I am wearing.
We finish the 10 minute segment, it goes pretty OK.
Now comes the punch line.
Kudlow does the set up for the next segment:
“Up next: He’s this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics for his revolutionary method of analyzing volatility in the financial Markets. NYU’s Professor Robert Engle . . .”
HOLT SHIT! Engle takes my seat, I go off to remove the makeup.
I turn 47 shades of purple.
Let me roll that back, just in case you missed it. I just spent more or less the past half hour chatting up this year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics for his work on volatility — on volatility.
I watch the Nobel prize winner on closed circuit as they remove my make up. Kudlow simply gushes over the Prof — the Nobel Prize winning prof – as he discusses his research. Larry is charming and solicitous, and tells Doctor Engle what a pleasure and honor it is to have him on the show. He winsomely thanks him for all his great work on volatility, all the contributions he’s made on behalf of investors.
And I practically lectured the guy on it! That’s just Great. It’s like playing a video game called “Pantheon of Idiots” — and I just set the new all time high. Terrific!
What color comes after purple? I must be ultra violet by now.
Prof. Engle comes back into the green room, and we walk out together. I mumble an apology: “No one told me who you were, I hope I didn’t bore you with my stupidity back there.”
“Not at all, don’t give it a second thought. You use volatility as more of a trading oriented signal; My work is about risk assessment.”
Another utterly gracious human being. How is it that when we run around all day, these people get overlooked? In the span of a mere few hours, I have had nothing but utterly generosity and graciousness from people. As soon as I get on the highway, I want to start launching sidewinder missiles at the idiots who don’t know how to drive or leave their brights on.
We walk out to the waiting cars together. I ask the professor if people are now treating him any differently.
“Yes, you can’t imagine. I’m a statistician, but people want my opinion on all sorts of things I know nothing about. Its very odd.”
I tell him there were fund managers who called me an idiot on Monday. Then I did a brief segment on Cavuto Tuesday, and on Wednesday, the same fund managers hang on my every word. Its bizarre.
I catch myself being a moron again, and hasten to add: “Not that 5 minutes on Fox compares to a Nobel.”
Again, utter graciousness from the gentleman: “It just shows how people overemphasize perceived expertise.”
We say goodnight. Our cars speed off into the darkness. Purple subsides.
True Story . . . only slightly embellished for comic effect.
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