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Hedging Stress

Cigars Ease the Tension for the Big Dogs on Chicago's Futures Exchanges
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Pierce Brosnan, Nov/Dec 97

(continued from page 2)

"Adversity strengthens a lot of us," says Johnson, who recently lost $62,500 because of an error by one of his staff. "You see some guys in there on the floor, they're crazy. They're nuts! You see them outside of the floor and they're some of the most genteel people you could meet. There's a guy, they call him 'The Hog,' that trades at the Merc, and he is one of the craziest, raunchiest guys around, but you see him around his children...." Johnson says, then goes nonverbal, relying on a shrug and turned-up palms, as if to say, "Go figure." Johnson continues with the story, remembering a party one Fourth of July when The Hog, who declined to be interviewed, had his view of the fireworks blocked and chose not to move closer to the window.

"What he was doing," Johnson says, "was sitting, watching his girls watch the fireworks. Here's a guy who's the raunchiest, craziest, great trader, and the greatest pleasure he gets out of life is watching his children enjoy themselves."

Jerry Zawaski is leaving Sportsman's Park. He bet a couple of races, had lunch and a couple of drinks, and is now on his way home. It's 3 p.m. Zawaski still does not fully believe the life he has.

"I think I just got lucky," Zawaski says. Of course, that's not all there is to his success; some of it can be attributed to his late father. "I was 26 years old and my dad sat me down. Old Polish guy, he was like 6 foot 2 inches, 220. He sat me down at the table and said, 'Hey, enough's enough. You been jackin' around. I got three jobs for you. Take your pick: I got IBM,' which my brother was at and he said he could get me in. My dad worked at a bank and he said, 'I could get you in at the bank or you can try this thing down at the board as a runner making 80 bucks a week.' And I said, 'OK, I'll take a shot,' and I went down to the board and I walked on the floor and I knew immediately there was nothing else I wanted to do. Nothing.

"I've been on the floor since '76, I got my membership in '81. To get my membership I had to work two full-time jobs for two straight years. I was working 17, 18 hours a day every single day. I had no money. I'm one of 10 kids from the South Side of Chicago and we just never had a chance. So when I started I was working from six in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon, I'd jump on the El and I'd bartend until one in the morning, sleep for five hours and do it again. That was the only way I could get any money saved."

Zawaski just loved the action. To get his membership he needed $50,000 in an account and a seat on the board. A seat, which allows you to trade, can either be purchased for about $700,000 (the price fluctuates) or leased at around $6,000 a month. Zawaski chose the second option. He borrowed $70,000 to get started, quickly paid it back, then became better and better at making the right trades and made more and more money. That led to problems.

"Money management is definitely different as a trader," Zawaski says, now enjoying his "everyday cigar," a $2.50 Honduran called Westminster Dreams, which is exclusive to Jack Schwartz Importers. "You go in there, and that day when you make twenty, thirty thousand and you go home and your wife says she's gonna go shopping for a washer and you're gonna go to three stores and save a hundred bucks, it just gets a little quirky.

"She's been through the ringer with me," Zawaski adds. "I never really started doing very well till the last four years. Doing very well, real well. You know, like seven-figure-type years. I started doing well when I started listening to some subliminal tapes. Basically, the crux of the tapes was about not feeling guilty. I honestly think that the one thing that wipes out a lot of traders--it wipes out everybody, but you see it faster there [in the pit]--is guilt. A lot of people have tons of guilt about making money and being successful. I see it. I see it all the time. It's like people go out of their way to fuck up down there. And you wonder, 'Why would they go out of their way to mess up?'"

Tom Baldwin, who believes that the trading lifestyle contri-buted to his divorce, accepts what Zawaski is saying, but has a different perspective.

"I think that's true of a lot of traders," Baldwin says about the guilt issue. "I think, probably, a lot of them are subconscious. I don't happen to have that. I mean, I have a pretty good understanding of risk and I have a lot of war wounds. When you lose $5 million in 10 minutes, I deserve everything I make anytime I make it. I mean, that's a lot of pain."

"What experience down there teaches you," Zawaski says, "is to see everything and then know what to do with it. In sports I think it's more of a natural thing; here it's a learning process. The thing is you may learn it and still not know what to do with it. It's slowing the picture down. It's real important, real important."

That and keeping one eye on Alan Greenspan.

Alejandro Benes is a writer based in Washington, D.C.


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