The Great Equalizer

Renegade son of Kronos,

Perispamos weaves webs of distractions

To subtract his victims

From the dance of the gods.

6 a.m. rings. Five days remain until the end of the quarter. The first half-hour is spent offsetting the imbalances caused by sleep: close shave, cold shower, caffeine and vitamin intake—B6, B12, C and D, nicotine reset, bowel emptying. Suit on, of the habitual offbeat shade. Shoes on, lights off, alarm on, I’m off.

The daily commute is slightly altered by the weekly car wash. Driving on autopilot after fifteen years of repetition. Podcast playing at full blast to drown out the honks, the shouts, the hammer drums and shrilling drills; synthetic lavender scent deployed to counteract the piss, the sweat, the vomit pools and exhaust fumes. Thoughts begin to cluster around the coming session: rate hikes, incoming CPI data, war in Ukraine, HR meeting, client schmoozing, tensions with Charles.

I park at the usual coordinates, -3;2687. My car once again regains its place in the chain of mobile half-tons of aluminum, plastic and steel assembled daily below the hundred-thousand-ton behemoth of stone, glass, and metal my firm suggests I call home. Aboard the elevator, headed to the 21st floor. Bodies conceived in every corner of the earth pile in at random from each of the non-positive floors, then exit in order of seniority. The steel gates repeatedly open on iron floors, orgies of straight lines, uniform products of a corporatized architectural mind. The number on the elevator screen is the only differentiator in sight. It shows me out.

I follow the pedestrian traffic flow back to my cubicle. Briefcase down, laptop out. My morning inbox clocks in at 46—a medley of meeting scheduling, pre-market briefings, health screenings, and leeching advertisements. On the news today: abortion bans and gun reform protests. Then begins the work proper: chart loading, pre-market analysis, catching up with company discussions. The market opens. Numbers rush in, trends set in. To do: monitor volume, momentum, moving averages. My reality is reduced to a broken line ever-oscillating between red and green, ecstasy and despair, following the fleeting whims of human nature. Every body on this floor is offering its soul in a compulsive attempt to play god by predicting a digital slice of the future with a binary outcome: up or down. 180 minutes elapse. I break even.

For lunch, I consume a pastrami sandwich and order a martini to chase the Benazepril. Networking with Michael, flirting with Sarah. A glance at the phallic skyline. Another bite. Cutlery clinks fuse with kitchen clatters to form a high-pitched partner to the bass of aimless chatter and trite pop songs. Digestion kicks in. Social media feeds on my wavering attention. Seven minutes of mindless scrolling elapse before I am called back to duty. It leaves me enough time to ingest the life updates of twelve of my friends, six half-baked yet impeccably partisan political posts, seventeen ads, nine thirst-traps and as many cute pet videos.

The eternal return to my designated chair is accomplished once more. My body is plugged-in by gravity and kept put by society’s mysterious ways. An unforeseen tweet causes the market to go haywire and enter a downward spiral. Spirits grow agitated, blood pressure is on the rise. A floor-wide briefing is announced through the sound system. Shorts are called, positions exited. Thumb taps on a touchscreen somewhere in California caused mayhem throughout the globe in a matter of seconds: a man-made butterfly effect whose epicenter I inhabit.

Jane called. Our daughter got into a car crash. Her condition is critical. She was transported to Lenox Hill hospital, a 20-minute drive away. 38 minutes remain until market close. SPY is on the rise again. All eyes are on the screens. A recovery is on the horizon. A febrile stillness sets in. Only the muted growls of the commotion down and out, and the frenetic pounding of the keyboards up and around dare to disrupt the tense silence. Online, the chats are ablaze, the global frenzy intoxicating, the sharp curves of the charts irresistible.

The floor has turned into a church, the traders into attendants of a holy communion. Concentrated bets are paying off, the damage is progressively being eased. A wave of last-minute put options are sold to naive retail traders and expire worthless, to the firm’s benefit. Charts are on the rise until the very last moment.

The 38 minutes have elapsed. Jane calls again. Our daughter is dead. I broke even.

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SAAD SLAOUI grew up in Rabat, Morocco and is a PhD student in mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin.


SAAD SLAOUI grew up in Rabat, Morocco and is a PhD student in mathematics at the University of Texas at Austin.

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