The Phone Was Dead – 5 Things I Learned From September 11, 2001

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(we saw this outside our office window)

We pulled up the blinds of our office window on the 23rd floor of the Chicago Board Options Exchange building as an FA18 fighter jet burned past.

All air traffic was halted. The Chicago skyline was silent except for the jets loaded with live missiles and the haze wallowing over the South Side.

We could see the pilot’s head through the cockpit canopy.

An hour earlier we arrived for work. I had moved from trading on the floor of the exchange to our office. We had the news on all day, starting at 5am.

CNN showed smoke pouring out of a hole in the tower.

The second plane hit.

We’ve all seen this 1,000, perhaps 10,000 times.

But it was different for me.

On the floor of the CBOE our pit was responsible for making markets – offering retailers and street traders prices so they could buy and sell options with us.*

Several times each day we were on the phone with traders and brokers working from the towers in New York.

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(they where there on Monday, then they were gone)

We talked to Cantor Fitz every day.

They were mostly professional conversations, but during slow times there was small talk. How’s your wife? Where’s your daughter going to college? Dirty jokes were shared. Pranks were played. “We have to get drinks when you come to New York” they said.

The drinks were never gotten.

Sometimes I wonder if anyone I saw jumping from the towers on TV were the guys on the phone.

But when we saw the fighter jet blast by, a switch flipped and I knew it wasn’t an accident.

I left.

The El** in Chicago was packed with people and the one guy with a portable jogging radio (pre-twitter and smartphone) relayed the reports to our train car while everyone else was silent.

“Oh my god the second tower fell”

“The Pentagon is still burning”

“There may be other explosions”

People were crying. Cell phones weren’t working.

We were trapped in the train car alone with each other. Strangers were hugging. It’s the only time in life that I’ve been with a group of complete strangers and we looked each other in the eyes with pure empathy. Everyone cared.

It was 15 minutes on the Brown Line to Armitage in Lincoln Park, it may as well have been 15 hours.

My best friend Rich, his friend Brad and I went to Mongolian Barbecue and drank beer.

We talked about the people we knew in NY, and what was important to us.

Some of the guys in NY were lucky – missed a train, got a late breakfast, had the flu – and lived.

But we were alive, too.

I was 23 and had been trading almost 4 years. I felt old. I was stressed out all the time. I was driving up to 10 hours on weekends to get away from concrete and corn field.

I was afraid. I wasn’t happy, but uncertainty seemed scarier.

I also realized I wasn’t in control. A bomb could go off, a plane could crash, a train could derail, a zillion other things could kill me that day. I’m surprised more people don’t die by all the things that could kill us.

I told the firm partners I was moving to Oregon where there were mountains, rivers and oceans. Changing my life took me 10,000 strides closer to happiness.

I realized 5 things on September 11, 2001 but took 10 years to understand:

1. We all care – Everyone cares but we don’t extend empathy to strangers very often because we’re all fighting our daily battles. Extending empathy to a stranger once every day makes me realize there are bigger things at play than me.

2. My world is made up and I’m in control – Everything in my world is a result of my own mind and my own decisions; fear can be fought with ideas and ingenuity. Ask “how can I do this” and write down ideas. This will empower you and build your own reality the way you want it to be. Everything is an experiment.

3. I’m not in control – We can’t control others, so any day could be your last. I try to make sure the people I love know I love them, and I try not to kill anyone.

4. Happiness is a choice – Losing things can make you realize what you had and what you have left over. When I feel poor or constricted I count the bounty: there are hundreds of millions of cars on the road, food in every market and every little diner across the country. Thousands of new businesses started every day. Count the bounty.

5. Have faith – Believe in something. Believing is the first step to finding purpose in life.

At the end of the day we tend to think we’re here alone, but then something horrific happens and we realize we’re here together.

But we’re alive and we can pass the torch of those in the past by being better than we were yesterday.

To my friends and acquaintances and the families of Cantor Fitz, my thoughts are with you.

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(thanks to Mr. Lutnick, Cantor Fitz has thrived since 2001)

* We made the market for UAL – United Airlines – and 10 other underlying stocks.
** The El is Chicago’s subway system. It’s short for Elevated Rail.

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What To Do When Your Father Is Murdered

(chicago in 1928 was the site of war between capone and moran)

(chicago in 1928 was the site of a bloody liquor war between capone and moran)

My grandmother begged him to carry a gun but he refused.

My grandfather sat outside in the car. My great uncle Frank went into their store to check on business.

It was warm and humid just before 11:00pm, July 13, 1928 on Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

A car pulled up from behind. Two men got out. The driver stayed in. The car tailed them from the Union meeting earlier that night.

They approached grandpa’s car, one on each side.

Guns were pointed into open windows.

Frank and grandpa together owned shops in Chicago. Whisky was delivered from Canada to Saugatuck and run into Chicago where it was marketed in their windows as “Ice Cream”. The shops sold a lot of Ice Cream.

(it said "ice cream" but everyone knew it wasn't)

(it said “ice cream” but everyone knew what it was)

At 33 my grandpa was a business owner, and considered running for a position in the Union, a powerful influence in The City. Many thought he was not yet powerful enough. Some thought he could be too powerful if he won.

He was 5’6″ and people said he was “handy with his dukes.”

A couple kids tried robbing one of his stores once. They did not see him behind them as they backed out, guns drawn. He grabbed their necks and cracked their heads together, knocking the bastards out. When they came-to he told them not to mess with his stores. If he heard about them doing it again, he wouldn’t be so nice.

It may have been petty theft, but the mob was shaking down every speakeasy in the city for their cut. “Robbery” was another term for the mob tax. The kids were collectors, but grandpa still believed in people. He let them go.

He believed anything was possible with enough work and enough courage. The fighting Irish attitude. He was a family man with 3 kids and a young, beautiful wife. He may have sold whisky, but he didn’t drink. He was building power. He had everything to live for. But that made him a target and a victim of 1920s Chicago, likely Bugs Moran’s North Side Gang.

(i believe bugs moran ordered the hit on my grandfather because he wouldn't pay the mob tax)

(i believe bugs moran had grandpa killed for not paying the mob tax)

The men fired more than once. A shotgun and a revolver.

Blood sprayed the car interior and soaked the seat.

They fled.

Frank ran out of the store. Without stopping he pushed grandpa off of the steering wheel and across the bench seat, jammed the car into drive and sped to the hospital.

There was little hope, but when you’re Irish and Catholic you live on hope and prayer. Uncle Frank drove and prayed. I’m sure he swore, too.

Only a miracle could save him.

But there were no miracles, just bullets and blood and the heat escaping the sewers, pavement, bricks of the buildings, and the body of my grandfather.

Newspapers across the country carried the story. The young Irishman from Chicago was dead.

As a child, I was always embarrassed of our father. He was older than the other dads. His hair was beaming white and he spoke loud, laughed louder and everyone thought he was our grandfather. He was twenty years older than our mother.

I grew into appreciating him and learning his important lessons.

He taught us to shoot guns, field dress game, chainsaw trees, fix cars, sail The Great Lakes in a squall and have proper manners at dinner. When we reached a certain age he brought out relics of his past and shared stories. The stories helped us understand history, our family, and him.

His stories usually involved Cahill, Murphy or County Mayo.

He was a child of the depression. We knew he grew up without a father. He joined the United States Navy and served in World War II underage. The Navy prepared him for his life ahead and a confrontation with his anger and loss. He had an Irish temper.

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

(dad was an expert rifleman in wwii)

In 1945, my father approached grandpa’s best friend.

“Can you tell me everything you know about my father’s death?”

“What do you want to know?”

“I’ve been to war and I’m a heck of a good shot. I want to get even with the men who killed him.”

The Friend leaned back in his chair and did not blink for a moment.

“I have to go to the safe deposit box. Can you come back tomorrow at the same time?”

The friend was of some judicial power in Chicago and knew things, had connections.

Dad went back the next day and The Friend had an envelope.

The envelope was old. It had my father’s name on it.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come to me, Joe.”

Inside were newspaper clippings from 1928.

One article was about grandpa’s death.

Another was about two bodies found with coins in their hands, dumped in an abandoned neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.

The Friend said “Joe, you don’t have to worry about something like that. Your father had many friends.”

The Friend told him they knew who’d done it. The friends staked out the wake of another hoodlum and picked the two up as they left.

It was the same two grandpa let go.

My father felt anger and relief. Relief that it was handled. Anger for many reasons. It’s hard to let go when you live with hurt.

He would have to live without a father. He would have to pave his own way. He would have to build a new direction: life after death.

(the illinois institute of technology is cutting edge)

(the illinois institute of technology, chicago)

He went to the Illinois Institute of Technology on Chicago’s South Side and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering, going on to a long career as an engineer.

He flew millions of miles in prop planes in the ’50s and ’60s, doing business throughout North and South America and Europe. He built components that helped launch astronauts into space and other things like pitot tubes that measure aircraft speed on every airplane.

He invented products for the ceramic wire industry and founded Equipment Sales Company, still operating today.

He bought a sailboat from an old family friend named Bill Morgan who claimed to have been a deckhand on a pirate vessel in the Caribbean in the early 1900s. Dad learned to sail from Bill and eventually met our mother while sailing.

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca (a whole other story entirely))

(our sailboat Faith in ft bragg, ca)

He is the father of 7.

He’s an 87 year old bladder cancer survivor.

Get him going and he’ll tell you Irish stories, sing Irish songs or embarrass you with crass jokes that makes NSFW* look like a rated G movie.

He acts like a man 30 years younger and is a wonderful grandfather.

He’s a lover of people who can’t resist a Guinness or a sip of Irish Holy Water.

(irish holy water)

(irish holy water)

So what do you do when your father is murdered and you have to live as a fatherless child, Irishman, older brother, husband, father, WWII veteran, engineer, inventor, cancer survivor and grandfather?

You let it go.

You live.

(grandpa joe, 2013, living every day)

(dad, grandpa, 87 in 2013, living every day)

*nsfw = refers to any image, language or otherwise that is “Not Safe For Work”
(credit to Erin Voss, Sean Faul, and our Dad Joe Faul for helping me wade through all the information and get this story to be accurate. there are a lot of details missing, but we’ll save that for the book)