Wednesday, September 17, 2008
(New York, NY)
Earlier this week at a mid-sized private equity firm, Jeremy walked into Gopal’s office and slapped a printout down on his keyboard, disrupting an intense modeling session.
“What the fuck, son?” Gopal reacted, irritated, hastily Ctrl-Z’ing.
Jeremy stood in front of Gopal, motioning eagerly with his eyes and chin down to the piece of paper he’d just presented. Gopal stared at him, infuriated, but Jeremy continued—up and down until Gopal finally gave in and picked it up.
It was a flyer, Fall-themed, with illustrated leaves of changing color and martini glasses. The headline read: “Emerging | Education | Equality – E3 Fall Benefit at Marquee on Sept. 19th.”
Gopal looked up from the flyer to see Jeremy smiling ear to ear, enthusiastically. Jeremy had already started bobbing his head to an imaginary beat and was bursting, just waiting for Gopal to react and share in his excitement.
And after a moment, Gopal did respond: “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”
Jeremy recoiled, stung and perplexed by the unfounded rejection. This was the second life-changing, Western proposal to which his backwards Indian friend had responded with disbelief and denial. The first was Christianity.
“Gonna be a sick benny!” Jeremy insisted. “The start of a new season!” The imaginary beat reemerged and Jeremy started thinking back to last year and before, when he and Gopal had hit every benefit humanly possible. They had helped fund causes ranging from a breast cancer clinic in Ohio to a school for the blind in Penang. They had personally stopped genocide in Bolivia.
The duo took pause as the clips from past benefits flowed over them in a series of waves: girl after girl after girl. A testament to the females who run and attend benefits, the professions of the ladies Jeremy and Gopal took down read like a Career Guide for Women from the early 1900’s: schoolteacher, secretary…homemaker.
Both guys were green to the city, but with a navy blazer with gold buttons, a 6:1 girl/ guy ratio, and the shared goal of world-saving, it seemed almost impossible for them not to succeed. Gopal and Jeremy just spread their arms, leaned back, and fell. And somehow, they’d end up in their Ikea MALM beds holding some dinner for two voucher with a girl or three by their side. As easy as a trust fall at an MBA orientation retreat, without the weird Wharton dudes grabbing at their balls.
They sighed in unison—they did so much good in so little time.
Reluctantly, Gopal snapped back to reality. Shaking his head, he couldn’t believe what they were even thinking about: “Bro. The fucking economy is falling apart. Lehman just went bankrupt, Merrill got acquired by fucking BofA—BoafA, dude.”
“It’s like fucking Target just acquired Neiman Marcus, and you are coming to my desk talking about some random benefit? This is not 2006!”
Still, Jeremy was oblivious, doing a light version of the rowing dance he called “The Erg,” mouthing “Buy Side, bitches!” repeatedly to himself.
“Are you aware of the state of the current financial markets?!” Gopal continued, incredulous.
“Open bar, man!” Jeremy encouraged, loud enough that it finally managed to irritate Matt, Gopal’s timid, Korean officemate.
Jeremy dropped to a hushed, library voice, and coaxed: “Silent auction…”
He took over Gopal’s computer and loaded up the Facebook invite for the event. They both drooled, browsing through screen after screen of smiley, tanning-saloned girls. Gopal and Jeremy’s luck with the ladies historically tracked the S&P 500, so needless to say, things had been tough recently. Jeremy took on a more serious tone.
“Look—we work in private equity, but we haven’t done a real deal in over 10 months. Doing a deal is like sex for me right now—I know it was good, but I have no idea what the fuck it felt like.” Gopal nodded in agreement, hiding the fact that he had never actually known what sex felt like.
“And if I go to another industry conference, it’s over man—I’ll kill myself.”
Jeremy paused and stared Gopal directly in the eyes. “You need this,” he coached. Jeremy then motioned back and forth between his own nipples: “We need this.”
He grabbed a family photo from Matt’s desk and displaying it like a piece of evidence, pointed to the face of a small Asian child, presumably Matt’s little brother. Nodding somberly, Jeremy concluded: “The kids need this.”
Gopal, now alternating between looking at the picture of a 4 year old Asian boy and the Facebook invite packed with attractive girls, finally caved. “You’re right.”
Matt snatched back and replaced the framed photo on his desk. His family members were not, in fact, North Korean refugees, as Jeremy constantly insisted (NoKo!); the photo had been taken by a boutique photographer in Brookline.
But that was besides the point. Jeremy and Gopal were now gaping, nested deep in the party pics of one of the hottest girls attending the event. They did a silent fist pound and mouthed back to one another: “The kids.”
While a few might still be planning on saving “the kids,” most of Wall Street is pretty concerned with just saving itself. Over 150,000 Bankers have lost their jobs, the markets are completely chaotic, and there is no end to this downturn in sight. As Peter G. Peterson , 82 year old co-founder of The Blackstone Group, eloquently put it: “This is a complete clusterfuck.”
The effects of this crisis are numerous and spread into myriad sectors: retail, housing, et.al. But, in typical local-minded fashion, most analysts and reporters have completely neglected the impact on Benefit Season. When you put 150,000 bankers out of a job, the people most significantly affected are not the bankers themselves or even the citizens of our country. No, it’s the poor children of developing nations who suffer the most—the kids.
The reason is simple: every year, the benefit circuit targeted at young professionals generates millions of dollars in philanthropic funds. A single event can generate up to $100,000, and they occur all the time. Classic trickle-down economics. For the attendees, 98% of whom work in finance, it’s a welcome change of pace from the traditional club scene and a small penance for the sins of everyday life. For the children of the Third World, it’s everything.
We spoke with Bibi Muburi, head of a children’s education center in Kinshasa funded 100% through events held in New York City. The facility is uber-modern and entirely glass; every student has his own Quad-Core Mac Pro. A proud women in traditional African clothes and headdress, she proudly calls them “The Harvard-Westlake of the Congo.” And every time after saying this, she brushes her shoulders off.
But what will happen when the funds from these benefits suddenly disappears?
Jose Madinya, an 18 year old in Ecuador who will soon be matriculating at Yale University got his start through program funded by a similar non-profit, and his community is acutely aware of the tenuous dynamic of the situation. As he spoke, sheer emotion overcame his otherwise flawless English, and his accent broke through. “This weekend, our entire village stayed up all night praying someone would buy the Lehman Brothers.” Candle-lit midnight vigils like these were not uncommon in rural enclaves across the globe; it was a rational thought—that God might listen to the poor just once, so the rich could stay rich. But, alas, even that didn’t work. Jose shook his head as he looked over at his youngest sibling, a 14-year old boy reading the Cliff’s Notes to 100 Years of Solitude. He pointed at him in disgust: “Now, he will be like this forever.”
Already, New York City non-profits are changing gears, and to address those in the direst need, they are organizing benefits for Bankers themselves. “Save Wall Street’s Finest—A Wounded Warrior Tribute.” “Hipsters for Bankers: A Food, Wine and Spirit Tasting Event,” and “Midtown Ambassadors: International Banker Compassion Ball.” As the focus shifts to solving our domestic problems and less and less money gets sent abroad, Jose, Bibi, and others across the world will echo a common sentiment: it’s always the kids that lose.
Gopal and Jeremy stood in line at the benefit, positioning themselves to see which one of their many strategies was best fit to avoid paying admission in this particular situation. As per usual, the line was packed with cute girls and other young finance-looking types, but unlike other times, almost all the other guys appeared to be devising their own methods of sneaking in.
“You’re all amateurs!” Jeremy boomed over the line, raising both hands in the air and individually pointing out lame looking guys with fake bracelets or those trying to rub stamps from other people’s hands onto their own. Somewhere in Ecuador, Jose cried a silent tear.
As the line inched forward and Jeremy and Gopal prepared to make their move through a back entrance, a young Jewish girl in a blue sun dress got up from behind the table where the tickets were sold. Gopal and Jeremy knew her well—Emily Cohen, a veteran in the benefit scene. She was a petite girl with a fiery spirit, brought in to various, completely unrelated benefits purely as an enforcer. She was a legend, one of the toughest obstacles in benefit crashing.
Emily got up from her seat. Standing on 4-inch heels and rocking her DVF dress like it was bulletproof, her voice echoed out onto 10th avenue. “This is the last time I’m fucking saying it!” she commanded. And in a grandiose gesture, she held up a green AMEX in one hand and a pair of scissors in the other. Her words pierced the air and souls of everyone in line:
“We are not accepting Lehman Brothers Corporate Cards.”
And then, she cut the card in half.