Greed Is Good Again
Wall Street's young hotshots spot themselves on the big screen
BY: Nick Paumgarten
"I was similar to the kid in the movie," said a 30-year-old trader at a major firm who started out in a bucket shop. He was speaking from his trading floor, the day after seeing a working print of "Boiler Room." "I was going to law school. There was a kid I knew from college who said, 'What are you doing in law school?' He was making half a million dollars, and he was out of college a year. I went to check it out.
"When I first got there, I didn't know anything. I was just intrigued by how much money these guys were making. I was looking at them and saying, 'They're idiots. I'm a lot more intelligent than they are. If these guys can make this kind of money, then I'm sure I can.' At first it was fun, the thrill of closing someone, making sales on the phone. It was a rush. We had limousine trips. Our boss took us out to dinner, champagne, Dom Perignon.... It was a good life, for a 21-, 22-year-old kid. You think you're a superstar.
"But it wasn't long before I caught on to what the whole deal was, and what these guys were doing. And it wasn't something I wanted to be associated with. My morals were just like, No way."
He got out. A friend got him a job at a real firm. He was lucky. The boiler room firm got busted and went belly-up.
The papers are full of wire items detailing the penalties faced by such brokerages, but so far no one figure has emerged as a face for this generation.
The biggest legend of the bucket-shop world may be Al Palagonia, the top salesman at now-defunct D.H. Blair. "Al would run the morning meeting, kind of like Ben Affleck in the movie," recalled one former Blair broker. "He'd play the 'Rocky' theme, just trying to get everyone all pumped up to get on the phones." In 1997, his hard-sell tactics got him sanctioned and fined by securities regulators. He was banned from the industry. (His basketball team was also banned from a West Side night league, after they started a brawl.)
But Spike Lee, who sat next to Palagonia at Knicks games in Madison Square Garden, cast him as the sleazy agent in "He Got Game" and as one of the thugs in "Summer of Sam." Al Palagonia the man may have made it to the big screen, but Al Palagonia the legend did not.
"Boiler Room" wants to give its audience some real Al Palagonias. But instead of Al Palagonia it has Ben Affleck. And Ben Affleck is no Al Palagonia.