By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
It was a bleak period with an atypical mood of helplessness. "I saw people not knowing what to do with the situation," said Aafouallah. "People who said, 'OK, I just got laid off today, after 25 years of work.' People were unhappy. I saw people who didn't know if they could get a job anywhere else. The most affected ones were the newcomers to Wall Street, the young people. I was talking to one of the CEOs who felt so bad for his son and his colleagues, these guys who just came out of college, who had just gotten married. They had a lot of debts. Now, they can't find a job. For them, now, it's much harder than it was for their parents."
This year, not so much. At Harry's Steakhouse on a Tuesday night in late December, Aafouallah rushed around between the kitchen, the dining room, and the restaurant's two bars. Wine bottle in hand, he was quick with the refills. Waiters sped past him with big trays of food. At one of the bars, a law firm was holding a party for Chase Bank's mortgage division—thanks for bringing us the business!
Some women were sitting around a table munching on small pieces of tenderloin on toast. At a nearby table, there was a modest spread—cheese, breadsticks, some cursory vegetables with dipping sauce, fried balls of what appeared to be fish. It wasn't what it had been in previous years—oh, those catered, full-course dinners—but people weren't upset. As one woman from Chase's mortgage team put it, "For us to be able to talk in full sentences—without rushing around and everything falling apart—that's why we're optimistic."
Yes, she said, it has been tough seeing the impact of the mortgage crisis, the foreclosures, and so on. Seeing that day in and day out, she acknowledged, was very difficult. But she was adamant that the banks' mortgage divisions weren't at fault—they were simply the sales force. The bankers above them who bundled the mortgages into shaky instruments were to blame. "It is the banks' fault," she said. "If the bank makes a product—we're going to sell it."
By the end of the night at Fraunces Tavern, Wall Street's youngest and brightest had reverted to just being kids. As everyone was moving to leave—rummaging for coats and taking last sips—a French fry fell on the floor. Someone promised a banker $50 if he would eat it. Before the banker could make a decision, a colleague raised the stakes and, on the spot, devised a new financial instrument—$100, if he didn't eat it. Things stood like that, at a drunken impasse, until a young female colleague butted in: It wasn't right, she said, to just leave it on the floor. She picked it up with a napkin, left it at the bar, and walked out into the cold night.