Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mouth Breathers

September 23rd, 2008

So I was at the Yale Club this morning for a quick game of squash.

I entered the men’s locker room at about 11AM to find the television tuned to CNBC, which was covering the Senate Banking Committee’s meeting with Ben Bernanke, Chris Cox and others on the federal government’s proposed $700 billion bailout plan.

Now, men’s locker rooms are pretty genial places. There’s a lot of banter and jibe, like “hey Gus, you trying to corner the market for raw materials in the tire business with that new roll in your gut?”

Not so this morning. It was dead silent. In fact, of the ten or twelve people standing around half-dressed watching the show, fully half of them – I counted – had their mouths open. Slack-jawed, they were. The act of dressing and undressing was happening at a glacial pace, eyes trained on the not-very-interesting visage of Ben Bernanke being grilled by Chris Dodd.

Now, it’s not that any of these people had not heard the news. Shocking news has been dribbling out practically every day since I woke up last Monday to find that Lehman Brothers had declared bankruptcy and was being liquidated, and Merrill Lynch – Merrill Lynch! – had been acquired in a stealth deal overnight by Bank of America.

No, all of these people had heard all of the news. It’s just that the news, in this case, is so spectacularly stunning, that even after having digested it for a week and a half, still nobody really knew what to say. It takes some pretty serious stuff to get well-bred Yale Club types to stand around with their mouths hanging open.

With Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley having converted themselves into banks last Sunday, the last of the investment banks is gone. Gone! That’s a way of life for all of these people, just vanished into thin air!

I wonder how long it will be before everyone can close their mouths again.

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