Looking large in the trading pit was everything. He stood on the top stair of the pit in an exchange-issued trading jacket and filled orders. It was a boisterous place, traders signalled, shouted and elbowed their way to buy and sell. In the midst of this hand signals facilitated quick trading - palm of your hand towards your body - buy. Palms facing away from your body - sell. Fingers vertical - quantities, horizontal - price. Sight lines were crucial in the trader’s game. He shouted, he signalled, the open outcry pit was intense. His glasses, always dirty from the spittle collected from the mouths of other trad- ers shouting, frequently had to get repaired - the result of crushed bodies in constant, frantic communication.
His jacket was his office. In it he kept everything he needed, trading cards, note cards, pens, a solar powered calculator, his daily statement and a position card that kept track of his current position in the market. it was his front desk, but also his back office.
Sight was important, it was seen and be seen. He spent many hours on tweaking and changing his jacket, making it prettier, thinking about the color scheme. Many traders wore parches and insignia, stripes and stitchings. On an average day you’d see more colors on the trading floor than you would at a Galliano fashion show. The clerks wore golden coats. The personnel of the exchange dark and light blue coats. But for him that was not enough. the pins felt mundane, the stripes daft. The more people would see you, the more you could trade and well... he liked the attention. Maybe everyone in the pit did, but he just seemed to enjoy it more.
The first time he encountered the pit he was struck. The shouting of the traders, the movement of their bodies and hands, fickle fingers tirelessly flashing signs of capi- tal - it captivated him like nothing had before. There was a life force on that floor that was magical and exciting. He wanted to be part of it, to be engorged with it. He practiced his trading movements in the mirror, the hand gestures, the postures, his facial expressions. The open outcry pit not only demanded a clear voice but strong and present bodily skills. He quickly started to learn what was most effective. For instance in a market that was hot, movements had to be quick, clear, demanding of attention. They had to have an immediacy, which
he was convinced could only be attained by elegance.
It was about knowing how to be present in a crowd. And as he practiced and performed more in the pit, he could feel it, this strange energy. It was exhilarating, to feel these large flows of capital, deals involving large sums of money flowing through him, through his body and his jacket arms and fingers
This was how it worked: A phonecall would be placed toa member of the “Merc” (chicago Mercantile Exchange) They would pass the order using wireless headsets, hand signals or by writing the order on a piece of paper and giv- ing it to a runner. That broker would then hand-signal the order to the hundreds of traders standing and jostling on the steps of the pit, and the requisite deal would be struck by eye-contact and further hand signals.
The pit - an octagonal or circular amphitheatre, was stepped around the sides to allow as many traders and brokers as possible, crowding together, bodies close to one another. Seen from the viewing galleries, the pit could seem like a place of unbridled individual competition and although fellow traders were not necessarily friends, there was a common feeling, a kind of community present on the floor. Every working day in the morning at 9.30, the jostling started, and would continue for the rest of the day. Quite commonly, jostling became verbal aggression and sometimes verbal aggression escalated into fist fights. It had happened to him before, but now his physique and his newly practiced gestures, so perfectly displayed in his cus- tomised trading jacket kept potential threats at bay.
The men in the pit were animals, they’d smell fear, they’d read your face in a nanosecond and sensed your nerves. All acting on an almost primal intuition, trading on viscer- al reaction, on noise, on smell. Everything had to to with claiming presence, timing and the eyes. You’re eyes would lock, only a split second and then you would know...
In February the CBOT moved into a new, financial trading facility. The facility was large enough to house a Boeing 747 and the first time he entered he was overwhelmed by the space. It excited him, he squinted his eyes and imagined it to be a grand baroque cathedral, a place where the smooth undulated expressions of capital were able to move freely and take hold of his body. Affected by the grandeur of the space he felt small and realised he had to raise his game, here it would prove to be much harder to be noticed, to be seen.
It was that day that he decided to wear heels. Tall things stand out, like the World Trade Center, or Mount Everest. And that’s what needed to be done. He needed to be tall, to be the world trade center, to be the mount everest. To stand tall in a landscape that shaped the world and the places capital lived in.
He had been eying a new pair of shoes for some time already and now was the time to buy them. A pair
of simple yet elegant Masons workshoes manufac- tured in Chippewa Falls that he saw just outside the CBOT in a shop called Sam the Shoe Doctor. When he walked passed them in the window display and laid eyes on them for the first time, he knew. They were perfect. He asked to add a thick platform heel at the bottom of the shoe. No too thick at first, but more than enough to give him an unobstructed view of
the pit’s star traders, the ones whose big trades could turn the tide of the market in seconds. Wearing them for the first time he felt exhilarated not only was he taller - he now towered nearly two inches above his old height - his body felt powerful, elegant, his move- ments were more fluent and a certain bravissimo took hold of him.
Sure it raised a few eyebrows, but after the initial chuckles and sniggers - even to his own surprise it caught on. After a few weeks, he noticed people wear- ing the exact same Mason shoe, including the custom- ised platform heels. It amused him at first, after the initial sniggering it felt like recognition, but he soon realised he started to lose his advantage. And from now on the only way to solve this would be to go up. He went back to Sam the Shoe Doctor after work and asked for another quarter-inch-thick sole to be added to his shoes. He now soared high above the ground. It was delightful. And aesthetically it was more pleasing, as it was just the extension his body needed - now his silhouette was in perfect proportion.
But when he returned to the exchange the next day, he found that more traders had gotten the exact same idea. And as he walked onto the trading floor he start- ed to notice another disadvantage, where before his shoes facilitated his graceful but effective trading ges- tures, now he caught himself slightly out of balance. He had to teach himself again how to move, how to trade, how to adjust his body and grab attention while all the time maintaining his balance. Something he observed amongst the other heeled traders as well. A strange sensation took hold of him as he realised that there was no turning back. From now on the heels under- neath his shoes would grow and grow beyond his control while all the time he’d get further out of balance. And with him all the other traders on the floor. They we’re caught in the trading pit performing a peculiar lurching dance in constant search of balance, as their shoes were growing higher and higher and higher. And then, eventually, one day - just another day in the trading pitt, they would all fall down.
In November 2000, after too many injuries on the trading floor, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange imposed a ruling on the maximum heel-size of traders. From that moment on the maximum heel size that could be worn was set to 2 inches.