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  • Martin Sosnoff

I Punched My Way Outta East Bronx

My years of religious warfare in the East Bronx dates back to early forties. As a 13 year-old. I sported quick fists and a dirty mouth as I wrestled my enemies to the pavement. The gutter comprised our fighting ring. The only signal for acceptable surrender was 2 taps to the shoulder.

It was Jew boys vs the Goyim which included the Irish and Italians. All sported vicious mouths. Blacks watched in silence. It was called Sherman Avenue, a misnomer, along with the Grand Concourse, a far cry from the Champs Élysées, its Paris original.

For Easter, celebrants then dressed up, suited with a matching fedora and laced shoes. My first move was to knock the hat off my raging opponent. Then, we’d wrestle into the gutter. I often succeeded in grappling inside my enemy’s jacket. Reaching in for the cloth around his armpits I’d tear apart the fabric, destroying the jacket. Serious business. Fights normally ended then, as both sides assessed their personal damage.

Later, I’d shift to the girls. My favorite move against thirteen-year-old girls, dressed up as adults too. They sported their first pair of high heels, but proved wobbly. Naturally, it was easy to shove them to the ground and tear their nylons, a scarce commodity in the war years. Shiksas suffered silently. Me? No regrets. Anyone who was aggressively anti-semetic, had it coming.

In my twenties, I was an airborne officer in the Korean War. If I had to fight, I wanted to fight with the best at my side. Serendipity is a powerful force and it landed me on Wall Street, late fifties. An army buddy had recommended me for an entry-level job in research. Luck of the Irish!

Barton Biggs and I were bird dogs for 2 partners and I schooled at night for my MBA as did half of Wall Street. Soon after, we were slipping slide rules, and writing 30-page reports. Analysts were still termed statisticians by old bosses, but this morphed to certified financial analysts, CFA’s.

My cubby hole adjoined old Gerald Loeb’s offices. Loeb was a tireless, restless, trader, with a huge following. He dropped spiffy notes on buys and sells. Ideas had short lives which built up your gross (commissions).

Wasp partners maintained clean desks, but Loeb used his quarters as a garbage dump. Sole exception was in the cubby hole where 2 of his trainees maintained his daily stock chart books with impeccable neatness and precision.

By mid-mornings, Loeb’s office turned into a garbage dump. He waded ankle deep in his crumpled newspapers, annual reports, brokerage music sheets, even books discarded as worthless. I rejected such garbage in garbage out methodology. Xerox and Polaroid stood tall for me at least over a decade. Stocks like Chrysler with no backbone backed and filled over several decades.

Loeb never went too deep in his work. Stocks were playthings for trading. Loeb was visiting Chrysler when its headman was forced out because of serious conflict of interest in a subsidiary. Loeb was asked if he had more questions, but he passed. Next morning Chrysler made the front page in most national dailies. Its President had secretly controlled his auto parts company getting Chrysler’s orders.

A century ago, the Big Board was a gaming casino. You had to know who was doing what to whom in the back seat of the car. Loeb was geared for such a scenario, but sooner or later it disappoints . My fundamental research on Xerox made me rich, not trading Chrysler on its latest 10-day auto sales.

Years later, I bought Chrysler at 5 bucks after Mike Milken explained why injecting Lee Iacocca as C’s head man was the critical variable. I finally found Milken, then a Drexel bond trader who knew how to make money on a fundamental change in management.

My sole regret? The pubescent girls I threw to the pavement, high heels and all.

I still live in the Big Apple, but it helps if you can choose your neighborhood, not a 3-room walk up.

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