Sat | Dec 15, 2018

Tony Deyal | Street sense and sensibility

Published:Saturday | August 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Because I grew up tough, rough and tumble, going to school in one of the more violent parts of Trinidad, living for many years in another that I still call home, and not just selling, but spending considerable time in bars, gambling clubs, and just hanging out looking for trouble, I pride myself on my 'street sense'.

When I tried to look up the term in Wikipedia, I found 'street sense' to be many different things, including a newspaper and a horse (most likely of a different colour). Buried in all the descriptions and definitions was a simple one, "the ability of having a direction of where one is going in life for the greater good".

When talking about life in the mean, instead of the main, streets, some people use 'wise' instead of 'smart'. For them, it means "possessing the skills and attitudes necessary to survive in a difficult or dangerous situation or environment".

Many of us sometimes make the mistake of comparing ourselves and our lives, the sacrifices and experiences of diminishing memory and an increasing tendency to exaggerate, with the 'ease' that we have provided for our children, forgetting that today's generation has to make serious decisions from an extremely early age about drugs, sex, friendships, values, and survival that we never had to worry about until we were much older.

We beat our chests taking pride in believing that 'common sense is better than book sense' and boasting about our street smarts while missing a fundamental message.




If you grow up in Bridgetown, Barbados, you know that Broad Street and Baxter's Road are different in almost every sense. In fact, there are more broads on Baxter's Road, especially in the late evening, than there will ever be on Broad Street despite its reputation as commercial centre. If you're in Guyana, you eventually learn that 'Church' street may have more than the tallest wooden building in the region, St George's Anglican Cathedral, and shares some similarities with Lombard Street and the area Sparrow wanted preserved from a major conflagration in that country, a place called Tiger Bay, where "all dem wahbeens does stay".

Jamaican street sense will definitely have to make allowances for the huge difference between Spanish Town Road in west Kingston and the Lady Musgrave Road environs, where the prime minister's residence, Vale Royal, affords some security until election time. In other words, there is no single street sense as there is no one-size-fits-all book sense.

A few days ago, I learnt a lesson that made me take stock of my own presumptions and assumptions about street sense. I was reading an article on my computer and saw one of the annoying pop-up infographics that litter the virtual landscape. It was about stocks, bonds and Wall Street, specifically the language of that famous street in Lower Manhattan, New York, which is considered the epicentre of the global financial universe. So what is street sense on Wall Street as distinct from the rest of New York and the world?




What initially attracted me was the phrase 'Godfather offer'. Investopedia explains, "A Godfather offer is an irrefutable takeover offer made to a target company by an acquiring company." In other words, it takes its meaning from one of my favourite movies, The Godfather. When his godson asks Don Corleone for help to get a film role, the Mafia boss responds, "I'm gonna make him an offer he can't refuse." The stubborn studio bigshot who initially refused wakes to find the severed head of his expensive racehorse in his bed. He never said never again.

What I learnt subsequently is that Wall Street, like any other street, requires its own sense in creation, translation, interpretation, and survival. Say you're a young university graduate, and on your first day, your boss instructs you to "fill and kill" an investor. Do you draw your six-shooter or suggest, "Shouldn't we threaten him first? Does he have a horse?"

Actually, Time Magazine explains that the phrase means "a situation in which a client's order to a broker is either executed ('filled') immediately or not at all". Or you're on Threadneedle Street in London, and you hear one of the big shots talking about 'bed and breakfast'. It has nothing initially to do with food, although the big bucks the person makes from selling a holding one evening and agreeing with the broker to buy the same holding back again when the market opens the next morning might lead to that.

Then there is the 'dead cat bounce', which is a temporary recovery on a stock exchange, after a substantial fall. It does not imply a reversal of the downward trend, much like a dead cat bouncing off the ground would not come back to life. 'Upside/Downside' takes the language inside out.

The Business Insider example is when a banker says, "Upside of going to the Hamptons this weekend is that James is throwing a party at Pink Elephant. Downside is that he's inviting my ex." Talking about pachyderms, one of my favourites is 'hunting elephants', coined by the biggest Wall Street investment elephant and big game hunter of all, Warren Buffett who, despite being Wall Street's biggest deal, is always on the lookout for a big deal or 'elephant' himself.

Buffett said to CNBC: "I'm ready for another elephant. Please, if you see any walking by, just call me. We're prepared. Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy."

If you understand the jargon, then the jargon for you is that you're a "big swinging d*ck", which Business Insider describes as a kind of Gordon Gekko in Wall Street, the person who "does the biggest deals, brings in the most money, and is generally a badass everyone looks up to".

- Tony Deyal was last seen 'babysitting', and if you're wondering if that is because of the Wall Street movie sequel, Money Never Sleeps, it means that I have a losing trade and hope I can sell it at a break-even price.