I work downtown, near Wall Street. It’s cold today, somewhere in the mid-twenties, and I decided to get some soup from the Hale and Hearty Soup place over on Beaver. The soup place is close enough to the NYSE to hear the moans of traders still recovering from yesterday’s bloodletting.


Over the last week we have discovered that the banks are in worse shape than ever, and the government doesn’t have much of a clue about how to fix it. The New York Times is reporting that even the Obama people, who we hope are smarter than the newly ousted Bush people, aren’t sure about what to do. I think the market fell yesterday – led by bank stocks – because it knows banks are still hiding losses. If they’re hiding something it’s because they want to secure their own fortunes before the shareholders – and the country – figure out they’re bankrupt. Or as the last sentence in the times piece says, “Banks may not want that kind of openness, because accurately valuing the toxic assets could force many to book big losses, admit their insolvency and shut down.”


Gordon Brown, according to Marketwatch.com, has fallen from grace for his government’s inability to stem the financial crisis; US Bank just announced its profit fell 72% on credit costs; and Brian Stelter’s human interest story in the Times tells us “In 2009, Layoffs Is the Business to be In.”  Moreover, just yesterday the president told us in his inaugural speech that we had to leave behind our childish ways, and give up the greed fostered under Reagan and worshipped under Bush.


With all this buzzing in my head, I got a soup and salad and looked for a seat. I saw a four top occupied by a single woman with a huge black bag who was checking her phone for texts. I asked her if there was an available place for me to sit. She apologized, took her bag off the table. I sat down. Not thirty seconds passed before she snapped her phone shut and blurted out “I didn’t think the banks were giving out bonuses this year!”


I thought she was upset that some fat cats were making off with our retirement funds, so I said, “I guess the only ones giving out bonuses are the ones that got TARP money.” My subtext was, yeah, only the scammers and crooks cheating us out of our taxes are getting bonuses. I thought we were bonding, until she stuck her plastic spork in my poor, underemployed heart: “I just got a text from my husband, and not only is he not losing his job, we’re getting a bonus!!!” I looked at her wedding ring. It had more ice on it than the street outside. She smirked and went back to reading her Economist.


I try to be a decent guy. I think envy of others’ riches is a species of hating, and I will walk a mile barefoot on broken glass before I let myself be an unrepentant hater. So I kept my mouth shut. But I wanted to ask her to tell her husband I think he should be in jail, and that his bonus should be seized – along with their other assets – to pay back the shareholders who lost their retirement savings. I don’t care if he’s personally responsible or not. He’s a part of the culture of narcissism and greed that has brought us to this dismal pass.


But like I said, I try not to be a hater. So I call on you – all of you – anonymous Wall Street bankers: Give back your bonuses. Reveal the crimes of your bosses to the press and the government. Do the right thing. And while you’re at it, make your wife pawn that gaudy ring. Raise money for the poor. Remember: it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.