In the 1990s, I was a technician in the Wall Street area.
My office was in One World Trade Center. I repaired printers on five trading floors and a dozen buildings, which were all in the southern tip of Manhattan.
Today, I’m a tour guide. I point out two eyebrow-raisers when I’m down there:
- The billion-dollar check.
- The quadrillion-dollar spreadsheet.
The Check: Thirty years ago, I repaired an HP LaserJet for five Wall Street men. These guys were busy like in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” One looked like Leonardo DiCaprio, too.
Their one-room office at 65 Broadway needed painting. They had no receptionist.
These five men have long since moved out. (I inquired at the lobby last year.)
Back to 1993. Their 14th-floor firm overlooked Broadway. Each man intensely sat in his cubicle with that federal-issue table and desk. Papers were push-pinned into the cloth divider walls. Some were taped to the plexiglass.
At the main door was a $1 billion check. It was in an Ikea frame. “$1 Billion??!!”
I saw this $1 billion when I was about to leave. The repair had only been 10 minutes. So I had a little time.
The manager—who looked like David Ogden-Stiers from MASH—was with me at the door.
I asked him about this $1 billion. Well, it was a smidge over a billion, really.
“Chase Manhattan gave it to use last year. They told us to make it into $2 billion.”
“Huh,” I said in that syllable of absorbing a new fact. “That’s something like at a restaurant cashier. A dollar is taped on the wall.”
“Exactly.” He explained further that they had asked Chase for that cleared check as a souvenir. The bank made an official copy and gave it to them.
I believe he would have allowed photos and selfies. But we only had beepers in 1993.
The Spreadsheet: I hadn’t thought that “quadrillion” was a possible yardstick for measurement. That is, until August 1995 at 55 Water Street. My first child was born that month.
A spreadsheet at $1.7 quadrillion was in the Depository Trust Corporation, which was a client of a printer repair firm where I worked.
In 1972, Standard & Poor’s had completed their headquarters, along with the alliance of New York City, some private developers, and the federal government, which oversees the DTC.
In this 59-floor concrete office tower, each floor is like a football field. I believe the DTC took up three floors, according to a staffer in 1995, but I could be wrong.
In any case, this accountant said that the DTC does international financial measurement. That’s stock markets. Bonds. Interest rates, and … consumer spending.
He explained—like a tax preparer with some pizazz—that anywhere on earth, a person buys something. “China, Africa, Europe … Toledo, Ohio.”
I knew something big was coming.
“This whoever could buy a house, groceries, doctor’s visit, a goat.” He paused. “You could buy a Hershey’s bar on impulse!”
A little earlier, I had bought a soda on impulse.
“Every imaginable consumer purchase on earth adds up to $1.7 quadrillion.”
Wow. So if you bought an NJ Transit train ticket just now, that’s part of the $1.7 quadrillion Excel spreadsheet.
From some finance websites that I checked recently, yearly worldwide consumer spending is still $1.7 quadrillion.
I know 1,001 other aspects of New York City. If you’re bored, don’t pay.
Contact Adam Sternglass at (917) 355-5223 or [email protected]. He has a daughter getting married soon.