The bartender at Ryan’s Daughter, a frat-guy bar on East 85th Street, overheard two men talking about the scene in American Psycho where the investment banker drops the chain saw on the prostitute.
“You guys just saw American Psycho ?” he asked, sliding a coaster under their pints of Miller Genuine Draft.
“Yeah,” they both said.
“Did you read the book?” asked the bartender, who was in his late twenties.
“Well I don’t know if you’ve ever read any Kafka….” He paused for a second to wait for a response but, getting only blank stares and a weak “yeah,” continued: “He writes about that sort of detachment from society, like that one part of the film where the main character says he just wants to stay in the investment banking job so he can fit in. Kafka’s characters, some of them, especially in The Castle , desperately want to fit in, but at the same time feel that separation…”
As the young bartender went on, the two patrons sipped their pints, listening politely but adding nothing. The barkeep had no idea, of course, that he was lecturing Peter Troob and John Rolfe, the authors of Monkey Business , a recently published 273-page memoir of their brief stints as young investment banking associates at Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, one of the biggest firms on Wall Street.
Their book chronicles the wild, weird, dreary and banal goings-on at D.L.J. The two authors take turns in the narrative describing their encounters with abusive executives, various strippers and their own mindless work. A drunken Mr. Rolfe urinates on a managing director’s shoes. Colleagues break phones, ogle web porn, walk into (but not through) walls. In the right hands, their account might indeed have been a bit Kafkaesque, but in theirs, it is merely a recitation of the petty indignities and even pettier excesses that comprise the Wall Street life. The authors were the bartender’s perfect audience, and they didn’t even know it.
After the bartender left them alone, the two men went back to giggling about a scene in American Psycho where the investment banker has sex with two women while blasting Phil Collins’ “Sussudio,” then beats them up.
“Man, we thought our book had some bad stuff in it,” said Mr. Troob, 30. “We should be on Oprah compared to that movie! Our shit looks tame compared to that!”
True. Their shit, however, actually happened-or so they say. The authors took great pains to disguise names, to protect themselves and their former colleagues from the consequences of their tales. Like the one about the banker who, upon noticing an attractive female co-worker doubled over at the bar vomiting during a company night out at Le Bar Bat, removed his penis from his pants and began rubbing it on the woman’s backside.
Mr. Troob, 30, sucked in a deep breath at the mention of this episode.
“We basically included that story to show something shocking, and then bring the reader through the rest of the book and show them that we were becoming something we didn’t want to become,” Mr. Troob said. What they were becoming was, in a way, the main character in American Psycho, a banker-serial killer who says in a voice-over as he gets a manicure, “I have all the characteristics of a human being, skin, hair…but not one identifiable emotion. Except greed and disgust.” They were afraid they were becoming the frotteur at Le Bar Bat, (who, according to someone familiar with the incident, recently had to take his wife on a trip to Europe to explain himself to her. Call it an explanation vacation.)
Before the book came out, someone at D.L.J. got hold of the galleys and made hundreds of copies (this being what young bankers are good at-making copies). The galleys circulated around the firm. “All the bankers were reading it and writing in the margins who they thought the different characters were,” said Mr. Rolfe, who is 31. “It was a big guessing game.”
People at the firm, according to several present and former employees contacted by The Observer , reacted with a mixture of relief and disappointment-relief that no one was slandered, but disappointment that, well, no one was slandered. They said that the authors missed a golden opportunity to tell some great sordid stories. Over the years at these firms, the legends accumulate. Everyone always fantasizes about writing a book, but they never actually do it. Now they had a book, but it was tame. Former employees snickered when they recalled the kind of stuff that they wished had been in the book-like that one about the guy who had sex with two women on a conference-room table, just next door to the office of the firm’s chief executive, Joe Roby.
“Yeah, we’ve definitely heard from some former D.L.J.-ers who were hoping for a more stick-it-to-’em kind of book,” Mr. Rolfe said. “But me and Troob had to ask ourselves: Do we want to burn every bridge we have? I mean, our interest was not to hang people out to dry. Our interest was in writing something that people would think was funny. That’s all. Plus, we’re both still working in this industry.”
They left other stuff out, reluctantly. Fart stories, for instance.
“When you’re sitting inside a room, doing drafting, and someone farts, it really stinks because, you know, you’re enclosed,” Mr. Troob said. “And you sort of get used to the smell, because you never leave the room. We had eaten lots of chili, and everyone was farting. It was freaking gross. And then what happens is the lawyers come in to get the documents, and-“
“It was like a hot box,” Mr. Rolfe said.
The two men were snickering like school boys. “The lawyers were like, Oh, man!” Mr. Troob recalled. “Anyway, I told [Warner Books, their publisher] that doody sells, but we ended up taking out that stuff.”
Both men left D.L.J. (and investment banking), Mr. Troob in 1996 and Mr. Rolfe in 1997. Mr. Troob, who lives on East 86th Street, is a partner at a small hedge fund. Mr. Rolfe, who lives on East Fourth Street, manages money privately.
The authors insist that the book is not meant as an attack on D.L.J., that they didn’t have an ax to grind and were not out for revenge. They say they did it for yucks, mostly, and also to counteract the widespread belief that investment banking is somehow glamorous.
“I think there was definitely something to wanting to show everybody that the emperor had no clothes,” said Mr. Rolfe, the duo’s cerebral half, who looks a little like Bill Maher. “You know, showing people that it’s not Charlie Sheen in Wall Street .”
“Yeah, that’s what’s pissing people off most about the book, in my view,” Mr. Troob piped in. Of the two, he’s the big talker. He has connections in the diamond business, and he used to set up his colleagues at the firm. “It’s not that we’re exposing things that people in the industry don’t know. It’s all the other people, who think it’s so glamorous. This book hurts the bankers’ egos, because they want everyone to think they’re the masters of the universe, and they don’t need a couple of jerk-offs like us telling them that what they’ve done is bullshit.”
D.L.J., for its part, had little to say about the book. “We do not comment on former employees,” said Catherine Conroy, a company spokesman. “But I will say that investment banking has never been an easy profession to learn. The rewards are great, but so are the demands.”
“People around here are saying these guys are a couple of crybabies,” said one Wall Street associate. “The first few years at a bank are a weeding-out process for people who can’t hack it. They don’t want guys like that around, so that’s why they beat you up. A few years later, when you’re making seven-million-plus a year and working a normal day, then ask them if it was worth it. Those guys will never get to see the pot of gold.”
Back at Ryan’s Daughter, Mr. Troob and Mr. Rolfe were still thinking about American Psycho . They laughed about the film’s nightclub scenes, which show hoards of young investment bankers dancing awkwardly to thumping music, taking periodic breaks to do coke in the bathroom.
“The most realistic part of the movie was the way they danced,” said Mr. Troob. “We used to do that. We had absolutely no rhythm.”