Lee Munson is a tall, lanky, swaggering 25-year-old who moved from California to Manhattan three years ago and became a stockbroker. Now he works at a top brokerage house in midtown, wears a lot of Prada and Gucci, drives a BMW and is married to an attractive 27-year-old woman who works in the art world. Last year, Mr. Munson said, he made more than $350,000.Hehas $100,000 in the bank and says that by the time he’s 40, he will be worth $28 million. Like many young men and women in finance in Manhattan today, he is a creation of the 1990′s bull market.
One recent evening, Mr. Munson was in a cab on his way to Bellevue, a bar on 40th Street and Ninth Avenue.
“I realized at a very early time moving to New York City that my life was going to be shit out of luck unless I did something that made more fucking money–or as much money–as a drug dealer,” he said. “There was only one thing that you could do, other than being a drug dealer, which I have no aptitude for anyway. Selling stock. So during good times, I make as much as a top drug dealer or mob guy–legally! Ethically.”
Mr. Munson’s big dark eyes were dancing. “And I make the clients money. I mean, I make people money!” he hollered. “That’s what I do! I’ll never leave!
“New York is a reincarnation of ancient Rome at its peak!” he said. “Not at its peak–at its decline! When Nero was playing the skin flute, watching Rome burn …. That’s what we’re going through right now, and God bless it! I want to be a citizen of Rome, and to do that, you have to be a broker.
“The New York experience is everything I ever dreamed of,” he said. “Just being able to be like a rock star, have the financial power to bully–not people–but bully the city around and make the city meld into what I wanted the city to be.”
We sat down at a table at Bellevue. He said he was one of his firm’s youngest brokers. How good was he?
“Some people would say I’m in the top 1 percent of brokers, but I would say, safely, I’m in the top 5 to 10 percent,” he said.
“I really feel that being a broker is like winning the fucking lottery, even now,” Mr. Munson continued. “People who win the lottery spend all their money and end up depressed. Maybe the market’s shit and I don’t make any money, but in a year from now, I’m in the lottery again.”
He said he got up at 6 a.m. that day. “First thought is, ‘Don’t wake up, don’t make the mistake of going to work, don’t do it!’” he said. “‘Because Lee, the market stinks!’
“In good times, you love to wake up,” he said. “Because you’re going to wake up and make thousands of dollars today! Wow! It’s like, ‘What am I going to buy today? What new car am I going to get?’ So you get up; you have to go to a sales meeting at 7:15 every morning. I’m the late one–I always come in like 7:27, 7:30. I’m the one who’s always on the verge of being fired.”
The meeting is over by 8 a.m. “First thing I do, by 8 a.m., I’m a badass. I’m like a hot producer, I’m the hot money man,” he said. “First fucking thing I do, 8 o’clock, 8:01? I start dialing numbers! Any fucking numbers! Let’s do it, let’s get it on, let’s get the ball rolling . I call people I don’t know, introducing yourself, warming up the voice!
“I tell the client what to do. I can show you how to manage cash–cash. Maybe you need to get out of that crappy tech stock that you don’t know anything about into another good tech stock that’s at a crappy price …. And being a stockbroker, every fucking day , you can do business. It’s not like being a venture capitalist, three and 10 years and all that.”
He got up, put some money in the jukebox, then sat back down. In 2000, he said, he was living the high life.
“Fast cars, one woman,” he said. “Cristal. Blue Ribbon sushi. Nobu on a weekly basis. The Palm comes to mind. Whatever cost a lot of money, that’s what I had. I was always a punk rocker at heart, so what I love to do is take all my friends out and just buy ‘em drinks at the cool places. It was like, ‘On me, baby!’ Share the wealth a little bit.
“You ever been out and you’re at some nice restaurant, and there’s this table with these guys and they’re all loud?” he said. “Who are these fucking guys? They’re just dicks. Those are brokers! And they’re just guys like you and me who got into a weird career, had a knack for it, and just have so much money, it’s like a rock star. The only difference is, a rock star, you recognize him–he’s a rock star, he has a license to be bad. Brokers aren’t recognizable, but they believe they have a license to be bad, too. Because they make so much money. Ninety-nine percent of the people who try to get in the business fail . Most people cannot do it. So when you actually do make it, you realize that you’re special . People start treating you differently, you got a little money. Then you try to get involved in high society, it’s a disaster–or you get involved in slumming it. And the quintessential broker slums. Why? They’re trying to feel something real , because a little while before they were just kids trying to work and earn a dollar.
“And you go to bars and get in fights. Out with the boys, you go out, drunk as fuck, and we’ll just start fighting amongst ourselves. We just start hitting each other and getting kicked out of bars.”
He described “a perfect night” with his broker friends: “You start off at Barmacy to see if there’s any cute dumb college girls there. Then you pick them up, take them to Lakeside, and then you get a chick who’s out of college, who’s a broad now, and if you strike out there, you go all the way to Motor City and get some filthy whore in leather pants, who just like broke up with her boyfriend Biff over at the garage.”
What would the brokers be talking about?
“‘Isn’t it great to be a fucking broker?’” he said. “‘We make so much more than everybody else. Look at all the people in the bar: They’re all scumbags! We make more in a day than they make all year!’ That’s what brokers like to talk about; it’s the ultimate in mental masturbation.”
And since the recent slump?
“We’re the pariahs of society. Nobody loves us. Nobody gives us business. We’re still drinking $80 bottles of champagne instead of $500 bottles … and we’re crying all the way.”
The female bartender turned off the jukebox and led patrons in a rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“What the fuck is that?” Mr. Munson said. “Did I pay for half a fucking Scorpions song? Yes or no? No ! If I paid 15 cents a song, I’d understand. Put that music back on, whore!”
Mr. Munson grew up in a big house in Modesto, Calif. His father was a mortgage banker, his mother a music teacher. Young Lee was raised to be a banker.
“They were so concerned about me being a little man, they neglected to remember that I was also a little boy, ” he said. “It made me feel there was no place to be a child. ‘You’re so much better than all the other kids.’ And I wanted to hang out with the other kids, but they weren’t good enough, so I spent a lot of time alone.”
When he was 5, he developed Legg-Perthes disease, a hip disorder, and a doctor thought ballet dancing might be a good idea. He took lessons, and had to wear a hip brace for a year.
He was a smart kid, but “always pissed.” He was expelled in fourth grade for being disruptive.
“I just thought it was all stupid,” he said. “I wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to make money like my Dad did. School is stupid. “
He got A’s, skipped a grade, but got in trouble for fighting. “I liked to pick on people who were weaker than me, kids who obviously would grow up to be sissies,” he said. “But my Dad didn’t give a shit because he was fucked up. And my mom thought that if anyone says you’re fucked up, they’re fucked up. This was not good. You need to make kids feel like they’re like other kids. It had the effect of making me feel I was so different .”
In 11th grade he was a friendless but good-looking “dork” who got involved in theater. “The one thing I had: for such a dork, I got more pussy than captain of the football team,” he said. “I had these gay hairdressers, and I used to tell them, ‘George–or Bruce, or whatever–I want girls to like me.’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know what to do about that, but I know how to make a boy like you.’”
He said he seduced lots of girls; their mothers liked him. “They thought, ‘How can my daughter be doing anything with him? And if my daughter is, Lee is such a nice boy,’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, your girl’s pussy is very nice. And I want to fuck you too, Ma.’”
But he wasn’t happy.
“There was always something inside that was building up that was ready to start to lash out,” he said. “I just realized that I was meant for so much greater. I was in Podunkville.”
He graduated high school at 16 and went to France, to “do French chicks.” He found work in a tree nursery and fell in love with a hash-smoking older girl who kicked him out when she found out how old he was.
“I went to France thinking I wanted to find a French woman and just live the rest of my life speaking French, making French love,” he said. His mother visited and brought him home. Georgetown University rejected him. He went to the small, 400-student St. John’s College in Santa Fe, N.M., where he met his wife, Alison Bamert, whom he found to be “fucking hot and, like, cool.”
He graduated and found a job as an intern at an art gallery in San Francisco. “I fucking rocked the world,” he said. “I’m like a superstar! I got into the art business; I was a made man. They blessed me.”
But he didn’t think much of his contemporaries in San Francisco. “They were bums, thinking about being in college for another 10 years. I was like, ‘Dude, I want to be a millionaire in another 10 years.’ They were a bunch of sprout-eating whores.”
One night Mr. Munson was sitting at a bar in Las Vegas, playing craps. “I realized that L.A. is the worst art market for fucking pussies and sissies and people who had no taste,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m going to go to the big time, baby. Who’s the big pimp?’ And somebody at the bar said, ‘ You are!’ And I’m like, ‘ Yeah, I’m moving to New York , baby!’”
A week later he was in Manhattan.
‘I Want to Bleed on You’
Bellevue was filling up. Mr. Munson was talking about Microsoft.
“If you’re pissed off at Microsoft for having a monopoly and controlling the world, and Bill Gates is the Antichrist, stop whining,” he said. “Why don’t you buy the stock, make a million dollars, then go build a bomb and blow ‘em up? But you know, people aren’t man enough to do that. When I make money, I put it in Wall Street’s face, man. Put it in their fucking face.
“I consider myself a capitalist,” he said. “Purebred. And you know what, I think the world is sick . And communism is so concerned about the world and helping your fellow brother. Fuck you, my fellow brother sucks . Why do I want to help him ? He’s a scumbag.”
He was standing now, his hands outstretched.
“If I ripped my skin out, you know what would flow out?” he asked. “Bloody cash, baby. Money! Rip it out, it’s gold!”
Mr. Munson held his arms up higher, crucifixion-style.
“I want to be like Jesus,” he said. “You know why? ‘Cause I’m rich with blood and I want to bleed on you, because you’ll be wealthy if I bleed on you. Or maybe if you’re a bitch, I’ll fucking squirt you with a little bit of silver.”
The next day I called Mr. Munson’s wife, Alison Bamert. They were married three and a half years ago by an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas. They live with a cat in a large one-bedroom on Ninth Avenue and 30th Street. Sometimes Mr. Munson comes home drunk, and his wife yells at him and then gets him up for work at 6 a.m.
“Lee really rocks and he’s totally interesting, but you have to keep in mind that he shouldn’t always be taken, like, completely literally, ” she said. “You can look at what’s coming out of his mouth as just like an interesting, sociological, quirky thing. He’s very interested in playing mind games with people and seeing what reaction he gets. And if you don’t realize that, that can really turn people off.
“You know,” she said, “he calls me on the phone and he’ll be like, ‘I’ve just lost my mind.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, that’s a bit of a dramatic thing to say–you know, words really do have a lot of impact and you need to be ….’ Sometimes he’s not fully conscious of the weight of his blunt language.”
On a Friday after work, Mr. Munson met me at the Plaza Hotel. The host at the Oak Bar was sorry to say that Mr. Munson could not be photographed on the premises. We walked to a bar nearby called Whiskey Park. After a few photos, a striking blond hostess told us we had to stop.
“This place pretty much is the last place on Earth I would want to be photographed in,” Mr. Munson said, and then snarled, “Rock ‘n’ roll, baby .”
“Since you’re 12 years old, you’re a little too young to be in here anyway,” she said.
Mr. Munson spat on one of the windows.
Later, listening to my interviews with Mr. Munson, I realized he had picked up my tape recorder and spoken into it when I was in the bathroom.
What he said was: “You’re in the bathroom and I’ve taken control of your tape recorder. I don’t really think you’re a sissy . You’re a little girly . I got a little pissed when you were hitting on my wife, but it’s understandable. She’s hot and you’re not. But all I can say is, I’m enjoying this night. Pretty much. And if you fuck me over, I’ll kill you. I don’t have any problem with that. But I have to say that I hope that we become friends after this.”
The next day, the market rebounded slightly.