Prolgue A Babe in the Woods
May 1, 1987
You’re lower than pond scum,” said my new boss, leading me
through the boardroom of LF Rothschild for the first time.
“You got a problem with that, Jordan?”
“No,” I replied, “no problem.”
“Good,” snapped my boss, and he kept right on walking.
We were walking through a maze of brown mahogany desks and black
telephone wire on the twenty-third floor of a glass-andaluminum tower
that rose up forty-one stories above Manhattan’s fabled Fifth
Avenue. The boardroom was a vast space, perhaps fifty by seventy feet.
It was an oppressive space, loaded with desks, telephones, computer
monitors, and some very obnoxious yuppies, seventy of them in all. They
had their suit jackets off, and at this hour of morning–9:20
a.m.–they were leaning back in their seats, reading their Wall
Street Journals, and congratulating themselves on being young
Masters of the Universe.
Being a Master of the Universe; it seemed like a noble pursuit, and as I
walked past the Masters, in my cheap blue suit and clodhopper shoes, I
found myself wishing I were one of them. But my new boss was quick to
remind me that I wasn’t. “Your job”–he
looked at the plastic nametag on my cheap blue lapel–“Jordan
Belfort, is a connector, which means you’ll be dialing the
phone five hundred times a day, trying to get past secretaries.
You’re not trying to sell anything or recommend anything or create
anything. You’re just trying to get business owners on the
phone.” He paused for a brief instant, then spewed out more venom.
“And when you do get one on the phone, all you’ll say
is: ‘Hello, Mr. So and So, I have Scott holding for you,’
and then you pass the phone to me and start dialing again. Think you can
handle that, or is that too complicated for you?”
“No, I can handle it,” I said confidently, as a wave of
panic overtook me like a killer tsunami. The LF Rothschild training
program was six months long. They would be tough months, grueling
months, during which I would be at the very mercy of assholes like
Scott, the yuppie scumbag who seemed to have bubbled up from the fiery
depths of yuppie hell.
Sneaking peaks at him out of the corner of my eye, I came to the quick
conclusion that Scott looked like a goldfish. He was bald and pale, and
what little hair he did have left was a muddy orange. He was in his
early thirties, on the tall side, and he had a narrow skull and pink,
puffy lips. He wore a bow tie, which made him look ridiculous. Over his
bulging brown eyeballs he wore a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles, which
made him look fishy–in the goldfish sense of the word.
“Good,” said the scumbag goldfish. “Now, here are the
ground rules: There are no breaks, no personal calls, no sick days, no
coming in late, and no loafing off. You get thirty minutes for
lunch”–he paused for effect–“and you better be
back on time, because there are fifty people waiting to take your desk
if you fuck up.” He kept walking and talking as I followed one
step behind, mesmerized by the thousands of orange diode stock quotes
that came skidding across gray-colored computer monitors. At the front
of the room, a wall of plate glass looked out over midtown Manhattan. Up
ahead I could see the Empire State Building. It towered above
everything, seeming to rise up to the heavens and scrape the sky. It was
a sight to behold, a sight worthy of a young Master of the Universe.
And, right now, that goal seemed further and further away.
“To tell you the truth,” sputtered Scott, “I
don’t think you’re cut out for this job. You look like a
kid, and Wall Street’s no place for kids. It’s a place for
killers. A place for mercenaries. So in that sense you’re
lucky I’m not the one who does the hiring around here.” He
let out a few ironic chuckles. I bit my lip and said nothing.
The year was 1987, and yuppie assholes like Scott seemed to rule
the world. Wall Street was in the midst of a raging bull market,
and freshly minted millionaires were being spit out a dime a
dozen. Money was cheap, and a guy named Michael Milken had
invented something called “junk bonds,” which had
changed the way corporate America went about its business. It was
a time of unbridled greed, a time of wanton excess. It was the
era of the yuppie. As we neared his desk, my yuppie nemesis
turned to me and said, “I’ll say it again, Jordan:
You’re the lowest of the low. You’re not even a cold caller
yet; you’re a connector.” Disdain dripped off the
very word. “And ’til you pass your Series Seven, connecting
will be your entire universe. And that is why you are lower than
pond scum. You got a problem with that?”
“Absolutely not,” I replied. “It’s the perfect
job for me, because I am lower than pond scum.” I shrugged
Unlike Scott, I don’t look like a goldfish, which made me feel
proud as he stared at me, searching my face for irony. I’m on the
short side, though, and at the age of twenty-four I still had the soft
boyish features of an adolescent. It was the sort of face that made it
difficult for me to get into a bar without getting proofed. I had a full
head of light brown hair, smooth olive skin, and a pair of big blue
eyes. Not altogether bad-looking.
But, alas, I hadn’t been lying to Scott when I’d told him
that I felt lower than pond scum. In point of fact, I did. The problem
was that I had just run my first business venture into the ground, and
my self-esteem had been run into the ground with it. It had been an
ill-conceived venture into the meat and seafood industry, and by the
time it was over I had found myself on the ass end of twenty-six truck
leases–all of which I’d personally guaranteed, and all of
which were now in default. So the banks were after me, as was some
belligerent woman from American Express–a bearded,
three-hundred-pounder by the sound of her–who was threatening to
personally kick my ass if I didn’t pay up. I had considered
changing my phone number, but I was so far behind on my phone bill that
NYNEX was after me too.
We reached Scott’s desk and he offered me the seat next to his,
along with some kind words of encouragement. “Look at the bright
side,” he quipped. “If by some miracle you don’t get
fired for laziness, stupidness, insolence, or tardiness, then you migt
actually become a stockbroker one day.” He smirked at his own
humor. “And just so you know, last year I made over three hundred
thousand dollars, and the other guy you’ll be working for made
over a million.”
Over a million? I could only imagine what an asshole the other
guy was. With a sinking heart, I asked, “Who’s the other
guy?” “Why?” asked my yuppie tormentor.
“What’s it to you?”
Sweet Jesus! I thought. Only speak when spoken to, you nincompoop! It
was like being in the Marines. In fact, I was getting the distinct
impression that this bastard’s favorite movie was An
Officer and a Gentleman, and he was playing out a Lou Gossett
fantasy on me–pretending he was a drill sergeant in charge of a
substandard Marine. But I kept that thought to myself, and all I said
was, “Uh, nothing, I was just, uh, curious.”
“His name is Mark Hanna, and you’ll meet him soon
With that, he handed me a stack of three-by-five index cards, each of
them having the name and phone number of a wealthy business owner on it.
“Smile and dial,” he instructed, “and don’t pick
up your fucking head ’til twelve.” Then he sat down at his
own desk, picked up a copy of The Wall Street Journal, and put
his black crocodile dress shoes on the desktop and started reading.
I was about to pick up the phone when I felt a beefy hand on my
shoulder. I looked up, and with a single glance I knew it was Mark
Hanna. He reeked of success, like a true Master of the Universe. He was
a big guy–about six-one, two-twenty, and most of it muscle. He had
jet-black hair, dark intense eyes, thick fleshy features, and a fair
smattering of acne scars. He was handsome, in a downtown sort of way,
giving off the hip whiff of Greenwich Village. I felt the charisma
oozing off him.
“Jordan?” he said, in a remarkably soothing tone.
“Yeah, that’s me,” I replied, in the tone of the
doomed. “Pond scum first-class, at your service!”
He laughed warmly, and the shoulder pads of his $2,000 gray pin-striped
suit rose and fell with each chuckle. Then, in a voice louder than
necessary, he said, “Yeah, well, I see you got your first dose of
the village asshole!” He motioned his head toward Scott. I nodded
imperceptibly. He winked back. “No worry: I’m the senior
broker here; he’s just a worthless piker. So disregard everything
he said and anything he might ever say in the future.” Try
as I might, I couldn’t help but glance over at Scott, who was
now muttering the words: “Fuck you, Hanna!” Mark
didn’t take offense, though. He simply shrugged and stepped around
my desk, putting his great bulk between Scott and me, and he said,
“Don’t let him bother you. I hear you’re a first-class
salesman. In a year from now that moron will be kissing your ass.”
I smiled, feeling a mixture of pride and embarrassment. “Who told
you I was a great salesman?”
“Steven Schwartz, the guy who hired you. He said you pitched him
stock right in the job interview.” Mark chuckled at that.
“He was impressed; he told me to watch out for you.”
“Yeah, I was nervous he wasn’t gonna hire me. There were
twenty people lined up for interviews, so I figured I better do
something drastic–you know, make an impression.” I shrugged
my shoulders. “He told me I’d need to tone it down a bit,
though.” Mark smirked. “Yeah, well don’t tone it down
too much. High pressure’s a must in this business. People
don’t buy stock; it gets sold to them. Don’t ever forget
that.” He paused, letting his words sink in. “Anyway, Sir
Scumbag over there was right about one thing: Connecting does suck. I
did it for seven months, and I wanted to kill myself every day. So
I’ll let you in on a little secret”–and he lowered his
voice conspiratorially–“You only pretend to connect.
You loaf off at every opportunity.” He smiled and winked, then
raised his voice back to normal. “Don’t get me wrong; I want
you to pass me as many connects as possible, because I make money off
them. But I don’t want you to slit your wrists over it,
’cause I hate the sight of blood.” He winked again.
“So take lots of breaks. Go to the bathroom and jerk off if you
have to. That’s what I did, and it worked like a charm for me. You
like jerking off, I assume, right?”
I was a bit taken aback by the question, but as I would later learn, a
Wall Street boardroom was no place for symbolic pleasantries. Words like
shit and fuck and bastard and prick were as
common as yes and no and maybe and please. I
said, “Yeah, I, uh, love jerking off. I mean, what guy
He nodded, almost relieved. “Good, that’s real good. Jerking
off is key. And I also strongly recommend the use of drugs, especially
cocaine, because that’ll make you dial faster, which is good for
me.” He paused, as if searching for more words of wisdom, but
apparently came up short. “Well, that’s about it,” he
said. “That’s all the knowledge I can impart to you now.
You’ll do fine, rookie. One day you’ll even look back at
this and laugh; that much I can promise you.” He smiled once more
and then took a seat before his own phone.
A moment later a buzzer sounded, announcing that the market had just
opened. I looked at my Timex watch, purchased at JCPenney for fourteen
bucks last week. It was nine-thirty on the nose. It was May 4, 1987, my
first day on Wall Street. Just then, over the loudspeaker, came the
voice of LF Rothschild’s sales manager, Steven Schwartz.
“Okay, gentlemen. The futures look strong this morning, and
serious buying is coming in from Tokyo.” Steven was only
thirty-eight years old, but he’d made over $2 million last year.
(Another Master of the Universe.) “We’re looking at a
ten-point pop at the open,” he added, “so let’s hit
the phones and rock and roll!”
And just like that the room broke out into pandemonium. Feet came flying
off desktops; Wall Street Journals were filed away in garbage
cans; shirtsleeves were rolled up to the elbows; and one by one brokers
picked up their phones and started dialing. I picked up my own phone and
started dialing too.
Within minutes, everyone was pacing about furiously and gesticulating
wildly and shouting into their black telephones, which created a mighty
roar. It was the first time I’d heard the roar of a Wall Street
boardroom, which sounded like the roar of a mob. It was a sound
I’d never forget, a sound that would change my life forever. It
was the sound of young men engulfed by greed and ambition, pitching
their hearts and souls out to wealthy business owners across America.
“Miniscribe’s a fucking steal down here,” screamed a
chubbyfaced yuppie into his telephone. He was twenty-eight, and he had a
raging coke habit and a gross income of $600,000. “Your broker in
West Virginia? Christ! He might be good at picking coal-mining stocks,
but it’s the eighties now. The name of the game is
“I got fifty thousand July Fifties!” screamed a broker, two
“They’re out of the money!” yelled another.
“I’m not getting rich on one trade,” swore a broker to
“Are you kidding?” snapped Scott into his headset.
“After I split my commission with the firm and the government I
can’t put Puppy Chow in my dog’s bowl!”
Every so often a broker would slam his phone down in victory and then
fill out a buy ticket and walk over to a pneumatic tubing system that
had been affixed to a support column. He would stick the ticket in a
glass cylinder and watch it get sucked up into the ceiling. From there,
the ticket made its way to the trading desk on the other side of the
building, where it would be rerouted to the floor of the New York Stock
Exchange for execution. So the ceiling had been lowered to make room for
the tubing, and it seemed to bear down on my head.
By ten o’clock, Mark Hanna had made three trips to the support
column, and he was about to make another. He was so smooth on the phone
that it literally boggled my mind. It was as if he were apologizing to
his clients as he ripped their eyeballs out. “Sir, let me say
this,” Mark was saying to the chairman of a Fortune 500 company.
“I pride myself on finding the bottom of these issues. And my goal
is not only to guide you into these situations but to guide you out as
well.” His tone was so soft and mellow that it was almost
hypnotic. “I’d like to be an asset to you for the long term;
to be an asset to your business–and to your family.”
Two minutes later Mark was at the tubing system with a
quartermillion-dollar buy order for a stock called Microsoft. I’d
never heard of Microsoft before, but it sounded like a pretty decent
company. Anyway, Mark’s commission on the trade was $3,000. I had
seven dollars in my pocket.
By twelve o’clock I was dizzy, and I was starving. In fact, I was
dizzy and starving and sweating profusely. But, most of all, I was
hooked. The mighty roar was surging through my very innards and
resonating with every fiber of my being. I knew I could do this
job. I knew I could do it just like Mark Hanna did it, probably
even better. I knew I could be smooth as silk.
To my surprise, rather than taking the building’s elevator down to
the lobby and spending half my net worth on two frankfurters and a Coke,
I now found myself ascending to the penthouse with Mark Hanna standing
beside me. Our destination was a five-star restaurant called Top of the
Sixes, which was on the forty-first floor of the office building. It was
where the elite met to eat, a place where Masters of the Universe could
get blitzed on martinis and exchange war stories.
The moment we stepped into the restaurant, Luis, the maître
d’, bum-rushed Mark, shaking his hand violently and telling him
how wonderful it was to see him on such a glorious Monday afternoon.
Mark slipped him a fifty, which caused me to nearly swallow my own
tongue, and Luis ushered us to a corner table with a fabulous view of
Manhattan’s Upper West Side and the George Washington Bridge.
Mark smiled at Luis and said, “Give us two Absolut martinis, Luis,
straight up. And then bring us two more in”–he looked at his
thick gold Rolex watch–“exactly seven and a half minutes,
and then keep bringing them every five minutes until one of us passes
Luis nodded. “Of course, Mr. Hanna. That’s an excellent
strategy.” I smiled at Mark, and said, in a very apologetic tone,
“I’m sorry, but I, uh, don’t drink.” Then I
turned to Luis. “You could just bring me a Coke. That’ll be
Luis and Mark exchanged a look, as if I’d just committed a crime.
But all Mark said was, “It’s his first day on Wall Street;
give him time.”
Luis looked at me, compressed his lips, and nodded gravely.
“That’s perfectly understandable. Have no fear; soon enough
you’ll be an alcoholic.”
Mark nodded in agreement. “Well said, Luis, but bring him a
martini anyway, just in case he changes his mind. Worse comes to worst,
I’ll drink it myself.”
“Excellent, Mr. Hanna. Will you and your friend be eating today or
What the fuck was Luis talking about? I wondered. It was a rather
ridiculous question, considering it was lunchtime! But to my surprise,
Mark told Luis that he would not be eating today, that only I would, at
which point Luis handed me a menu and went to fetch our drinks. A moment
later I found out exactly why Mark wouldn’t be eating, when he
reached into his suit-jacket pocket, pulled out a coke vial, unscrewed
the top, and dipped in a tiny spoon. He scooped out a sparkling pile of
nature’s most powerful appetite suppressant–namely,
cocaine–and he took a giant snort up his right nostril. Then he
repeated the process and Hoovered one up his left. I was
astonished. Couldn’t believe it! Right here in the restaurant!
Among the Masters of the Universe! Out of the corner of my
eye I glanced around the restaurant to see if anyone had noticed.
Apparently no one had, and, in retrospect, I’m sure that
they wouldn’t have given a shit anyway. After all, they
were too busy getting whacked on vodka and scotch and gin and
bourbon and whatever dangerous pharmaceuticals they had procured
with their wildly inflated paychecks. “Here you
go,” said Mark, passing me the coke vial. “The true ticket
on Wall Street; this and hookers.” Hookers? That struck me
as odd. I mean, I’d never even been to one! Besides, I was in love
with a girl I was about to make my wife. Her name was Denise, and she
was gorgeous–as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.
The chances of me cheating on her were less than zero. And as far as the
coke was concerned, well, I’d done my share of partying in
college, but it had been a few years since I’d touched anything
other than pot. “No thanks,” I said, feeling slightly
embarrassed. “The stuff doesn’t really agree with me. It
makes me . . . uh . . . nuts. Like I can’t sleep or eat, and I . .
. uh . . . well, I start worrying about everything. It’s really
bad for me. Really evil.”
“No problem,” he said, taking another blast from the vial.
“But I promise you that cocaine can definitely help you get
through the day around here!” He shook his head and shrugged.
“It’s a fuckedup racket, being a stockbroker. I mean,
don’t get me wrong: The money’s great and everything, but
you’re not creating anything, you’re not building
anything. So after a while it gets kinda monotonous.” He
paused, as if searching for the right words. “The truth is
we’re nothing more than sleazoid salesmen. None of us has any idea
what stocks are going up! We’re all just throwing darts at a board
and, you know, churning and burning. Anyway, you’ll figure all
this out soon enough.”
We spent the next few minutes sharing our backgrounds. Mark had grown up
in Brooklyn, in the town of Bay Ridge, which was a pretty tough
neighborhood from what I knew of it. “Whatever you do,” he
quipped, “don’t go out with a girl from Bay Ridge.
They’re all fucking crazy!” Then he took another blast from
his coke vial and added, “The last one I went out with stabbed me
with a fuckingpencil while I was sleeping! Can you imagine?”
Just then a tuxedoed waiter came over and placed our drinks on the
table. Mark lifted his twenty-dollar martini and I lifted my
eight-dollar Coke. Mark said, “Here’s to the Dow Jones going
straight to five thousand!” We clinked glasses. “And
here’s to your career on Wall Street!” he added. “May
you make a bloody fortune in this racket and maintain just a small
portion of your soul in the process!” We both smiled and then
clinked glasses again.
In that very instant if someone told me that in just a few short years I
would end up owning the very restaurant I was now sitting in and that
Mark Hanna, along with half the other brokers at LF Rothschild would end
up working for me, I would have said they were crazy. And if someone
told me that I would be snorting lines of cocaine off the bar in this
very restaurant, while a dozen highclass hookers looked on in
admiration, I would say that they had lost their fucking mind.
But that would be only the beginning. You see, at that very moment there
were things happening away from me–things that had nothing to do
with me–starting with a little something called portfolio
insurance, which was a computer-driven stock-hedging strategy
that would ultimately put an end to this raging bull market and send the
Dow Jones crashing down 508 points in a single day. And, from there, the
chain of events that would ensue would be almost unimaginable. Wall
Street would close down business for a time, and the investment-banking
firm of LF Rothschild would be forced to shut its doors. And then the
insanity would take hold. What I offer you now is a reconstruction of
that insanity–a satirical reconstruction–of what would turn
out to be one of the wildest rides in Wall Street history. And I offer
it to you in a voice that was playing inside my head at that very time.
It’s an ironic voice, a glib voice, a self-serving voice, and, at
many times, a despicable voice. It’s a voice that allowed me to
rationalize anything that stood in my way of living a life of unbridled
hedonism. It’s a voice that helped me corrupt other
people–and manipulate them–and bring chaos and insanity to
an entire generation of young Americans.
I grew up in a middle-class family in Bayside, Queens, where words like
nigger and spick and wop and chink were
considered the dirtiest of words–words that were never to be
uttered under any circumstances. In my parents’ household,
prejudices of any sort were heavily discouraged; they were considered
the mental processes of inferior beings, of unenlightened beings. I have
always felt this way: as a child, as an adolescent, and even at the
height of the insanity. Yet dirty words like that would come to slip off
my tongue with remarkable ease, especially as the insanity took hold. Of
course, I would rationalize that out too–telling myself that this
was Wall Street and, on Wall Street, there’s no time for symbolic
pleasantries or societal niceties.
Why do I say these things to you? I say them because I want you to know
who I really am and, more importantly, who I’m not. And I say
these things because I have two children of my own, and I have a lot to
explain to them one day. I’ll have to explain how their lovable
dad, the very dad who now drives them to soccer games and shows up at
their parent—teacher conferences and stays home on Friday nights
and makes them Caesar salad from scratch, could have been such a
despicable person once.
But what I sincerely hope is that my life serves as a cautionary tale to
the rich and poor alike; to anyone who’s living with a spoon up
their nose and a bunch of pills dissolving in their stomach sac; or to
any person who’s considering taking a God-given gift and misusing
it; to anyone who decides to go to the dark side of the force and live a
life of unbridled hedonism. And to anyone who thinks there’s
anything glamorous about being known as a Wolf of Wall Street.
From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from "The Wolf of Wall Street" by Jordan Belfort. Copyright © 2008 by Jordan Belfort. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.