Floor Exercises

PLAY MONEY: MY BRIEF BUT BRILLIANT CAREER ON WALL STREET By Laura Pedersen with F. Peter Model Crown Publishers -- 253pp -- $20

When Laura Pedersen won a seat on the American Stock Exchange in January, 1986--at the tender and record-setting age of 20--a colleague offered some encouraging words. In Play Money, her fast-paced, amusing trading-floor memoir, she recalls him saying: "You've got a great future in options. You can scream loud, jump high, think fast, and count without using your fingers."

And sure enough, in the four-odd--very odd--years during which she traded options, Pedersen screamed, jumped, slugged, spat, and cursed her way to $5.3 million in profits for her employer, Spear Leeds Kellogg/Investors Co. At one point, her annual income topped $800,000. But by the time she called it quits, in October, 1989, she was left with a sushi-raw throat, impaired hearing, strained vision--and a feeling of disillusionment. After the crash of October, 1987--when she lost $1.3 million for her firm--the thrill was gone. "As did millions of other amateur players, I'd concluded that the sport had gone out of the game," writes Pedersen.

In fact, Pedersen was a consummate pro--a market-maker in index options, which are bets on the direction of the overall market. They are a favorite of portfolio managers, who use them to hedge against market swings. Serious stuff. Pederson, however, aims not for the cerebellum but the funny bone, emphasizing the wacky pranks and peccadillos of her former colleagues.

My favorite is the anecdote--apocryphal, I hope--about Gary, the trader who just had to get to work one morning when his car became stuck on an icy street. In his trunk was the urn "conveniently" housing his grandmother's ashes. Pedersen relates: "Slightly wincing while scattering them under the tires, he reminded himself aloud: 'She always said for me to do everything I possibly could to get ahead in the business world because that's where the money is.' "