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Unreality Check: On Wall Street, Grief-Stricken Rivals Unite

On their first day back, traders could do little more than keep on keeping on.

If you walked to work on Wall Street, it was cool and dry; the pressure was high and the skies were blue -- the kind of September morning that Frank Capra might have come up with.

South on Broadway you saw the smoke. At Canal Street you showed your driver's license and your work ID, a pay stub, a business card, and got let through. At Chambers Street the barricades pushed the crowd east and you might have remarked how dutifully everyone turned left, with none of the attitude and arguing you usually see from this city of jaywalkers. New York has been stripped of its cynicism, and it's strange that an attitude that once felt so damned sophisticated now seems like rank innocence.

Down Nassau Street there were emergency workers, firemen -- grim and haggard, no time yet to mourn -- coming the other way. At Liberty Street you looked west and through the smoke saw for the first time up close what is left. And the hell of it is that if you work on Wall Street, knowing one or two or several people who got trapped in the towers is an ordinary thing. We work just blocks from our friends' graves.

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"I've been homeless since Tuesday," said Prudential Securities' Bryan Piskarowski, who lives in neighboring Battery Park City. "My neighborhood looks like Beirut. Six stories of rubble stand where the thing that used to cast a shadow across my building was."

Piskarowski worked closely with Cantor Fitzgerald market analyst and

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contributor Bill Meehan at Pru. Meehan is among the Cantor employees in the Towers who are still missing.

"It's changed everything," Piskarowski said of the attack. "But everybody has a job to do, and we came in to do it. We're getting through it. We're getting by."

While Pru's offices in the financial district were open today, many other firms' remained closed. Gruntal's trading floor is at 1 Liberty Plaza, across the street from where the Twin Towers once stood. Senior managing director of equity trading Sam Ginzburg spent the weekend scrambling to put together a trading desk. Gruntal and several other firms are trading from the offices of SunGard Trading Systems in Jersey City, N.J. In close quarters, firms that are usually fierce competitors have been supporting one another.

"These guys have been phenomenal in their help," he said. "Everybody is helping each other the best they can. It's just the most phenomenal show of teamwork I've ever seen."

The camaraderie helped mute the effects of a nasty Monday in the stock market. The major indices were all down sharply on heavy volume. In any case, said Ginzburg, his goal as a trader today was merely to mute losses and struggle to end the day flat. Devising ways to profit from the attack's effect on the market is out of the question.

"You don't even want to make money," he said. "You just feel guilty doing it."