by D. Thorsson
Years ago I met a man I knew had once been homeless. This is his story.
|“Damn, it's cold,” I said to no one in particular. One or two passers-by probably let their glance pass over me. I didn't notice, and I was long passed the point of caring.
A young man in a three-piece suit under his four hundred dollar coat sat on the sidewalk next to me, getting his shiny pants muddy and damp. “Would you be Henry Corwin?” he said.
“That would be my name. Who might you be?”
“I might be Oscar Meyer, but I assure you I'm not. My name is Mark Latham.”
I laughed in spite of myself. “I like you, but you're a bit overdressed for the neighborhood. We don't have much use for the Beautiful Ones.”
“Beautiful Ones? That's from a Sheryl Crow song, right?”
“It's called 'On the Outside,'" I said, "told from the point of view of a homeless woman.” Beautiful Ones are those people who have everything and ignore those unworthy of their gaze. Those so wonderful that others are expected to futilely attempt to emulate them.
The young man gestured at the street. He seemed embarrassed, but not for himself. “How did you get here, Mr Corwin? My office walls are adorned with your work.” I let him look through the sketch pad that was my constant companion.
I looked at the young man. “I was a Beautiful One, like yourself. I had money, a fantastic job as a commercial artist. I was good and I made sure everybody knew it. I had a huge house in the best neighborhood, several cars, none of which cost under eighty grand; a portfolio worth eight figures; a beautiful wife, and several ladies on the side.
“I had the world by the balls and I enjoyed making it wince.”
Of course my active lifestyle required a little assistance to keep me going. Then I needed a different kind of help to come down so I could work my clients during the day. I knew I was putting out more than I was bringing in, but it was just a matter of getting a few more clients.
Of course, the problem with bad habits is you forget you must support them.
“When the digital age swooped in, it was technological Darwin at his best." Memory filled my vision. Most species die out not from being inferior, but from not paying attention to new predators. Computers were the new predators. Those of us who weren't watching became obsolete overnight. “We were of the old school, nothing but pencils paper for us. Early computers were cumbersome and monochrome. How was a person supposed to produce a multimillion dollar ad campaign with that? Yet the newer generation could talk of nothing else.”
A man slowed slightly as he walked by. His eyes flashed recognition, but the transmission never reached his brain.
“He knew you,” my companion said.
“He thought so, but they have the uncanny ability to not see undesirables. Like the song says, we are on the outside.”
I did know him, though. I trained him. Hell, I trained his father. I smiled in spite of myself. The young punk had tried to warn me, even sitting me down with slides and statistics produced on his newest toy to show how out of touch I had become. I simply chuckled as I poured another three-finger bourbon.
“I was building an empire," I said. "I didn't own the company, but everybody knew I could have. What could possibly destroy me?”
My friend looked at his hands. “Expensive hobbies can breed expensive habits.”
“Exactly. And I had very expensive hobbies and was finding it more difficult than ever to support my habits. But I was an artiste in advertising. I believed I was as good as everybody said I was, and by God, the world owed me!
The day my wife discovered my other ladies, she called my boss. It seems one of the women was his daughter and my wife thought he might want to know. My soon-to-be ex-wife discovered that our two million dollar house was owned by the bank. She sold my cars to pay off my two mortgages. "In one week my empire crumbled. I could not even take my own clients. It seems they were corporate and I had no portfolio at all."
Mark adjusted his soiled cuff and said, “My mentor always tells me, 'You are never as good as you think you are, and the rest of the world doesn't give a shit.'”
I smiled wide. “And how is that crusty Eli Small?”
“He's in the top office now, getting ready to retire. He said I should meet you before I succeed him. I didn't know what he meant until now. You see, I have certain habits as well. And I'm good. Everybody says so.”
“So Eli wants you to see how I turned out?”
“That's his idea, but I have a job for you, Henry. Mr Small made sure I knew the science of art before he let me go near a graphics program. I found pencil and ink very useful. Things look differently on paper than they do on a screen.”
“What's the job?”
“Mr Corwin, I would like you to be an instructor. The young people coming in know only computers, and most of them are very good. But college teaches only that. I want you to set up 'old school' classes for every incumbent. What my mentor did for me I want to do for every newbie that comes through the door.”
As we stood Mark saw one of my peers sleeping in a doorway, coat-less and shivering. Without a word my friend removed his expensive coat and gently laid it over the sleeping man. He tucked two or three twenty dollar bills in the man's pocket.
“Let's get you cleaned up, Henry. I want to come back here and talk to a few others. Everybody has a history. I'm sure we'll find some we can use.”