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An American Tragedy

There was a sense of the inevitable about what happened to Greer. That didn’t make it any easier to take. 

 

            The grief was palpable. It struck us all the moment we opened the newspaper that morning last week and saw the news about Greer. You could hardly miss it. It was on the front page of the business section, with several pictures of Greer himself. I saw it while I was on the road, enjoying my usual away-breakfast of bacon, bacon and bacon, with heavily buttered toast, and it spoiled my meal.

            “Oh no,” I said when I saw it. “This can’t be.”  I called Dworkin, who knew Greer way back when. “Did you see what happened to Greer?” 

            “I did,” said Dworkin. There was a catch in the back of his throat, and I knew he was as dismayed as I. “How could God let such a thing happen?” he said. It was the kind of question that always comes up when these events occur. I don’t believe anyone has found an acceptable answer. It’s just one of those things, that’s all. The way of the universe. The roll of the dice. Que sera sera. What can I tell you? It still hurts.

            Throughout the day, people who knew Greer called in to receive solace, to trade stories, to feel better. That doesn’t change the phenomenon itself, this connecting, this process of getting in touch. But in the sharing there is some kind of surcease. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves, I guess.

            The morning wore on, but the hard cluster of sadness in my chest did not disperse. I looked at the newspaper ten or twelve more times, but it still didn’t change, so I cast the offending article aside and stared out the window for a while. A grimy city rain was spitting at my window. I could feel it, cold and greasy, through the plate glass. Even though it was spring, the steam in the heat grate was hissing. Except for that, it was quiet. Life is funny, I thought. You work, and you think you’re smart, and you try to do good, and to do well, and then it all comes to this.

The phone rang. It was Hecht on the line. Hecht is a hell of a guy. Pound for pound, there’s nobody smarter than Hecht. That’s why we were all so surprised when his corporation decruited him a couple of months ago. He’s doing fine now. He’s got a lot of gigs. But he’s still hanging out there on the periphery, and that’s just another thing that doesn’t make any damn sense. The whole world is upside down if you ask me.

              "It's just... not... fair..." said Hecht. All the spunk had gone out of his voice, and maybe that was the worst thing of all, hearing all Hecht's hope and beans grow flat and rotten. "Maybe there's some mistake," he said, and my heart went out to him.“

“No, man,” I told him. “There’s no mistake. We’re gonna have to pick up the pieces and go on in spite of this.”

“I don’t know,” said Hecht, and I could tell he was gone to me now, the best part of him drifting off into the ether between our receivers. “How do we go on? I mean… Greer, man. Anybody but Greer. And at his age?”

“Hey, man,” I said. “Nobody said it was supposed to make any sense.”

He made a noise then that is impossible to describe, and hung up.

The rest of the day passed by, as they do. It stopped raining, but it didn’t get any nicer. I went to a bar after work. I drank a lot, but it didn’t do much for me. Some news leaves you sober no matter how hard you try to wash it away.

A couple of friends were there. All they wanted to do was talk about Greer. He was kind of a symbol to all of us. Now that comfort was gone.

“Son of a bitch,” said my friend Brewster. Nobody talked to him much after that. He was just making people feel worse. “It should have been me,” he added after a while. I felt like punching him, maybe because I was thinking the exact same thing.

I checked my voice mail on the way to the station. I had three messages. Two were from people I hadn’t seen in a few years, and of course they were about Greer. This kind of thing brings people together, makes them remember the relationships that really count. The third message was a wrong number, which was a very nice change. 

On the train home, I tried to sleep. I couldn’t. Everyone in the car had their paper open to the page about Greer. It was spooky. It seemed like a violation. I wanted to take every one of them by the lapels, scream into their sleepy faces, “This is Greer we’re talking about! Greer!”

I could barely sustain my composure, watching all those jolly commuters calmly staring at Greer’s picture, Greer with the idiotic, fat cigar in his mouth, smiling, laughing over the caption: “Six months ago Fred Greer was a consultant designing personalized dog collars for pampered pets. Now with the successful Initial Public Offering of his “Online Canine Shopping Mall,” Greer is worth close to $200 million.” There was more in the story. But that caption was enough.

I got off the train like a zombie and went to my car. I felt nothing. I saw nothing. On the way home, I listened to the radio. On the radio station was Greer, giving an interview with David Faber about his new success. “It just seemed like a good idea, so I went with it,” he was telling the interviewer. It was all I could do not to steer myself into a telephone pole.

Fred Greer was part of our little group since 2005 or so. The thing that distinguished Fred was that he couldn’t really do anything, and he made increasing amounts of money doing it. The first hint something was wrong was when Fred turned up, after his latest firing from a substantial role, as President of a small investment firm. It was a bullshit firm, but he was President of it. We all laughed when Fred was ejected from that firm, and saw it as proof that there was a God. Several months later, however, Fred appeared as President of a bigger enterprise, making a fortune. We were shocked but did not despair. We assumed that once again he would eventually be found out. And so he was. He spent a year in that role, mostly dealing with the redecoration of his office. After that, he went home. He became an entrepreneur. He disappeared. Until last week. 

Now the grief has passed, somewhat. But things will never be the same. Thanks to the Internet, Fred will never be viewed in the proper light, as an attractive, shallow nincompoop who couldn’t find his ass with both hands. He will always be one of the smart, savvy hustlers who made his mark in the new media.

 

And what does that make us?

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