the lost man chronicles
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Let me tell you brother…

Yesterday, Vir picked me up at 6 AM sharp.

We did not speak a word to one another over the next half hour as I read and he drove.

Subsequently, I arrived a lot earlier than I had intended to, and so my work day began bright and early.

It would be a long day, considering I would travel back to headquarters at two in the afternoon and not leave again until seven that evening.

On the trip back to the main office, Vir asked me a question, and by answering him I tripped open the flood gates, for he spoke incessantly thereafter the entire way back into the City.

For the most part I did not mind, because our quasi-conversation was slightly amusing and somewhat enlightening.

He intoned, “I tell you brother,” a phrase he liked to add with his cheerfully charming Guyanese accent whenever he lamented the hard-knock life of living and working in the City, “I’m ready to move out.”

He had immigrated to New York from British South America back in 1991, a year prior to my own migration across from the other side of the world—Northern California. And so, I empathized with a lot of what he anxious to impart.

“You know the stress, man, it gets to you.” Throughout the ride, he repeatedly conveyed many such platitudes, which in sum turned out to be a Cliff Notes version of his life story here in the great cosmos.

The tale included tidbits about putting his kids through college and the parental knowledge one gains along the way—“As they grow bigger, the problems, they likewise grow. When they’re little, you know, their problems are quite small and quaint comparatively speaking. Because, brother, let me tell you, when they grow up, be prepared...”

He also mentioned that the youngest of the two was now poised to go off to Penn U. and since he himself was on the verge of 50, he was ready to get the hell out of Richmond Hill, Queens.

“Yeah, man. The Indians are taking over. When we first moved there thirteen years ago the Italians were moving out, and houses went for a hundred thousand. Then the West Indians invaded, driving prices up with the influx. Now, forget it. You can’t find anything for less than four hundred (grand) man. I tell you brother, everything is expensive now. I buy everything in bulk at Costco.”

The most extensive part of his soliloquy focused on his work. “When I first came here, I worked 364 days a year, 364 days year,” he relayed twice, just in case I did not hear him. “14, 18 and even 24 hour shifts. I worked hard man, and in a year and a half I bought my first house. Now, I just built a second one down in Florida.”

“After 9.11 though, things slowed down a little. Companies cut back on the car service, and so now I primarily work for the top executives, and a full day for me is 12, 14, 16 hours.”

He liked to drop names and rattled off a litany of all the high-powered executives he had ever worked for. “Yeah man, I worked for all of them. But now, I do a lot of foreign clientele from the hotels too. That’s all I do on the weekends—Manhattan hotels. Mostly British and lots of folks from California. Sometimes, some weekends 9 out of 10 of my customers are from California! Them companies out here like to do business in the City man.”

Toward the end of our trip we, or rather he, got to talking about investment bankers and happiness, or their lack thereof. And he had some harsh words to say about the more ruthless of them. “Let me tell you brother, back in the nine-dees, Goldman Sachs harbored the worst of the lot. Salem’s lot let me tell ya. These guys treated people like animals. They had no respect for anyone but themselves. Brother, oh the tales I could tell you!”

Intrigued, I encouraged him to regale a few.

“Well, brother, these guys would come in here and throw the service slip at you. They could not be bothered with such trivialities. See that bar code back there on the window? That’s for Goldman Sachs man, they just swipe their card on that now, so that they don’t have to be bothered.”

“I quickly learned that if Goldman Sachs came up on the cue, you would have to keep the car idling once you got there, and once they opened the door you put it straight into gear. It was not until you were moving did you dare ask their destination. Because if you weren’t in motion man…oh, forget it brother…”

“Once, one of them got in and said, ‘Driver you’ve got twenty minutes to get me to the airport. Now do your job and start driving.’ Another one yelled at me, demanding I run a red light, after which I had to tell him, ‘Man, I’m sorry but I usually don’t drive that way.’ He just sneered and shouted back at me, “Driver shut the fuck up and do exactly as you’re told. We don’t pay you to talk back. You’re a nobody, so don’t speak unless I ask you to.”

I was only somewhat astonished to hear this, for although the brazen arrogance certainly shocked the system a bit, I was well aware that finance in New York City was not a sport for the timid. Subsequently, I was compelled to rhetorically exclaim, “Is it possible for any of these bastards to truly be happy?”

This, of course, only spurred him on, and my quasi-question swung the door to a warehouse of anecdotes wide open.

“Oh let me tell you man. I hear a lot of their conversations and none of them are happy. They’re almost always on edge—cursin’ their bosses, cursin’ the car alarms. Once this guy gets in and starts yelling that he’s gong to quit and proceeds to tell me about how his boss and how she had argued with him over five dollars. ‘Five dollars!,’ he said ‘Five dollars. Can you believe that? And this is the gal whose kids have begun to call their babysitter ‘Mommy.‘”

Apparently, he said that wasn’t so unusual, as he had heard that same lamentation a few other times. Since the father’s never home, he’s either traveling, in the office or entertaining clients and the wife is out socialite-ing—playing tennis, shopping and slumming it at her round of charitable functions, the children are left to their own devices and must depend on their true caregivers for emotional support and guidance.

“Man, I heard this one guy get in one time and he called all his friends, all of them, man. And he said ‘I’m in trouble, I’m in trouble.’ And then he went on to tell each one of them the story of how he had acquiesced to marry his college girlfriend as long as she agreed not have children for ten years, so that he could ‘make his portfolio’—that is put in the long hours, work hard and build up his clientele list. Apparently, at the end of the agreed term he had asked for an extension of five more years, but then they went to a class reunion of some sort, and he said that they walked in and there, all around them were their colleagues—and all of them had children, lots of children. So his wife just turns to him and says, ‘I want a divorce,’ and walks out. And she was quite serious, because she locked him out of the house and now he was looking for an apartment in the City.”

“One time a couple of guys get in and the older one says to the guy who was apparently the apprentice, “Do you have a girlfriend? Do you have a girlfriend” And he keeps pressing him until he just says, “Well you better not man. Because you’re gong to marry your job and nothing else should come in between you two. You understand?”

“I hear these guys talk about their $90,000 bonuses, and I take them up to their lavish houses in Westchester and in Connecticut, but they have no life, man. No life, and they are definitely not happy.”

A block away from my building I vied to conclude the ride with some sincere flattery, “You should write a book my man—about how not to live. And quite honestly, I’d be one of the first to buy it.”

He smiled at me through the rearview mirror and chimed “Oh, brother, I have some stories…”

Luckily, I had one foot out the door before he started in on them again, and I bid him a sincere farewell and bonne chance. “Good luck, maybe we’ll hook up some time again in the future.”

And then I shut the door, and he drove off.

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