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Welcome To The Holidays...

How A Homeless Friend Taught Me To Look At "The Season Of Giving" In A Sardonic And Selfish Way. Vagabond Prophets. Corporate Execs Eaten By White Sharks In The Waters Off Northern California Beaches.

A festive time of year for most, a time to ignore the simmering hatred that engulfs your normal day-to-day life and try to be a more decent human being for a few weeks out of the year. Ah, the lights and the smells of this Season Of Giving. Yes, this is the time to dig deep and if you have a little extra for some soul that happens to be a tad bit less fortunate than yourself---well, brother hand it on over. You will feel better about yourself and someone upstairs might take notice and forgive you on judgment day for being the shitheel that you really are deep down inside the core of your moldy being.

This is what I did when I answered the phone at four in the morning two weeks ago and discovered that a college buddy friend of mine had been kicked t the curb by his landlord. I dug down deep and offered him a place to stay for as long as he needed it.

I call him Swanson, by his last name, and it seems he has had a hell of a time recently. No work, evicted, and his ungrateful old lady took the dog and ran off with another man---who had been lurking in the shadows waiting for the right moment to pounce on a relationship that was visibly on the ropes.

Swanson needed a place to stay until he got on his feet and I felt obliged, nay, morally obligated (with all self-righteousness) to help a fellow human out in his time of need. A half hour later he showed up at my door: No car, one duffle bag, unshaven, bleary-eyed and drunk. I immediately offered the use of the laundry, a spare bedroom and the guest bath. “I just need to sit down and collect my thoughts”, he croaked. “I’ve been on my feet all day wandering around the Marina trying to decide what to do.”

I nodded in sympathetic agreement as he collapsed on my new suede sofa---exhaling the most pained, exhausted and pathetic breath of polluted air I had ever heard escape a man's body. “No worries, man. Mi Casa, Su Casa.", I said. "I mean it. Stay as long as you like.”

I walked to the fully stocked bar and remembering he was a scotch man (I never drink the rancid stuff myself so I had a full bottle) I poured him a nice tall stiff one and handed it over with a smile. By the time I had fixed myself a drink he was finished and I happily poured him another and set the whole damned bottle down in front of him. We both laughed. I remembered that I have a flexible schedule and could do whatever I wanted if need be, and dammit, this was one of those times where a friend was in need of company and support. I would take the week off and lend a helping hand. This would be fun and spiritually redeeming I said t myself. This is what the Holidays are supposed to be all about.

By the time the sun was rising over the Pacific Ocean we were both pleasantly drunk and ordering all night take out from four different restaurants at once. Expense be damned, it’s the Holidays! The stereo was cranked up with alternative rock from our college days in the 90's and we were reminiscing about our time at the Big U and what had happened to us romance and career-wise. This is when he laid the whole story of his eviction on me and what had happened with his girl and the dog. It was a sad story of misfortune and bad economy and bad luck and how things like this always happen at the worst possible time. Filling both our cocktail glasses up to the brim with ice, I gave my old friend a very serious stare.

Then I reached across the empty space between us and smacked him in the face as hard as I could. His drink dropped from his hand and spilled all over the suede couch.

“Never mind the drink, Swanson! The couch has a sealant on it for occasions of violence like this. I paid extra for it. Now tell me what you are really up to or so help me God I will beat the living holy hell out of you right here and now, you no good freeloading lying sack of…”

My dear friend threw up his hands and scooted far into the corner of the sofa to get away from me. “Okay! Okay! You crazy bastard! You didn’t need to hit me!”

“Of course I did. Otherwise we’d be here for a week while you blew smoke up my ass. I don’t like people wasting my time. Now talk or I’m activating your dental plan. Remember Aspen---Spring Break ’95?”

He knew I was serious. I had loosened his front grill at the Jerome Hotel---J Bar to be specific---in Aspen on a spring break ski trip our junior year. He had gotten out of line with a local girl and the only way for me to get us both out of a total lynch mob situation was to beat him and drag him out into the street and make a run for it.

“Okay! I told you to take it easy. I’m on vacation.”

I stared at him blankly for a moment and then coughed out a genuine laugh. He cowered away again when I leaned forward to replace his spilt drink, but soon relaxed when he realized that I was not going to brain him with the liquor bottle. He sipped his scotch and kicked his feet up and the face of the downtrodden and beaten man who was there just a few minutes ago suddenly and magically changed. I was now looking into the face of a confident and steady man of wit and fortune who now appeared to be ten years younger. He took his time with the wind-up, but when the story of his holiday scheme started to unfold I found myself suddenly admiring of his dastardly intelligence and downright jealous that I had not thought of this kind of thing first.

I had instinctively known that a guy as well educated, sneaky and brilliant as Swanson would never find himself drunk and out of work, evicted and abused---EVER. He was a Rhodes Scholar, well connected both personally and professionally and had never been caught or prosecuted by any law enforcement agency despite a lifetime of pushing his luck. Swanson was a dream to watch in action, so barring a severe illness, a dope addiction or plot by a foreign government, there was no way this guy was ever going to be down on his luck.

He tells me that this holiday vacation scheme, as he called it, came into focus when he was promoted senior vice-president of the tech firm he was working for in Northern California. His contract included a serious amount of paid sick leave and vacation time each year. It all added up to about four months, per annum, that he could get away with if he wanted to---all paid and still retaining his medical and dental and life insurance. This was one of those rare jobs that let’s people do what they want as log as they produce and he just happened to fall into the even rarer category of not really having to produce. So one day on his lunch break, when he was out surfing with his executive team, on a beach owned by his tech firm, right next to the campus-like headquarters in Northern California, my friend Swanson had a revelation. His fellow executives were all going on about using their newly activated stock options to buy real estate, vacation housing, vineyards, art, cars, teen fashion model brides---the normal turd-brained newly minted rich man vanity pokes at status. Right then and there a pod of dolphins swam by and he had a moment of nirvana. All he had ever really wanted to do with his life is screw off and surf and ski and wander around the world-living a life like a nomad. And now, with this new job developing nicely into a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he saw how he could do just that. What he would do is work eight months out of the year, all the while driving a rented car, living in a rented house, and not have any kind of financial or relationship commitments at all. Then he would cash in on his sick days and paid vacation, pack a duffle bag, return the car, check out of his house and call an old friend up. The usual sob story of bad luck and hard times would ensue and he would wander the beaches and resorts of the world, as he pleased, couch surfing and bumming free food and drinks and any hand outs he could muster and save a fortune in expenses.

He had been doing this for six years. He ran down what his monthly expenses would be if he played by the rules. His fellow associates at work were millionaires living way beyond their means and were truly caught up in the rat race. Swanson on the other hand was totally free, totally rich, liquid and calling himself “Santa’s Secret Agent” by checking in on people during the holidays to see if they were being naughty or nice. I never asked him if he intended to punish the naughty or reward the nice somehow, but I had a sneaky suspicion that his true friends would receive a bafflingly generous gift or similar miracle somewhere along the line. And I could only guess what would happen to those who treated him shabbily. Once again I found myself wanting to beat the shit out of this man. I was indeed jealous on several levels. Disgusted on many more, and all the while in the back of my head a panicked session of elementary mathematics was banging out what I could save from month to month if I chose to live my life the same way.

Mortgage and household bills (including homeowners insurance and taxes)…

Car note, gasoline, insurance and maintenance…

Wardrobe…

Upkeep on image in Los Angeles…

Food… 

Liquor…

Prostitutes and Ex-Girlfriends...

Pet food and vet bills...

Cable/satellite TV...

Computers and electronics...

Vanity...

The amount was staggering.

My mind closed like a steel trap. There was a huge fork in the road. I saw myself liquidating everything and meeting Swanson in Cashmere or Bora Bora. I could join him on the road, wandering the streets of the world for the next four months and then follow him up north to his regular life and observe him closely. Yes, there would be a book deal in this. No publisher in it’s right mind would turn down a project like this. True adventure. True grit. The American Dream re-established. Renaissance the right way.

Even though he could afford a suite at The Four Seasons down the street, Swanson stayed on my couch for two weeks until yesterday when he suddenly disappeared. The strange freak of a friend had eaten all my leftovers and bachelor food and drank me out of most of my booze and all of my beer. He wouldn’t sleep in any of the beds, preferring to sleep on the couch, staying up all night watching TV and running up my pay-per-view bill on adult movies.

In all it was worth it. After what turned out to be a two-thousand dollar lesson in hospitality and being reminded of my long-standing rule to never answer my telephone, I was struck with an empty apartment and a sense of loneliness. I was too entertained to feel used by this wandering weirdo and if a check came in the mail reimbursing me for all the expenses ran up in my name, I would most likely donate it to charity or just walk down Washington Blvd. handing out twenty-dollar bills to anyone who looked like they needed it.

This experience was suddenly turning out to be a true holiday gift---one that somehow got my brain working in new directions and that made me realize what a horrible and sad, self-serving life most of us lead. Even though Swanson was beating the odds at other peoples expense, he was a messenger and a prophet of sorts. Selfish in a monk-like way. Lying to his best friends, yet bringing an un-seeable truth the to those who had the sense to look for it.

I wondered if white sharks would eat him one day, just off the beach from that campus-like corporate headquarters in Northern California where he worked only eight months out of the year. Part of me hoped so. It would be the law of nature working fate out in a brutal way. Then again, deep inside my moldy being, where the cynicism dies when I dream at night, I knew Swanson would not be eaten by huge sharks---he would be carried off by dolphins. Pulled off is surfboard and carried off across the ocean to another Karmic state of being. That man would never die.

Happy Holidays you fools. This life is ours to live.

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