Chapter 1 (If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read the introduction on the previous post to this one…..)
Florey and Company was the largest securities firm on the West Coast. They had scooped me up at a campus job fair at Portland State about two weeks before I graduated with my degree in business. My first day of work was a month later and it took me two more months to get my series 7 and series 63 securities license. And there I was. Right where my father had wanted me. I was a stockbroker.
Florey and Co was in downtown Portland right between the Willamette River and Chinatown. We occupied the entire 23rd floor of the Portland Landmark Building. I would catch the bus from my apartment in South East and then walk three blocks along the waterfront until I got to the Landmark. I did that for a year and a half. Almost the same routine daily. The doorman would greet me, Iâd say hello to the security guards, take the elevator to the 23rd floor, grab a cup of coffee, and get to work. Day in and day out. Nothing too exciting. Just a normal life.
My home life was slightly more stimulating, I mean, there was Jessica. Weâd met at the Laughing Planet CafÃ© on Belmont street. It was hippie place. She was a hippie. Of course, you must be asking, what was young Mr. Stockbroker doing thereâ¦Simple. I was reading Camus and having vegan biscuits and gravy. She was a philosophy major. Rather she would have been except that she met this guy and followed him to Mexico and lived in a hacienda and gave up her education, defaulted on her loans, and somehow became disillusioned and now was slinging vegan hash at the Laughing Planet CafÃ©. Need I say more. Of course I will, but that will have to wait.
My life changed because Jessica was reading the Dhammapadda one morning as I got ready for work. It was a collection of stories and fables attributed to the Buddha himself.
âHey Cliff,â? she said kissing me before I left our place. â Think about this for a second,â? she pointed to a page of the Dhammapada.
âJessica, I donât have time,â? I told her as I looked at my watch in exaggerated haste. There was slim chance I would miss the bus if I didnât leave now.
She laughed at me. âThatâs the thing with The Man,â? she teased. âThe Man always have the time, â She pointed at my watch. âBut he never have the time.â? She pointed at the Dhammapada.
I laughed too. I could catch the next bus. I didnât always have to be 15 minutes early. âOkay, what do you got.â? I put my arm around her as she snuggled close to me, kissing my neck.
âRead it,â? she said. I did. Here is what it said.
âEarnest among the thoughtless, awake among the sleepers, the wise man advances like a racer, leaving behind the hack.â?
âThatâs nice,â? I told her. âIâll give that some thought and see you later, okay?â?
âYeah, Iâd like that.â? She said as I rushed out to my job.
I hadnât lied to her. It was something we had done since we met. I was going to think about it on the bus, between clients, and on my walk from the bus stop to Foley and Co. Later weâd talk about it.
As I sat waiting under a bus stop in the October rain I tried to fit what she had said into my own life. Thoughtless certainly described the people on the broker floor. The earnest man. Was I the earnest man? What was I trying to achieve? Awake among the sleepers? That described me. Leave the house at 5am and leave work at 5 pm. Most people were sleeping when I awoke. I was hardly moving ahead like a racer though. I was the hack with my 12 hour days and never quite enough to pay off growing bills. I had money, but it wasnât mine. I made fortunes, but with other peopleâs money.
The bus arrived and I got in the soggy line of boarders. I found a seat near the front and squeezed in next to the window. A large black woman who looked as though she might be mildly retarded sat next to me. I squeezed further. The windows were opaque with the warmth of our collective breath. I looked around me for the earnest man. Or woman.
Nothing. Just cold people dragging themselves from sleep to continue their resultless toil. No one looked like they believed in what they were doing. Not even the bus driver. A stearn old man of sixty five. His cracker heritage evident in his constant admonitions to cram as far back in the bus as possible. âYaâll get all the way to the back so we can get more people on.â? It sounded like a recording. No emotion. No expectation that anyone would actually get any closer to these other specters of the early hours than they had to . The standers shuffled in rote reply, but no one actually changed position. Certainly, I was surrounded by the thoughtless.
I got off the bus on 2nd Avenue and the rain had fallen to a light mist. An umbrella would do me no good, so I never bothered taking it from my pocket. What exactly did it mean to be earnest? I figured it meant to be sincere in what you do. To believe in what you were doing. To have an important purpose and to keep to it. Philosophy was like a puzzle to amuse me through the day. It made my life bearable. It was like heroin to the junkie. I used philosophy as a drug to get me through my day. That hardly made me earnest.
I walked through the park and looked at the Willamette. Its brown water moved in swirls of current. It never looked like it went anywhere. Just chasing its own tail in a constant game of tag. I looked up as I came under the Burnside Bridge. As usual there were ten or twenty homeless men and women bundled up in blankets and old sleeping bags. I had never heard of anyone getting robbed there, but it was as good a place as any. Does law exist when it doesnât benefit you? These people were below the law. They could be punished but it would be an improvement of their situation. The laws of society only applied to them when it was convenient.
As I reached the middle of the bridge I saw a shape to the side of me rise up and drop its sleeping rags to the ground. Footsteps towards me and I turned my head. Ready to try to defend myself from this attack. But no attack came. Instead his stride paced mine and I found myself gazing into the bluest eyes I had ever seen. He wasnât threatening. The grin on his face was pure exhilaration. âWhat are you doing among the sleepers?â? he asked me. I almost stopped in shock at his words. They were so close to what I had just been thinking. It was uncanny, but hardly out of context for where we were. I quickened my step. His pace still matched me as we came out from under the bridge. He looked at me, waiting for an answer.
Amusing myself, I said âRacing to move ahead. ” His pace slowed. He dropped behind.
âHow very earnest of you,â? he laughed as he turned and strided back under the bridge.
I stopped and turned towards him. âWhat?â? I hoped he wouldnât go berserk, his skinny six foot frame looked like it held enough strength to toss my five foot seven inches to the ground.
âGo to work, Earnest Man,â? he chortled from under the bridge. âDonât be late just because of the damn Dhammapada. Youâll see me again.â?
I felt chills as I compulsively looked at my watch and realized he was right. The bus had been just slow enough to almost make me late for work. Unless I jumped to it right then. So I did. I told myself it was a coincidence. But of course, it wasnât.