An Executive and a Homeless Man | By: Peter Wellington | | Category: Short Story - Surreal Bookmark and Share

An Executive and a Homeless Man

Andrew Porter left his office building and walked quickly to his car; as he ran, he heard a voice calling after him. "Sir, please! Sir, my friend..."
Andrew turned and there sat the two homeless men who had sat in the same place outside his building, begging, for years. One was small and thin
and always begged for change. The other was a quiet, tall, thin man with a bald head and a beard. He always wore a dirty black woolen cap and a dirty
sweatshirt over equally dirty overalls. On his feet were old sneakers with large holes in the front.

It was a cold night. The quiet bum was lying on his side, and his friend was asking for help. "It's cold, sir!" he said. Andrew turned and
walked away.

The next day, Andrew noticed the quiet bum wasn't there anymore.

One month later:

"Shine, sir? A well-dressed gentleman such as yourself should have
shoes that are polished like mirrors!" said the old shoeshine man, as
he slathered Andrew Porter's expensive shoes with polish and rubbed
them hard.

"Is sir an executive?" said the old man, grinning.

"Yes" snapped Andrew. Andrew was not in the mood for discussion. He
was a corporate executive who did not have time for talks with
shoeshine men. He was the epitome of success, from his Ivy League
degree to his impeccable grooming and bearing, from his BMW to his

The homeless man finished, while Andrew held a newspaper in front of
him. "Nice job", he said in a condescending tone, looking with
approval at the shoes that shone in the light of the Spring
day. "After all the first thing pople look at are your shoes!"

"Enjoy wearin' em while you got em" said the man with a smirk. "One
day you might be walkin' around barefoot. Even a suit and tie guy
like you!"

Andrew looked at him with contempt. "There's no chance of that

"You never know what's comin', mister hotshot!" sneered the old man,
and let out a loud laugh.

Andrew felt strangely cold and merely stared at the strange man.

Shaking off his feeling, he then went to his barber shop. Every two
weeks he spent $100 to have his hair cut; he felt it was worth it to
maintain his image. At 34, Andrew's thick dark hair was prematurely
grey at the temples, only adding to his dignity and look of
sophisticated assurance. When he arrived, however, Bob the usual
barber wasn't there. Instead, an old man came up to him..."YOU!" said

The barber looked just like the shoeshine man, couldn't be:
that was ten miles away. He just grinned and said: "Will sir please
sit down?" He pulled the chair back suddenly, and Andrew’s head went down while his legs rose high in the air on the metal step. The old man’s face was level with the polished shoes and he tapped them with his finger, and grinned. "Let go of my shoes!" cried Andrew, struggling in the tilted chair. "Sorry, SIR!!"Then he started to cut Andrew's hair. When he was done, he said: "Sir, if you would like a better view, look in THIS mirror."

Andrew stood up and looked into a small mirror behind the chair that
he had never noticed before. He felt cold and sick inside. The
reflection was his face, certainly, but it was utterly transformed:
it wore a beard, and a dirty, tangled head of hair over overalls and
a dirty t-shirt. The old man's mocking laughter filled the shop.

"WHAT!" cried Andrew, then he looked at the larger mirror and saw his
suit, tie, starched shirt, and well-groomed hair. When he stood up
the old man had disappeared; he left the money on the counter and
found his BMW...

"This will be easy" he thought, arriving for his mental health exam,
a requirement for his prestigious new job as VP of finance. Tall,
dignified, distinguished, he straightened the jacket of his custom
tailored $2,000 navy blue pinstriped suit and his silk tie and
starched white dress shirt, chcked his cufflinks to make sure they
fell below his suit cuffs and ran his manicured hand over his neatly
combed hair.

He glanced at his black captoe shoes, polished like mirrors by the
old man, and leaned over to flick a speck off them; he also pulled up
his black dress socks and checked to see if his cuffs broke evenly
over his shoes.

As he found the psychiatrist’s office, he assumed the air of relaxed
assurance and confidence that some people found impressive, and
others intimidating. The receptionist told him to enter “the last
room on the right”.

Andrew entered the room at the end of the hall, room 142, and
stopped. Instead of the professionally dressed doctor he expected, he
saw a small, wizened old man, dressed in a pair of overalls. His
filthy gray hair fell in tangled strands; he sat in the middle of a
large plastic chair. There was nothing else in the office.

“Oh, excuse me” said Andrew politely, and turned to leave.

“Andrew Porter?” said the strange old man, staring at the executive
with large grey eyes that seemed to stare right through him. “You are
here for your mental health?”

Andrew nodded, startled. He had assumed that this old man was a
janitor. “Yes...I...” and he looked around for a chair. “You don’t
look like a…in fact, you look like the shoeshine man and the barber,

“No, I don’t” snapped the old man. “And you can sit on the floor.”

“On the floor, suit…perhaps another time...”

the doctor. Andrew obediently sat down on the carpet, awkwardly
crossing his legs.

"You might have to sit like that in the future if you have a job
where you have to sit on the ground..." said the doctor. "Here...hold
this plastic cup".

"What?!" said Andrew. "I'm a corporate executive!" But he took the

"Are you comfortable? Have you ever thought of having a job where you
sit like that all day?"

"Of course not" he said out loud.

“So who are you? Are you your suit?” said the old man at last. “You
seem to be very concerned about it? Do you have any idea who you are?”

Andrew said nothing at first; then he spoke quietly and with
dignity. “I..I don’t understand...I am here for my job. I’m a vice
president of finance, and this suit is very expensive. Naturally I

“You may go” said the doctor.

“What?” Andrew felt stunned, disturbed, troubled. He walked to the
door, before he realized what he was doing. “Wait!!What about the
exam?” But as he turned to enter the room again, he realized the door
was locked.

The receptionist told him the doctor was waiting. Andrew stared at
her and said “ 142" She merely looked at him, puzzled. “I’m
sorry, sir, Room 142 is the storage room!”

“But I tell you, I was just in old man .”

The receptionist unlocked the room. The tiny closet was filled with
mops and brooms..nothing else. Andrew, stunned. quickly left. “But
your appointment, sir!”.

Andrew then passed a janitor mopping the floor; his mop hit the top
of one of his polished shoes. “Hey!” cried Andrew. “These shoes are
$500! I just had them polished!" The janitor smirked.

“You!” whispered Andrew. The old man who claimed to be the doctor
stared at him; now he wore an old janitor’s uniform. “What kind of
game are you playing? I’ll tell your supervisor!”

The janitor just grinned: “Messin’ up your fancy shoes? Why worry?
Maybe this executive life isn’t for you after all! Ever think of
goin' barefoot?” and the old man burst into laughter. He reached
over, pulled up the cuff of Andrew's suit with his filthy hand and
grabbed at Andrew's sock. "You wanna sell those? I could get you a
good price for 'em!" He roared with laughter.

"HOW DARE YOU TOUCH MY CLOTHES!" shouted Andrew, pulling his leg away.

The janitor narrowed his eyes and sneered. "If you worked fer me, I'd
teach you some manners!"

Andrew merely raised his eyebrows. "Do I look like someone who would
work for a janitor?"

The old man looked him up and down, and said quietly: "Not yet...not

Andrew felt a sick feeling and walked quickly to find two members of
security. He described the janitor, but they said: “There’s no one
like that here”

“But…”said Andrew; he stared for a moment, shrugged and walked out of
the hospital, towards his BMW and started back to the office.

But the old man's words troubled him. They seemed to enter into him,
probing deeper, revealing questions and doubts he had never
considered. His veneer of arrogant confidence and sophistication
started to shake and crack like a plaster coating. He felt beads of
sweat form on his forehead. He stopped at a gas station and was
thinking about the words when the attendant said: “Why are you
wearing THAT? Don't you understand you don't need it anymore?”

It was the same man. He was pointing at Andrew's silk tie. He stared
at him in stunned silence. The man said: “And what about THESE?" he
snapped, grabbing hold of Andrew's braces inside his suit jacket and
pulling at them. "There’s a life waiting for you where you will never
again wear braces or a tie or carry a briefcase or drive a BMW or
worry about stocks or bonds or your Ivy League degree. It’s waiting
for you. It’s just around the corner.”

"How DARE you put your dirty hands on my clothes!" yelled
Andrew,losing control as he felt revulsion at the idea of this
disgusting old man grabbing his suspenders. But the old man let go
and smirked. "Oh, excuse me, SIR!"

Andrew drove off, shaking and trembling. He picked up his cell phone
and called his office, but when Jane, his secretary, answered, she
said: “I’m sorry, I don’t know any Andrew Porter…” Andrew felt the
shaking increase. “Please” he whispered. “Don’t do this, Jane…” but
he heard a click and the phone went dead.

“I’ll check my stocks” he thought. He always enjoyed this pastime. He
entered his password, but there was no response. He called the
company: “I’m sorry, sir, there is no Andrew Porter on our list of

Then he called the condo board. “No, apartment #4 is NOT owned by
Andrew Porter” Click.

Then he called Princeton. "No, we have no listing of an Andrew

Then Andrew called the BMW dealership. They, too, told him there was
no record of a BMW bought by an Andrew Porter. He pulled up beside
the city park.

Andrew stepped out of the car and walked in a state of shock into the
park. He sat down on a bench and pulled out his wallet. His driver’s
license, credit cards and employee I.D. had vanished. He looked up
and watched the BMW for 20 minutes; in five minutes it started to
change shape. Before his eyes it started to shrink. The defined shape
of both ends began to blur and the tires crumbled into nothing. Then
the windows and the top of the car seemed to blend together and in a
moment, his BMW had been replaced by a dirty shopping cart piled high
with what looked like dirty old clothes and paper bags. Andrew looked
at it with unbelieving eyes. Then he turned away...

He began to walk through the park. His life was crumbling around him.
Anyone who passed him would have admired the expensive, tailored suit
and the shoes that sparkled and glistened like black diamonds, and
they would have envied the dignity and bearing of this handsome,
impeccably dressed gentleman. But Andrew Porter felt his existence
disappearing. He came out of the park near his office building, or what had been his office building…

“Spare change?” Andrew turned and looked at a ragged figure sitting
on a box. "The first thing people notice are your shoes!" Andrew
turned and gasped. It was him.

“So you have come at last! Welcome! Welcome to your new CAREER!” said
the homeless bum.

“What?” said Andrew in a stunned tone. “You have been doing this to me…you!!! Now I recognize you. You’re the bum who…”

“The bum who sat here for years. The one who has been talking to you all day. The one you never gave anything to…yes, that’s me…all day I’ve been helping you get ready…”

“But how…what…” said Andrew, feeling dizzy and stunned.

“Because, my friend, you are now one of us…a bum! A beggar! A panhandler!!” said the bum happily.

Andrew thought back over the day. There was nothing left of his life. He WAS a bum. He had nothing. “But WHY?!” cried Andrew. “Why have you done this to me?”

The bum stared at him. “Do you remember my friend Bud who used to sit here with me? He never asked for anything. Then that night he was so cold…you didn’t help. He didn’t make it…I decided you would take his place. You would lose your identity and take his.”

“Take his place” gasped Andrew. “You mean become him? But…but…”

“Now it’s time to finish up the job…”

"But why? I ain't a homeless bum. Why did I say ain't?" he whispered,
and already his voice was changing, from the tones of a well-educated
professional gentleman to a street bum. All the years of prestige and
success and education were beginning to fall off him, and his new identity was
taking root.

" Ya see, it’s happenin’ already! Just think, this morning, I was polishin' those fancy
shoes! And you were so high and mighty!" The homeless man just shook
his head. “Now it’s time to dress the part.” He pulled out a bag and out of it produced…Bud’s overalls, sweatshirt, woolen cap and old sneakers.

“MY…my clothes!” gasped Andrew. “But what..what do you want me to do?”

“Well, you cin start by takin’ off those fancy shoes and socks” grinned the bum.

Andrew felt cold and sick inside. Yet something else was happening. A new voice was taking over inside his head. It was a voice not his own…it was as if someone else had entering slowly all day, and now…the new identity would feel much more comfortable dressed like a homeless bum than a corporate executive.

Andrew leaned over and slowly untied his polished black shoes with his manicured hands; then he slid his feet out of them. For a moment he looked at the outline of his toes through the thin business socks. Then he reached under his tailored cuffs and peeled the socks off; he held them up and the homeless man looked at the Armani logo on them, and smirked. The homeless man took them: "The fancy socks that go with the fancy shoes!" he said with a grin, "You won't need these anymore!" Andrew Porter, corporate executive and financier, stood barefoot in his tailored business suit while the bum stuffed the socks in the gleaming shoes and held them up like trophies. Then Andrew took the pocket
handkerchief out of his suit pocket and took off his Rolex; he unfastened his cufflinks and tiepin and handed them to the bum who put them into a garbage bag. Slowly he dismantled his corporate image, taking it apart piece by piece.

“Now take off the fancy necktie. Remember, you’re Bud now” and the man who had been Andrew Porter took off his silk tie and handed it to the bum. Then…the suit. He took off the business suit and handed both jacket and trousers to the bum, along with the starched white shirt and suspenders. He did all this in a trance, as the new identity took over, pushing out Andrew Porter and replacing him with a vagrant. The bum looked at him triumphantly, like a mangy cat who has caught a very sleek, dapper and well-dressed mouse and has brought him down to his own level. Andrew (or Bud) now pulled on the overalls and the sweatshirt and pushed his feet into the old sneakers.

Then he pulled out an electric razor and shaved off Andrew’s expensive haircut. Bud, after all, was bald.

"Now look at you! Every day you would come clickin' along in yer
shiny shoes and those sharp lookin' suits, lookin' like you owned the
world; I figured a guy like you who was so successful would be the
right one to take over fer me. This is the best begging spot in the
whole city!!"

Bud simply stared.

"Of course I couldn't have you sittin' here in yer fancy suit and
shiny shoes, askin' fer money! So I got to wondering what it would be
like for you to go from the top of the ladder to the bottom.
Everything had to be taken away from you. You had to lose it all. And
now you have!"

Andrew, now Bud, felt a flood of awareness. Yes, he was the one. He
sat down next to the homeless man, picked up the plastic cup - just
like the cup offered to him in the "office" - but this time he wasn't
wearing an expensive suit and polished shoes. The old man was right;
he was more comfortable sitting like this without shoes.

The homeless man merely shouted with laughter. "Gone! They're all
gone! Everything!"

Then suddenly the old Andrew, struggling desperately inside the mind of Bud,
burst into life again. Andrew repeated "Gone!" and suddenly he jumped up. The shock and the
amazement and the feeling of disbelief began to give way to an
overwhelming rage and a desperate desire to get back the life that
was almost gone. He started to yell and walk up and down, shouting at
the top of his lungs at the old man: "NO...NO...NO...NO!!! I am
Andrew Porter, corporate EXECUTIVE!!! I am a Princeton graduate!!! I
wear expensive suits and polished shoes and I drive a BMW!!! I live
in a condo!!!" For several minutes, he yelled, desperately trying to
hold on to his old life that was already gone.

Then he tried pleading, his voice now losing all of its upper class
tones and deteriorating into the rant of a bum. "PLEASE!" he begged
the homeless man. "Don't turn me into a bum! You ain't got no right
to turn me into this! You have no right to strip me of everything and
bring me to your level!!" and he grabbed the filthy overalls: "LOOK
AT THIS! What ya done with my suit! My tie!! I am standin' here in my
bare feet! Why? Gimme my job and my clothes n' my car n' my money n'
my home n' my LIFE n' my identity back!! NOW!!!"

Finally, he stopped, exhausted and sat on the ground.

"It's too late" said the homeless man softly. "Listen to yourself
talk, Bud! Andrew Porter wouldn't say 'ain't', would he? Besides,
that nice suit wouldn't fit you now, and you wouldn't put those feet
in the shoes you used to wear now. They wouldn't fit either! You
ain't no executive anymore. So get used to it!"

That was the last outburst from Andrew Porter. The former executive struggled against the panhandler, but the panhandler took over, taking up more and more territory, destroying memories of success in business and at school until he came to believe he really was Bud: a man who had grown up in the slums, had left school at 12, had spent time in prison, and had lived as an alcoholic bum.

For a few more weeks, Bud would wake up from a dream where he would see himself dressed in a business suit walking confidently down the street in glistening black shoes, or a thought would come to him in which he saw himself studying at Princeton or driving a BMW or attending prep school. Then he would come to his senses. A business suit! Expensive shoes! Never! For he was truly Bud

The homeless man slapped him on the back: "Hey! You got a shoppin'
cart filled with clothes fer yer new life! You left it behind. I mean
the one that replaced that nice car you used to drive. You cin git it
later. But fer's time to get to work, Bud!"

A man walked past them in a grey Armani suit, silk tie, shining
tasseled Gucci loafers, dressed the way Andrew (now Bud) had been
just that morning, but already Bud looked at him as if was from a
different world.

The man looked with disdain at the two bums. "Go on" whispered the
homeless man. "You're one of us, now!"

“Spare Change, sir?” said Bud.

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