Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Bankrupt Billionaire

"Corporations are nothing but legalized pimping!" Joey's father was ranting again. Looking back, he'd wonder if in these modern times his father would be some random, unread internet blogger raving to the world, his voice lost among the drowning cacophony that is a dying planet. "Why do you think there's all this pretense? 'Wear your suit, wear your Sunday finest.' Because the greater the crime, the greater the need to cover up!"

His father was a victim. How much exactly he was self-victimized, Joey could never know. What he did know was the unstable, shoestring existence he had as a kid. In the suburban bubble of many, the world is disguised, its true face hidden behind commercials of self-promotion exposed only by the rotting edges of the lie as encroaching reality can no longer be hidden. Those outside the bubble have no delusions of a world rejecting a future.

This does not guarantee a facing of the truth, though.

Joey found it unusual - anachronistic even - to hear his father speak of peace. Peace was a foreign concept in their house. Who can know peace without security? If love truly were enough there might be a chance, Joey suspected. The only flickers of hope he had were when they bonded together as a family. He could feel a future in that - but not live one. But he took to his grave what his father proclaimed: "Communication is the lifeblood of peace."

Joey asked himself if he communicated and like most people was disappointed by the reply. He feared his father, his constant anger whose source he did not understand (because there was poor communication!), and the fact peril was never far away for a man who kept changing jobs, chasing schemes, and harboring dreams of finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Joey needed something to which he could hold on.

At first, it was painting. Inheriting his father's creative streak and relishing his mother's appreciation of his creations, Joey came alive in the world of his art. The more horrible the "real" world became, the more he wished to recede into his own. But as a teenager he hit a crossroads. What had once been an occasional distraction was turning into a serious hobby. That cost money (and time). When it was explained to him those were commodities not always to be had, Joey revealed his father's penchant for moralizing.

"Don't you see? This is the right thing for me to do. If I don't do this I'll die. What good is it if I die? How can you call that moral?"

His father was seized silent by the words, unable to speak, like a closed volcano. His mother explained best as she understood. "Morality requires funding."

Outraged, Joey fired back. "Then I'll get funding!"

That's when his journey began. In his bedroom he had an easel holding a blank canvas. His oils were too few to start. He didn't feel free to paint as he wished: he could run through all the paint before he was done! Art requires complete freedom. Otherwise, there was no point even beginning.

Forty years later, the canvass was still blank.

Joseph - as he was now called (pretense to cover up the crime!) - surveyed his kingdom from the top of the office tower he'd bought as his latest conquest. In fact, if one had to name his occupation over the past decade, conqueror would be most apt. The world that had so dearly screwed him as a child without mercy or soul must be made to pay and made to bend to the higher purpose of his art.

As a teenager he worked every job he could to gather up money, saving thousands. As an office building janitor, he listened to the investors on how to get ahead. Joey was the latest disciple to the cult of money, a rising star, and his fellow members eagerly pushed him along as his fire burned brightest of all. For him, it was more than greed at stake, it was his art, his life. But whenever his mother asked when he was going to start painting Joey would reply, "Not yet. It's not time. I don't feel free."

With 2.5 billion to his name, he still wasn't free. The same canvass, the same easel, stood in a prized corner of his office. Now, on the heels of his third divorce, the canvass screamed louder then ever. Slumped in his twelve thousand dollar chair, that's when Joey realized his money was not his own. It owned him. He never communicated that to any wife, fearing that would end his marriages.

The only money that could ever be his would be that which came from his art. What guarantee did he have he'd ever make money? He had enough money now to buy oils for a thousand years of paintings. Still not enough. The answer was never "yes" when asked if his life was his own. Devastated, it dawned on Joey his true marriage had been to his anger, keeping blindness alive. An entirety of life wasted.

Would he have to give up his worldly wealth to begin again? The idea of it lifted a huge weight off his shoulders. Joey saw he was a servant to his wealth, not its master. He was a peasant carrying boulders on his back in useless labors that served no one. All in the name of serving his art. The enormity of the betrayal prevented him from letting even one tear loose.

Billionaire Joseph Rockford sold everything. He donated the bulk to art scholarships to schools "in a world mad to reward math and science." He kept enough to provide a comfortable income, living in the artists' section of town. In these things he felt a great relief. Into his studio he moved the original canvass of his youth. But it was silent now.

Unable to bear the ache of swallowing emptiness, Joey took his thickest brush and painted in bold, black letters the only thing that came to him.


He slowly faded in the rising sadness, a stillborn artist. He did still feel at times that flicker of hope, same as he did as an innocent child, that somehow somewhere his story was heard and his injustice known in a communal place where all things are blessedly communicated.

Later, he sold the canvass for a hundred bucks to a friend who thought the sentiment amusing. Joey said it was the most money he'd ever had in his life.

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