An American Tragedy If a thing like this had to happen, why did it have to happen to my old friend Greer? And why not to, say, me?
By Stanley Bing

(FORTUNE Magazine) – The grief was palpable. It struck us all the moment we opened the newspaper that morning last week and saw the news about Greer. You could hardly miss it. It was on the front page of the business section, with several pictures of Greer himself. I saw it while I was on the road, enjoying my usual away-breakfast of bacon, bacon, and bacon, with heavily buttered toast, and it spoiled my meal.

"Oh no," I said when I saw it. "This can't be." I called Dworkin, who knew Greer way back when. "Did you see what happened to Greer?"

"I did," said Dworkin. There was a catch in his throat, and I knew he was as dismayed as I. "How could God let such a thing happen?" he asked. It was the kind of question that always comes up when these events occur. I don't believe anyone has found an acceptable answer. It's just one of those things, that's all. What can I tell you? It still hurts.

Throughout the day, people who knew Greer called in to receive solace, to trade stories, to feel better. In the sharing there is some kind of surcease. Or at least that's what we tell ourselves, I guess.

The morning wore on, but the hard cluster of sadness in my chest did not disperse. I looked at the newspaper ten or 12 more times, but it didn't change, so I cast the offending article aside and stared out the window for a while. A grimy city rain was spitting at my window. Life is funny, I thought. You work, and you think you're smart, and you try to do good and to do well, and then it all comes to this.

The phone rang. It was Hecht on the line. Hecht is a hell of a guy. Pound for pound, there's nobody smarter than Hecht. That's why we were all so surprised when his corporation decruited him a couple of months ago. He's doing fine now. He's got a lot of gigs. But he's still hanging out there on the periphery, and that's just another thing that doesn't make any damn sense. The whole world is upside down, if you ask me.

"It's just not fair," said Hecht. All the spunk had gone out of his voice, and maybe that was the worst thing of all, hearing all Hecht's hope and beans grow flat and rotten. "Maybe there's some mistake," he said, and my heart went out to him.

"No, man," I told him. "There's no mistake. We're gonna have to pick up the pieces and go on in spite of this."

"I don't know," said Hecht, and I could tell he was gone to me now, the best part of him drifting off into the ether between our receivers. "How do we go on? I mean, Greer, man. Anybody but Greer. And at his age?"

"Hey, man," I said. "Nobody said it was supposed to make any sense."

The rest of the day passed, as they do. It stopped raining, but it didn't get any nicer. I went to a bar after work. I drank a lot, but it didn't do much for me. A couple of friends were there. All they wanted to talk about was Greer. He was kind of a symbol to all of us. Now that comfort was gone.

"Son of a bitch," said my friend Brewster. Nobody talked to him much after that. He was just making people feel worse. "It should have been me," he added after a while. I felt like punching him, maybe because I was thinking the exact same thing.

I checked my voice mail on the way to the station. I had three messages. Two were from people I hadn't seen in a few years, and of course they were about Greer. This kind of thing brings people together, makes them remember the relationships that really count. The third message was a wrong number, which was a very nice change.

On the train home I tried to sleep. I couldn't. Everyone in the car had the paper open to the page about Greer. It was spooky. It seemed like a violation. I wanted to take every one of them by the lapels, scream into their sleepy faces, "This is Greer we're talking about! Greer! Don't you know what this means, you fools?"

I didn't, of course. I let them read, all those silly, happy people, read that story with no understanding of what it meant. I could barely sustain my composure, watching all those jolly commuters calmly staring at Greer's picture--Greer with the idiotic, fat cigar in his mouth, smiling, laughing over the caption: Six months ago Fred Greer was a consultant designing personalized dog collars for pampered pets. Now with the successful initial public offering of his Online Canine Shopping Mall, Greer is worth close to $200 million. There was more in the story. But that caption was enough.

I got off the train like a zombie and went to my car. I felt nothing. I saw nothing. On the way home, I listened to the radio. On the radio station was Greer, giving an interview about his new success. "It just seemed like a good idea, so I went with it," he was telling the interviewer. It was all I could do not to steer into a telephone pole.

Fred Greer had been part of our little group since 1980 or so. The thing that distinguished Fred was that he couldn't really do anything, and he made increasing amounts of money at it. He had excellent teeth and superb, flowing hair that he flicked back absently when it got into his eyes. He was almost too good-looking.

The first hint something was wrong was when Fred turned up, after his latest firing from a substantial role, as president of a small investment firm. It was a bullshit firm, but he was president of it. We all laughed when Fred was ejected from that firm and saw it as proof that there was a God. Several months later, however, Fred appeared as president of a bigger enterprise, making a fortune. We were shocked but did not despair. We assumed that once again he would eventually be found out. And so he was. He spent a year in that role, mostly dealing with the redecoration of his office. After that, he went home. He became an entrepreneur. He disappeared. Until last week.

Now the grief has passed, somewhat. But things will never be the same. Thanks to the Internet, Fred will never be viewed in the proper light, as an attractive, shallow nincompoop who couldn't find his ass with both hands. He will always be one of the smart, savvy hustlers who made his mark in the new media.

And what does that make us?

By day, STANLEY BING is a real executive at a real FORTUNE 500 company he'd rather not name.