To destroy, to tear down, that was the Demo Man’s job. The heavy hammer flew of its own accord in his fists, the walls falling, collapsing in huge crashes. He was the conductor in this orchestra, calling for the high pitched crack of thin lathe, the long rip of the tearing wallpaper, and the kettledrum boom of the breaking studs. His skill was not in building, or creating, but in destruction, the art of destroying another’s creation. What takes months to build comes down in a day. Usually he knocked down homes, but he was indifferent, breaking down sheds and outhouses along with gazebos and decks. As he swung and the walls fell around him, the drywall dust coated his coveralls, baggy around his lean, hard body. His constant movement, though graceful and efficient, was violent, the debris falling, under foot and building him up in height. He continually climbed up the debris of the broken house, seeing his effort rewarded.
He made his mark on the world with his hands and back, ‘Adam Was Here’ writ large. Working alone, he choose where to start, when to take a break. He liked his job, though it had taken a while for him to appreciate the benefits. He had once dreamed of owning a construction company to build homes, not destroy them. But then when things that could have gone his way, went the other, he took what was offered. All his life, it seemed the chips fell the wrong way. He has learned, as he had to, a simple life is enough. Finally he collected the debris into different piles for the garbage and recycling trucks. When finished he took off his hard hat and shook out his hair, thick with sweat and dust.
He turned the key in the ignition of Old Red and heard only a small click. He dropped his head and just sat, tired and frustrated. He thought of his mother, waiting on him, and the little income he brought in.
“Let me get you a cup of tea, Ma.” He had said that that morning, getting off the couch. Mack lifted his head from his mat, excited for a new day, and questioning if he is getting breakfast too. Adam started the kettle and poured the kibble into the dog bowl. The view from the kitchen window was the same as always, a few birds were on the power lines running waving in the morning breeze while the roar of the freeway nearby filled the air.
“I got a job today Ma, I’ll be back in the evening.” He said.
“Ok you can pick up my meds at the pharmacy? And tomorrow I have a dialysis appointment.” She smiled at his nod.
“I know you don’t like it, but I’m glad you’re here. We are together like a family again.” She had said.
Adam looked around at the small studio apartment, and the small loveseat which was now his bed.
“Ya Ma, it’s good to spend time with you too, but this is not forever. Just a couple more days, and then I’ll get my own place.”
The words repeated every day, month after month, his mantra to get his life going again.
Adam rubbed his dog's head as he left. “Take care of Ma.”
Back in the truck, he needed a way out of this predicament. He scratched his scraggly beard. “Maybe it is only…?”
He went to the bed of the truck and looked at the pile of bags and boxes, his entire life, neat and compact. He loosened a bungee cord and found a box of tools and pulled out a portable charger. He connected his battery, and then tried the key again. The truck started up.
“Ok Old Red! You came through again!”
He thought about the bills he already can't pay, and now Old Red needed a new battery. He tapped the hood after he closed it, the engine rumbling now that it started. Driving to his mothers apartment, he thought about all the jobs his truck has been on. The 20 year old Chevy S-10 had 255,010 miles and all of it hard earned. He realized he has known this truck longer than most people, other than his mother. He smiled when he thought of getting home and the warm welcome he will receive from his mom. Other than family, what else does a man need in life but a good truck and a good dog!
He saw the trunk of the sports car in the ditch, and didn't think much of it as he passed. From a prior career at a tire shop, recognizing the logo, his first thought was the cost of a single tire was more than his entire car and a set of four, more than all his worldly possessions. It was the second thought that got him, after it registered that there was someone in the car, and their head was at an unnatural angle.
Was it the good feeling from his completed job? That he was almost stranded himself, until Old Red started up, or just fate? He had never stopped before on a highway, but that day he did. Whatever the reason, his life would never be the same.
The klieg lights made it hard to see who was asking the questions, the reporter’s faces were shadowed, while the hard floors of the hospital made their questions echo.
“No I didn't know who he was, I just saw someone in need.” Adam had his hand shading his eyes to see clearly, and the cameraman, a professional storyteller, made sure the dirt and calluses were prominent in the shot. “It was fortunate that I was able to get him to the hospital. I actually still am not quite sure why you are all here, or who he…”
“Yes, I heard he has cancer, but hopefully he has a long life ahead of him….” Adam was tired and uncomfortable, and wanted to get away from all this fuss.
"No I haven't heard of that company…A reward? No, no I don’t expect a reward, I was just doing what anybody would have done… Are we done here? I have to go.”
The chauffeur knocked on Adam’s door a few mornings later to bring him to the meeting. Mack barked loudly and aggressively, maybe knowing what was to come. Adam hushed the dog and followed the man in the suit out to the black Maybeck 62 parked on the street.
Getting in the back seat, Adam felt the soft black leather and missed the views of the drive up the hill and into the gated estate, marveling that he could stretch his legs to their full extension.
The modern house did not look like anything Adam had ever seen before. Designed to showcase the extensive views of the valley, large floor to ceiling windows made up two sides of the house. Adam imagined putting his hammer through it with glee.
“I don't know how to say it, you saved my life.” The tall, lean man stood in front of one of his windows, wearing a gray t-shirt and loose cotton pants with no shoes. His eyes were unfocused and glassy staring at Adam.
“Well, sir, I didn't do anything anyone else wouldn't do-” Adam said, holding the glass of juice he did not know how to refuse.
“Please, call me Jon-Al. Did you know 105 people drove by without stopping in the hours I was there? We counted the cars on a satellite video. So you did what others did not do.”
He paused and turned to look out the window.
“You heard I am dying, the cancer in my brain responsible for me passing out, has spread to my kidneys and lymph nodes.”
“Ya, sorry to hear that, sir. I mean Jon-Al.
Jon-Al turned toward Adam. “I want to reward you. What do you want?”
“I don't want nothing,” he rubbed his beard, “I mean I am a simple man, I have stopped caring about possessions.” Thinking about his over-full truck, he would have nowhere to put them anyway.
Holding up his rough hands. “These get me all I need.”
“Nothing?” Jon-Al said.
“Well, my mother doesn't have insurance and the dialysis for her kidneys is so exp-” Adam stared at his shoes, it was hard for him to admit he was failing his mother.
“I'll have my people take care of her.”
“Well that’s great! That would be reward enough!” Adam looked around the luxurious room and felt uncomfortable. “I should probably get going…”
“You said you work with your hands. My company is looking to create a new business line through our software platform, focused on helping people like yourself, through our financing tools. We could use your insights. You can act as a consultant-”
“-You mean poor people.” Adam interrupted, annoyed.
“I mean, as you said, people who work with their hands.. Are you interested?” Jon turned back to look out the window. "It is a paid position."
"Yes, I could do that." Adam said.
“And all the stuff in your truck, your living arrangements, you live with your Mom?”
“Well-.” Adam rubbed his beard.
Would you consider letting me help? You could move in here, I only use one small room in the back now.”
The first morning at Jon-Al’s mansion he went out to the window. Several birds were soaring in the bright blue sky, the trees waved in the morning breeze, the roar of the ocean filled the air.
“I can get used to this.” Adam missed Mack. He had to go to a kennel, Jon-Al was allergic and his Mom could not take care of him. “I’ll visit him every day.” He committed to himself.
Jon-Al’s cars and constant construction on his businesses connected Jon-Al and Adam at first, then they spoke about the fragility of life, something close to them both.
As the cancer progressed and Jon-Al spent more time in the house, Jon-Al encouraged him to drive his sports cars. Adam preferred the Ferrari 308, just like Magnum PI.
Adam’s perspective wowed the software team, all from Ivy League colleges and privileged backgrounds. They had never thought about the ‘Disadvantaged’ as just people. Adam’s ideas made the software better, more useful for people without access to traditional banks. But soon Adam was irritated by how they referred to him as ‘needing help’, or referring to him and his mother as ‘low-income’? That was his old life, he did not want to be the token poor guy. He had changed. He stopped going into the office. He spent more and more time talking to Jon-Al, trying to keep his spirits up as his body failed.
“I appreciate your friendship.” Jon-Al said one night, laying in his bed, too tired to even lift his head. “I have no friends, just people who want things, or employees. You are a simple man, like me. I am going to put you in my will, and provide you with a significant share of my company. Something you can live on after I am gone.” Jon-Al, twisted his head slightly to look Adam in the eyes.” Is that OK?”
“Yes, thank you friend.” Adam was too excited to ask what ‘significant’ meant, but saw his new friend slowly fading, spending more and more time in bed. The end was coming soon.
No matter what he said, Adam knew he was not a simple man. He just did not know what he did not know about luxury, about true wealth. Living with Jon-Al, Adam’s eyes were opened to what he could want, and he wanted a lot.
No longer working every day, his body softened. His jeans did not fit his body or his lifestyle. He used Jon-Al’s account to take on a new appearance, and began to understand the difference a label made, the feel of low versus high thread counts, and between alpaca and cashmere.
Jon-Al had a total of nine cars, a motorcycle and a boat docked at the marina. With Jon-Al too sick to move, Adam took the opportunity to try every one, going on long drives into the nearby towns, stepping into his new role as ‘Friend of Jon-Al’. He found this gave him cachet, he could do what he wanted for the first time ever in his life, no worries about money, little concern for consequences.
-“Yes Mom, I am glad to hear you are feeling better. No I can’t come with you to dialysis, but you have a ride right? Good, I am still at Jon-Al’s house, the chemo really wears him down, he needs me. I have some good news! I got a house for us! We can all be together again. I’m going to be coming into some uh, significant, money soon, and a private bank loaned me the money based on my future income. There is some paperwork, but it is amazing!”
-“I'll see if I can come by next week. Have you had a chance to visit Mack? I hope he is getting along with the other dogs…”
-“Oh they called you? He won't eat, and is losing his fur? No, it’s OK, I am sure he is just sick. He’ll get better, it is just a dog right?”
Mack didn’t get better, but, Jon-Al did, the chemo worked. He started getting back to being the technology titan he was before his illness. In failing health Jon-Al needed a friend, but that changed as he regained strength.
“Adam, where did you go? I wanted the Aston-Martin today, you need to ask. And one other thing.” Jon-Al looked at Adam with a penetrating glare, the dying man was gone, the fierce business man was back.
“The software team said you won’t return their calls, or meet with them? You understand this is important right? I brought you in to give them feedback, you need to show up!”
Adam suddenly was put back in his place, and he did not like it. Jon-Al’s new grip on life threatened Adam’s plans.
He could not go back to where he was before. It was not a choice, he needed to take matters into his own hands.
“A movie with a friend. ” he said to Jon-Al, “I’ll be back late.”
After entering the nearby theater, he left the friend to return to Jon-Al’s private balcony off his room, climbing up and entering through the glass doors. The cards did not fall in his favor, he could trick Jon-Al, but not the video cameras.
The klieg lights made it hard to see who was asking the questions, the reporter’s faces were shadowed, while the hard floors of the court house made their questions echo.
The Demo Man had entered Adam’s life. Was it the money, acting as a hammer smashing his life like Adam smashed houses, tearing down the studs that supported his morality?
Or was it the wanting of more, the greed chasing what he could have, that demolished what he had. It used to be enough for Adam to find joy in rewarding work, the love of his family and a loyal dog.
He gave up an old truck that was much a part of himself as his arm or leg, to drive a sports car. Whatever it was, his life was gone, the bits and pieces swept up and sent to a cement trash bin.
His thick fingers held the photograph showing a gray bulldog looking at the camera from the bed of a faded red pick up truck. What had happened? What takes a lifetime to build comes down in a day.
Adam rubs his dog's head in the picture. “Take care of Ma.” he said before setting it back on the stone wall of his prison cell.