At first, I didn't recognize him with his stubbly beard, shaggy hair, rumpled clothes and bloodshot eyes. Then he raised his glass in a weary greeting. Yes, it was George DeSoot, prominent businessman, civic leader, political activist, family man and all-around swell guy.
"It's me," he said, seeing the look of disbelief on my face. "Come over and buy yourself a drink. I'd buy, but I can no longer afford such extravagant gestures."
I joined him and, as diplomatically as I could, asked what had brought him to such a sorry state.
"What do you mean by that?" he asked.
You know what I mean. I am shocked by your seedy appearance. If you stopped me on the street, I would have given you a dollar.
"Good," he said, "because that means my efforts have not been in vain."
Your efforts? You look like a bum.
Tell me, what has happened? It has been a while since I last saw you. Did your thriving business falter? Did your happy marriage collapse? Did you develop an incurable slice and suffer the shame of a high handicap?
"No, it was much deeper and more profound than that. I'm not sure you would understand."
"All right. I took a good look at myself and began experiencing guilt, shame, remorse and self-loathing."
He choked back a sob and said: "For being white, a male and successful."
Is that all?
"Is that all, you ask? Isn't that enough -- that I and those who are like me have brought on almost all of our society's evils and injustices; greedy exploiters; defenders of the status quo; oppressors of everyone who isn't white, male and successful?"
I hadn't really noticed. How did you manage to do all that?
"How? Just by being what I was. Don't you follow current affairs, national debates, the issues? Look in today's paper. There, a story about the chairman of Chicago's City Colleges. See what the National Organization for Women said about him? Right there. Read it."
Yes, the executive director of NOW's Chicago office told the college board: "Do not allow yourself to be influenced by a chairman who is white, rich and male."
"See? She has him pegged, the swine. And it's happening everywhere. We are being exposed for what we are."
When did you make this self-analysis?
"It began when my kids came home from college on spring break and told me they had taken a course in political correctness and were ashamed to have a father who was white, male and successful, and why didn't I go dance with wolves like a decent guy."
Kids, they'll break your heart.
"Then my wife told me she was sick and tired of staying home and making cookies and having teas."
I always thought she made swell cookies.
"And a group of my employees formed a Fairness and Happiness on the Job Study Group and told me that it did not seem fair that I should be rich when they weren't."
But you started and built that company.
"Don't make hollow excuses for me. Then I went to a board meeting of that charity, Businessmen for Hope and Joy, and I was pelted by six different groups for being insensitive and disrespectful by flaunting my white, male, successful condition. And that is when I looked in a mirror and realized that I was scum."
What did you do?
"Well, I couldn't find a wolf, so I went next door and tried to dance with my neighbors' Doberman but he bit me on the leg, which confirmed my sense of unworthiness. And I decided to renounce my evil ways and change myself into someone more worthy of respect."
By not shaving?
"No. I knew I could not stop being white, since I happened to be born that way. And while I could stop being a male, I've always had a terrible fear of surgery, so I ruled that out. But there was one thing I could change."
And that is?
"Being successful. When I thought about it, I realized that was my major flaw. You seldom hear anyone criticized for being a white male who is a failure or a mediocrity, not even if he's a Cub. So I rejected my success."
How do you do that?
"I stopped going to my office. I'd sleep late, play Nintendo all afternoon, then come and hang out here until last call."
What happened to your business?
"Went belly up. And the day it happened, I called the employees together and told them that I was proud to announce that I was no longer rich and asked them to share in my joy before I turned out the lights."
Were they impressed?
"Actually, no. I guess you can't please everybody. Then I went home and told my kids and wife that I was no longer an exploiter and oppressor."
And they shared your happiness?
"No, they tried to get me committed, so I grabbed what I could stuff in a suitcase and fled. And I've been at peace with myself ever since."
I guess that's what matters the most.
"Yes, so let's drink to the big day less than two weeks off."
What day is that?
"April 15. For the first time in my adult life, I don't have to pay a nickel. I might even write a book."
What will you call it?
"Failure: The Road to Success."