The Faustian Bargain

Some years ago, I was exploring the possibility of other jobs in the financial services industry, and spoke with a business acquaintance that I worked with on a couple of civic committees in Chicago. This gentleman had retired some years earlier as the vice chairman of one of the major banks in town. He was very well known in Chicago business and civic circles.

During the course of the conversation, he began to lament the course that he had taken in his business life. He said that he had obtained all of the things the mark success in Chicago’s business community…a big home in Lake Forest…a Jaguar in the driveway…private schools for the kids…country club memberships…European vacations, and the like. (And, make no mistake, that is precisely how we define success in Chicago’s business community. As long as you have all the “toys”, you can even be dishonest and deceitful…as long as you don’t get caught. If you get caught…well then, poor bastard, etc., etc.). But, he felt terrible about how he had obtained them.

He told me that he now regretted how he had “sold out”. He told me that, whenever there were people to be fired at the bank, whether justly or unjustly, he was the “hatchet man”. He told me that, whenever there was something “slimy” to do at the bank, he volunteered for the job. He said that he never stood up for anything, or anybody, other than himself, because that is how he rose up the ladder at the bank; and, he couldn’t give up the” lifestyle” that each career move up the bank’s hierarchy gave him. He was addicted to the “toys”.

But now, like Christopher Marlow’s Dr. Faustus, he regretted what he did in his career-and, he couldn’t go back. He couldn’t undo what he had done.

I was stunned at this turn in the conversation and said nothing.

A few years ago, I was paging through the obits in the local newspaper (what we South Side “micks” euphemistically call the “Irish sports pagers”)-and, there he was… dead at a fairly early age…late sixties or early seventies, I think.

I wondered if he ever reconciled himself with his own conscious-and, with God, before he died.

No one has ever figured out how to attach a U-haul to a hearse!

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