by Wendell Wood Collins

Eddie tended to drift into whatever jobs were available that would pay the rent. But he had inherited a weakness — what his family labeled The Horowitz Conundrum.

He’d been a dog walker. A self-described transportation engineer (Thanks to his well-connected cousin he held up the Stop and Proceed with Caution signs on Lower East Side streets under construction). He’d also tried his hand as a competitive (aka gambling) chess player in Washington Square. And an occasional pot dealer — but he usually ended up dead broke, having consumed the merchandise before it could reach paying customers.

In the world according to Eddie Horowitz, “rent” was a theoretical obligation. He tended to drift to whatever person would put him up — and put up with him — for the night, or month, or year, latching on to these life preservers like Leonardo Di Caprio, one of his heroes, in Titanic.

“That’s what couches are for,” he would argue as his mother railed at him over the phone. Why was she on his case, he wondered, when he wasn’t even staying in his old bedroom with the Mets posters dueling with pinups of Farrah Fawcett and Christie Brinkley?

“Almost 40 years old and you don’t own your own home and can’t even hold down a decent job! Where did I go wrong?” she would whine.

Let me count the ways, Eddie considered silently, gritting his teeth that were long overdue for a cleaning.

In Eddie’s world, clean teeth and sheets and underwear were things of his childhood. There was nothing wrong with those niceties, but he hated that there was always a condition to having them.

“You’d be so cute if you cut your hair,” his old girlfriend Delores would say in what he perceived as a passive aggressive tone. He had already had an earful about her past deadbeat boyfriends but didn’t have the heart to tell her that nothing she could say or do would manipulate him into being a clean-cut, fully employed dude.

(But he had to admit she was a good lay, and he didn’t have any other prospects, as his free Match subscription had expired. In his profile picture he held up a sign listing his cell phone so that women could contact him, but a few thought it was a mug shot from Rikers Island. So it was back to Delores — every now and then he would shave or pay her a compliment for the comfort of her ample bosom.)

It was one thing to expect him to cut his hair, but another to think he might hold down a fulltime job. His hair would grow back fast — he could grow a full beard in a day. But a job? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Eddie hailed from a long line of “would-be” entrepreneurs, with the chutzpah or DNA or whatever you want to call it — for hair brained ideas that could change the world. His great-great grandfather in Poland was rumored to have invented the coat hanger. His uncle Joshua had come up with a patent for an obscure dry cleaning fluid that kept his extended family financially afloat for years.

But how could anyone come up with a brilliant, world-shaking new idea when he was chained to a desk 9 to 5? That was the Horowitz Conundrum.

After a few more attempts at desk-less work — manning the cash register at another uncle’s vacuum cleaner repair store, bartending at a dive bar in Hell’s Kitchen, doing carpentry for an artsy nonprofit in Trenton, and selling books in Queens — Eddie realized he needed to think of himself as a self-made man.

“I hate it when people tell me what to do,” he told Delores when she suggested that it might be a good idea to wear deodorant when going out in public. He hated it when his uncle corrected his addition and subtraction or when customers complained they didn’t receive the right change at the register. Or when a waitress told him a screwdriver had vodka, not gin. So he decided to work for himself.

But self-employment was not so lucrative either. His ideas came and went but none paid the rent — dog sitting jobs that didn’t include dog walking, website design but no coding, painting houses but quitting after slapping on a coat of primer.

Then one afternoon, on a long F train ride to the edges of Brooklyn for a pot pickup, Eddie had an “aha!” moment. There it was, emblazoned right in front of him, alongside snippets of “urban poetry” and night school ads.

Do you like working independently on a broad range of industries? Do you love coming up with new ideas and strategies? If so, Management Consulting May be for YOU!

His heart skipped a beat. He had great new ideas. His ADD was the perfect platform for a different business every day. Consulting was the perfect career choice for a renaissance man like Eddie!

He was so excited that he decided to test the concept out on a fellow subway rider.

“What do you do for a living?” Eddie asked a well-dressed guy sitting a seat away. The guy looked him up and down to make sure he wasn’t a panhandler.

“I’m an investment banker,” the guy replied, then asked him, “and you?”

“I’m a management consultant,” Eddie said. The guy looked impressed, not even surprised.

“You just ask people questions, and you then tell them the answers that they told you,” he explained to his mom on a recent laundry drive-by. “They don’t tell me what to do. I tell them what to do. And I get paid!”

It was as simple as that.

It turned out that he was pretty successful at consulting. He called his firm “EHC” — which stood for Eddie Horowitz Consulting — and smooth talked a buddy at Staples into printing him out a free stack of business cards.

He met a guy in a bar who wrote a blog about startups in Chelsea, and bent his ear on “industry trends” over a few craft beers (and the guy picked up the tab!) then finagled an interview with him on how to reinvent yourself. Then he was hired by a bunch of Venture Capital-funded tech marketing firms who wanted the “man on the street” view for their strategic plans. He even found a client in medical marijuana who appreciated his deep personal reflections of the subject.

Delores ran into him one afternoon in the East Village and did a double take. Eddie, who had never shaved or had a decent hair cut or clean shirt, was holding court at a table, sporting a Roman buzz cut and dressed all in black — turtleneck, jeans, and boots.

“Where in the world are you living?” she asked, sounding a bit bent out of shape over this sudden transformation.

“Back home for now. Mom needs some help around the house.”

She looked at him in disbelief. The mom he used to complain about all the time — he was living there?

“She’s got Alzheimer’s. She’s got no clue who I am. She has round-the-clock help now. She’s nice to me. The helpers do my laundry. I come in and out and no one bothers me. It’s perfect.”

Eddie had finally found the perfect arrangement — a landlady who had no idea who he was, with free rent to boot. At last he had solved the Horowitz Conundrum!

Wendell Wood Collins is director of corporate relations at the Bendheim Center for Finance at Princeton University. She is an active participant in the Room At the Table writer’s group and also in Writing Space, a community for writers working at Princeton University. She and her family live in Pennington.

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