Thursday, August 13, 2009

Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, I was invited to the White House for a private dinner
with the President. I am a respected businessman, with a factory that
produces memory chips for computers and portable electronics. There was some
talk that my industry was being scrutinized by the administration, but I
paid it no mind. I live in a free country.

There's nothing that the government can do to me if I've broken no laws. My
wealth was earned honestly, and an invitation to dinner with an American
President is an honor.

I checked my coat, was greeted by the Chief of Staff, and joined the
President in a yellow dining room. We sat across from each other at a table
draped in white linen. The Great Seal was embossed on the china. Uniformed
staff served our dinner.

The meal was served, and I was startled when my waiter suddenly reached out,
plucked a dinner roll off my plate, and began nibbling it as he walked back
to the kitchen.

"Sorry about that," said the President. "Andrew is very hungry."

"I don't appreciate..." I began, but as I looked into the calm brown eyes
across from me, I felt immediately guilty and petty.. It was just a dinner

"Of course," I concluded, and reached for my glass. Before I could, however,
another waiter reached forward, took the glass away and swallowed the wine
in a single gulp.

"And his brother Eric is very thirsty." said the President.

I didn't say anything. The President is testing my compassion, I thought. I
will play along. I don't want to seem unkind.

My plate was whisked away before I had tasted a bite.

"Eric's children are also quite hungry."

With a lurch, I crashed to the floor. My chair had been pulled out from
under me. I stood, brushing myself off angrily, and watched as it was
carried from the room.

"And their grandmother can't stand for long."

I excused myself, smiling outwardly, but inside feeling like a fool.

Obviously I had been invited to the White House to be sport for some game. I
reached for my coat, to find that it had been taken. I turned back to the

"Their grandfather doesn't like the cold."

I wanted to shout - that was my coat! But again, I looked at the placid
smiling face of my host and decided I was being a poor sport. I spread my
hands helplessly and chuckled. Then I felt my hip pocket and realized my
wallet was gone. I excused myself and walked to a phone on an elegant side
table. I learned shortly that my credit cards had been maxed out, my bank
accounts emptied, my retirement and equity portfolios had vanished, and my
wife had been thrown out of our home.

Apparently, the waiters and their families were moving in. The President
hadn't moved or spoken as I learned all this, but finally I lowered the
phone into its
cradle and turned to face him.

"Andrew's whole family has made bad financial decisions. They haven't
planned for retirement, and they need a house. They recently defaulted on a
subprime mortgage. I told them they could have your home. They need it more
than you do."

My hands were shaking. I felt faint. I stumbled back to the table and knelt
on the floor. The President cheerfully cut his meat, ate his steak and drank
his wine.

I lowered my eyes and stared at the small grey circles on the tablecloth
that were water drops.

"By the way," He added, "I have just signed an Executive Order nationalizing
your factories. I'm firing you as head of your business. I'll be operating
the firm now for the benefit of all mankind.

There's a whole bunch of Erics and Andrews out there and they can't come to
you for jobs groveling like beggars."

I looked up. The President dropped his spoon into the empty dish which had
been his creme brulee. He drained the last drops of his wine.

As the table was cleared, he lit a cigarette and leaned back in his chair.
He stared at me. I clung to the edge of the table as if were a ledge and I
were a man hanging over an abyss. I thought of the years behind me, of the
life I had lived. The life I had earned with a lifetime of work, risk and
struggle. Why was I punished? How had I
allowed it to be taken? What game had I played and lost? I looked across the
table and noticed with some surprise that there was no game board between

What had I done wrong?

As if answering the unspoken thought, the President suddenly cocked his
head, locked his empty eyes to mine, and bared a million teeth, chuckling
wryly as he folded his hands.

"You should have stopped me at the dinner roll," he said.

Wake up, America!

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