Thursday, December 27, 2007

Compassionate Conservatism

Reading that Paris Hilton’s $2.3bn inheritance is going to be diverted to some foundation or other that is run by the Hilton family instead of being paid directly to her made me think of compassionate conservatism. “Compassionate conservatism” of course means showing compassion for the rich instead of wasting it on the poor. The poor don’t understand what a drag being rich and having everything you want and being waited on hand and foot and never having to work a day in your life really is. It is a real bummer.

I saw this today when I visited a man I shall call Carl. He was sitting on a genuine antique Louis XIV chair in his white marble study with his head in his hands. I asked what was the matter.

“I won the lottery!” he moaned.

“Again?” I said.

“I just can’t seem to lose,” Carl said. “No matter what numbers I pick, those little balls just line up to make me win. I am twenty million dollars richer.”

“That does sound like a problem,” I said. “I feel sorry for you.”

“Now I have to go to Austin to turn in my ticket. I can’t decide whether to ride down there in my Ferrari, my Porsche, or my Lamborghini.”
“Terrible,” I said in my best sympathetic voice.

“The poor don’t know how easy they have it,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about riding around in a Lamborghini because they don’t own Lamborghinis.”

I had to admit it was true. Driving around in some old rust bucket is much more pleasant than being in a high performance Italian supercar.

“But couldn’t you just ask your chauffeur for a recommendation?” I asked. I was trying to be helpful.

“Which one? I have so many chauffeurs. Another decision I have to make.” He buried his head in his hands again. I could hear him sobbing softly.

“Why don’t you just fly down there?” I asked. “That would be simple.” I was thinking Southwest Airlines, but flying meant something else to Carl.

“Can’t” was the response. “My entire fleet of personal airplanes is being re-fitted with new carpeting. And don’t suggest going down the Brazos River. My yacht displaces too much water.”

I started to suggest that the Corps of Engineers could dredge the river bottom just for him, but thought better of it. He had undoubtedly already thought of that angle and eliminated it.

“I had no idea being rich was so hard,” I said. “I am becoming more of a compassionate conservative by the minute.”

“It’s hard. It really is. I wish I were poor.” He pounded his fist for emphasis. “I wish I were poor.” More sobbing.

I started to say that it could be arranged. I would be happy to give him my checking account number and an electronic routing code so he could arrange a wire transfer. But before I could speak, his private secretary walked in.

“Sir!” she said with military precision. “I just received word from the doctor. Despite years of gross overeating your weight is perfect for your height and age, and your health is perfect as well. Your cholesterol and triglycerides are excellent. The doctor says you can overindulge yourself all you want.”

“And I don’t even have to diet or exercise to do it,” he moaned. “Oh why oh why must I have it so hard?”

The lady left the room.

I decided to leave my friend to his misery. He certainly had taught me something about the curse of wealth. I had heard of it, of course, but never realized how awful it really is to be rich. Until now. I quietly slipped out of the mansion, down the endless flights of stairs which led to the parking area, and to my old broken down Honda. One of Carl’s chauffeurs greeted me as I approached my car.

“Your tire is flat, sir. Someone in your neighborhood must have buried a knife in it before you came here.”

I looked at the tire, and, sure enough, he was right. The knife was still there, producing a slow leak. No wonder the thing was hard to steer.

“Would you like for me to change it for you, sir?” he asked.

“No way, Vanderbilt.” He was one of the members of the Vanderbilt family that did not get any money from old Cornelius. That was undoubtedly the reason he always went around with a perpetual grin on his face and a song in his heart. He was broke.

“No way I am giving up any of the pleasures of being poor, Vanderbilt,” I said to Vanderbilt. “I am changing this thing myself.”

“Very good, sir,” said Vanderbilt. Then he retired to the side of the building with the spring in his step that can only come from the joy of being a poor man.. He whistled as he walked.

Well, let me tell you, I got grease and dirt all over my white shirt. Normally that would be a bummer because I only have one white shirt, and now it is ruined. But having found out what a pisser it is to be rich, what an ecstatic experience to be poor – well, let’s just say I enjoyed every minute of it.

Having changed the tire, I pulled the knife out of the one that had been slashed, then noticed the knife was mine. The people who slashed my tire stole one of my knives, which meant they must have burglarized my house. I smiled with gratitude when I realized that. Thanking my lucky stars for all this poverty, I drove off.

Poor Carl finally had to ride down to Austin in his classic restored Lincoln Town Car. All the lights turned green as soon as his chauffeur pulled up to them. But with all this misfortune he never did break the habit of winning the lottery again and again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Visit From Santa

The night of Christmas Eve I had to get up as usual about fifty times to take a leak. The sixth or seventh time, to my surprise I met Santa Claus in my living room. I thought he was going to leave me a million shares of Apple stock as a Christmas present. Instead, he was searching for my liquor cabinet.

“Where is it?” he asked.

“Where is what?” I responded.

“The blind tiger, the white mule, the moonshine. You know, the hooch!”

I was speechless. He continued.

“People leave me milk and cookies, when what I really want is a stiff brace,” he said. He did not sound like a happy camper.

“You mean Santa Claus is a soak?” I asked.

“Of course I am. Why do you think I am always ‘Ho Ho Ho-ing’ all the time?”

I had to confess, I had never thought about it.

“This time in the morning on Christmas I am usually pretty plastered. It gets cold up there in the air this time of year,” said Santa Claus. “Here I am driving an open sleigh with bags of toy crap for kids I don’t even know. And the best the little elves could do was fix me up with this silly red suit.”

“It doesn’t look very warm.” I admitted.

“It’s got holes in it,” he said, pointing out several places where the fabric had completely worn through. “If I didn’t have this long handled underwear on, they’d have fished me out of the Great Lakes long before now. Besides that, it looks like hell. Can you imagine going out in public dressed like this?”

I had to admit, it did not look like my idea of forward fashion.

“But what about Mrs. Claus?” I asked. “Why don’t you get her to sew you a nice woolen suit?”

“What Mrs. Claus?” he answered. Nobody would want a fat old drunk like me.”

“Not much of a singles scene at the North Pole, I take it,” I took it.

He ignored my response. “And then there’s all those toys they’re importing from China with the lead in them and all. I’m telling you. You’d drink, too, if you were Santa Claus.”

“Yes, if I were Santa Claus I certainly would drink, that’s for sure,” I said, more to myself than to him.

“Where’s the hooch?” he asked again. His voice was raspy. I could tell he was suffering from alcohol withdrawal. And the night before Christmas was not even half over. When he agreed to do this flying around stuff every year Santa Claus pulled a bad gig.

“There is no liquor cabinet in the place,” I confessed. “I’m a teetotaler. I am too nice to drink. You’re supposed to know who’s naughty and nice.”

“I am?” asked the intruder.

“Of course you are. You’re Santa Claus.”

“Yes, I am, aren’t I,” he said. “I was so busy looking for a snort I forgot my role. Haven’t you got at least a beer in the fridge?” he said, looking in the fridge.

“I’ve got Diet Coke if you want one.”

He slammed the fridge door contemptuously.

I started making a fire in the fire place. Santa Claus panicked.

“Not to worry,” I said. “It’ll help you get warm.”

“But I can’t go back up the chimney,” he said. “How do I get out of here?”

“You go out the front door, the way all the other intruders do.”

He smacked his forehead in surprise that he hadn’t thought of it.

And so it was that I sat in front of the fire with Santa Claus until the wee hours, discussing global warming, polar bears, the melting polar ice cap, the care and feeding of reindeer, the hassle of managing a toy shop filled with little elves, and what a bummer it was to slide down chimneys, only to get attacked by the family dog or trip the burglar alarm.

“The police have come after me three times already tonight,” Santa Claus said. “There weren’t any burglar alarms when I first got started,” he said. After centuries of this, Santa Claus was thinking of retiring.

“This Santa Claus crap isn’t what it’s cracked up to be,” he told me.

And with that he gave me the best Christmas present I could ever have. I used to envy Santa Claus, but no more. My ho hum life was looking pretty good compared to his. At last he bade me farewell and went back up the chimney. With the fire I had built licking at his ass, it was “Ho Ho Ho” all the way up.

So I have no desire to be Santa Claus anymore. One more step in the process of learning to like my life. Now if Bill Gates, James Bond, and Alex Rodriguez come down my chimney and tell me all their problems my vindication will be complete.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Gaming 2008

I had lunch with my friend Cal today. Cal is obsessed with the presidential elections. He asked me who I thought would win.

“Too close to call,” I said. “There’s no telling who the voters will select.”

“The voters?” he responded. “Naw, man, that’s how they did it in the eighteenth century. We don’t pay attention to the voters anymore.”

“We ignore the voters now, eh? So what will it be, then? Dead people in Duvall County?”

“That was the 1960s,” he said. “Lyndon Johnson has been gone for a long time.”

“True,” I had to admit. “I never thought about presidential elections being such a creative process.”

“We have to keep moving on,” he said.

“So will the supreme court decide the winner again?” I asked.

“Possibly, but that’s still a little out of date.”

“The last time they did that was 2000,” I protested. “That’s not so long ago.”

“Washington is a fast moving place,” he said. “2000 is ancient history.”

I saw his point. “The supreme court is out, then.” I thought a minute, then came up with something. “Rigged voting machines again?”

“Still old hat. That was 2004-ish.”

I was amazed. Washington really must be a fast moving place if 2004 was anachronistic. I thought rigged voting machines would be good for another two or three elections at least. “Coup d’etat?” I said. “A man on horseback? Sandbags on the white house lawn? All I could think of was old stuff. He shot it all down.

“We need something new,” he said. “Something nobody has ever thought of before. A new way of selecting the president that nobody has ever used before and that doesn’t involve counting votes or anything unpredictable like that.”

I finally had a thought. “What about selecting somebody intelligent? It hasn’t been done before. And it will narrow the field so much we will know who is going to win before the polls even open in Iowa. That solves the unpredictability problem.”

His face lit up. “Somebody intelligent!” he said. “We have not had anybody like that for seven years now. Come 2008 it will be eight years. By George, I think you are onto something.”

I did not comment on the “By George!” exclamation. It sounded like he was saying something, but I didn’t. “After four years or so, choosing somebody intelligent will be old hat, though, Washington is such a fast moving place,” I said. “You said so yourself.”

“That’s right,” he said. “2008 will be hopelessly passé in a 2012. By then we will have to find ourselves another moron. George W. Bush can’t run again. What will we do?”

“Not to worry,” I said. “I think there will be plenty of candidates.”