Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Humble Notion Based on a Really, Really Bad Idea

OOh! Here's a cool notion! Need a few bucks for a night on the town? A brief vacation or new X-Box console? Take your car to one of those places where nice folks give loans on your car title. Within weeks, after the money is spent and the loan still owing, said nice folks will send a tow truck to your home, pick up your car and eventually sell it, most likely out of state to a used car dealer. Now you'll have no money and no car, thereby making you largely unemployable and a good prospect for the welfare system. Of course, you'll still have the X-Box 360...

I have a better idea, based on Jonathan Swift's famous Modest Proposal of 1729. Swift, you'll remember, suggested the Irish eat their children during the famine, or sell them as foodstuff to wealthy families. Relax. I am endorsing neither cannibalism nor infanticide. I merely suggest you get a loan on your children.

Here's how it would work. Bucks for Babies and Kids for Kash, sister organizations chartered in all 50 states and Canada, open franchises in urban neighborhoods and launch a saturation television ad campaign promising quick cash for children. A potential loanee, armed with the child's birth certificate, is advanced a sum of cash based on the child's age, gender, educational level and health. In the interest of equal opportunity, neither race nor religion will be a factor, though Asian children--compliant and quick to learn--will unofficially fetch a premium. Female Jewish children will not.

Infants and toddlers whose parents renege on their loans will be put up for adoption, thereby satisfying the demand by African media stars for babies from developed nation. Children aged five to eight will be sent to India, where they will be taught to weave rugs while suspended from the ceiling of their workplace. Children above eight will be taught field hand skills by migrant farmers or hired by New York sweatshops to assemble fashion label shirts, jeans and blouses.

The long-term advantages of such programs are many. We will make friends with rich Africans (think oil); enhance the textile industry in the Third World; and get cheaper name labels, thereby freeing us from shopping at TJ Max. We will solve the education/school crisis by making classes smaller, enabling teacher to do what they were originally hired to do--teach--instead of being glorified babysitters. With any amount of luck, Disney Films will realize that its customer base has shrunk and will decide not to produce High School Musical 18. With fewer teen age drivers, the roads will be safer ands our insurance premiums will go down. The trickle effect of this will be the purchase of more American-made automobiles and GM will re-introduce the Hummer. All Chuck E. Cheese restaurants will close.

The last is reason enough to implement this plan.

Here's installment 78 of Wasted Miracles.

Colin lowered the dumbbells slowly, counting one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, four. It was night and he hadn’t had a drink though he desperately wanted one. Earlier he had eaten a bad meal at a fast food place, come home and drawn the drapes, then methodically attacked the weights, starting with the biggest ones and working his way down. The veins of his arms and chest stood out like bootlaces and he was covered in a thin sheen of sweat.
He had skipped the meeting he and Orin were supposed to attend together and he could imagine his sponsor’s anger, but right now that didn’t seem to matter much. He closed his eyes, rubbed his face hard, felt stubbles scratch his palms. Outside the traffic had died down to the whisper of a car now and again. He glanced at the clock in the kitchen, saw it was well past ten, which meant the only meetings available would be downtown. A perfect excuse not to go.
He had spent the better part of the evening trying not to think of Josie and Catherine. A futile exercise. He remembered someone once saying that trying to not face up to a lie was more demanding than coming clean, and he knew it was true. He thought of seven years trying to work the steps, one night not, and how the one night had won. Incredible.
When the phone rang he looked at it for a long time before answering. The voice on the other end wasn’t familiar. “Colin Marsh? My name’s Ed Kuminsky. I’m a friend of Joe. You know, the cop?”
Colin muttered, “Yes?” Held his breath.
“I’m a friend of Bill W. Like Joe. The reason I’m calling is, Joe and me were supposed to get together and he never showed. I tried his apartment, tried the station. No one’s seen him.” The man had a high reedy voice, almost breathless. “I thought maybe--he told me you were his sponsor, that’s how I have your number, in case of emergencies I’m supposed to call you--maybe you’d seen him?”
Colin held his hand over the phone’s mouthpiece, thought furiously. “Not since yesterday.” That wasn’t a lie.
The man said, “Ah. Well. It’s just, it’s unusual, you know? We always drive to the Thursday meeting together, a step meeting at Fairfax Hospital, and afterwards we have dinner. He picks me up, usually, and this time he didn’t so I waited around because sometimes he’s late, being a cop and all, but now it’s almost a quarter of eleven and I’ve been waiting since eight...” He let the sentence hang.
Colin closed his eyes. He knew the caller indirectly. Joe the Cop had spoken of him. Dumb as a post, in Joe’s own words, but strong sobriety. Someone to hang around with and talk about the Redskins. “No. I haven’t heard from him today.” He added, “But if I see him I’ll give him the message.” And felt self-loathing wash over him.
“He said you and him were doing something together yesterday, so I thought maybe--”
“Sorry, Ed, I can’t help you. Haven’t seen him. But I’ll tell him you called.” Colin hung up, his hands shaking.
That night he slept without dreams, without rest.
In the morning, the news channel reported a new development on the fire and related deaths in Anacostia. One body, that of a white male apparently shot in the head several times, had been identified as that of a Falls Church policeman. The name of the officer was yet to be released.
The commentators, an overweight white man and a young black woman who looked like a pop singer, made much of the report and ventured unsupported opinions, guesses and rumors of police officers on the take. Colin watched until the coverage segued to a feature on a successful graffiti-eradication program in Southeast Washington.
He dressed slowly, put on and took off a tie, brewed a pot of coffee and drank three cups in quick succession.

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