Tuesday, May 26, 2009
A Captain of Industry Opines
High atop Paco Tower, the morning sun streamed onto the penthouse porch, bathing the many potted specimens of carnivorous and poisonous plants with life-sustaining warmth. A flock of turkey buzzards, perched on the battlements, dozed lightly, occasionally opening a drowsy eye at the sound of a cooing pigeon or turtle dove, but not yet sufficiently moved by hunger to exert themselves in scaring up breakfast. The Captain of Industry – J. Packington Paco III - sat contentedly in a massive wicker chair, drinking the juice of oranges that had been grown on his plantation in Brazil (after the land had been cleared of non-productive rain forest), and scouring the pages of Newsweek, deriving as much pleasure in identifying new and original instances of unadulterated stupidity as lesser mortals take in browsing through the comics section of a big-city daily.
The almost silent footfalls of Spurgeon the butler – vaguely sensed, in the manner of a ghostly presence, rather than actually heard – approached the tycoon
“Begging your pardon, sir, but that reporter - Mr. Brad Smilo - is here to see you. Are you in, sir?”
“By all means, Spurgeon! Show the gentleman in.”
Brad Smilo entered, trailing in Spurgeon’s wake like some insignificant piece of refuse that had been tossed over the ‘C’ deck stern rail of a stately cruise ship by a thoughtless passenger.
“Good morning, sir. It’s good of you to see me. My editor was thrilled that I had landed another interview.”
“I am always delighted to meet with such a distinguished member of the fourth estate.”
“One might be forgiven for suspecting that your regard for the press is not particularly high, Mr. Paco. Spurgeon allowed me to use the facilities, and I noticed that the toilet paper was made of recycled copies of the New York Times.”
“Well, no one actually reads the Times, anymore, and it seems such a shame not to put it to some use. And its absorbent quality is legendary. May I offer you some coffee?”
“Yes, thank you. Say, I’m surprised to see a copy of Newsweek, here. I wouldn’t think that a man with your vast connections would have anything to learn from a general-interest news magazine.”
“Oh, I have a special use for it.”
Both men took chairs by a glass-topped table. Suddenly, a high-pitched, musical chiming could be heard; it was unmistakably the first few bars of an old tune called “I’m in the Money”. Brad’s perplexity was quickly resolved, as the tycoon removed a gold watch from his vest pocket and checked the time.
“Spurgeon, it is precisely 9:00 am. I think we shall have the morning gun. Please be so good as to unlimber.”
“Very good sir.”
Spurgeon disappeared momentarily, and returned wearing a cut-away gray military jacket and kepi, both with the red chevrons and piping suggestive of a non-commissioned artillery officer in the Confederate army. He wheeled a small brass cannon from behind a tub of bladder trap plants and retrieved the Newsweek magazine from the table, tearing it in half.
“Ball or shot, sir?”
“Are there any windows left?”
Spurgeon looked at the building across the street. “No, sir. They all seem to have been shattered.”
“Then ball, I think.”
“Yes, sir.” Spurgeon proceeded to load the cannon, using the pages of the magazine as wadding, then vigorously applied the ramrod.
Brad, who had been watching, astonished, spluttered “Wait! You’re not going to…”
“You may fire when ready, Spurgeon.”
“Very good, sir.” Spurgeon lit a long match and held the business-end to the touchhole. He was rewarded with a deafening report, a puff of smoke, and, a second or two later, a loud, smacking sound, as the cannon ball chipped a two-foot piece of ledge off the target. The turkey buzzards, now thoroughly awake, departed in a flurry of flapping wings and angry squawks.
The tycoon turned to smile at Brad, but found that he had vacated his chair. Feeling a tug on the cuff of a pants-leg, he glanced down and saw the reporter staring up at him from beneath the glass-topped table with a sheepish grin on his face, resembling a monstrous and somewhat mortified guppy glimpsed through the top of an aquarium. Brad crept out from under the table and resumed his seat, wiping his brow with a handkerchief.
“Mr. Paco…er…I’m sure you must know what you’re doing…but did I just see the butler fire a cannon at that building?”
“Ah, I see the cause of your distress, now, Mr. Smilo. As a matter of fact, that building was condemned last year, and I bought the property for back taxes. I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do with it, so I’ve been tearing down the structure at my leisure.” The tycoon turned briefly to the butler. “You may limber up, Spurgeon.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now, Mr. Paco, if we can return to the interview, I wanted to focus on an astonishing meeting that was held recently among America's richest people - and what is even more astonishing: the fact that you were not included.”
“Mwahaha! *cough-cough*” [wiping tears of merriment from his eyes] Oh, I say, Mr. Smilo, you are a character, sir! I hope you won’t take offense at my observation that, certainly to you – and to most people, really – a few dozen billions of dollars must seem like great wealth, but, really, my dear fellow, men like Bill Gates and George Soros are upstarts, the merest arrivistes, compared to myself.”
“Nonetheless, sir, when billionaires foregather to plan something, it is, naturally, a matter of interest to my readers.”
“And what were these - *snicker* - titans of commerce proposing to do?”
“As far as we’ve been able to tell, they were talking about charity and need”.
“Then, Mr. Smilo, I should double the guard on the constitution and hang on to my wallet. Whenever the super-rich get together to talk about how they can ‘help’, they invariably mean to propose changes in public policy that will increase the tax burden on, and reduce the liberty of, the average citizen, while not materially touching their own net worth at all.”
“But if these people are smart enough to make billions of dollars, isn’t it likely that they may be smart enough to devise useful public policy?”
“Perhaps, Mr Smilo, you will recall a line from the excellent Orson Welles film, Citizen Kane: ‘Making a lot of money isn’t hard, if making a lot of money is all you want to do.” As long as these wealthy leftists are only interested in making money, they’re on sure ground. It’s when they begin to see themselves as something more than successful businessmen - when they start hallucinating about being philosopher kings – that the threat to our national patrimony becomes genuine and urgent. Warren Buffet is a supporter of Obama and an advocate of higher taxes; there is nothing self-evidently intelligent about either position – quite the opposite, really. Ted Turner is violently anti-Christian; what does he envision, soup kitchens for atheists?”
“I think, Mr. Paco, that they were discussing ways to put their own assets to work.”
“My boy, as eleemosynary as their actions may be, from time to time, none of these well-heeled do-gooders are going to jeopardize their own financial security by giving away an amount that would reduce their opulent lifestyles, or prohibit them from meddling in public policy – for the people’s own good, of course. With regard to this last point, I would entreat you to bear in mind that no one is more solicitous of the welfare and comfort of cattle than the rancher who intends ultimately to deliver them to the slaughterhouse.”
“Well, Mr. Paco, you’ve sure given me plenty to think about.”
“Splendid! Now, how would you like to join us for a little shooting?”
“Yes, Spurgeon and I are planning on spending an hour or so trying to blast the cornice off of yon building with a couple of Harris .50 caliber rifles. Join us, Mr. Smilo, and make it a threesome.”
“Ahm…you see…I’d love to, but I have a deadline to meet, so, I’ll just be on my way.”
“Some other time, then. You can find your way out, I’m sure. Spurgeon! The rhino guns, chop-chop! ”