Thursday, December 27, 2012
A titan of industry defends the Second Amendment
The majestic black 1939 Packard touring sedan sliced through the mix of snow and freezing rain like a Coast Guard cutter plowing effortlessly through a cold, wintry sea. Within the confines of the regal automobile, sat, reading fore to aft: a slender chauffeur, clad in the traditional black tunic, jodhpurs and peaked hat of a bygone era, holding himself ramrod straight behind the steering wheel, his face a picture of grim Teutonic concentration; and in the vast recesses of the passenger compartment, his employer, an exceptionally large man swathed in enough pinstriped blue wool to outfit a platoon of average-sized bankers. This benefactor of the tailoring trade was none other than that eminent capitalist, J. Packington Paco III.
A smile of satisfaction at having had the opportunity to do something utterly selfless and charitable wreathed the great man’s doughy countenance. He was returning home from a trip to the post office, where he had placed in the care of that institution a couple of Christmas packages, destined to warm the hearts of the designated recipients, two fellows distinctly less fortunate than himself. He sighed with contentment at the mental picture of Warren Buffett opening up the large tin containing gingerbread tax collectors, and of Michael Bloomberg decanting a 2-liter bottle of North Carolina’s unparalleled cherry soda, a sweet and frothy beverage marketed under the trade name of Cheerwine.
In this vein of brotherly love, J.P. surveyed the world outside of a rear side window as the car pulled to a stop at a traffic light. Overturning his sense of peace and goodwill was the sight of a man standing with his back to the wall of an alley, hands held high, his eyes wide with terror, as another man, at knifepoint, succeeded in relieving the party of the first part of his overcoat, his wallet and, for reasons not entirely clear at first glance, his pants.
J.P. was a man whose enormous fortune had resulted largely from a commitment to decisiveness and quick action, both of which qualities were now on display. “Otto”, he barked at the chauffeur. “Look to your left, down that alley. There is a man being robbed. Jump out and see what you can do, there’s a good fellow.”
“Ja wohl, mein Herr!” Otto threw the gear into neutral and applied the handbrake, then leapt out of the car, drawing a Luger pistol from an interior pocket of his tunic. “Halt!” he shouted. The robber, instantly weighing the likely outcome of a contest pitting his knife against a semi-automatic pistol, turned and fled – clutching the wallet, overcoat and breeches, however, thereby ameliorating, to some extent, the dishonor of so hastily quitting the field.
J.P. watched with amazement as the victim attempted to grab the gun from Otto’s hand. Otto – whose background prior to his employment as a chauffeur was a subject imperfectly known to his employer, but which obviously did not include membership in the Society of Friends – executed a few motions with his arms and hands that had the effect of calming the man down considerably (connoisseurs of the grappling arts, had they been present, would have spoken approvingly of Otto’s employment of the half-Nelson). The now-indignant chauffeur pushed the man in the direction of the car. J.P. opened his door and invited the stranger to have a seat.
Trembling from fear, cold and anger, the man threw himself into the backseat of the Packard and immediately began expostulating.
“Look here, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but why didn’t your man take a shot at that thief, or at least let me do it? He got away with my wallet.”
“And your pants, too”, J.P. observed. “What, do you think, was the point of that?”
“Oh, when he first accosted me, I told him I wasn’t in the habit of turning over my money to every cutpurse in dirty jeans out on the street, and I believe he took umbrage at my description of the state of his trousers, so he decided to upgrade his wardrobe by taking mine. Well, he may have deprived me of my wallet and my clothes, but at least I kept my dignity.”
J.P. took in the figure of his guest – sitting there in his shirt and boxer shorts, soaked to the skin, shaking like a leaf – and kept his own counsel.
“Your dignity…m’yes, of course. On the other hand, if you, yourself, had been carrying a gun, you might have managed to hold on to everything.”
The man shot a frosty glare at J.P. “Do you not know who I am?”
J.P. studied the man’s face. It was vaguely familiar, as was the English accent.
“Hmm. You’re not, by any chance, a dealer in jellied eels, are you?” J.P. recollected that Spurgeon, his gentleman’s personal gentleman, was partial to the dish, and periodically took delivery of them for his own personal use from a local grocer.
“Jellied…what? Do you not own a television set? I’m Piers Morgan, a talk-show host for CNN!”
“Ah! Now I remember. You had a spot of trouble back in England with respect to some insider trading, and then there was that telephone hacking scandal, and, of course, the fake photo of British troops maltreating Iraqi prisoners…”
“A series of misunderstandings and coincidences. I now opine regularly on CNN, dealing with issues of moment for the benefit of your fellow citizens, damn their eyes! And if you had been tuning in, you’d know I’ve had a lot to say on the subject of America’s insane love affair with guns.”
“But you were just now perfectly willing to use one.”
“In defense of my pants! It’s not as if I were some loathsome shopkeeper trying to protect my inventory, or a paranoid homeowner who hears burglars at all hours of the night.”
“And yet,” J.P. suggested, “shopkeepers do occasionally get robbed, and homeowners are confronted by burglars from time to time. People defending livelihoods and lives.”
“Gun nuts and cowards, more like.”
“Whose lives and property are worth less than your pants?”
“Mere unjustified fear versus very real trousers! Surely you can see the difference?”
“Well, more to the immediate issue – you’re drenched. We’re not far from my home; why don’t you come up and dry out? And perhaps we can find some clothes for you. Home, Otto!”
* * * * * * * *
J.P. and a dripping Morgan were escorted into the tycoon’s library by the aforementioned gentleman’s personal gentleman, Spurgeon. The formidable retainer maintained his usual equanimity on being introduced to the soggy television host, save for a pinhead-sized dot of pink that appeared on each cheek. After depositing Morgan before a blazing fire, and offering him a restorative glass of scotch, J.P. withdrew momentarily to the foyer to consult with his estimable servant.
“Spurgeon, do I detect some agitation, some seething emotion beneath the surface? Do you know this man?”
“No, sir, I have not, before now, had what would normally be called the ‘pleasure’, but which, in all honesty and in acknowledgement of your kindly concern, I must refer to as the ‘revulsion’, of his acquaintance. Mr. Morgan was involved in several well-publicized scandals in England, and the presence of one of my fellow countryman in your home, who is decidedly not a gentleman, is a source of great personal embarrassment.”
“Hence the blush on those manly cheeks. Think nothing of it, my dear fellow! After all, it was I who invited him in. Now, let’s see. He’ll need some dry clothes and neither yours nor mine will fit him. Bring a blanket, and then pop down to the tuxedo rental place on the corner and see what you can find on the spur of the moment.”
“Very good, sir.”
J.P. and Spurgeon returned to the library with the blanket. Spurgeon did not actually gasp, but the attentive ear of his master detected a sudden inrush of air through those splendid Saxon nostrils. Morgan had pulled an original Chippendale arm chair over to the fire, and had settled his drenched person comfortably on the seat of this valuable piece of furniture. Furthermore, he had helped himself to one of J.P.’s Gargantua Perfectos, and cradled, in his lap, a 17th century conquistador helmet – a treasured family heirloom that had once belonged to Admiral Diego Echevarría Paco de Villalobos, renowned for conquering the uninhabited island of Nada de Importancia with the loss of only a quarter of his crew - which item the annoying guest was using as an ashtray. This particular instance of forwardness tried Spurgeon’s dedication to the code of butlerine unflappability almost to the absolute limit, and even J.P. felt a certain bristling of hackles. Taking the initiative, Spurgeon removed a black onyx ashtray from J.P.’s desk and thrust it at Morgan.
“Perhaps you will find this more suitable as a repository for the ashes of your cigar, sir.”
“Ah, thanks. Pretty rum ashtray, this metal contraption. Thing keeps falling over. Here, let’s have that blanket.” Morgan then had the effrontery to waggle his empty glass in the air, signifying his desire for a refill. Spurgeon splashed a dollop of whiskey in the glass, repressing with superhuman effort a sigh of exasperation.
Turning to J.P., he inquired, “Will that be all, sir?”
Patting him on the shoulder in commiseration, J.P. responded, “Yes, Spurgeon. Mr. Morgan seems to be quite comfortable now. Mr. Morgan, Spurgeon is going to see if he can pick you up something to wear from the tuxedo rental shop down the street. I regret that that’s the best we can do, under the circumstances.”
“Tuxedo rental shop? You mean, clothes that have been worn by God knows what kind of unwashed local cretins? Well, if that’s all you can do, so be it. 42 chest and 38 waist, Spurgeon.”
Spurgeon donned McIntosh and hat and set out on his mission. Meanwhile, J.P. played the genial host.
“So, Mr. Morgan, you say you have been delving into the issue of gun ownership?”
“Rather. I think there’s some kind of psychic link between the American’s love of guns and his feelings of inadequacy in the modern age. After all, as the Indians used to say, the bigger the gun the smaller the penis.”
“I believe that particular aphorism has been shown to be apocryphal, and, even if it were genuine, it would have proved to be an instance of extravagant hypocrisy. There was practically nothing the Indian valued so highly as a good rifle.”
“Even so, America’s obsession with guns is startling, not to mention the extraordinary lengths to which gun proponents will go to stretch their beloved Second Amendment out of shape to justify their lust for firearms. For example, when the founders of the Republic talked about the right to bear arms, they were talking about muskets, not assault rifles.”
“I beg to differ. A musket would have been the state-of-the-art weapon used by someone attempting to deprive the citizen of his life or property at that time in history. The concept is one of adequate defense, which a musket obviously isn’t, these days. If the founders had wished to freeze the surety for our liberties in the technology existing at the time, then freedom of speech wouldn’t extend beyond the printed word and declamations from the public rostrum. Your own, no doubt, very interesting televised commentaries wouldn’t be protected.”
Morgan gaped, then recovered with a sneer. “That’s a fatuous analogy.”
“Well…just because! Anyhow, you don’t need guns for self-protection. You have layer upon layer of police in this country.”
“I will venture to say that, as admirable as our police are, their principal duty is often simply to draw a chalk outline around your body after you’ve been murdered, and then, possibly, to catch whoever did the deed. I fail to see how the deceased appreciably benefits personally from a successful investigation and prosecution. In any event, the courts have held that the police are not liable for failing to protect you. And what does the disarmed citizenry do when faced with, say, a police state?”
“Really, old boy, you’re now venturing into John Birch territory! The next thing you’ll be telling me is that President Obama rolls his own joints using strips of paper torn from the original Constitution. Ah! Your man has returned.”
Spurgeon had entered the library carrying a suit-bag over one arm, and a hat box.
“I fear, Mr. Morgan, that, due to the unseasonable number of weddings being held in the neighborhood this week, your sartorial options were somewhat limited. This is the only thing the shop had available in your size.”
Spurgeon unzipped the suit-bag and removed the rental suit for Morgan’s inspection. Morgan’s mouth opened in a kind of voiceless scream, and his cigar fell on the floor. J.P. gently took the whiskey glass from his shaking hand. With the graceful gesture of a Savile Row tailor, laying out the coronation suit of a prospective new king, Spurgeon spread the clothes upon the couch. The suit consisted of a salmon-pink swallowtail coat, with matching silver-striped trousers, and double-breasted waistcoat. A velour top hat and floppy Lord Byron tie of the same vivid hue, a purple caped opera cloak, a pair of patent-leather black shoes, and a white ruffled shirt of a type not commonly seen since the reign of King Louis XIV completed the ensemble. It was a costume that Oscar Wilde, at his most eccentric, might have found excessively outré.
“You can’t be bloody serious!” Morgan spluttered. “I’m not going out in public looking like…like…a magician from the Cirque du Soleil!”
“Oh, I don’t know”, J.P. murmured, gingerly fingering the opera cloak, and suppressing one of his thunderclap guffaws. “I think it’s rather…distingué. Wouldn’t you say so, Spurgeon?”
Spurgeon looked stonily into the middle distance. “I believe the garment is similar to the one that the Emperor Maximilian was wearing when he was executed, sir.”
Morgan sighed dejectedly. “All right, then. But I’d be obliged if your chauffeur could pull up in front of the building as close to the front door as he can get.”
Spurgeon responded sadly. “I’m sorry, Mr. Morgan, but Otto has taken the car to a garage. He was saying something about having to get the leather seats dried. There is a taxi stand a few blocks from here.”
Morgan harrumphed vigorously and donned his costume. He walked to the front door, hump-shouldered in embarrassment, and suddenly, drawing the cloak about his shoulders, he turned to Spurgeon. “Er, I don’t suppose this get-up came with a false beard?”
“Well, there’s nothing for it, then, but to get going. Thanks for the whiskey and cigar, J.P. And be sure to watch my broadcasts; you’ll find them enlightening. Oh, and perhaps you could lend me a tenner for the taxi?”
* * * * * * * *
A few moments later, J.P. sauntered into the kitchen, contemplating a raid on the ice box. He found Spurgeon standing by the window, absently scouring the inside of the conquistador helmet, his gaze fastened on something outdoors. The look on his face suggested that he found the view hugely amusing.
“Spurgeon, what on earth are you staring at? I haven’t seen your map looking that content since the time Lady Thatcher sent you a button off the coat that Wellington wore at Waterloo. Christmas present, wasn’t it?”
“Indeed, sir. Lady Thatcher has always been most thoughtful. To return to your inquiry, Mr. Paco, I am following the continuing adventures of Mr. Morgan.”
“Really? What sort of trouble has he gotten into, now?”
“Kindly see for yourself, sir.” Spurgeon yielded the window.
“Oh, I say!” J.P.’s booming laugh echoed off the kitchen walls.
There, across the street, stood Piers Morgan, his back against a building. He was a roseate vision of victimhood: arms stretched above his head, he was being rapidly frisked by a knife-wielding mugger, who relieved him of the borrowed ten-spot – and, as an afterthought, his top hat and opera cloak.
Spurgeon coughed discretely. “Shall I retrieve my Enfield rifle? I believe I might easily pick the robber off from this distance.”
J.P. smiled. “Why, I wouldn’t think of imposing my beliefs on Mr. Morgan! He prefers the theoretical efficacy of the constabulary to the proven utility of the privately-owned firearm. I say, Spurgeon, is there any of that magnificent pot roast left? Join me in a sandwich, if you will. The kitchen is pretty much out of earshot of the doorbell, so we can, in good conscience, avoid hearing Mr. Morgan’s ring when he inevitably returns to ask for more assistance. A little of that fellow goes an awful long way.”