This One Time, 111

This one time we were all sitting around the boardroom table, enjoying a catered breakfast of coffee from a cardboard box poured into cardboard cups accompanied by another cardboard box full of cardboard donuts. To be honest, none of us flinched at the contrast between this and previous levels of fare, even given consultations for the retinue of minor royalty in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi that rose above five-star service and bounced repeatedly off the ceiling of debauchery. And when I say we were enjoying the coffee and donuts, that wasn’t any exaggeration. One or two of us hadn’t eaten in at least twenty-four hours or seen coffee in a week. The sugar was real. The caffeine was real. What else did we need?

We’d taken a break on usual operations while we were waiting for our market to recover. To saner men, maybe that should have meant that we should stop trying to be parasites on the wealthy and buy a fishing boat or something and learn to be useful — learn to be people who actually produced something people needed rather than simply sucking money away from those who would hardly miss it and let it trickle down to the masses through our grubby fingers, pretending it was a public service. Our numbers had shrunk a little over the last year anyway, presumably as some of us decided to retire on the wads we’d already collected and/or pursue our own goals with more restrained stakes. Maybe at least one of us was already doing something useful. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

One or two ducked out when it was apparent we were working against our mission and caught ourselves sucking money away from the masses and trickling it into the pockets of the already wealthy. The world already has too many victims for us to be among them. That sort of thing is exceptionally hard to take when you know that it’s the poorest that suffer the most when there’s any kind of unforeseeable crisis. And then you have one.

We had money for something better than cardboard service, but there wasn’t anything better to be had. While money wasn’t exactly worthless, having buckets full of it wasn’t going to make you better off.

So we were having a meeting about whether to shelve the project, either for a period of time or indefinitely. Everybody else on our scale was pretty much in bunkers right now and, depending on the variable of foresight, living on some equivalent to cans of beans and drinking recycled urine. Wall Street had burned for more than a week straight. In this case, our foresight was to keep our main offices in Brooklyn. Next to a factory that makes marshmallows. Our street stayed pretty clear.

The current suggestion on the table was that we convert our undistributed holdings to a straight-up hedge fund geared for a bear market and divert any profits into a philanthropic fund that we’d take turns finding beneficiaries for until we were broke or our karmas were clean. Or, you know, until we were broke. At the end of any quarter, any of us who remain could fold our hand, take our share out of the fund, and head for the hills. But no “general consulting” until the general air of desperation was down below the critical threshold of knifing your old buddies in the back for a can of tuna, or maybe never, to be voted on annually at our Spring Retreat.

We hadn’t taken a formal vote, but it was obvious everyone was in favor. We all looked over at Smiley, who hadn’t actually said a word to anyone in two months, but went through the motions of being an actual living breathing eating and drinking human being with the best of us. He stood up and balanced himself with his knuckles on the table like he did at the conclusion of every get-together now and belched his combined approval and benediction.

Then, as the smell of recycled burned coffee wafted around the room, he shocked us all by croaking the phrase, “…and let that serve as a warning to the rest of you.” And gave us all a big, genuine smile.


April 21, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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