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The Accounts of Monte Cristo

by John Grant

As someone who has been a committed egalitarian ever since I discovered the meaning of the word — last Thursday, to be precise — I have ever believed in regarding the poorest and most disadvantaged of our society in exactly the same way as I do the richest, most favored and most influential. Call me old- fashioned if you will, but there is no sense in arguing with the dictates of my moral conscience. I must be able to sleep with myself at nights — at least until my lifesize Buffy the Vampire Slayer inflatable action figure gets back from the mending.

It was with these high principles in mind that I regarded the elderly homeless person who approached me begging for a quarter last night as I was returning to my bijou bachelor apartment (living/computer room plus occasional lavatory) after my daily shoplifting trip to the local supermarket. "Piss off, scum bastard," I said merrily — which is exactly the same response I would have given even our beloved leader Alfred E. Bush had he approached me with a request for half a million dollars in laundered under-the-table money for his re-election campaign.

And this even though it might be cheaper to give him the half-million, so that he wouldn't be forced instead to try to guarantee re-election by squandering untold billions on an artificial war in order to force everyone to vote for him or be incarcerated without trial for being unpatriotic.

Still suffused by the warm glow of egalitarian virtue, I tumbled all my "purchases" onto the kitchen table, stood up straight for the first time I'd been able to do so since covertly ramming a gallon jar of mayo down the front of my pants in Aisle 14, and began wondering why I'd bothered liberating them in the first place. Peanut butter and jello poptarts are perhaps useful for dropping on Baghdad — they're the military's dream, surely: smart cookies — but as a foodstuff they're sorely lacking, being made entirely, if I read the packet aright, of aluminum silicate and artificial sweetener. Tuna-flavored microwaveable popcorn is doubtless delicious, but I don't have a microwave oven — not, at least, since my landlord confiscated it after his canary got into it. (To give credit where credit is due, he saved me a nasty cleaning job.) And as for the case of chili beans? — well, I have no desire to have posses of small boys chasing me down the street singing Elton John songs.

I picked up the phone and, claiming to be one of the editors of the Zagat Guide, ordered myself a freebie from my favorite local fast-food joint, good old Gourmet Sidewalk Pizzas.

While waiting for this delicacy to arrive, I succeeded in switching on the television. This has been untunable to anything other than CNN ever since my good if currently immured friend Dave Knuckle, sleeping on my couch one night while on the run from the feds, at 4am unfortunately misidentified the cable box for a urinal — an easy enough mistake to make, as he told me several times while recovering from the burns.

And who should be on CNN tonight but our beloved leader Alfred E. Bush? Last night he was expounding his latest theories on the removal of managerial malfeasance from American industry, which as far as I could gather involved giving all the insider traders and accountancy crooks ginormous tax breaks. I was a little baffled by this as a means of curbing corporate crime until Alfie explained with that infectious grin of his that this tough policy would insure there was a "trickle-down effect," whereby the whole of society would be benefited, the poorest as much as the richest. He did not tell the adulating millions precisely what a "trickle-down effect" actually is, but I assume the principle is that the rich folks, wallowing in the extra billions given to them by a grateful government and having run out of shareholders to swindle, are moved by God to get the chauffeur to pull the Beamer over to the curb so they can do to the homeless what Dave Knuckle did to my cable box.

I had obviously failed fully to fulfil my social obligations toward that unfortunate I'd met on the street. I threw open my apartment window, ready to rectify the situation, but he was nowhere to be seen, and I had a suspicion that the only person in view — my landlord, tending his pet dumpster — might be tempted to stuff the fruits of macroeconomic theory forcefully back where they had come from.

Besides, such matters as theoretical macroeconomics are beyond my humble intellectual scope, especially when I'm salivating at the prospect of a stuffed pepperoni and mango pizza, easy on the anchovies. I settled back to watch Alfie expand on his hypothesis.

Coming in for a particular outburst of wrath and tax breaks to match were people called N. Ron and World Con. At a guess, the latter is a rap "singer" hitherto favored in the White House, although the name alone might have suggested the possibility of accounting irregularities — to use the new PC term for theft. But about the former I happen to know something, thanks to my encyclopedic expertise in the field of science fiction.

N. Ron Hubbard was one of the greatest authors of science fiction's so-called Golden Age — a period when science fiction was climbing eagerly out of the gutter and falling back in again. No longer could it be characterized as being all about mad rapist robots or little green men seizing young innocent American virgins with vile intent — a somewhat scientifically implausible scenario anyway, because when was the last time you met a young innocent American virgin? (Well, present company excepted, of course, despite my eBay auction.) The new Golden Age science fiction was instead firmly rooted in hard rational extrapolation and the highest of literary standards — in other words, the mad rapist robots were given positronic brains, which explained everything satisfactorily, and well over fifty per cent of the authors had learned how to spell. All of this revolution was presided over by the larger-than-life figure of Frank W. Reade Jr, pioneering editor of the magazine Shocking Science Wonder Stories.

It was into this exciting aesthetic milieu that the young N. Ron plunged with such elegant neo-Dostoyevskian literary works as The Purple Girdles of Antares, Nude Blonde Babes from Betelgeuse, Teen Scorchers from Future Female Hell Camps and of course the classic Susan Calvin Hits Puberty. Not only this, but he had the spare time left over to create the new religion of Southern Baptism through his scientific masterpiece, the blockbusting Diuretics. (I experimented with this briefly myself, but for some reason my electricity meter proved implacably unresponsive to my infusion of theta waves.) Even death was not enough to put an end to the prolificity of this amazing literary giant, who has since churned an extraordinary stream of novels which prove that there is no conflict between literary genius and bestsellerdom. His best- known work was filmed a few years ago with John Travolta in the lead role as an alien moron.

I couldn't quite see why Alfie had singled out this dead science fiction novelist for especial vituperation and tax breaks — I hadn't even realized they were on first-name terms — but, as I say, my mind was focused primarily on the upcoming Gourmet Sidewalk Pizza rather than macroeconomics. Besides, Alfie had now moved on to another means of fighting this phenomenal recent upsurge in corporate crime — not to be confused with the last wave of corporate crime, in the early 1990s, which, according to Alfie, is now universally recognized except by Taliban sympathizers as having been completely above-board and ethical.

It is open to every red-blooded American to help in the war against boardroom dishonesty, Alfie was saying. All we have to do is leave tips.

I was needing my pizza quite a lot by now, as you can imagine. I leave tips as generous as the next man in every restaurant I frequent — aside from our local topless diner Bazoombas-A-Go-Go, but that's for the very simple reason that I haven't yet dared go in — but I have yet to ascertain any effect, beneficial or otherwise, of my disbursing my pesos on the campaign to stop the fat cats ripping the rest of us off blind.

What Alfie wants, confusingly, is for the members of certain professions in particular to start tipping a bit more lavishly: USPS personnel, deliverypersons, my good friends Bubba and Hoss from the exterminators Vermin R Us, cash-register operatives, and the like. In particular — wow, that last stomach-rumble of mine shook the walls! — he wants to recruit mutant telepathic Gestalt-mind cockroaches to the cause.

At his mention of the seemingly innocuous phrase "mutant telepathic Gestalt-mind cockroaches" it was as if an electric shock had coruscated all the way from the top of my skull to the very soles of my shoes, popping zits in a volcanic fusillade of consternation.

Reader, you may have been lucky enough never to have encountered a battalion of mutant telepathic Gestalt-mind cockroaches but, believe me, I Indubitably Have — a Golden Horde of which every individual member was Genghis Khan. I have no knowledge of their policy towards the leaving of gratuities, but I do know their intentions towards the human species: they are resolved to do nothing less than hijack our brains and take over the entire planet! The last time I was invaded by them it took none other than Bubba and Hoss, genetically predisposed as they are to be immune from such hijacking, to fight back the evil tide.

And then it all began to make sense. By encouraging the mutant telepathic Gestalt-mind cockroaches to leave tips, Alfie was hoping that every restaurant in the land would be forced to call in Bubba and Hoss — or such of their many relatives who weren't in prison — who would likewise leave tips. The whole phenomenon would spiral synergistically (I found that word on the same page as "egalitarian" in my Random House Extremely Concise Dictionary of the English Language) until the economy was being inexorably revitalized by all the tips being left everywhere by the humble artisans least able to afford them. In short, there'd be a trickle-up effect, so that rather than having to engage in corruption to fleece employees and small shareholders the CEOs — by this time all cockroaches, of course — could simply rake in the accumulated tips . . . to the manifest benefit of society as a whole!

"Genius" is hardly an adequate word to describe this new economic policy of Alfie's. Farewell, corporate crime. Farewell, poverty — because all the poor would have died of starvation by now. Farewell, opposition politicians — because who in their right mind is going to vote for a self-proclaimed lousy tipper? Farewell teachers who insist on teaching evolution in the schools and farewell all those commie liberals who campaign against executing the innocent and farewell Saddam Hussein unless after all required to boost Alfie's vote yet further! (I actually lost Alfie's logic a bit as he pronounced those last few points, but he said he'd got them from Sir John Ashcroft, who'd got them directly from God, so they must be right.)

At this point there was a nasty fizzle from the back of the television set, sound and picture disappeared, and the subtle but distinctive odor of roast roach filled the air.

The campaign had started!

There was, however, simultaneously a knock at my door. Moments later I was sitting eagerly in front of a steaming Gourmet Sidewalk Pizza — mm, delicious! I set aside my qualms about Alonzo's projectile mode of delivery ("Shaves on cardboard bokshesh," he'd explained thickly, mid-pizza), and tucked in, secure in the knowledge that the government of our great nation is in safe mandibles.

My complacency was disrupted by the ringing of my new J-Lo Collectible Telephone. Tugging the wispy undergarments off the mouthpiece and earpiece, I heard the mellifluous tones of my good friend Dave Knuckle come booming down the line.

"They've released my head and right leg into the wardship of Amnesty International," he said. "Now, about this legal retainer I've been paying you while I've been in the joint . . ."

"My accountants can justify every cent of the expenditure," I said patriotically.

The End