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
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
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
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
"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