Friday, October 31, 2008

TWO MORE WEEKS? - By Jimmy Petrol

Is it possible? Can The Texan's Chainsaw Massacre of the Constitution be nearly over?

I decided to go the street and get the scoop from the guys that make a living figuring the angles and the odds. You know who I mean. Slipping in the back door of an ancient and unlikely Italian restaurant after closing time and making my way to the small whiskey bar inside, would be, I thought, the surest way to an audience with the muscle on duty. I had no hopes of getting to talk to anyone higher up...and had no desire to, either.

I sat at the bar sipping sarsparilla for a half hour or so. They had just closed, so there were a couple of families and a cute set of lovers dawdling over cold plate of pasta, finishing bottles of house wine. The front door was locked, so one by one they were let out by the hostess. After a bit, I was alone with the bartender. To his curt "We're closed now" I answered an equally curt "I'm waiting for someone". He tilted his head to one side, a robin eyeing a likely worm, and gave a wry, short huff of a laugh. "OK" was all he said, but he slipped off and had a chat with someone on the phone at the end of the bar.

After a bit a guy that looked a lot like a movie-cop in an expensive suit came in through the kitchen. He sat down on the barstool right next to mine. Close. Then he moved it even closer...all the while looking right at me in the big mirror behind the bar. He had the same, wry smile the bartender wore. I felt a lot like a worm in an aviary. The bird next to me looked well fed, but I had the feeling he was a real gourmand. Always up for a snack. I hoped I wasn't going to be on the menu. The guy next to me was big, well-groomed and confident. Impeccably dressed and all smiles. The kind of guy you meet at a Ferrari dealership in New York. I knew he was there for me because he had sat down so close by; he had entered my personal space with a thud and appeared perfectly at ease there. I knew he was just trying to put me at a disadvantage. I went for openers.

"He bud!" I said it jauntily, too. "What's in the election for you? You got a favorite?" The large fellow looked down at me. I figured him for about six-four, 240 and probably Mediterranean. I smiled up at him and ate another pretzel. "What kind of businessman gives a s**t who's President?" His crooked smile had been joined by a raised eyebrow and a flippant tone. I dove in. "What kind of business doesn't care?" I ate another pretzel and chewed it with a panache that only a Greek like me can muster. "Humph." he intoned, turning his attention to the pretzels in front of me, using the reach to creep in a little closer yet. Now he was close enough I could smell his aftershave. It smelled like gun oil and garlic. I moved into his shadow and said it real slow, quiet.

"So how is it you don't care? You live outside the economy? You don't have kids gotta go to war?" The gun oil was oddly comforting; I knew I didn't intimidate my friend in the least and that meant safety. I smiled again and ate another pretzel, this time using the fastidious manners an uptown lawyer might use when delivering a cash payment to a judge. Confident, clean, rich. "Hmm." He eyed me, reached for another pretzel. Now we were so close we were touching. He held my gaze and continued, "Business with brains doesn't care." He looked at me sideways; I gave him my best poker face, waiting.

"Smart money just follows the rules. When they change, smart money changes with them. Where one day a guy is deep in real estate, the next he might want to be in Treasury Bonds. See, the guys in charge just change stuff around to suit themselves; all you have to do is figure out where the wind is blowing and get there quick. We're just waiting. Obama? We buy Municipal Bonds. McCain? We buy more Bechtel stock. Lots." He wasn't looking at me now....just very, very close and massive.

I was impressed. "And Palin? What if McCain has a stroke over his trophy wife or something...what if Palin ends up First Dummy?" "Palin? If that bimbo lands in the Oval Office, we just go on as usual. She don't have a clue and ain't gonna get one. The bankers will walk into the treasury, the insurance boys will follow and we'll just follow the wind, whatever way it blows." It was my turn. All I could say to that was "Hm."

My friend nudged me with his massive, elegant elbow. "Get outa here, Jimmy. You think you've done something, coming here, but you forget; smart money follows the rules, ‘cause big money makes rules that make money. That means there isn't any more of what you think you're looking for. We're just investors, me and the boys. Just like anybody, Jimmy. We just don't pretend we're altruistic. That's the only difference between us and the banks, buddy; we don't pretend to have a social conscience. Now scoot."

He turned away from me and motioned to the barkeep to come over. He asked for another coffee. It came just as I left. The "suits" in the booth had never even looked at me. When I went by their table on the way out I heard one of them say something about buying stock in Avon and Tupperware. They all laughed at that. I hit the door, deep in thought.

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