Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Nearest Planet

Last week I met my friend's son in the Meat Packing District. Alfred was a business graduate of Princeton. Magna Cum Laude. His parents considered him genius at 21. His father wanted me to introduce him to a big-time investment banker to whom I sold diamonds.

It was a small favor, although sitting amongst the shouting white crowd at a trendy bar was torture, but Alfred and his friends and he were glorious in their youth. They had their entire future ahead of them.

They twittered on their iPhones and discussed inane TV reality shows. The girls fiddled with dead hair. They all looked like underage divorcees. I refrained from any criticism of their behavior or appearance. I had once been young too.

Alfred was eager to start his career in finance and explained his big plans for these challenging times based on the collapse of the EEU. His bet on the dollar was not a risk, if Britain failed in the next week. I told him about my conversation with the head of the EEU bank.

"He considered stabilization of the Euro as the only true means to maintain peace in Europe."

"The problem is that you think America needs Europe. China is the future." Jeb, Alfred's closest friend, had been recruited by a ruthless zombie hedge fund. "The Euro will collapse. The dollar will get strong. The trade deficit will shrink. I'll work at an investment bank for ten years and retire a mega-millionaire."

"That's a good plan." My friends in the investment field were stuck in the rat race of the elite, because wealth increased their desire for more wealth.

"You have something against money," Jeb spoke with a southern accent. His clothing was Brooks Brothers. His drink of choice was a Cosmo. The girls at the table clearly thought that he was handsome.

"No, I like money fine." My bank account was getting low, but my funds would last into autumn.

"You're probably retired on a pension." Alfred's friend was showing his colors.

"I wish." I had belonged to the Teamsters in my youth. Their retirement plan was still intact.

"And social security?" The word was poison in his mouth.

"Not yet." I wasn't going to get much.

"How old are you? A thousand years old?"

"Closer to 100 than 20." I eyed Jeb and saw that Alfred was concerned for his friend's safety. My reputation for violence was legendary. I winked to inform him that Jeb was on thick ice.

"Did they have electricity when you were young?" He actually guffawed at his own joke.

"No cell phones or computers and we had to get up to change the TV." Five years ago I had gotten up from my sofa in Fort Greene and threw the TV out the window. Freedom from nacho ads was a good thing. "I'm just an old dude, but I'm old enough to know that you're a smart kid."

I slapped $100 on the table.

"What's that?" Jeb viewed the bill with suspicion.

"A bet."

"What kind of bet?"

"I ask you three questions that I think you should know and if you get them right, then I give you $100. If you don't get all of them, you owe me $10. You have ten dollars?" Most young people traveled without cash. Plastic was their Mammon of choice. "10 to 1 odds and I promise you these questions will be easy. Put up your money."

"If it's a trick you get nothing." He pulled out a $10 bill. It was all he had in his wallet.

"Question # 1. Who was the first president of the United States?"

"George Washington." His eyes dropped to his iPhone to answer a SMS.

"Correct. I told you these were easy questions. Question # 2. Who won the last THE BACHELOR?" I didn't know the answer, but Jeb replied with a smile, "Courtney Robertson. 2 out of 3."

The young girls with the dead hair clapped for their hero.

"Okay, champ. One last question and it's one everyone should know. What's the closest planet to the Earth?"

"The sun." He sounded so sure of himself and put down his iPhone.

"The sun is a star."

"That was a trick question." His face dropped as I took the $100 and $10 bills.

"Mars is the closest planet."

"Are you sure you don't want to use a lifeline. Anyone, but Alfred." He had been a sky nut as a child.

"Yes." A quick regard to his friends revealed their collective ignorance of the answer.

"The nearest planet is Venus."

"Isn't that a moon?"

"No, it's a planet." Only the once-planet Pluto had been rejected from the list of heavenly bodies.


"A planet."

"Thanks for the fun, I call you tomorrow about an interview."

"Thanks." He knew if I said something to the banker then he would be set.

My friends were my friends.

I walked out without saying a word to Jeb, but a single glance dared him to mutter under his breath. He wasn't that brave and outside I looked up to the western sky. Venus was low over the Palisades. It was the brightest star in the heavens for most people.

Except it's a planet.

The second from the Sun.

And not the third.

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