The Words of the Moffitt Family
There are six different ways to kill a man with a lemon wedge. And I know all of them.
The plush Atrium Lounge of the Makati Shangri-La, in the heart of the top of the food chain in Manila, is enormous. On Sunday afternoons, a string orchestra made entirely of gorgeous young women play classical and popular music while people sip tea and hors d'oeuvres in the quietude of elegance. The wall behind the orchestra is solid glass rising three stories, overlooking a perfectly manicured garden beyond.
I was the only one sitting near the indoor fountain. It had been a tough week and the sound of falling water was relaxing. A couple of no-nonsense Godfather extras suddenly stood in front of me, interrupted my reverie. One of them asked if I wouldn't mind relocating to another part of the room so they could have that area for a "private conference."
They were muscled, trying to smile, but it wasn't really working for them. They looked only barely this side of nasty, wearing the embroidered barong shirts that are the business attire of the Philippines. Their shoes were scuffed and dirty. One of them was big, a human truck. The other, who did the talking, was a dark, thin stiletto. Definitely not Atrium Lounge material. I imagined them on leashes, sniffing luggage at the airport. Behind them by the bar a group of nicely dressed gentlemen stood talking, studiously not noticing the meeting arrangements being negotiated for them. That's why henchmen were invented, to do the heavy lifting in community relations.
"If you don't mind," the smaller of the two, the asp, said impatiently.
I eyed the lemon wedges on the plate beside the teacup, then thought, nah.
"I don't mind at all," I smiled. And I didn't. I stood as a waitress and a very relieved maître d' rushed in to scoop up my tea and hors d'oeuvres and whisk me over to a table with a good view on the other side of the room. I felt good because now the Atrium Lounge owed me one.
"Would you like to try the crispy Thai chicken?" the maître d' asked, "It's our specialty," adding, "on the house."
Would you like the first violinist to soothe your fevered brow?
The scruffy guards were the darkest pillars of soot, chatting on the edge of the commandeered sitting area a discrete distance from the meeting. They created an unspoken no-fly zone for that part of the room. The cascading water would make it impossible for a hidden microphone to pick up what was said, and I wondered if that had anything to do with why they had chosen to sit there. The three gents were soon joined by two equally well turned out elders with distinguished gray at the temples. They shook hands and all sat down to plot their high crimes and misdemeanors.
I tried to allow for the possibility of having misjudged them. But sadly, I knew I hadn't. You can cover thugishness in a silk shirt but the stains of predation and vulgar nonchalance will still bleed through until that's all you can see. Occam's razor: the simplest solution is usually the correct one. They were not meeting about how to bring fresh water to the slums.
I watched the gentlemen. The first three were subordinate to the two elders. The body language and attempt at lame humor from one of the three, said this was their first time to meet. I imagined all of them as they would appear twenty-five years from now, alone and bereft of love, unless they were lucky. Maybe they would never get their priorities figured out. Two and a half decades from now their bodies will be deteriorated long past anything assisted living could do for them. They will be discarded and diapered, warehoused in a nursing home while the remaining money is steadily sucked from their accounts. Liver-spots and scattered wisps of hair, trembling palsied hands, useless dead penises, as they stare up at the skylight in the dayroom, waiting for the Great Leveler to show up. But right now, still so far away from that time, and puffed up with ignorance, they had full shocks of expensively cut hair, and powerful urges that would be met by the world they had built. They were the bottomless Mariana Trench of need.
Consider this: All that separates me from Tiger Woods on the golf course is distance and accuracy. Just two things, only it's a matter of scale. What separates a wealthy man who only takes, from a wealthy man who gives it all back, may be a much smaller scale, I think. It's a short walk from the dark side, into the light, maybe it's as simple a thing as how a person comes by his brownie points. Does his first taste of respect come from someone who admires him or from someone who fears him? The choices that lead a person down one road or the other could be as fleeting as praise given or withheld when one is young. It's subtle, like the difference between a hamster and a gerbil. (A gerbil has more dark meat.) I wondered what would it take for the wheeler dealers by the water fountain to make the shift, to awaken to the sacred and change everything about themselves for the better?
Jeremiah, the prophet not the bullfrog, said, "For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, And from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely." No wonder they threw him in prison. But his point is well taken. The "least of them" sitting in front of me, greedy for gain, looked like lifers. Really, what would it take?
Figure another ten or fifteen years before immortality starts to become an illusion for them, like it already has for me and most of my friends. They're all savvy guys at the top of their game. You'd think they would try to investigate what comes next after the big roulette wheel they're on begins to slow. Do they really think it spins forever? At some point a person thinks, hey, I have enough money and clout. Don't they? Don't your priorities shift at some point? How do gangsters relax anyway? Do they take time to stop and kill the roses?
The question is, if I had possession of the Ring of Power, would I throw it into the Fires of Mordor to save the world when the time came? Pretty much all of existing literature says no. History agrees, but then history doesn't know squat. I challenge the assumption of greed, and I am not special, trust me. On the Hitler-to-Gandhi spectrum of sainthood, I am Joe Sixpack, somewhere in the middle. I am probably one of those lukewarm people who disgust God. "I will spit you out," I believe God warns us. But I will still toss the damn ring into the flaming pit without a second thought. I kid you not. You just watch.
"If I were the king of the world, tell you what I'd do. I'd throw away the cars and the bars and the war, and make sweet love to you." Book of Jeremiah. The bullfrog Jeremiah.
At some point in my musings I made eye contact with the two nose tackles. We smiled, nodded. Each of us had gotten what we wanted. Over in my part of the Atrium, the Thai chicken lived up to its billing. They brought more tea and, sipping with pinkie extended, I listened to the All Pretty Girl Orchestra. I never saw the check.