Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are motheaten. 3 Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. 4 Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. 5 Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. 6 Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.
James 5:1-6 (KJV)
Some men value the arts or the sciences or the written word. They measure a man’s worth by his character and integrity, his faith and his compassion toward his fellow man, his love of family, and his inventiveness and initiative. The lesser among us value money and the love of it and judge another’s worth solely by the wealth that he creates. These are the ones whose souls are ruled by the godless trinity of Greed, Power, and Ego, all fed by the poison of covetousness and envy, and they can be anyone, even your next door neighbor.
- I -
The morning op-ed in the Hudson River Clarion leapt from the editorial page, strangling C. Johnson Farnsworth before he could swallow his first bite. Mumbling each word between sips of his coffee, Farnsworth read aloud:
Then They Came For Me
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall ...
First, they came for the unionized public sector workers, who were taking money from me and who were destroying the country because their wages were too high, and, because I was not a unionized public sector worker, I said nothing.
Then they came for the school teachers, who were taking money from me and who were unionized and overpaid and incompetent, and, though I continued to send my children to public schools and boasted that they were excellent students, because I was not a school teacher, I said nothing.
Then they came for the non-unionized public sector workers, who were taking money from me and who were destroying the country because their wages were too high, and, because I was not a non-unionized public sector worker, I said nothing.
Then they came for what was left of the unionized private sector workers, who were making WAY too much money and who were greedy and were nothing but lazy union thugs, and, though I benefited from Organized Labor’s residual effects of better pay and benefits and job safety, because I was not a unionized private sector worker, I said nothing.
Then they came for the minimum wage workers, who were too lazy to get a real job and were of little value in creating wealth and because minimum wages were too high and were not free market based, and, though I never refused the minimum wage portion of my paycheck, because I was not a minimum wage worker, I said nothing.
Then they came for those on unemployment compensation, who were taking money from me and who were nothing but lazy people on extended vacations, and, while I was sure to collect unemployment benefits whenever I was laid-off because I was entitled to them, because I was not unemployed, I said nothing.
Then they came for the Social Security recipients, who were freeloaders taking money from me and who were the elderly who created no wealth and were of little value to the economy, and, though I intended to collect my Social Security benefits because I was entitled to them, because I was not a Social Security recipient, I said nothing.
Then they came for those on disability and worker’s compensation, who were taking money from me and who were too worthless or lazy to work, rendering them of little value to the economy, and, because I was not infirm, I said nothing.
Finally, they came for the non-unionized/anti-union private sector workers, who were taking money from the corporations and entrepreneurs and the richest layer of Americans, and who were now deemed to be earning the excessive wage, making the American worker non-competitive with foreign labor in whatever Third World cesspool that was cost-effective for “off-shored” American jobs, and who envied their neighbors because they might have had a bit more because they belonged to a union or were getting-by because they collected from a government program after contributing to society for fifty years, and, because I was a non-unionized/anti-union private sector worker … there was no one left to fight for me …
… Except for corporate executives and Wall Street titans and hedge fund managers and other assorted billionaires and robber barons, but they were too busy taking from all of us. They accused me of stealing their wealth because my wage was too high and they demanded tax cuts for themselves and their enterprises and wage cuts and job reductions as their just compensation for my larceny. My sacrifice was needed to balance the budgets that they had exploded and so that they could have more money to invest overseas and to furnish their palatial estates and their floating mansions and so that they could fund political campaigns for their elected prostitutes that had rendered the people’s government as their subsidiary and the people’s enemy. They demanded more from me so that their wealth could be trickled down to all of us so that we could be rich, but they were the only ones who got richer.
Then I realized that my ego, which had cultivated my covetousness and greed toward my fellow man that had led me to view everything in life through the cold lens of an economic transaction and that had blinded me to the truth that while others were taking from me, I was taking from them, had caused my own demise because I did not stand with my neighbor … but it was too late.
… And all the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
… “What the …”, bristled Farnsworth, eggs benedict spitting from his lips. Easing his death-grip on the newspaper, he sipped the last of his lukewarm Kopi Luwak(1) and spewed the tepid brew over the editorial before hurling his Royal Copenhagen coffee cup against the dining room wall.
“Emilio”, Farnsworth bellowed, “get the f*** in here.”
Fingering the golden cross that hung from his neck, the chef cowered before his beet-faced employer.
…”Yes … sir.”
“This will cost you … I expect hot coffee for breakfast. I paid six hundred bucks for a pound of this civet s**t. Chefs, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen … you’re through! Pick up your check and get your ass outta here.”
“Get out of here … now … and as for your f***ing check, try and collect. Sue me if you can afford it, damn you. Now get the f*** out of here!”
C. Johnson Farnsworth, “don’t you damn-dare call me Clarence”, was the only child of blue-blood parents of old world money. That rare breed who measured his wealth by the powers of ten, it mattered not that he had amassed his fortune the old-fashioned way, by inheriting it, and the very hint of it afforded him the opportunity to flaunt it all the more. As the publisher of the Hudson River Clarion, only one of his numerous business holdings, he exploited the newspaper as a conduit to a personal freedom of the press that he adored: the freedom to propagandize and demean.
In his mid-fifties, tall, tan and well-groomed, “CJ” was wont to boast that “I pay more for a manicure than most people pay for their monthly mortgage”.
The father of two grown children, his thirty-one year marriage of pretense to his college sweetheart ended in divorce after a salacious front page affair that starred the world famous supermodel twins, Anya and Zanya Alfabette, who, as Farnsworth would joke whenever his lips craved licking: “were as smooth as silk and had me covered from A to Z.”
His appetite spoiled by the unpleasantness of the editorial, it was time for work, or “making millions” as CJ loved to brag. He’d fire the editorial writer on the way to the airport. Two firings in one morning, now there was a double play better than anything the New York Yankees ever turned. Today, he would seal the deal on an acquisition that would make him a mint and cost thousands of workers their jobs. “Duplicates” he liked to call them, or, when in an especially devilish mood … “dupes”.
_ II _
Sipping the last of his Macallan Fine and Rare 1939(2), Farnsworth peered from the window of his private luxury jet at the marshmallow sky that was dotted with the turquoise blue of a brilliant late summer morning and yawned. A nap would serve him well. He’d want to be rested for a busy night of celebration after the business deal was finalized, not knowing what other “short-term acquisitions”, eager to please, he might encounter.
It was somewhere over Kentucky, that thoroughbred state that had given him two Derby victories, when sleep conquered his lust for the profit that would flow into his bulging coffers in a few short hours ...
“… Clarence … Clarence J. Farnsworth, wake up”, commanded a voice both stern and haunting.
“Wha … who the hell are you, and why the f*** are you calling me that name?!”
“I am Emilio, your ex-chef … it is time for your journey.”
Farnsworth squinted at the ghostly visage of his former chef and panicked.
“Emilio … journey … how the hell did you get on this jet … damn you … you’re a terrorist!”
“No, Clarence, this is a dream, your dream. I am your host.”
“You want revenge, you damn two-bit immigrant … security … security.”
“No one can hear you, Clarence. I told you it’s a dream. Look out your window.”
Gaping at the window, Farnsworth was assaulted by a yawning blackness...
“Take my hand, Clarence, it’s time for your journey into the mirror of your soul, a soul that has become more black than the ink on any of your income statements.”
Unable to resist, Farnsworth clasped Emilio’s hand and the two floated through the cabin of the jet and vanished into the blackness.
A burst of laughter greeted the orchestra as it broke into a vigorous rendition of “Love Stinks”(3). Their glasses empty, the bride and groom took to the floor and danced to the applause of the guests.
CJ Farnsworth found himself in the middle of a lavish wedding reception that would soon erupt in crisis.
“… What … why am I here, and who are those people?”, CJ mumbled, staring at the shimmering countenance of his amused former chef.
“These people are not important. There is only one here who is of importance to you. He, too, is a businessman. Tonight, he will conduct his affairs in the same manner that you have all of your life.”
“Which is … ?”
“… which is to say that you are a man who gauges everything in life through the lens of an economic transaction. Supply and Demand is your religion and Profit is your god.”
“Just a damn minute … I donate a lot of money to charity.”
“Of course you do … to feed your ego and to exalt yourself. How many foundations bear your name? They make a fortuitous tax write-off, don’t they?”
“Dammit, that’s not fair. I …”
“And when did you ever say that life is fair, C. J. Farnsworth? … ‘A level playing field is for losers; he who has the most cash wins; screw unto others before they screw unto you’; and need I mention that plate on your desk that reads ‘Greed is go(o)d ’. Would you like to hear more?”
Annoyed, Farnsworth was distracted by a commotion near the bar. The wedding reception had gone dry.
“What a pack of losers. They didn’t even buy enough booze. I had enough booze at my wedding to flood the Sahara.”
“Indeed you did, Clarence, and you drank most of it.”
“I had one helluva hangover the next day.” …
“… And you had one ‘helluva hangover’ the night before, too, didn’t you.”
Flustered, CJ was distracted by the dashing presence of a gentleman who engendered immediate admiration from everyone.
“He is, for this dream, your counterpart, a term which I use, in your case, loosely. His intimates know him as ‘JC’; you know him as Jesus Christ. Tonight you will see Him as you are.”
Farnsworth was curious as he witnessed the Savior of mankind in a contemporary setting, and realized that he had been too busy “making millions” to have ever acknowledged Him.
Jesus was greeted by an elegant but modestly dressed middle aged woman, whom CJ did not immediately recognize as Jesus’ mother, Mary, who informed her Son that wine and spirits were no longer available.
“Oh, I get it”, Farnsworth yawned, “this is that water into wine thing, I know the story …”
“Be silent and watch,” commanded Emilio.
Ignoring His mother’s entreaties, Jesus refused all requests for the miracle that would sate the thirsts of the guests until a sizeable collection from the willing had been presented to Him by His newly appointed Chief Financial Officer, Judas Iscariot.
“He hustled people for money when He could have done something with a snap of His fingers …,” admired a beaming Farnsworth to Emilio.
“That hustle is His fee. Miracles are a lucrative venture these days.”
“… come to think of it, He ignored His mother … He wouldn’t even do it for His mother… Now that’s what I call a businessman.”
Emilio frowned. “Money is thicker than blood, something that you embraced years ago. A celebration without wine created the Demand, and Jesus controlled the Supply … A simple economic transaction. I knew that you would be impressed.”
Without warning, the wedding reception melted away and Farnsworth shielded his eyes from the sun as he stood in the steamy parking lot of a small city hospital.
Nearby, a man in his mid-twenties, prisoner to a wheelchair, waited as his wife unlocked the passenger door of a mid-size Chevrolet that had seen its best days.
Behind them, Jesus and his friends, merry in mood, exited the emergency room, their visit having been a profitable one.
“It’s Him … Jesus, the Miracle Worker”, the wife cried.
Hearing the shout, the group hurried to the car, anticipating another sale.
Unfortunately, the young man’s worker’s compensation had been reduced and he was barely able to muster half of the fee.
Farnsworth spit. “He needs to get on his own two feet and make some money. Worker’s comp costs can be expensive”
“He was on his own two feet”, explained Emilio, “but his legs were crushed by faulty equipment … at one of your factories.”
“Oh … I wasn’t aware …”
“You weren’t aware?” interrupted Emilio … “You don’t recall the OSHA fine? … the one that was reduced to almost nothing by the intervention of the senator that you bought with your campaign contribution or, as you called it, ‘investment’.”
Farnsworth ignored the rebuke as Judas accepted a hastily written check from the young man’s wife and then handed her a silver-toned crutch that had seemingly materialized from thin air.
As his wife watched, the man was able to stand on his strong left leg and, supported by the crutch beneath his right arm, hobbled to the car.
“He healed one of his legs … half a job for half a fee”. Farnsworth acquiesced.
“Indeed, any profit is better than no profit”, Emilio offered. “Now he can get a job and be off the compensation. There are plenty of minimum wage jobs for a, what was that word you just muttered … ‘gimp’.”
“Whatever … he won’t get any more handouts from me.”
“Of course not … I’m sure the private detective that you pay to spy on him has already informed your human resources department.”
As the couple drove away, Farnsworth grew faint as the humidity intensified.
“It’s much too hot for a man of your means, Clarence. It’s time to escape the sun. You should remember that we are all subject to the vagaries of life and accidents can happen to anyone. The man, who is sitting on top of the world today, can have the world sitting on top of him tomorrow”
Ignoring the ominous words of his deposed chef, Farnsworth drifted through a confusing fog, landing amidst a steady mid-morning snowfall on a near deserted inner-city street that was home to a school for blind children.
Stranded before him were several limousines as Jesus, with His entourage, examined the flat tire of the lead limo.
“That’s Him, again. What’s He doing in a dump like this?” Farnsworth smirked.
“His driver, Peter, made a wrong turn”, Emilio explained. “Their destination is the upscale section of this city. Judas suggested it was the appropriate place to exceed their profit expectations for the month. You would be surprised to learn how much those of means will pay for an instant facelift, a full head of hair, or the stamina of a young stallion.”
As the wind whipped icy darts of snow across their faces, the two spied a coatless woman hailing Jesus as she slipped over a glazed and crumbling sidewalk.
“Jesus, praise God, it’s a miracle that you’re here. There are blind children in this school. I beg that You heal them so that they may see You.”
Responding to a slight nod, Judas confronted the woman.
“I doubt, madam, that anyone here”, his condescension biting, “can meet our established fee. There is a premium charge for restoring eyesight, especially for the young who will exploit, I mean utilize, this miracle for many years. Healing the blind is one of our top-of-the-line services. Only raising a loved one from the dead is more expensive.”
Befuddled for a moment, the woman pleaded … “ But … but, these are children and most of them are from poor families …”
A scowling Judas scolded … “No matter, we have a business to run, and, in fact, we’re late as it is.” You can give the children these complimentary walking canes. We do it as a courtesy for those who can’t afford our services … and here is our business card should anyone’s financial circumstances improve. We can be contacted via our toll free 800 number or online at www.affordablemiracles.com.
Moments later the limousines sped through the potholed avenue, splattering the headmistress with slush and decaying offal that had spilled from that morning’s refuse pick-up.
Shivering, Farnsworth spoke to himself … “This Guy is beyond ruthless … I mean, they’re kids.”
“Yes, agreed Emilio, “what you have witnessed was much more heartless than writing your children out of your will, as you intend to do. No matter, Business is Business and any good businessman will take his wares where profit can be maximized … and you are a master of Business, aren’t you? After all, one of your subsidiaries manufactured those canes”
His blank expression rattled by an explosion of thunder, Farnsworth found himself in a near-deserted cemetery, standing beneath the scraggly branches of an ancient elm tree that afforded no refuge from a late autumn downpour.
As the rain intensified, mourners passed by, most of them absent of any emotion save for ennui. Among them were Jesus and several of His assistants.
“Well, that’s the end of him”, were the hollow words of Judas, “He was of great profit to our ministry”.
Farnsworth grimaced as a gust of air splattered his face with rain and noticed the deceased’s loved ones imploring Jesus to raise His friend from the dead.
The fee was an exorbitant one, however, and the deceased, who was thought to be a friend to many in life, was forgotten by them in death, and there was no one willing to pay the Miracle Worker who stood only yards away from His friend’s grave stone.
A crack of lightning frightened Farnsworth to attention.
“What kind of a man would put a price tag on friendship?”
Emilio’s glare admonished Farnsworth, as another flash of lightning illuminated the somber afternoon.
“Clarence, go and see the final resting place of the friend that all have abandoned. His wallet might as well be buried there, because his money was all that any of them ever admired.”
Traipsing over the decaying leaves, his Testoni Moros(4) caked with mud, Farnsworth crouched before the grave stone and read aloud …
“In Memory of C. Johnson Farnsworth
Philanthropist, Entrepreneur and Father
Born November 24th, 1955
Died November 24th, 2011
May His Soul Be As Blessed in Death
As It Was In Life”
Stricken, Farnsworth looked to Emilio, but he was gone.
His face dripping with rain and tears shed from eyes that had never cried, CJ looked heavenward, his stare blinded by the lightning bolt that would char more than his dream.
As his ghost arose from his ashes, C. Johnson Farnsworth beheld an endless landscape of gentle valleys dotted with stately trees of every variety, all decorated with the autumn-colored foliage of candy-apple red and lemon yellow mingled with brilliant shades of flaming orange, cinnamon, and golden-tan. In the distance, majestic mountains, coated in gold and platinum, stood as silent sentries. The breathtaking vista was blanketed by a shimmering diamond-white snow, though Farnsworth felt no cold. Before him loomed a great white gate studded with innumerable jewels of colors he could not identify. Near the gate was a great oak desk, a huge open book resting upon it. A wizened, white-haired man, of authoritative bearing but pleasant disposition, sat behind the desk with a golden quill pen in hand.
“Well, c’mon, don’t keep me waiting. What’s your name, young fellow?”
Before CJ could answer, he was enveloped by a soothing music that rendered him lightheaded for a moment.
Slowly the gate before him opened and a figure, grand but humble in bearing and gentle and loving in spirit, and cloaked in a silver-white robe, stood before him.
Gasping, Farnsworth recognized the figure at once.
“You’re Him … you’re … Jesus, the Man in my dream.”
“Welcome, my friend,” Jesus smiled. “Peter, is Mr. Farnsworth’s name in the Book of Life?”
“Flipping the pages, Peter mumbled names … “hmmm, here’s a Charles J. Farnsworth …
“That’s my grandfather”, CJ interrupted in the most hopeful of tones.
“… no, no, there’s no Clarence J. Farnsworth,” responded Peter, his voice reduced to a whisper.
As a profound sadness etched His eyes, Jesus addressed Farnsworth.
“I’m sorry, Clarence, but it is not possible for you to enter the Kingdom of My Father.”
Desperate, Farnsworth resorted to his innate sense of negotiating, a gift that had served him well on those rare occasions when his dictates had failed him … “I’m rich. I can buy anything. You have a price, I saw it in my dream. Name your price and I’ll pay … I’ll exceed it!”
“Clarence, you are correct. I do have a price, but it is a simple one. You need only have had belief and acceptance that I am the Son of My Father and in My sacrifice on the Cross of Calvary for you and your sins. You never confessed those sins nor did you have remorse for them. Your self-importance blinded you to the gift of Life that I offered to you, and you worshipped your own gods that you set before you. There are many people beyond this gate who met My price, and most were of little wealth, but their souls were infinitely richer than all of your treasures. You were duped by the riches that you believed were measures of your true worth. Just as you placed a price on everyone and everything, now I must place a price on you. Your soul is not awash in the blood of My sacrifice; you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Shutting his eyes, Farnsworth hung his head as his cotton-dry mouth was empty of rebuttal; the man who was sure to have the last words … had none.
Immediately, two angels escorted him to the edge of a great black abyss where C. Johnson Farnsworth disappeared.
- III -
“Harley … Harley … wake up … wake up!”, his wife implored.
“… huh … what … “
“Harley, sweetie, are you alright?”
“Oh, man, did I have a bad dream … a real nightmare”, Harley Penrod sighed. “I dreamt that I was a rich guy who put a price on everything. Jesus was in it, too ….”
“Jesus? … did you take His name in vain like you always do?”
“ … and He wouldn’t perform any miracles unless he got paid” …
“Harley, did you scarf down some of those cold meatballs before you went to bed?
“… and Charlie Farnsworth was in it, too. He was in Heaven.”
“Charlie Farnsworth? … the only time you ever mention his name is when you wanna bitch about taxes because he’s on Social Security and his daughter is a school teacher.”
“… and I got hit by lightning and then Jesus sent me to Hell.”
“That’s it, Harley, no more spaghetti for you.”
It was a quick and quiet breakfast for Harley Penrod. He was late for work and his conscience was reprimanding him more than the indigestion from his late night bout with meatball gluttony. Hurrying to his bus stop, he noticed his neighbor, Charlie Farnsworth, and greeted him for the first time in what must have been years. Perhaps, the old guy wasn’t so bad, Penrod reasoned. Charlie would do anything for you and he had done his time, and forty-five years in a steel mill was a lot of time. By God, I hope he lives to be a hundred, Harley wished.
Boarding the bus, Public Transit 1207, Harley greeted the driver, who appeared stunned by the unexpected pleasantness, and then plopped himself into his customary seat in the second row.
Harley Penrod possessed a special loathing for those he considered to be on the public dole, whether they be the retired, the unemployed, or public sector workers. “Leeches”, he would sneer, who were too lazy to work or were union thugs, and all of them robbing him of his hard earned money. This Monday, however, it was the bus driver’s smile that touched him. He had never seen the man smile before. Tomorrow, he promised, he would introduce himself and ask the driver his name.
Several stops later, a tall, stylish man boarded the crowded bus, exchanging greetings with the driver before claiming the abandoned seat next to Harley’s. After donning his reading glasses, the gentleman began to peruse the sports page of the local newspaper.
“Lost again, didn’t they?”, Harley broke the silence.
“Shaking his head, the man answered with a slight accent: “Yes, they did. 4-2. That’s six in a row”.
“Haven’t seen you here before … my name’s Harley.”
“Well, it’s very nice to meet you, Harley. This is my first time on this bus. My name is Emilio.”
“ … Ah … Emilio …”
“Yes … I’m starting a new job today.”
“Well, congratulations. So … what do you do?”
“I’m an executive chef.”
“… a chef? …”
“Yes, a chef. My former boss dismissed me in a huff but today is a new day for me and God has blessed me with another opportunity.”
Fearing that he was reliving his dream, Harley gulped and then noticed something glittering from a chain that dangled from Emilio’s neck.
“That’s a cross … you’re wearing a cross.”
Emilio was humbled.
“Yes it is. I wear it to represent my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“Yes, the Savior of all mankind. Do you know Him?”
Feeling ashamed, Harley could only respond with an uneasy: “Well, no, not really.”
“Well, Harley, would you like to?”
Penrod exhaled, shattering the invisible chains of jealousy and hatred and every other sin that had imprisoned him in his insatiable dungeon of self-centeredness, and closed his eyes.
Then he nodded...
“Yes I would. Tell me about this Jesus Christ.”
As the bus driver braked for an approaching traffic light, the morning sun grinned as it peeked from behind a cloud. The city, with its stately skyscrapers outlined against the distant emerald hills that surrounded it, was alive with the bustle of commerce and the people who made his city great.
It was going to be a grand day, Harley Penrod knew, and no one could put a price on it.
Then turning to Emilio, the two began to talk.
- END -
1) Kopi Luwak, or civet coffee, is one of the world’s most expensive coffees. It is derived from coffee cherries that have been eaten and partially digested by the Asian Palm Civet, a raccoon-like mammal indigenous to Southeast Asia. Imported from Indonesia, the coffee sells for as much as $600 per pound in the U.S.
2) Macallan Fine and Rare is a single malt Scotch. Priced at over $10,000 per bottle, it is considered to be the most expensive whiskey in the world.
3) Love Stinks was a 1980 hit song by the J. Geils Band.
4) Purportedly, the world’s most expensive shoes at $38,000 per pair. Hand- made, the shoes are manufactured by the Italian luxury leather goods label. A. Testoni.