Open Thread: Did *I* write this 2011 Debt-Ceiling Allegory?

I was looking thru an old broke-down laptop this week, and came across this story on a word document, and… did *I* write this? I don’t remember writing it, but it sounds just like me, especially the Alice-in-Wonderland-like last paragraph. I’m pretty sure I never published it, but it’s funny I find it again right now, just as Congressional Republicans are once again threatening us with financial armageddon like they did 12 years ago (if you remember.)

Funny – did I write too much over the last 12 years, or drink too much? Probably a little of both. Anyway there are a couple things I don’t like about it (and maybe that’s why I didn’t publish it.) There’s the knee-jerk pox-on-both-houses blaming the situation on BOTH Parties – when actually it is just the Republicans who think that threatening not to pay our bills – THEIR bills – is a handy and appropriate way to force unconscionable concessions from the Democrats. Also, the sentimental fantasy in the final sentence that the People of America could do something about the Debt Ceiling if the two Parties just got out of the way.

Yeah, maybe that’s why I didn’t publish it 12 years ago. Anyway, THIS IS YOUR MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND OPEN THREAD GOING FORWARD. Talk about whatever. Make us cry, make us laugh, but for God’s sake make us smarter.

That night at dinner, just like every evening the previous few weeks, Michelle was “This is all your fault” and Gabriel was all, “No, dear, it’s actually mostly your fault.”  Finally, having had enough, 14-year-old Brandon shouted, “Will you two shut up!”  His parents sat up in shock, eyes wide open.  “Why don’t you listen to what Mr. Poor actually wrote?  Mr. Standard N. Poor?  Sally, do you have that letter?”

His little sister pulled a couple of pages out of her purse, while her father stammered, “Where did you find that?”  She handed it to her brother, who recited, “We regretfully downgrade this family because of MRS. Johnson’s refusal to consider adding any REVENUE to her family’s budget, and her constant threats to default on the debt.”

Eleven-year-old Joshua chimed in, “Yeah mom, all the Wagner kids heard you at that party Friday night laughing and saying ‘Maybe it’s not such a big deal if our family defaults!’  They said you sounded drunk.”

Michelle sat with her head held high, proudly.  “What I discovered was that this family’s finances are a hostage that’s worth holding for ransom.  And look what happened, I got 98% of what I wanted, didn’t I?”

Chaos broke out at the dinner table.  Seventeen-year-old Charlene was loudest.   “Great, mom.  98% of what you wanted.  Now we’re down to two meals a day, you’ve liquidated the savings account for our college educations, YOU won’t get a job…”

“If I got a damn job, I couldn’t stay home and make sure YOU don’t get an abortion!” snapped Michelle.

“Yeah, wonderful,” Charlene muttered with her head down.  “Another mouth we can’t afford to feed.”

Nine-year-old Randy broke the awkward silence, “And why do we have to keep paying for armed guards for half the houses on the street?  How much does THAT cost us??”

All the other children joined in, “Yeah, Mom, why all the armed guards?  Can’t some of the neighbors chip in for that?”

“Randy, dear, this is a dangerous, dangerous street, and we need to keep our friends close and our enemies closer.  We are the family the other families look up to for protection, the shining house on the hill.  I know you’re too young to remember, Randy.  But have the rest of you forgotten what happened here ten years ago?  Do I need to tell you the story again???”

Gabriel quietly observed, “You know, the kids are right, Michelle.  We COULD let a FEW of those armed guards go, and save a LOT.”

“Why do all you people hate this family?”  Tears began to roll down Michelle’s eyes.  “I’m walking out of here!”  She slammed down her silverware and stomped out of the dining room into her bedroom.

Gabriel sat there shaking his head.  “Real piece of work, that mother of yours.”  Chuckling, he began, “Can’t live with ‘em, can’t – “

“You haven’t exactly covered yourself in glory either, Dad” interrupted 12-year-old Chelsea. 


“Jeffery, do you have that tape we made?  Of Mom and Dad’s so-called negotiations?”  Six-year-old Jeffery grinned from ear to ear, showing a missing front tooth, and pulled out some kind of little I-POD.  “No!  Please don’t play that Jeffrey!” Gabriel pleaded, “I can’t go through all that again.”

“Suffice it to say, Dad, you gave Mom EVERYTHING she wanted.  Our college educations – gone.  Our health insurance gone.  No new income at all.”

“Where are those jobs you promised us, Dad?” snapped sixteen-year-old Greg, and his fellow quintuplet brothers joined in a cacophony, “Yeah!  If we had work, we could help out here.  That’s all we want to do…  You’re the employer of last resort, Dad!”

“Your Mother…”

“Wait – is that her on the phone now?  Is she drunk again?”

The family suddenly hushed, and they could hear Michelle clearly yelling on the phone – she was yelling loud enough for them to hear, on purpose.  “Mr. Poor?  I just want you to know that next month I am going to shut the Johnson family down.  We – “

Gabriel jumped out of his chair and picked up the extension.  “I’m sorry, Mr. Poor.  Please ignore this call.  Michelle – GET OFF THE PHONE.  Mr. Poor, I am going to have her committed first thing in the morning.  Don’t worry, this family will always pay its debts and we are NOT SHUTTING DOWN.”

Gabriel hung up, sat down at the table and wiped the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief.  “Children, there is really only so much I can do.  If I were a government I could create jobs.  If I were a government, and not just the head of a family, I could briefly run up a deficit to get the economy cranked up again.  If I were a government – “

“Wait a second,” puzzled eight-year old Chutney.  “IF you were a government?  But I thought…”

“So you’re saying there’s only so far this whole metaphor can be taken?” one-year-old Biff piped up from his high chair through a mouthful of Gerber’s.  The whole family stared – those were the first words they had ever heard him utter.  They looked down at their hands…which began to dissolve into formless stumps.  Limb by limb, face by face, they slowly dissolved;  they tried to speak but their very thoughts were inchoate.  Finally it was just we Americans sitting here, trying to figure out what to do next.


That was back when S&P downgraded America’s credit to “Double-A-Plus.” Which reminds me of something else: My mom used to sing “Stars and Stripes Forever” with some silly lyrics that started “Be kind to your web-footed friends, for a duck could be somebody’s mother…” I found out a few years ago that she got those lyrics from Milton Berle’s short-lived radio show. But old Milton didn’t finish writing the lyrics, HE thought it was hella funny to go “You may think that this is the end; WELL YOU’RE RIGHT!” and stop abruptly in the middle of the tune. I didn’t think that was so fucking funny, so I finished the verse off, with a reference to our nation’s new “Double-A-Plus” credit rating:

Be kind to your web-footed friends
cuz a duck could be somebody’s mother.
Be kind to your friends in the swamp
cuz they live where it’s very very damp.
Well you may think that this is the end:
You’d be wrong, like a million more before you.
This song’s rated Double-A-Plus,
and after this we have a dozen more to bore you!


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official political troubadour of Anaheim and most other OC towns. Regularly makes solo performances, sometimes with his savage-jazz band The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.