AT the monthly meeting of the elders of the City of Babel, the minister of tourism stood and spoke.
"I have very bad news. The people-with-credit-cards grow tired of our quibbling over numbers. Frankly, they are alarmed by those who commit or try to commit unseemly and untimely terminations. If it continues, people-with-credit-cards are threatening to stop coming to our fair city."
The dread of economic sanctions brought a heavy gloom to the " tower room. The leader who sits at the head of the table and holds the people's trust spoke.
"Why do the people-with-credit-cards not understand that they are safe in our city? Can they not see that the people-without-credit-cards, who commit most of the crimes of unseemly and untimely termination, almost always perpetrate this crime on other people-without-credit-cards?
The minister who sits at the right hand of the leader and is charged with making the houses of people-without-credit-cards disappear rose and spoke.
"Surely the problem is the fault of the media. It is they who irresponsibly alarm people-with-credit-cards when they bring our failures to public scrutiny."
The minister of the protectors of public safety rose and spoke.
The pharmaceutical trade
"Our exhaustive research reveals that most of the crimes of unseemly and untimely terminations revolve around the illegal pharmaceutical trade. We propose to tell all the people-without-credit-cards who are involved in this trade that as long as they do not commit unseemly and untimely terminations, they will be free to ply their trade without interference. But woe to those who dare to ply their trade and commit this heinous crime. They will feel the full wrath of our might. We have a new slogan, "Just say no."
The president of the friendly philanthropic foundation rose and spoke.
"While one set of numbers is purportedly down, the number of unseemly and untimely terminations is up. Clearly, cranial carnage is in vogue. I propose we pass a law that requires all people-without-credit-cards to wear protective head gear. I will buy helmets for the truly needy."
The earnest young intern from the prestigious university cleared his throat and spoke.
"So far, this discussion has dealt with one symptom of a very complex set of social conditions. Why has no one formulated a more lasting solution?"
All the gray beards around the table smiled paternally toward the earnest young intern.
The leader who sits at the head of the table and holds the people's trust spoke.
"It is known that the people-with-credit-cards live beyond our domain in the land of Instant Gratification. There, the swipe of their credit cards makes short work of problems. Hence, they are unaccustomed to the knock-down, drag-out dreariness imposed by long-term solutions. It has always been political suicide to propose a long-term solution when a quick fix sounds so much more appealing."
The minister of political spin who stays behind the scenes rose and spoke.
"Perhaps we can persuade the people-without-credit-cards to inflict damage on another part of the body. I was thinking the foot."
The minister of entertainment jumped up and spoke.
"That's it! We could persuade Hollywood to make a movie where the Cultural Icon adopts pedal punctuation as a way to punish the villain."
The representative from the Great Shoe Co. rose in support.
"This is a stroke of genius. Pedal punctuation could rejuvenate slumping sales and invigorate our Asian sweatshops."
The Minister of Sports spoke.
"I think we are onto something, something really big I am thinking SPORT. Have not the people-without-credit-cards always been eager to entertain us by playing in our most violent sports? I see gladiators, coliseums, yeah, pay-per-view."
Bet on this
The leader who sits at the head of the table and holds the people's trust could not contain himself.
"I see gambling -- revenue."
With the intoning of the sacred word all heads bowed.
As the ideas flowed around the table, the minister of tourism breathed a sigh of relief. He thought, surely now, I will have something to lighten the hearts of the people-with-credit-cards.
Edward Burns, a retired Baltimore police detective, is a Hamilton Middle School teacher and author with David Simon of "The Corner, A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood."
Pub Date: 5/22/98