At first, I wasn’t even interested. After all, bailout funds have something of a stigma about them, don’t they? What with AIG, the big car companies, and greedy bankers all clamoring for more, it’s just a little embarassing for a small businessperson to go out looking for the government dole. We’re supposed to be the proud and determined entrepreneurs that keep the country productive and innovative and 16 other patriotic sounding adjectives.
After 17 continuous months of recession, though, things were getting kind of desperate. Actually, Poor Richard didn’t realize that it had actually been 17 long months until he heard it on the radio. They kept the first year a secret for a while, you know. Anyway, because the level of desperation is inversely proportional to the level of funds in the company bank account; when the desperation got high enough, I made the phone call. After all, I rationalized, if all this money they’re printing isn’t going to be worth a plug nickel in the long run, shouldn’t AlphaGraphics get some to spend before everybody else figures it out?
So Poor Richard called Saxby Chambliss’ office in Macon and asked to speak with the Senator. A very nice young lady informed me that the Senator doesn’t really actually even ever stay here in Georgia, because it’s too far away from the center of things where all of the important stuff happens. She asked me why I was calling.
“I’m looking for some bailout money,” I responded, then decided to sweeten the pot. “Of course, I’ll be willing to sell up to 99% of the stock in my company, if that will help.”
“Oh, that would be most helpful!” she answered, “and exactly how many billions of dollars does your company need to stay afloat?”
Not wishing to be greedy, Poor Richard responded that a few million would actually do quite nicely. This didn’t sit well with the young lady in Senator Chambliss’ office, though.
“Only a few million?” came the huffy response, “I’m not sure that the treasury department is set up to administer bailouts in such small amounts. I’ll refer your inquiry to the Senator, but perhaps you should contact the Federal Department of Largesse and see if they have a block bailout program for smaller concerns like yours.”
She was kind enough to give me the toll free number for the Department of Largesse and then hung up the phone muttering something about the time wasted by common citizens who feel entitled to call Senators’ offices. Feeling bold, nonetheless, Poor Richard placed a call to the Department of Largesse and immediately became entangled in the voice mail system.
“To assure the highest levels of service, please state your name and input your 9 digit Federal Employer number,” droned a disembodied voice.
“Your call may be monitored to assure high levels of service,” continued the voice, “and your phone may be tapped to assure that you are not speaking regularly with Osama bin Laden or other Al Qaeda operatives. If you wish to continue, please enter your SIC code and the amount of governmental largesse that you wish to request.”
Once again, I complied. Not wanting to be greedy, I punched in 7,500,000. “This is really kind of easy,” I thought.
“Please be advised that if you are awarded funds by the Federal Department of Largesse, your salary and bonus package will be limited to a measly $500,000 annually. In addition, you are warned not to openly redistribute government funds among executive employees in such a manner that the news media or the public might discover your abominably irresponsible and unpatriotic behavior. If you agree with these terms and conditions, please press “1” to continue.”
Having no difficulty with the conditions, Poor Richard pressed “1.”
A long pause ensued, followed by a click as my call was transferred. Poor Richard could hardly wait. “Now I’ll get to talk with one of the customer service reps and tell them where to mail my $7.5 million,” I thought.
The phone clicked once more and another computerized voice queried. “Our records indicate that the asset value of your business is less than $10 billion dollars. Is this correct? If ‘yes,’ please press ‘1’ now, otherwise hold for the next customer service representative.”
With all good intentions and still hoping for the best, Poor Richard pressed “1.”
“We regret to inform you that your business has been deemed insignificant by the Federal Department of Largesse,” sounded yet another automated attendant. “The SIC code you entered indicates that your company is involved in the business of printing. Printing is not considered to be a relevant economic activity, nor is it eligible for funding under President Obama’s 21st Century Initiative for Green, Energy-Efficient, Barely Conceivable and Totally Impractical Projects.”
“Please press ‘1’ if you’d like to speak with a customer service representative,” the voice continued. “Our current hold time is estimated at 16 years, 3 months, 2 days, 5 hours, 16 minutes and 35 seconds. Calls will be served in the order that they are received. If you’d like to be considered for a consolation prize, please press ‘2’ now.”
Feeling despondent, Poor Richard pressed ‘2.’ “Please hold,” came the voice.
It took a minute before I realized that the background music playing while I waited was familiar. It was Ray Charles singing about Greenbacks . . . “just a little piece of paper, coated with chlorophyll.” I confirmed my mailing address with the last automated attendant and was told to look for my consolation check in the mail. In closing, Poor Richard received a firm promise that the Department of Governmental Largesse would always endeavor to reallocate the resources of this great nation from each according to their ability and to each according to their need.
I’m still waiting for the check. You know, Lincoln ain’t gonna get it, Jackson neither. Maybe they’ll send a fresh, crisp $100 bill with Poor Richard on the front.