*with apologies to Thomas Paine

Recently, thanks to the stalled American economy, the United States Congress voted to close yet another U.S. military base — in this case, Ft. Knox. Not satisfied with making these cost cuts alone, Congress further decided that all of the troops that had been placed in charge of guarding Ft. Knox should be officially discharged. The local community, naturally outraged that it had not been consulted in advance about such a critical decision, was even more upset that an internationally-publicized and unguarded gold vault could, in the words of the local mayor and city council: “attract the wrong elements to our community.” After considerable debate, local citizens inevitably decided the easiest solution would be to give away all of the gold in Ft. Knox rather than leave it sitting there to become a potential crime hazard. Naturally, they turned to me for help…

Upon receiving calls from citizens surrounding Ft. Knox, I decided not to ask a lot of questions. Instead, being a part of the “New Economy” myself, I decided the best course of action would be for me to do my patriotic duty and help these fine folks to find a way to get rid of all of their burdensome gold just as quickly as I could.

After consulting my Rolodex, I placed a number of quiet, strategically considered feelers to several large corporations. Among these was the Acme Liquidation Service – recently ranked by Inc. Magazine as being among the nation’s foremost, fastest-growing, privately-held corporations – most likely because it also happened to specialize in offering discounts and close-outs on name-brand merchandise.

After repeatedly trying Acme’s main switchboard, I managed to work my way through a rich forest of completely unnecessary phone tree options, before being transferred to Acme’s attendant on duty. The attendant, in turn, happened to be a part of the “New Economy” herself, and so was naturally temping for the day, being unfamiliar with precisely what her company did, or who might be the most appropriate executive to direct me to concerning such matters.

Nevertheless, relying on that forever-popular stand-by — the “Eenie, Meanie, Mighty, Moe” method — the attendant told me that she was going to point to a name on her list. She transferred me to Jeff Eenie, Acme’s Managing Director for Special Projects. After listening at length to and congratulating me on my carefully-prepared presentation, Mr. Eenie promptly pronounced he was the wrong person to talk to, and transferred me to Jim Meanie, Senior Manager for New Business Development. After listening attentively to my now even more practiced presentation, Mr. Meanie also pronounced he was the wrong person to talk to, and so transferred me to Jack Mighty, Vice President of Special Finance and Acquisitions. Jack Mighty, however, didn’t even want to hear my presentation, and so put me through to Joe A. Moe, Senior Vice President of Divisional Operations. As it turned out, Mr. Moe was not only out of town for several weeks, but his assistant happened to be away from her desk, and his secretary was clearly out to lunch. Nevertheless, her voice mail did go on to tinnily inform me that if I simply left my name and a brief message, I was sure to receive a call-back from Mr. Moe sometime in March.

Sometime in April, Joe A. Moe called. Hazy and confused as to exactly why he was calling, he told me he was rushing to get to another meeting. When I quickly responded with news of the tremendous windfall Acme was about to come into, he still seemed non-plussed.

“All the gold in Ft. Knox,” Joe repeated slowly, mulling this over carefully. “I thought that stuff belonged to the army, the government, people like that.”

“It used to,” I confirmed in my most self-assured tone. “But with all the current budget battles and unresolved tax fights going on, well…congratulations, Joe. This is your year!”

“All the gold in Ft. Knox,” Joe repeated, still thinking this through. “I suppose you can confirm chain of custody and title on this?”

“Of course,” I continued, beaming my self-assured best.

And then, he dropped the whammy on me.

“How ’bout the gold vault. Does the gold vault come with it?”

I paused, then stammered. “Well…I don’t know,” I replied, not quite sure what to make of his request. “Are you thinking of keeping all of this gold stationary, or moving it somewhere?”

“Stationary, for the moment,” I could see Joe thoughtfully scratching his chin. “Obviously, I’m going to have to weigh overhead, storage fees, transportation costs, plus a lot of other points to consider.”

“I can check ,” I responded, shaking my head, while dutifully writing the note to myself. “But really, Joe. This gold is all yours. It’s free. And it’s clear.”

“What about taxes?” Joe interjected. “Will we have to pay taxes? If there are carry-forward tax consequences to this, it will mean we’ll have to move our net operating losses over into next year. That could be viewed very unfavorably by certain Board members and shareholders.”

“I-I don’t know,” I countered again, putting on my best face. “I suppose you’ll have to look into that, won’t you…”

“Just how much gold are we talking here?” Joe queried, beginning to sound impatient.

“About 4,578 metric tons…”

“I don’t have my PC or slide ruler in front of me,” Joe said. “Is that a lot?”

“Well, uh, gee, Joe, I don’t know,” I replied. “I guess, if you think about it…a lot, is a lot, is a lot, to paraphrase Gertrude Stein.”

“Well, it sounds like a lot,” Joe went on, increasingly annoyed. “Exactly where and when would I have to take shipment?”

“Anytime you want,” I brightened. “Anywhere you want. Like I said, Joe. This gold is all yours. All you have to do is come by and pick it up.”

“The problem I have, Neal, is that I’ll need to lease transport trucks, cranes, equipment, hire a work crew and a clean-up crew just to come in to load and unload the stuff. Our state recently toughened up worker’s comp laws…our company just settled its largest personal injury suit ever. I don’t need to be all over our nightly news with another wrenched back claim staring me in the face, now do I?”

“Joe, believe me, I’ll work with you any way I can on this. If you must know, you’re the fifth company I’ve called.”

“Is the government willing to cost-share on posting extra security, helping us to obtain special intrastate duty exemptions, and a temporary rider on our insurance?” Joe rattled on.

“I don’t know. I can ask. But my instinctual reaction is that the government will say `no’.”

“Figures,” Joe grumbled, increasingly weighing out the deal’s merits. “Frankly, Neal, the price of gold has stayed pretty flat for the past few months — I don’t see any end in sight. I mean, just between us, we’re not looking to liquidate Lady Gaga “Born This Way” barbie dolls or “Spock Is Gay?”‘ Star Trek collectable plates here, are we?”

“Joe,” I attempted, “gold bullion has been the prized and accepted standard of intercourse between nations for more than 5,000 years. This stuff has been around since the time of early Egypt!”

“Well, we don’t do business in Egypt,” Joe chimed back. “And we’ve been around too long to be engaging in intercourse anywhere else just to clinch a deal. We run a clean business. We’re family owned. And frankly, I resent you for bringing that up…”

“Joe,” I managed, “I’m planning to have a wife and kids one day. There’s braces, college education funds, medical insurance to consider. What should I tell them?”

“All the gold in Ft. Knox,” Joe repeated aloud. “I’m just not sure we’re in a position to take on this kind of project right now. Our annual budget comes up for review in the Fall…why don’t you check back with me then?”

“Joe, I live in Southern California. My car insurance premiums alone here literally doubled this past week.”

“Our Chairman’s in Switzerland, our President’s in Japan, and our Senior V.P. for Fiscal Accountability who actually makes these decisions is now finishing up the back nine,” Joe disclosed. “But tell you what — I can float this in an upcoming meeting, perhaps first Tuesday after next. Maybe we’ll circulate a memo, talk to several managers, contact our outside consulting firm, work up a focus group. If our sales people seem willing to get behind the idea, we can start by testing a few samples in one or two states. Sound okay to you?”

“Sure, Joe, sure. Anything you say.”

Three weeks later, I placed several calls to the Acme Liquidation Service, but my calls were not returned. On the fifth try, however, I managed to get hold of the temporary new assistant to Joe A. Moe’s personal secretary, who herself had recently returned from vacation, and who went on to explain that Mr. Moe was now tied up with a major new project and couldn’t be disturbed. Seems Acme’s market research department had confirmed a fact that many at the company had long suspected: books involving Ann Coulter, fat-free French pastry, and guides to fixing your own I-Pad were all proving to be runaway best sellers. So the good folks at Acme came up with a plan. They decided to contact a top publisher in New York, and within 24 hours, put together the deal to end all deals: a book featuring Ann Coulter’s favorite recipes for fat-free French pastry — as told to her I-Pad repairman. The hardcover version was due to come out first, followed by paperback, an E-book, and a laser disc continuity program. The pre-publicity launch alone was going to be considerable…and that meant that Joe A. Moe was simply too busy to talk.

Not one to easily be defeated, however, I devised a counter plan. I got back on the phone with Joe A. Moe’s temporary new assistant, and, as an incentive “call-to-action” to get him to take all of the gold in Ft. Knox off my hands, I offered to throw in all of the tea in China to go with it. This must have gotten Joe A. Moe’s attention, because three weeks later, his personal secretary actually phoned back, intrigued with my idea. And so she suggested that I have a talk with their New Manager of New Product Development, who, it turned out, had recently been promoted — no longer working as the attendant who first took my call.

Acme’s New Manager of New Product Development didn’t prove to be of much more help, however. In fact, she seemed to have been inculcated into Acme’s corporate culture all too well. Before agreeing to take all the tea in China off my hands, Acme’s New Manager of New Product Development insisted that I first provide her with all the tea in China’s comprehensive sales history, to be backed up by at least five years of quarterly earnings reports and profit and loss statements. And she stood adamantly against testing anything but the standard green-leaf and Earl Grey varieties, in that she strongly suspected these would have the best chance to appeal to the widest potential consumer demographic base. She ended the conversation by strongly suggesting that if I was looking to receive an immediate decision from Acme, that I needed to immediately FedEx all original samples to her attention.

Needless to say, Acme’s New Manager of New Product Development has since gone on to receive several promotions, but has yet to get back to me. After following up with her own new temporary assistant on several occasions, I was told the company’s review process would soon be drawing to a close, and that I should expect to be hearing back from their review committee any month now. There was just that slight matter of needing additional samples of the tea, since for some mysterious reason, all of the original samples I took pains to ensure were Fed-exed overnight had been misplaced. Oh yes, and as for Joe A. Moe and my initial query with regard to his interest in acquiring all of that nettlesome gold, well, I’m sure you pretty much guessed it…

Joe A. Moe, Acme’s New Worldwide President for New Worldwide Acquisitions, never did call me back.