Bob Cratchit turned the thermostat up a notch, to take the chill off the 49-degree room, steeled his courage and walked up to the boss, who was oiling his shotgun.
"Sir," said Cratchit, "I was wondering if you would be considering a holiday bonus this year, so that I can buy a small — a very small — goose for our family's Christmas dinner."
"Bah, scumbag!" said Dick. "You lazy bum, trying to sponge off us hard-working citizens. Don't try to bamboozle me; go fuck yourself. Or go talk to George: He's the compassionate one."
But George just smirked at his misfortune and, citing budgetary constraints, ordered the poor man back to his ice-cold cubicle.
Later that evening, in his chambers above the offices of George & Dick Inc., George was lying in his comfortable bed when he heard a most unsettling metallic sound. A huge door creaked open. A cold wind roared through the room, smelling of mold and sulphur.
The visage of his departed partner, Umsfeld, stood next to the bed, wrapped in chains.
"Why are you here, dear friend?" asked George. "And, by the way, you look awful!"
"I cannot stay long. I came to alert you that you will receive three visitations this night. Pay attention to what they say and you might yet save your soul — and might not wind up looking like me. I wish someone had visited me with advice, as I committed great crimes in our joint ventures. I must go. Remember the three visitors."
And with that, Umsfeld vanished back into the mist, dragging his rattling chains behind him.
George thought the grotesque vision must have been part of a bad dream; he pulled the covers over his head and soon was back to sleep, occasionally moaning loudly.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST
The first visitation appeared, hovering over the bed, at the last stroke of midnight. George awoke.
"Are you one of the visitors that Umsfeld told me about?" said George, his voice quavering in fear.
"Yes, 'tis I, the Ghost of Christmas Past. I am here to remind you of your younger self, of what you've lost over the years in your pursuit of power and approval. Come with me," said the figure. "Here, take my hand."
And with that they flew through the air (and the constraints of time) and landed in a living room of George's parents. A younger George was stretched out on the couch.
His mother said: "George, why can't you be like your brother? He works hard, he's curious about the world, he's going to make something of himself. He might even be a governor some day. But you! You're lazy, shiftless, wasted on booze and drugs."
"Your mother is right," said his father. "You should be out on your own, making money and settling down, but instead you're still behaving like a bum. We're constantly having to clean up your messes, or get our friends to financially bail you out of your constant business and social failures. This is Christmastime, George, a time of renewal and hope, why not make a vow to change your attitude and help out others?"
George wanted to shout at his supposedly "compassionate" parents, reminding them of that awful day after the funeral of George's beloved little sister Robin, when they abandoned him for a golf date. But rather than bring that up, and start the meanness and nagging all over again, he just grunted and turned over on the couch.
"Yo, Ghost. I don't need to see this garbage. I know that scene too well. I get your message. Can't we move on to happier times?"
At which point, the first visitor disappeared, and a second floated next to George.
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PRESENT
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Take my hand, as I have something to show you." In a few seconds, they were hovering near the ceiling in a hospital room in Baghdad.
"Do you see what I see, George?"
"I see a brave American soldier being worked on so that he can return to the battle for freedom. He doesn't seem to be doing very well."
"That's all you see in that hospital room?"
"There's a little Iraqi kid in the corner. Nobody's with him; he's probably another unfortunate collateral-damage statistic."
"That child's abdomen and leg were blasted apart by contracted mercenary forces hired by your government. If he survives, he will be maimed for life. His name is Tamir al-Kratchet."
"Like Tiny Tim back in the States!"
"That's right, George. There are tens of thousands of Iraqi Tiny Tims dead or maimed as a result of this war you unleashed in their homeland. Many of them were orphaned when their parents died, or were found in the rubble abandoned."
"I sure know what that feels like. Are you trying to lean on me to do something to help this unlucky kid?"
"You have the opportunity to help these children and their parents by ending this war quickly."
"Another leader will have to do that. After we've left the premises; I won't be blamed for that one. But what about my employee Cratchit's son, Tiny Tim?"
In an instant they were in the cramped Cratchit living room.
"I don't know, Mother, how we'll manage to survive this coming year," said Cratchit to his bustling wife who was setting the table for their meager Christmas dinner of meat loaf and mash. "There's talk that the office will be outsourcing my job to some poor person in Bangladesh, our home may go into foreclosure because of the subprime loan we had to take out, we can't afford to send our older kids to college, and then there's Tiny Tim's care."
George said to the Ghost: "This is a poor family; can't they go somewhere, to their church maybe, to get the boy some medical assistance?"
"I'm afraid that when you vetoed the expanded SCHIP bill, children like Tiny Tim with chronic medical conditions were made ineligible," said the Ghost. "It doesn't look good for him."
"Well," said George, "maybe if he invests his money wisely, he'll be luckier in the future."
THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE
And with that last word, the Ghost of Christmas Future appeared, looking like the Spectre of Death, very tall, wearing a hooded black cape and carrying a huge sickle.
George's knees were knocking in fear. "Who are you?"
"I am the Ghost of Christmas Future. Come with me; I want to show you something." The two of them floated above a gravesite at a cemetery.
"Did the U.S. soldier and the Iraqi Tiny Tim die in Iraq?"
"Yes," said the Ghost, "but this is not the grave of either of those."
"Well, whoever died, that person was not very popular. There's virtually nobody mourning by the gravesite."
"You're right. He led such a crass, selfish, greedy life — never really bothered by the lies he told and the mayhem his arrogant policies caused — that few mourned his departure from the world."
"That's sad. Nobody should die like that. I can't quite make out the name on the gravestone. Let me see. It looks like — oh, no!" At which point, George collapsed to his knees.
"I tried to live a good life," George croaked, aiming his words to Heaven. "I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart. I stopped using drugs and drinking. Well, mostly. I ran my campaign on the theme of compassion."
"I hear you using the word 'compassion' and you talk of it often, but I've never seen you express it in your behavior, your policies. If you really want to help your nation's troops in uniform abroad and Tiny Tim and all those suffering in America and the world, you would have to try to wipe out the twin scourages of Want and Ignorance — in other words, work to bring about justice and peace and true education."
George looked distraught.
"Your policies," continued the Ghost, "left large portions of the Middle East a wasteland, badly contaminated, with so many citizens bereft of hope. The economy at home is a disaster for nearly everyone, especially the middle class and the poor. And the American Constitution lies in tatters. If you had paid attention to what really is important in life, maybe then your death would not be so cold, so devoid of people who really cared about you."
George cried out: "Please, Ghost, tell me: Is this the future that is foretold or can it be altered?"
"You are the one who can determine that future," said the Ghost.
Tears ran down George's cheeks. "The scales have been lifted from my eyes, Ghost! I've seen the bleak future. I will change! I will do what you suggest. I will carry the Christmas story in my heart and in my actions for the rest of my days. Will you take me back now?"
The sun's rays burst into the room and shone directly on George's face as he woke up in his own bed. He jumped up, ran to the open window and shouted to a youngster below: "You, boy, you beautiful boy, can you tell me what day this is and what year?" The boy shouted back: "Why, it's Christmas Day, sir, in the year of Our Lord 2007."
"Good, I still have time," George exclaimed. He threw some money to the boy and told him to buy a large goose and deliver it to the Cratchit house. Giddily, he got dressed while humming Christmas carols. His heart was filled with light and renewal and with the prospect of giving aid to his employee's damaged son.
George awoke in his dark room with a start. "Whoa! What a nightmare! It seemed so real, but no, it had to be a dream — probably was all those pretzels I ate last night. Well, time to get dressed. Better give Uncle Dick a call. Today's the day we've all been waiting for: It's shock-and-awe time for Iran."
Bernard Weiner, a poet-playwright, has written numerous fantasies and satires ( www.crisispapers.org/weinerpubs.htm#fantasies ) of the Bush Administration. A Ph.D. in government & international relations, he has taught at universities in California and Washington, was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: email@example.com .
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