Since he had to pick up a naked lady out of town, the admiral naturally phoned his wife in Washington:

"Be late, dear. Had to pick up naked lady up here. So don't wait supper."

"Of course, dear," said Pauline. "Glad you called. I would have worried."

In due time Adm. Walter Innis (USN., Ret.) got home and with him was a charming sculpture of a naked lady. Pauline, who was glad to meet the naked lady pickup in person, thought her charming. They put her in the garden of their country place at Gibson's Island.

They built a nice pedestal for her, and from her heights she surveyed the water meadow full of wild lobelias and trilliums and so on, and the trio was happy indeed.

But as I have pointed out more than once, we are not now able to sustain the level of civilization to which we think we are entitled. Doom has descended.

The first inkling (a cloud no bigger than a man's hand) was when the admiral felt that somehow some of the trilliums were missing.

But nonsense. How could a trillium be missing from a sheltered garden in Gibson's Island? Which is, of course, an enclave in the general barbarism in which most people of the East Coast live.

You only get there by a sort of causeway, and as you enter the island there is a great pole with a platform on it, and a nest of ospreys. It is the sort of island, inhabited by the sort of people, who go in for nesting platforms for ospreys.

The vanishing trilliums -- well, maybe the ospreys ate 'em.

And then, a few weeks ago, somebody stole the statue of the naked lady, or at least she disappeared from her pedestal in the garden.

Pauline, who was not born yesterday and who knows there is more than one way to catch a thief, sent out her little feelers on the island. Milkmen and so on see a good bit. One way and another, she had scouts out, looking for the missing statue. But it has now been a number of weeks.

"She was just a little naked kneeling nymph," Pauline says. "But we loved her."

Nowadays, not only do they kidnap people, but poor little naked nymphs, too.

No ransom note has been received. Nothing has been heard, at all.

For all we know, she is on an auction block this very minute. Far from home. San Francisco, I have always thought, is a good place to sell stolen goods, since in California they have nothing and will buy anything without asking any questions. Yes. I am sure she is in San Francisco, where some rich character is probably buying her this very moment. Probably a friend of --

The admiral paid good cash for her. His wife was understanding. It all worked out, in a lyrical setting of quiet grass and scarlet lobelias.

And now. Now.

When the collapse of this nation is recorded and analysed, I cannot think of a much better place to begin that with the admiral's naked, kneeling nymph.

No poor man needed her, as he might need a loaf of bread. What we have here is sheer cynical greed and sheer cynical contempt for the rights of strangers. (We are assuming it was not the admiral's friends who stole her).

And if they catch the thief, eventually, what will happen? Guess.