So are you looking forward to a nice Father's Day? Will you get the presents you really want? No, not the paisley necktie or the monogrammed handkerchiefs or even the soap-on-a-rope. Will you get the present that really matters? Will you get the box full of paperback books about money?
Yes, there's still time to slip the word to the kiddies: money books. At first, to be sure, my heart was set on a new compact disc or a polo shirt, but then a couple of days ago a man went on the radio and said the present that would really matter, that wouldn't just get lost in the back of the bureau drawer, would be a nice selection of paperback books about how to get rich. It would be just the gift for a red-blooded daddy, he suggested.
Indeed it would: It would be the gift for the times, and those of us who don't get it can only hide our grief and hope that Christmas will make up for the loss. If you don't have all the hot books about money, you won't know how to cut it in the Age of Avarice. It is a hard thing to be left in the slow lane when the fast-laners are soaking up all the cash and the debentures and the subpoenas and the options and the nolo contenderes and the stocks and the bonds and the certificates of deposit and the book contracts.
Not to mention the leveraged buyouts. Did you hear about the latest, the very hottest, leveraged buyout? Did you hear that for a cool $10 million -- it would have been cheap at 10 times the price -- ABC managed to buy out the Statue of Liberty, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the president of the United States? If that doesn't turn Carl Icahn and T. Boone Pickens green with envy, then nothing ever will.
You will wonder, perhaps, how this deal of deals came to pass. It was simple. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation turned to David Wolper, the Hollywood producer whose ceremonies for the Los Angeles Olympics live on, egregiously, in memory, to stage a production for next month's centennial of the newly refurbished statue. Wolper responded with what The New York Times called "an event of Hollywood proportions, involving everything from tap-dancers to waterfalls to 200 Elvis Presley look-alikes," which of course was just what we all had in mind for the Fourth of July: O beautiful for spacious skies/ For amber waves of schlock/ For purple mountain majesties/ Above the King of Rock!
The only problem was paying for it all, but Wolper, evidently a disciple of privatization, took care of that: He hustled off the broadcast rights to Liberty Weekend, as it is known, to ABC for the aforementioned 10 big ones. Now as it happens, Liberty Weekend includes not merely 200 Elvis Presley look-alikes but also -- admittedly we now descend to rather less elevated heights -- the president and chief justice of these United States. The former will turn on the lights that "unveil" the shiny new statue, and present the "Medal of Liberty" to a dozen allegedly distinguished naturalized citizens; the latter will swear in 300 new citizens at ceremonies on Ellis Island.
They will do this exclusively for ABC. Oh, the other networks will be allowed to cover the president's remarks and the lighting of the statue, as well as the chief justice's reading of the oath of allegiance, but everything else attendant to their appearances belongs to ABC, and if you want to see it -- though it defies understanding that anybody would -- you'll have to watch ABC.
That network's exclusive coverage includes the presentation of the Medal of Liberty, which was invented by Wolper especially for the occasion: the pie ce de re'sistance, if you will. To complaints by other broadcasters, Wolper replies, "They think that they ought to get it and I'm not giving it to them. I'm paying for the Medal of Liberty. I created it."
If that isn't the spirit that made America great, heaven knows what is, but these other broadcasters aren't buying it. One says: "I don't like to be told by some Hollywood producer that I don't have access to the president of the United States. I also don't think the president should give a medal that's invented by David Wolper. I was raised in a family where if a fellow went off to war and got a medal or a degree, it had some significance; it was not invented by some Hollywood producer." Another chimes in: "You don't license the Statue of Liberty to anybody. They practically want to put the ABC logo on the Statue of Liberty, for God's sake."
Oh, come on, guys, get off the high horse. Obviously you don't understand that the namby-pamby standards of the past are out of style in these fast-track days. Public officials aren't responsible to the public any more; they're responsible to television producers. News isn't news any more, it's entertainment, to be sold to the highest bidder, who in turn will profit handsomely from it: ABC, after shelling out $14 million for broadcast rights and production costs, will haul in $30 million from the sponsors who are paying $165,000 for each 30-second spot on the Miss Liberty gala.
Why, the very day the man on the radio was telling boys and girls to get their dads money books for Father's Day, the mail brought an envelope from Chemical Bank saying that I -- that's me, myself and I -- "have been selected for the very special honor of participating in an important milestone of American history." What is that, you ask. It is, according to my very personal letter from John J. Stack, vice president, an embossed -- embossed! -- "special limited edition Liberty-Visa card," with my very own name on it, not to mention a picture of Miss Liberty. Three dollars -- talk about generosity! -- of my first year's fee will go to, you guessed it, the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.
The rest? Well, the rest -- it takes about half an hour of searching to find the small print -- will go to Chemical Bank: $17 the first year, $20 every year thereafter, not to mention that tidy little 19.8 percent "annual percentage rate," as the banks like to call it, that Chemical will merrily charge me if somehow I neglect to pay off each month's balance in full. You say this is cheapening the Statue of Liberty? Why, saints preserve us, it's the new American way -- which is to say the old American way, all glitzed up in the fast-lane style of the 1980s. Money books for Father's Day, the Statue of Liberty on a credit card, 200 Elvis Presley look-alikes -- Lord have mercy, ain't we got fun!