Hurricane Ivan ripped through the Cayman Islands at 150 miles an hour. I saw it on television with Bootstrap McDoogle.

"No, no, no," he said, sticking his head into his hands.

"No one likes hurricanes," I told him, "but it's an act of God."

He said, "My money is in an offshore bank account there and now it's floating out to sea."

"I thought tax shelters were insured in the Cayman Islands."

"They are," he answered, "but not for water, wind or tree damage. My safe deposit box was two feet above sea level, and I thought it could withstand any storm."

"Why didn't you wrap your bills in Saran Wrap?"

"People with offshore accounts think a hurricane is going to hit the guy in the next safety box, not them."

A TV weatherman appeared on our set and said, "In the Cayman Islands, trees are down, traffic has come to a halt and the governor of the Caymans has closed all the gambling casinos. He has also declared a bank holiday."

I said, "When the storm blows out to sea, why don't you go down to the Caymans and open a new account with a different secret number?"

"It is not going to be easy. I heard all the money-laundering machines are down. My bank can't even wash an illegal tax deposit from Enron."

The weatherman came on again. "This is a Category 5 hurricane. Gold and silver bars are homeless. Negotiable bonds and hedge funds have sought refuge at the Grand Cayman Ice Skating Rink. It is estimated that $4 billion in $100 bills have been lost in the Bermuda Triangle."

"I know this is a stupid question, but why did you put your money in an offshore bank?"

"So I wouldn't have to pay any taxes on it, dummy."

"That's a good answer," I said. "No one likes to pay taxes."

"Money in an offshore account is worth twice as much as a tax cut in the United States. Don't get me wrong. America is a great country -- and what makes it great are all the loopholes it offers its citizens. This is what turns the wheels of the global economy."

I said, "You don't have to bank in the Caymans. Can't you go somewhere that's hurricane-proof?"

"Of course. I can go to Switzerland, Liechtenstein or the Canary Islands. But what my lawyer and I liked about the Caymans is that my bank throws in snorkeling equipment and a wetsuit with it."

"That's better than a set of Tupperware," I said.

"Another thing I like about being in the Cayman Islands is that I'm banking with the big boys. Next to my safe deposit box is one of the largest movie companies in the world. Below me is an American company that makes computers in India and sends the proceeds directly to the Caymans.

"Above me is a Pentagon defense outfit making missiles for our boys in Iraq. They charge their expenses in the United States and keep their profits in the islands."

"Of course. The companies owe it to their stockholders," I said.

"That's the way we look at it. Offshore people are optimists. They believe in tax havens, and despite the hurricanes, the Cayman Islands are still the best place to have a free lunch."

(c) 2004 Tribune Media Services