The Nearest Planet

Last week I met my friend’s son in the Meat Packing District. Alfred was a business graduate of Princeton. Magna Cum Laude. His parents considered him genius at 21. His father wanted me to introduce him to a big-time investment banker to whom I sold diamonds back in the days of plenty.

It was a small favor, although sitting amongst the shouting white crowd at a trendy bar was torture, but Alfred and his friends were gloriously young. They had their entire future ahead of them.

They twittered on their iPhones and discussed inane TV reality shows. The girls fiddled with dead hair. They all looked like underage divorcees. I refrained from any criticism of their behavior or appearance. I had once been young too.

Alfred was eager to start his career in finance and explained his big plans for these challenging times based on Britian’s exit from the EEU. His bet on the dollar was not a risk, if english Pound failed in the next week. I told him about my conversation with the head of the EEU bank in 2011.

“He considered stabilization of the Euro as the only true means to maintain peace in Europe.”

“The problem is that you think America needs Europe. China is the future.” Jeb, Alfred’s closest friend, had been recruited by a ruthless zombie hedge fund. “The Euro will collapse. The dollar will get stronger. The trade deficit will shrink. I’ll work at an investment bank for ten years and retire a mega-millionaire.”

“That’s a good plan.” My investor friends were stuck in the rat race of the elite, because wealth increased their desire for more wealth.

“You have something against money,” Jeb spoke with a southern accent. His clothing were pure Brooks Brothers. His drink of choice was a Cosmo. The young women at the table dressed like Palm Beach divorcees and clearly thought that he was a good pick.

“No, I like money fine.” My bank account was low. Under $1000 like most of America.

“You’re probably retired on a pension.” Alfred’s friend was showing his colors.

“I wish.” I had belonged to the Teamsters in my youth. Their retirement plan was still intact.

“And social security?” The word was poison in his mouth.

“I get something.” I had lived overseas too long to received too much from the federal government..

“How old are you? A thousand years old?”

“Closer to 100 than 20.” I eyed Jeb and saw that Alfred was concerned for his friend’s safety. My reputation for violence was legendary and Jeb was standing on thin ice.

“Did they have electricity when you were young?” He actually guffawed at his own joke.

“No cell phones or computers and we had to get up to change the TV.” Five years ago I had gotten up from my sofa in Fort Greene and thrown the TV out the window. Freedom from nacho ads was a good thing. “I’m just an old dude, but I’m old enough to know that you’re a smart kid.”

I slapped $100 on the table.

“What’s that?” Jeb viewed the bill with suspicion.

“A bet.”

“What kind of bet?”

“I ask you three simple questions and if you get them right, then I pay you $100. If you don’t get all of them, you owe me $10. You have ten dollars?” I slapped a C-note on the table. Most young people traveled without cash. Plastic was their Mammon of choice. “10 to 1 odds and I promise you these questions will be easy. Put up your money.”

“If it’s a trick you get nothing.” He pulled out a $10 bill, which was the only money he had in his wallet.

“Question # 1. Who was the first president of the United States?”

“George Washington.” His eyes dropped to his iPhone to answer a SMS.

“Correct. I told you these were simle questions. Question # 2. Who won the last THE BACHELOR?” I didn’t know the answer, but Jeb replied with a smile, “Courtney Robertson. 2 out of 3.”

The young girls with the dead hair clapped for their hero.

“Okay, champ. One last question and it’s one everyone should know. What’s the closest planet to the Earth?”

“The sun.” He sounded so sure of himself and put down his iPhone.

“The sun is a star.”

“That was a trick question.” His face dropped as I took the $100 and $10 bills.

“Then Mars is the closest planet.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to use a lifeline. Anyone, but Alfred.” He had been a sky nut as a child.

“Yes.” A quick regard to his friends revealed their collective ignorance of the answer.

“Mars is wrong. The nearest planet is Venus.”

“Isn’t that a moon?”

“No, it’s a planet.” Only the once-planet Pluto had been rejected from the list of heavenly bodies.

“Bullshit.”

“Alfred?”

“A planet.”

“Thanks for the fun, I call you tomorrow about an interview.”

“Thanks.” He knew if I said something to the banker then he would be set for life.

My friends were his friends.

I walked out without saying a word to Jeb, but a single glance dared him to mutter under his breath. He wasn’t that brave and outside I looked up at the western sky and found Venus floating low over the Palisades. It was the brightest star in the heavens for most people.

Except it’s a planet.

The second from the Sun.

And not the third.

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