Senator Flik Maynard woke up early, and the first thing he saw was himself. What a perfect way to start the day.
He gazed up from his huge extra-king-sized bed. He had just had the whole ceiling redone in mirrors a few months back, and they looked great up there. And they damn well better look great because it was embarrassing, having to ask the contractor to spend two days with a crew of five people in his Washington, D.C. apartment, installing mirrors up on his bedroom ceiling.
Flik figured the contractor knew he was a big-shot senator, but the guy was a professional. He supervised the crew and made sure it did a top-notch job of putting up all the mirrors just right, so he could watch himself screw people in his bed, without ever cracking one joke about it.
But Flik knew all the workers were mocking him behind his back. One time he caught one of the crew members speaking in Spanish and laughing during his lunch break. He could have been laughing at anything, but Flik figured he was probably the butt of that joke.
“Ha ha, get a load of this guy who works in the Senate,” Flik imagined them saying. “Those guys in the House of Representatives have to fuck on the sidewalk on top of cardboard boxes, but once you get to the Senate, you get a nice bed and mirrors on the ceiling. Ha ha, how aroused does a guy have to get?”
So he paid extra to make sure they shut up, and he was pretty sure they would. Or he hoped they would honor the code among men and not tell anyone. Or at least if they joked about it in Spanish, maybe not everyone would understand.
Anyway, the mirrors looked great. It was funny, how things could come back into style. What used to be cheap looking and tacky a few generations ago was now classy in 2051, even sort of refined. It was interesting how times changed.
Flik had kicked off his sheet during the night. And there was his entire naked body. Feast your eyes, senator. What a disgrace. All he could see was his father’s big, round belly, weak, flabby arms, and a double chin.
Ugh, maybe the mirrors weren’t such a great idea after all. He couldn’t see any muscle at all in his reflection. Disappointing. He did a half sit-up, in the hopes of maybe seeing some kind of abdominal muscle peek out from behind the fat.
Nothing. All the sit-up did was raise his huge belly a little higher. And he was shaking as he did it, as if he no longer had the muscles needed to do sit-ups at all.
He flopped back down and surveyed the rest of his deteriorating body. Lots of hair on his shoulders, and some of it graying, but not that much on his chest, where it would probably look better, or at least disguise how little muscle he was storing there.
Jesus, this job. Being a senator for even just a few years really took the wind out of you. It was all the sitting. And then, any time he had to get up and go to some meeting or a vote, all these transportation gizmos helped him get around, so he didn’t even have to use his legs that much. Special trains and moving sidewalks got him and all the other senators anywhere they needed to go in the capitol complex.
The only time he had to walk under his own power was when he got dropped off at the men’s room to take a leak. Walk to the urinal, walk over to wash your hands, walk out the door. The men’s room was like the American frontier centuries ago. There were no machines there to help. You had to do it all yourself.
But it was all worth it. It was the best feeling in the world to be a senator, in the actual Senate in Washington. It was his lifelong dream. And he was here at just the right time, ready to fight off the excesses of government that threatened to drag the country down forever.
The national debt was Flik’s mortal enemy. The debt was a huge, voracious beast that had the potential to take the country down, and he was here to slay that beast. He loved looking at the numbers that described the debt, symbols in black and white that described the foe he had to vanquish, and really told the story of the country’s failure over the last 70 or 80 years to rein in spending.
Those numbers spoke to him. They were a problem waiting to be solved, and he felt — he knew — that he was here to solve them.
It was destiny, he thought. Flik shot up to fame as a local official who exposed thousands of dollars of wasted money in his hometown. It turned out all the hacks running the city’s water department were using the equipment to brew their own beer. Those dopes set up their own distillery right in the public building, and were directing some of the town’s water into their own vats. They were even using it to clean their equipment.
That got him to the big city, Columbus, Ohio, where he exposed millions of dollars in wasted money, most of which was used either to buy prostitutes for the mayor, or cover up the mayor’s prolific use of prostitutes. And that helped him win a Senate seat, where he would finally bring fight in the big game: attacking billions of wasted dollars at the federal level. Maybe even trillions.
He was going to fix the whole damn country.
Flik sat up in bed. He decided to ignore his erection for the time being, and called up the morning debt figures on a screen floating above his nightstand.
The national debt stood at $67.809 trillion. He was tracking the figure each day so he could put on a big, splashy press conference when it hit $70 trillion. The country would probably hit that milestone in a few short months.
But even these numbers were a lie. The U.S. hadn’t been paying any interest on the debt for more than a decade now. Add the interest back in, and then factor in the interest owed on that non-paid interest, and probably the U.S. was already $80 trillion in hock, maybe $85 trillion. Then add in all the future promises the government was still making, and the number probably doubled. Or more than doubled. Who could even figure it out?
The United States of America was getting away with murder, Flik thought. The U.S. owed everyone in the world billions and trillions of dollars. But the U.S. had all the bombs, all the planes, all the technology, and frankly, it had the guts to use all those weapons.
So how do you ask the big, tough kid on the block to pay up? You don’t, which is why other countries had to accept the unilateral U.S. decision to stop making interest payments in 2039.
It burned at Flik. This would all have to be paid back someday. Right out of the wallets of his kids, and his kids’ kids, on and on for endless generations. It killed jobs, it killed growth. It was killing the country.
Even some Democrats were starting to see the problem. He always remembered a conversation he had with a union guy years ago after delivering a speech in Dayton. That union member said most Democrats didn’t realize that companies had been hoarding cash for decades, saving up for that rainy day when taxes would suddenly spike to pay back the giant debt. All that cash could have been used to expand and create jobs, but by hoarding it, companies weren’t helping create any new jobs.
“Democrats should hate the debt more than Republicans,” the union official had told him.
Flik swiped away the data on his screens and called up his plan to save the world. He called it the Glide Path, and it was something he stared at all the time, and lovingly tweaked every day. His plan called for fifty years of steady spending reductions, a balanced budget in 20 years, interest payments resuming after 20 years of paying down principal. It was a plan to save America, and everyone else on the planet who depended on America.
He ran through the speech he planned to deliver at today’s big hearing on the debt. He was going to make a splash as a junior senator.
“My friends, many in this country have given up,” he muttered in bed, going over the words again. “They say the debt is too big to fight, an insurmountable obstacle. But we don’t need to resolve this problem in one day. We can remove the obstacle brick-by-brick, by making slow, steady decisions to manage our spending down, and all the while give confidence to companies and our creditor allies that the U.S. is not a bankruptcy waiting to happen, but instead a responsible nation that is managing this problem before it becomes a crisis.”
“Flik, what are you doing?” said a woman’s voice in the bed. “It’s too early, why are you awake?”
Tika rolled over in bed and rested her mop of red hair right on top of his big belly, blocking his view of his plan to save the world. It briefly occurred to him that if he had less of a belly, her head would be lower down and he’d still be able to read the screen. But he blamed her anyway.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Flik said. “C’mon, Tika, this is work.”
He then remembered his mirrored ceiling, and couldn’t help but look up to see a reflection of Tika’s perfect ass. Jesus Christ, he thought. He had lived in Ohio his whole life and didn’t meet anyone so perfectly bred until he came to Washington, where all the 23-year-olds seemed to look like her.
The perfect shape. Big in the chest, small in the waist. And there were thousands of them, just wandering around the city waiting to get scooped up and placed into some cushy job with a lawmaker. All you had to do was pick what hair color you like. They came in different heights, he realized, but they were always perfect for their height, whatever it was. It was like they were specially designed to help take a senator’s mind off all his hard work, shipped in from some factory somewhere.
“Oh right, the unsustainable debt,” Tika said as she slid off him. “It’s been unsustainable for my whole life, yours too. Seems pretty sustainable to me.”
“That’s just an argument to keep spending, to do nothing,” he said reflexively. Then he looked over at her.
What the hell was this? Was she testing him? What did Tika know about any of this? Not much. Or at least, not as much as he did.
Still, it never hurt to stay in practice. Flik sat up a little, and pretended she was a hostile witness at the hearing. He worried he might upset her by destroying her argument too quickly. She was just a staffer, and a nice kid. But what the hell, she asked for it.
“How do you know the debt crisis won’t be sparked when we hit $70 trillion? Or maybe it’s $80 trillion, who knows?” he said.
“So what? Even you don’t know. Maybe it can go to $200 trillion and we’re fine,” she said through a yawn.
“But that’s my point,” Flik shot back, struggling to make his point. “Nobody knows, so we need to start managing this today, right now, because we don’t know when the crisis will hit. Do you want to live in a country with a debt crisis, like Italy or Germany?”
“Ooh, I just love Europe,” Tika said. She rolled back over.
“Do you love Europe with its negative birthrate?” Flik fumed. “Because that’s what’s happening there. All those countries are servicing debt, and the taxes keep companies from creating jobs. Then people your age think about getting married and having kids, and you know what? They don’t ever think their kids will find work. So they don’t have kids. And the population gets older, and then fewer and fewer people are working, so the debt gets even bigger, to pay for all the benefits.”
“And then that attracts immigrants from the Middle East and God knows where else, and the culture tips…”
Goddammit, Flik thought. Tika had said almost nothing and sent him into a sputtering rage, and she wasn’t even listening anymore. He hated the sound of his voice when he lost control like that. Barking. Relentless. No one wanted to be lectured to that way.
But how do you have this argument in a way that quickly describes the problem, and lets people know how important it is without losing them in all the details? It was hard, he thought. It was so complicated.
And that made it so easy for the other side. The Democrats, he had to admit, were pretty good at downplaying it. In one hearing last week, one of them said, “Our debt situation is not a crisis. We’re not paying interest on it. Our economy produces a value of goods and services that could pay back the entire debt in just four-and-a-half years. We’re in a completely sustainable situation.”
So now people say it’s “sustainable,” just because some fat Democrat declared in a hearing that it’s all sustainable, with no proof. Even Tika was using that language, which enraged him.
“Hey, Tika,” he said. She didn’t move.
“Tika!” he barked, and she looked at him with her groggy eyes.
“Listen, it’s fine to argue here in bed, but I don’t want to hear you say the debt is sustainable in the office, or in public,” Flik commanded, using his bossy voice. He sat up in bed so he looked a little less flabby and more authoritative. Christ, he would have to get back to the gym someday. “As long as you’re working for me, you need to be careful to stick to the script.”
That seemed to scare her a little. She rubbed her eyes, pulled the sheets up around her exposed breasts, and tried to speak in a defeated tone to convey that even here in bed, Flik was the boss and she was the underling.
“OK, sorry senator,” she said.
Good, he thought. It helped that she didn’t call him Flik just now, too. That was more like it. These staffers. Screw them a few times and they think they’re policy analysts. He kept up the tough guy act a little more.
“What’s on the schedule today?” he said.
She started scanning her own personal screen for news, then gave up, called his bluff and snuggled closer.
“Just that NBC interview and the big hearing,” she said. “Oh, and it looks like we just bombed China, too.”
“What?” Flik said. “Bombed China? What’s that all about?”
“Don’t know,” she said. “I can call up a few stories if you want.”
“Goddamn it,” he said. “That’s just the sort of distraction I don’t need. This is supposed to be my big day on the debt, and now this. Everyone will want to blah blah blah about China. Why are we bombing them?”
“OK,” Flik said. “Anything else?”
“Nope,” Tika said. “But I think we have a little more time together here, if you want. It’s not even 5 o’clock yet.”
He closed down his screens and rolled on top of her, which reminded Tika of one more thing. “Oh, and you said you’d call your wife after the hearing,” she said.
Jesus, this job.