Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Visit of the Young Lady

A knowledge of dramatic literature comes in handy sometimes. There have been murmurs around my adopted state of Texas that a Lysistrata-like sex strike might be the only way to convince the privileged white males of the state that treating women a little worse than barnyard animals might not be the most effective strategy. Surely even intelligent opponents of abortion balk at the bullying and disingenuous tactics employed by Rick Perry, David Dewhurst and their minions to finally ram a bill through the Texas legislature to severely restrict the availability of not only abortions, but mammograms, pap smears, contraception, and other basic women’s health services.

Now it appears that a variation on the theme of the Friedrich Dürrenmatt classic Der Besuch der alten Dame (literally The Visit of the Old Lady, but generally translated into English simply as The Visit) might seem to be in order. Whereas people in Curmie’s business ought to know the play, this is not necessarily true for you, Gentle Reader, so here’s a quick synopsis.

The little town of Güllen (literally, to spread liquid manure) is struggling, but the fabulously wealthy Claire Zachanassian, a former resident, is paying a visit, and the townspeople hope she’ll come to their rescue. Anton Ill, her former lover, is enlisted to head up the appeal. Gradually, however, we learn that young Claire had left the town in disgrace, impregnated by Anton, who suborned perjury from two witnesses to evade justice and to be free to marry the shopkeeper’s daughter.

Claire was forced into prostitution, but a series of alliances to increasingly wealthy men who died and left her their fortunes turned her into a billionaire. We learn, too, that she is primarily responsible for the town’s financial struggles: she’s been buying up businesses and shutting them down, that sort of thing. Her traveling entourage includes a butler (the judge in her paternity suit who ruled against her) and two eunuchs (the perjured witnesses). She offers the town a billion (well, the unit of currency isn’t made clear, if I recall correctly, but we’re talking a lot of money), half to be given to the town per se, half to be divided among all the town’s families. There’s one condition: someone in the town must kill Anton Ill.

At first, it seems like bluster, and the townspeople reject the offer. Claire then calmly intones one of the most chilling lines in dramatic literature, “Ich werde warten.” (“I’ll wait.”) Inexorably, the town becomes obsessed by the money and Ill realizes that there is no escape. The mayor announces that the town’s imminent wealth is all due to Ill’s generosity. Ill is indeed killed by a townsman, but the doctors are quick to pronounce it a heart attack: he “died of joy.” Claire keeps her promise, writes a check, and boards the next train out of town. In the original production, the scenery shifted before the audience’s eyes from the dreariness of the first 99% of the show to clean and shining splendor. And… curtain.

I thought about this play when reading about the plight of Katie Barnett, an Ohio woman whose house was repossessed for non-payment of her mortgage… trouble is, the idiot repo guys went to the wrong house. They didn't want Ms. Barnett's house at all; they were supposed to go to the place across the street. Undeterred by competence, they removed, which is to say stole, all her possessions, which were either sold, given away, or simply trashed. Ms. Barnett remained remarkably calm under the circumstances. She called the police, but the chief, weeks later, declared the case closed because the culprits were the First National Bank of Wellston. Exactly why that matters is beyond my feeble ken, but I suppose it all makes sense if you’re an idiot small town police chief (as usual, apologies for the redundancy) like Tony Wood.

So Ms. Barnett assessed her losses, estimated at a little over $18,000, and went to the bank for reimbursement. The bank president, Tony Thorne (a lot of jackasses named Tony in those parts), admits that the situation was the bank’s fault—at least indirectly, in that they hired the moron repo crew—but still doesn’t want to pay up: “We’re not paying you retail here, that’s just the way it is,” quoth he (according to her, at least). He also whines that the “written list of items that she provided to us ... is inconsistent with the list and descriptions of items removed that was prepared by the employees who did the work.”

OK, two things. 1). I think we’ve already determined how competent and trustworthy those “employees” are. 2). as of now, she’s being nice, but Ms. Barnett owns your future as surely as Claire Zachanassian owned Güllen’s. Why is it that the assholes and the idiots are so often the same people, and they’re so often in positions of power in petty and parochial small town settings? Do you really think any jury in a civil suit is going to care whether the list of items Ms. Barnett claims were illegally confiscated from her legal residence without the slightest cause conforms to what the clown show you hired for the repo wrote down? The circumstances all point in one direction: Ms. Barnett is an aggrieved party, and you, sir, are dumber than a stack of burnt toast. As she says, “I’m not running a yard sale here. I did not tell them to come in my house and make me an offer. They took my stuff, and I want it back.” And that seems reasonable enough, to the extent that the “stuff” is replaceable… and there ought to be a little penalty for destroying what is not replaceable, too.

You might, might, have a chance to get out of this for the 18 grand she says you owe her. But if I were her, I’d put some punitive damages onto that lawsuit I’d be virtually certain to win… say, 100 times the value of the items taken. Call it $1.8 million. And here’s where The Visit comes in. Tomorrow, O Bank Board of Directors, you can settle this for $18,000. Next week, it’s $18,000 and Tony Thorne is fired (killing him would be a bit much). The week after that, the dollar figure doubles, and it keeps doubling until the bank settles. Thorne? He had his chance. He’s gone, or we jump straight to seven figures. I kind of get the feeling the board of directors, being corporate types, after all, would be perfectly willing to throw Thorne under the bus if given half a chance. If I were Ms. Barnett, I’d be interested in finding out. (I might be tempted to sue the city, too, with Wood’s job as a bargaining chip.)

But Ms. Barnett is no doubt much nicer than Curmie. She’ll probably just take what she’s owed and try to get on with her life. For now.

[Note: there’s a Daily Kos petition about this, but the recipient is one Eric Emmert. He’s listed as President and CEO of Midwest Bancshares, the First National Bank’s parent company, in one place, as CEO of the bank in another. But it certainly seems to be Thorne who’s the idiot at front and center.]

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