Mar 022013

Late yesterday afternoon, I had an appointment with LaShawn Shakeel Tervarious Jefferson, of the Detroit, Michigan Finance Department.  He distinguished himself by arriving fifteen minutes late and then spending an additional ten hitting on Gretchen before her insistent IMs caused me to exit my office and pry him away from the reception desk.
“Mighty fine young lady you got out there,” he opined as he sprawled on the couch by the picture window.  “She single?”
“She’s from Amish country,” I told him, which is true, and enough, I hoped, to put him off.
“Amish?” LaShawn grunted as his eyes strayed in the direction of the heavy oak doors which lead from my office to the reception area.  “What’s she doing in the city, usin’ electricity and stuff?”
“She’s a Mennonite,” I lied.  “They’re allowed.”  Actually, Gretchen’s family is, in fact, Old Order Amish.  And although I’m absolutely certain she would rather die than leave her iPhone, Prius, DuPont Circle apartment and gaggle of partying hipster friends from places like Georgetown, Bethesda and Arlington to go back to hand-milking goats in Pennsylvania, there was no way I was going to tell Mr. Jefferson that. “There are lots of Mennonites in Amish country, and they are less strict about technology, often performing forbidden tasks for their friends, the Amish” – which is true.  “For example, when necessary, a Mennonite will drive their car to a pay phone and make calls to say, the state agriculture office, on behalf of an Amish neighbor.  Not that Mennonites have telephones in their homes, of course.  Anyway, she’s very, very religious,” I prevaricated, “no, um… male companionship… outside of marriage,” which was the biggest whopper I’d told in at least a year.
“Oh yeah?” LaShawn frowned with obvious disappointment.  “Damn shame.”  He slouched forward and gave me an imploring look.  “So you wouldn’t happen to know where I might meet some pretty hot and tempting things here in DC, by any chance?”
“Oh, my goodness, sir,” I gushed in the most sincere tone of voice manageable, “it’s hard to believe that someone as important as yourself would have any problems finding a date in the Nation’s Capital.”
“Me neither,” he agreed.  “But I been here four weeks so far and no matter where I go, every time when I meet some fine stuff, and I tell her who I am, it ain’t gone nowhere.”
“Really?” I responded in the most astounded tone of voice manageable.  “That’s incredible!  What, exactly, did you say?”
“I said,” he proudly stated, “that I’m Special Assistant to the Director of Finance for the City of Detroit, and I’m visiting Washington for important talks with Michigan’s eleventh, thirteenth and fourteenth Congressional districts.”
“And how did the ladies reply?” I inquired.
“Well,” he shrugged, “it varied.  Some of them said, ‘Detroit?  Isn’t Detroit going bankrupt next week or something?’  Other ones said, ‘Detroit?  Isn’t that where they had to close down whole neighborhoods because everybody moved out of them?’  And other ones said, ‘Detroit?  Isn’t that where the mayor went to jail for corruption?’   And the last three days a couple of them said, ‘So what are you doing here now?  Congress went home already,’ and I had to explain that I’ve been here for almost a month and that even though the representatives have left, the congressional staff are still in town, and I need to meet with them, too, and last night, one of the women said, ‘Oh, you’re meeting with members of their staff?  In that case, would you like to meet a member of my staff?’  But mostly, they’re like, ‘Detroit?  Yuck!’  Or maybe, ‘Detroit?  How sad for you,’ or ‘Excuse me, my friends over there are letting me know we’re leaving now.’  That kind of stuff.”
“I’m very sorry to hear this,” I consoled.  “One might suppose that the Motor City mystique would be a formidable tool of seduction anywhere.”
“You think,” he asked, “I’d have better luck in Baltimore?”
“Unfortunately,” I informed him, “Baltimore is about the last place in the world where bragging about your job in Washington is likely to get you a date.”
“Really?” LaShawn’s eyebrows raised in puzzlement.  “Why’s that?”
“Because,” I explained, “Baltimoreans are close enough to Washington to be acutely aware of what goes on here, and just far enough away to feel insulted and exploited by it.”
“I see,” he muttered disappointedly.  “How about I drive my BMW rental down to Richmond, then?”
“Mr. Jefferson,” I gravely warned, “it would, in my opinion, be extremely inadvisable for you to do that.”
“How come,” he pressed, “it’s only about two hours away, right?”
“Richmond,” I cautioned, “is two hundred years away.”
“Huh?” LaShawn exclaimed.
“You can’t get no further South than Virginia,” I clarified.  “An African American gentleman, such as yourself, hailing as you do, from Detroit, and furthermore, proclaiming himself to have just come from Washington DC where he does business with Congress, had best not let the sun set on him in Richmond.”
“Man,” he murmured as shook his head dejectedly, “if I’d known I’d have to spend every night in Washington DC with Rosy Palm and her five daughters, no way I would come here without Finance Director Johnson givin’ me some serious hardship pay.”
“I’m very sorry to learn that the circumstances in Washington weren’t what you expected,” I commiserated.  “But as long as you’re here, it might be a good idea to make as much of the situation as possible, and I don’t believe you’re going to be submitting an expense report to the City of Detroit for my dating advice this evening.  So, without further ado, may I ask what policy issues and / or problems bring you to my office today?” 
“Well, um…” he mumbled, “it’s sorta like some of those women said… Detroit is goin’ broke.  Plus, now the governor of Michigan is threatening to have the state take over.”
“Actually,” I pointed out, “Governor Snyder isn’t threatening anymore.”
“He’s not?” LaShawn sat bolt upright as he shot me a look of disbelief.
“No,” I informed him, “he’s definitely not threatening anymore.  Today, he made it official – the State of Michigan will formally assume control of Detroit’s finances.”
“Ah, hell!” LaShawn shouted with an angry shake of his fist.  “And that’s exactly what I was supposed to be here in Washington to fix!
“And how was that going?” I wondered.
“Uh… not as good as I expected,” he admitted, casting his gaze down at the antique hand-woven Oriental rug.  “Director Johnson said Mayor Bing said I should work with the Michigan congressional delegations representing the Detroit area to find ways for federal funding to solve the crisis without intervention from Lansing,” he sighed, “but all I heard was, ‘sequester this’ and ‘sequester that’ and ‘go off and sequester in your Detroit Lions hat.’  Everywhere I went, they kept tellin’ me – there just ain’t no money in Washington that’s gonna save Detroit from those ofay honkies commin’ down from Lansing and screwin’ up our things in City Hall.”  
“What things are those, specifically?” I sought to ascertain.
“Ah, you know,” he shrugged, indicating his clothing.  “Six thousand dollar silk Armani ensemble, thirty-five hundred dollar Santoni cobra skin shoes, twenty-five thousand dollar Rolex – those kind of things.”
“Not to mention,” I added, “what appear to be a thousand dollar Hermès tie, a fourteen hundred dollar Charvet bespoke dress shirt and a two thousand dollar pair of Louis Vuitton cuff links.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “them, too.  So?”
“So Detroit went bankrupt,” I observed, “while the crowd at City Hall were living like Jesse Jackson Junior?”
“Hey,” he offhandedly remarked, “that’s what it means to be a success, isn’t it?  You can’t go walkin’ around City Hall dressed up in no Joseph A. Bank buy-one-get-one-free piece of crap, now can you?  I mean, since I got to DC, I been to the Wilson Building, and I didn’t see nobody down there in no potato sack and Goodwill shoes!  And not up on Capitol Hill, neither!”
“Certainly,” I conceded, “nobody could ever accuse DC of setting a good example of how majority black cities should govern themselves.  And yes, only hopeless liberals like Bernie Sanders and weirdo conservatives like Rand Paul wear off-the-rack suits on Capitol Hill, which they do in order to make a philosophical – rather than a sartorial – statement.  But if you had come here at the beginning of your visit, rather than now, a month later, I would have advised that you immediately go to someplace moderate and respectable, such as Lord and Taylor, and get a modestly priced jacket and trousers in the four to six hundred dollar range, then purchase some rather ordinary three hundred dollar shoes, and don a middle-of-the-road off-white seventy dollar all cotton dress shirt – with standard, rather than French, cuffs.  Then I’d say you should have put on a nice fifty dollar Chinese-made silk tie and lose the watch entirely – in Washington, everybody gets the time from their Blackberries, after all.  Then you might have had more luck talking the strategic parts of the Michigan delegation into carving a billion or two dollars out of the federal budget to rescue Detroit.  It shouldn’t have been very difficult, since the Democrats control the White House and the Senate, and all of the Detroit seats in the House are Democrats, too.”
“You’re telling me,” he gasped, “that my threads and my bling were the reason I couldn’t get any Democrats in Washington to save Detroit from Snyder and the rest of those lily-white Republicans in Lansing?”
“It’s virtually certain,” I assured him, “that they didn’t help.”
“Oh my God,” he whispered.  “If only I knew.  Is there any hope?”
“Mayor Bing has ten days to request a hearing,” I noted, “after which Governor Snyder can appoint an emergency financial manager for Detroit.”
“And you know,” LaShawn growled, “that’s gonna be some cheap right-wing Republican cracker who’s gonna cut back on City Hall’s budget with a meat ax… and probably start up a bunch of investigations, too.”
“Most likely,” I agreed.
“Oh Christ Almighty,” he moaned, his face in his hands, “no more Gucci… no more Prada… no more Versace… no more Bulgari… no more rental BMWs… no more city limousines and totally tricked out SUVs… no more Louis Vuitton… no more… Rolexes.  What can I do?”
“Do the obvious,” I told him.  “Play the race card.”
“The race card?” LaShawn’s face lit up.  “How?”
“First,” I admonished.  “Turn in that BMW and tell the rental car agency to give you an American-made subcompact.  Then go buy the outfit I described, and make sure you wear it while you visit every liberal think tank and civil rights organization in Washington.”
“But… but… what do I say?” LaShawn stuttered uncertainly.
“Tell them that Snyder must be stopped,” I declared, “because his emergency financial manager scheme is nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to discourage the black vote and deprive African Americans of the franchise enshrined in the Constitution and guaranteed to them by law with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”
“I’m going to need talking points,” he fretted, “and fast!”
“That’s what I’m here for,” I assured him.  “You go out and get that unpretentious vehicle and virtuous clothing, and I’ll prepare the necessary talking points for you to make an impression on the appropriate left-wing suckers here in Washington.”
“Okay,” he concurred, “that sounds like a plan.  But what’s the objective?”
“Between now and the hearing deadline,” I told him, “you’re going to get a mob of liberal civil rights lawyers and leftist politicians screaming bloody murder that Snyder has a hidden agenda to suppress minority voting in the 2014 elections.  And you’re going to make sure that’s the story the media is covering when the hearing starts – not what might be going on at Detroit City Hall.”
“Okay, Mr. Collins, that’s what we’ll do – play that race card for all it’s worth,” LaShawn exulted, now suddenly energized and imbued with optimism, leaping up from the couch and making for the door.  “Um… oh… by the way,” he mentioned, turning back to look in my direction as his right hand touched the door knob, pointing with his left beyond the door into reception area, “do you have her… home phone number?”
“She’s a Mennonite,” I reminded him.  “No home phone.  She only uses the one at the convent across the street.”
“Damn,” he grinned, shaking his head, and throwing me a randy wink, “that must be some really tight stuff there.”