"Yes, who is this?"
"Well, for right now, just call me Mr. Smith. Look, Senator, I need to talk to you about a bailout."
"Cheesh, you and everybody else, Mr. Smith. Who are you with, Goldman Sachs? Morgan Stanley? Some other banking house?"
"Well actually, Senator, right now I'm with the big house."
"The big house. You know, prison, jail, hoosegow, calaboose, slammer, pokey, the clink?"
"You're calling me from a jail cell? Who the hell are you?"
"Look, Senator, they gave me one phone call, and you're it. I'm a citizen who needs help of a financial nature. You and your pals in Congress have been talking all week about spending 700 billion smackeroos to bail out Wall Street. Well, I also happen to need a bailout. They won't let me out of here unless I post bond for 50 thousand bucks."
"Mr. Smith, I'm curious. Are you even one of my constituents?"
"Uh ... no. I live in New York."
"Yet you want me to bail you out of prison?"
"Just one more thing before I hang up on you, Mr. Smith or whatever your name is, just how did you get my cell phone number?"
"Well, as it turns out, Senator, you and I happen to use the same _ uh .... shall we say _ escort service. By the way, Mabel says hello."
"That's ... that's preposterous. I don't know any Mabel."
"Oh yeah, I'm sorry, Senator. I remember now. Mabel says you like to call her Angelique.' So, are you ready to help me now?"
"Uh ... well .... I ... ahem ... I certainly don't know what you're talking about, but of course I'm always ... uh ... eager to help a citizen in need. What exactly did you do to find yourself in your present ... uh ... situation, Mr. Smith?"
"Well, you see, Senator, like those Wall Street bozos, I made what turned out to be an unwise investment."
"Oh, really? Bad mortgage?"
"No. Bad horse."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"The nag's name was Foreclosure,' and she was 50-to-1 in the fifth race at Belmont. I figured in the current financial crisis, it was a message from on high that she was a mortal lock."
"How much did you bet, Mr. Smith?"
"Ten thousand dollars! On a 50-to-1 longshot? Where did you get the money?"
"Well, that's where it gets real interesting, Senator. In my social circle, I wasn't about to raise the dough from _ say _ Lehman Brothers. So, I got it from the Garbonzo brothers, Guido and Clarence."
"And these gentlemen are ...?"
"I guess you would call them loan sharks, Senator."
"Let me see if I've got this straight. You borrowed 10 thousand dollars from loan sharks to bet on a horse?"
"Well, yes, Senator. I guess you could call it a subprime loan. Did I mention that the horse was 50-to-1? If she wins, I'm on easy street."
"And this Foreclosure'? How did she do in the fifth at Belmont?"
"She was doing OK, then for some reason decided to stop and admire the view in the backstretch. For all I know, she stayed there to watch the horses go by in the sixth at Belmont."
"And the Garbonzo brothers?"
"You'd be surprised, Senator, how unreasonable and impatient some lenders can be. After a week, they said I owed them not 10, but 20 grand. When I told them I didn't have the money, they expressed profound disappointment."
"So to avoid a financial meltdown, so to speak, you required an immediate infusion of cash?"
"You're catching on, Senator. I made what I believed to be another prudent investment."
"And that was?"
"A .44 Magnum revolver and a gorilla mask, which I employed in endeavoring to elicit a monetary contribution from a nearby convenience store."
"And this resulted in ...?"
"A baseball bat to the side of my head by an outraged immigrant store clerk from Pakistan. I didn't know they even played baseball in Pakistan. Then came the arrival of the police and a short ride in a squad car to my current residence."
"And now you expect me to somehow use taxpayer money to bail you out of an outrageous situation caused by your own appallingly greedy behavior and profoundly asinine judgment?"
"That's about right, Senator. Just like you're doing with Wall Street."
"What makes you think I would ever betray the public trust in such a manner?"
"Well, Senator, I don't rightly know what the banking industry has on you, but I've got Mabel ... excuse me. I've got Angelique."
"Hmmm ... well .... um .... I don't think sending you $50,000 is anywhere near enough aid for such a fine citizen in such dire straits. You're going to need a lawyer, and then there are the Garbonzo brothers to consider. Tell you what, Mr. Smith. Let's call it an even billion dollars ... and I trust I won't be hearing from you ever again?"
"Of course not, Senator. You can bank on that."
Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208.