The You You've Always Been But Better

Samuel Ligon

Perhaps under different circumstances, in a more intimate setting, you would be interested in my Preferred Membership Plus Price Protection and Guaranteed Extended Warrantee Plan, or my SmartConsumer’s “Paint the Night Fantastic” Exclusive Restaurant Program with no obligation after visiting the dining establishments of four member participants, but you’re tired now, I know, you’re not feeling well, creditors have been hounding you and you don’t do anything anymore—not like when you were young and full of potential and were what the Taoists (a very famous ancient religion) would call an uncarved block, no, certainly not that, because now you’re confused and misguided and very nearly used up—so beaten down that when I call to ask how you’re doing, you sigh and say, “Fine,” (if you haven’t already hung up) and indicate with your silence that you just want me to conclude my little performance as quickly as possible so you can go back to worrying alone.

But let’s get one thing straight. First and foremost, I am here for you. Yes, I want you to consolidate your debt into one easy monthly payment at a savings of hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars, but more important, I want to reach out to you as a person. I don’t want to mispronounce your name or get you at a bad time. I want to help. I’m here to help. When you say you’re not interested and expect me to thank you, hang up the phone, and drop off the planet, please realize that I persist not to irritate you, but to nudge you toward enlightenment. It’s not your fault that you fail to realize I have something you need. I understand that. But sometimes it’s frustrating for me too. It’s like watching sick people die before me, over and over, refusing the healing medicine I hold out to them. Of course I’m desperate to save you, but my respect for you as a person prohibits that. I want to help you save yourself.

Sometimes when I get worn down (yes, even I have bad days) your selfishness can become overwhelming. Do you honestly believe you’re the only person who doesn’t require additional membership service solutions, credit card protection, or mortgage insurance? I mean, when you get right down to it, what is it you want from me? Unimaginable wealth? Toe curling, fourth chakra orgasms, one after another? Immortality? Or just a little time to talk and get to know one another so that when we turn in for the night, we can think, Yeah, I had some human contact today; I reached out to someone and he/she reached back, and for a minute we weren’t so completely alone but were instead finally connecting as more than just animals, more than automatons, and, yeah, I’m going to get discounts on all my flights to Florida from now on as well, and maybe I can take that savings and start a soup kitchen or homeless shelter or sanctuary for runaway pregnant girls. Maybe I can start giving something back. Finally.

But, wait, you say. You’re sitting on ninety thousand dollars of credit card debt with a monthly minimum you can’t hope to service, which has led you into a suicidal depression? Okay, I understand that. I’ve been there. I’m exactly there right now. With you. Maybe you’ve had some bad luck as the result of unwise decisions. Who hasn’t? The question is, how do you get out of this hole you’re in? Let’s think about that for a minute. If I offer you a minimum savings of thirty-five dollars a flight to Miami, Orlando, or West Palm, with certain restrictions, and you make the trip, let’s say‚ one thousand times, I’ve just reduced your credit card debt by more than one-third, or roughly thirty-five thousand dollars. And that’s minimum. That’s just the beginning. It’s like T.S. Eliot (a very famous poet) said in the last two lines of his blockbuster poem, The Waste Land: “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata. Shantih shantih shantih.” Do you see?

Here is my oath to you: I will never sell a product or service you don’t absolutely need, right this minute. I will never sell a product or service which I have not exhaustively researched first to determine its quality and benefit to humanity. I will never sell a product that doesn’t somehow, someway, save children and/or animals. I will never not be “there” for you.

But now I have to ask—and this can be painful—where’s your commitment to help? What are you doing for the economy and the kids, the wretched, impoverished, and diseased, the little people who fat cat politicians don’t give a damn about? Don’t you realize that in order to be spent upon, you must first spend yourself? I know it’s hard for you to accept that in order to make others happy, you must first make yourself happy—that, in a funny way, greed is charity, materialism is spirituality, wealth is poverty, spending is saving. Moses himself (one of the biggest stars of the bible) said, “The meek shall inherit the earth. Do not put that log in your eye unless you have a stick to carry with it.”

Let’s think about that for a minute. If my net worth approaches forty million dollars as the result of lucrative and effortless real estate investments, which you too could participate in, am I really so well off? I don't think forty million dollars makes me a multi-millionaire, certainly not a billionaire. In fact, compared to Bill Gates, or Warren Buffet, or Oprah, or Jesus and the other bible billionaires, I’m completely broke. Flat out busted. Meek. I have nothing but the gasoline soaked rags on my back. I certainly don’t have a log in my eye. And when people talk about pyramid schemes, have they forgotten that the pyramids are among the greatest of human achievements—a wonder of the world—or are they just trying to keep you and me away from the money?

What I’m really selling here (and selling is probably too strong a word, since we’ll make next to nothing on this deal) is peace of mind, gender equity, zero coupon bonds, a chance to get in on the ground floor, freedom, equal protection under the law, purity, a good relationship, health, decency, and a capacity for compassion. In one word: a chance to imbue your life with meaning. A chance to belong. And a chance to get the government off your back and out of your bedroom.

So what’s in it for me? (It’s nagging at you, I know. You’ll evolve though. I promise. Personal Evolution is part of the Program). The answer is simple: You. You’re in it for me. Listen carefully. We’re you for America. That’s our slogan, or part of it. Here’s more: We’ve always been you. Catchy, I know, but think about this: If we’re not you, who is? Still not sure? Let me say it again: If we’re not you, who is? That’s what I thought. It’s like Mother Teresa (God rest) said of salvation: “Don’t miss this chance of a lifetime.”

Hey, listen, let’s be better than everyone by helping in huge ways, but—and this is important—let’s not feel superior or expect anything in return. Frank Sinatra (a very famous singer and gentleman farmer philosopher king) said, “You and I are just like a couple of tots.” Think about that for a minute. Let’s act like children, uncarved, unspoiled, frightened, soiled. Let’s wear diapers and watch television. Let’s be different but exactly the same. Let’s learn to feel again, to love. Let’s become who we’ve always been—and more: us, together, separate but equal, massive and invisible, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Because—don’t you see?—it’s time to stop fighting us. I’m talking about us, here. It’s like Jerry Lewis (a very famous comedian/philanthropist who beat a crippled child to death with a bag of gold in the south of France in the presence of the Kennedys and their secret service contingent and later went on to heroically campaign for millions of crippled strangers) said: “Hey, Lady!”

That’s right! Like a Zen master beating you with a rod, I’m trying to wake you. I know you know how much truth there is in all the pop songs and world religions and poems and cartoons and needle-pointed bathroom art and other sources of human and animal wisdom. It’s time to surrender to that wisdom and everything else. It’s time to bend and be strong. Because if you don’t give me some piece of yourself, now, tonight, I will track you down and make a haggis (ancient Scottish delicacy) of your viscera and internal organs and feed your pulsing pieces to the goats of human compassion in the name of Jesus and the Founding Fathers and everything else Holy, because if you don’t know it by now, I’m just going to say it, straight out: I love you. I’ve always loved you. And you will never be able to stop me from saving you. You are my baby donkey love infant and I am yours. We’re both of us surrounded by strangers here, alone, but even if we never meet in person, we’ll always have this time together, this night, this exchange of goods and services and human connection and money and love and eternity. But just—please, please, please—I’m begging you—don’t thank me. Paying me (paying each other, really) is all the thanks/salvation either one of us will ever need. And later, when you’re feeling spent from our love, the loneliness and fear creeping back in, just remember: We’re you for America. We’ve always been you. If we’re not you, who is? Shantih shantih shantih.

Samuel Ligon is the author of a collection of stories, Drift and Swerve, and a novel, Safe in Heaven Dead. He teaches at Eastern Washington University, in Spokane, and is the editor of Willow Springs.