In the summer of 2008, I wrote a short story that was intended to be a comment on what I thought was a coming depression, where overvalued assets would ruin the wealthy and force all those paper millionaires into destitution. I got some positive feedback from a literary agent, who thought I could turn it into a novel, so I spent the summer researching and plotting out a whole novel that was going to be a prophetic cautionary tale about excess and over-leveraging… and then Bear Stearns collapsed. As the economy actually began to falter, and later, as the Madoff affair unraveled, I decided that the effect was ruined and I should abandon the book, which now seemed like it would come off as a reaction rather than a prescription.
Anyway, since I’ve been a bit blocked when it comes to writing lately, why not drag out an old and moldy chestnut? Enjoy this three-year old morsel while I work on a real post about the economy. And, if you like it, let me know and maybe I’ll release (and maybe rewrite) the next pages…
The Revenge of Icarus
“Since Tragedy is an imitation of persons who are above the common level, the example of good portrait painters should be followed. They, while reproducing the distinctive form of the original, make a likeness which is true to life and yet more beautiful. So too the poet, in representing men who are irascible or indolent, or have other defects of character, should preserve the type and yet ennoble it. In this way Achilles is portrayed by Agathon and Homer.”
Chapter One: Zeus
It was a Tuesday when the Gods descended from Mount Olympus, having talked to their accountant and finally concluded that the whole affair had simply become too expensive.
Christianity had long ago killed off the tribute business. Zeus, to his eternal chagrin, had personally sworn to the other eleven that tribute from mortals would be a never-ending spigot, but what was once a mighty
stream of gold, incense and amazing barbecue all the time had slowed to a trickle of credit card solicitations and coupons for two-for-one haircuts. They didn’t even get fan mail any more, not even from
He remembered the first time a girl he was trying to screw asked him to sign an autograph for her grandmother. “She totally, like, used to worship you and stuff,” she had said.
Back in the halcyon days, Zeus was constantly telling anyone who would listen, Olympus was truly a paradise of unimaginable delights. Las Vegas? Tijuana? Xanadu? Olympus put them all to shame, he would groan, usually while drunk.
Ambrosia on tap–they even had the toilets and showers running ambrosia for a few weeks once, just to do it, but it started to solidify in the pipes and they had to get Hephaestus–that ugly bastard–to fix it. And that
son-of-a-bitch proceeded to bring it up at literally once a week for the next millennium.
There were slaves, of course, to attend to your every need. And not those flea-bitten prisoners of war or twelve-year-old virgins you find nowadays, but real go-getters–accountants and gourmet chefs and Lit.
grad students–the real creme de la creme. And forget about pay-per-view. If you wanted to see a boxing match (or, more likely, olive-oil wrestling), you literally clapped your hands and all of a sudden there’s a two-bout fight in the middle of the courtyard. You even got to fix the odds if you felt like picking up some extra cash that day.
There was a constant revenue stream from the temples back then, and Zeus wasn’t shy about explaining that most of the money came from temple prostitution. Thankfully the gods had thought to invest a little bit of that money, the interest from which was now their main source of income. What was literally a spare change dish near the dawn of Greek civilization had, through compound interest, provided adequately for the Twelve for the past few hundred years. But what with the cost of olive oil and horsewhips and computers and everything else these days, cost-cutting had become commonplace on the Mount. Slaves’ largely unskilled labor was fine for wicker baskets and such, but they made shitty knock-offs when it came to modern luxuries such as designer clutches and private jets.
The first things to go were production values for public appearances, which in retrospect might have hurt them the most in the long run. When you show up at someone’s house demanding they sell their teenage son and/or daughter to you in sexual slavery until the end of time, you’d better show up as something really impressive, like a bull or a shower of gold. If you’re in body paint, it’s real gold leaf. You’ve got
imported silk kimonos and linen tablecloths and edible flower arrangements and ham sandwiches and a cask of upmarket grappa on a wagon in case they give you a rough time. And, if there is any trucking
involved whatsoever, naturally you have to use Teamsters.
In his new life, Zeus resolved, at least his conquests wouldn’t be expecting him to do any of the fancy stuff like turn into a Minotaur or pay child support. He would just be an anonymous aging playboy, on permanent retirement. Maybe I’ll go to the south of France, he thought, or South Beach. Trade the gold leaf for some bronzer.
“Nowadays I can barely afford a gold lame Speedo,” he said out loud. One of the movers turned around because he thought Zeus was talking to him, smashing face-first into another mover carrying a one-armed statue of Hera in an embarrassing pose that the avant-garde sculptor Galen had given Zeus as a birthday present. Hera’s remaining arm snapped clean off and skidded across the marble floor, neatly clipping Zeus in the shin.
“Aagh! Dammit!” he thundered.
“Oh Jesus Christ, I’m so sorry Mister Ze–” said one of the movers, as Zeus turned him into a toad.
“You want a piece of this?” he huffed at the other mover, whose former colleague was now jumping on his face. The mover screamed, so Zeus turned him into a toad, too. It was kind of a knee-jerk reaction,
but he went with it because when you turn toads like that back into people… let’s just say it’s better to let them stay toads. And just as he thought that, they seemed to calm down and stop jumping and ribbiting and just sat there on the broken statue in a daze.
“Stavros?” inquired one of the workers from around the corner, “Stavros? Other Stavros?”
Just how many of these bothersome idiots were there, Zeus wondered. When a fourth worker came in the opposite doorway, he gasped at the broken statue; but Zeus assumed that he was gasping at the fact that his two friends had been turned into toads, so he turned the young man into an alligator.
Alligators eat toads, right? Zeus thought.
This whole thing was really becoming bothersome, so he walked out onto the balcony, to enjoy the view from the above the mountain for what he thought would be one last time. As he looked out onto Greece and the Mediterranean, he remembered the first time he had seen this view, when he moved into the place all those eons ago. A young and relatively naive prince from some tiny island in the Mediterranean, he had worked his way up to Thunder God in the Levantine circuit, under the name “El” (his first agent told him, “keep it simple, stupid!”). The Levantines were OK, but they weren’t as wealthy as the Assyrians or the Egyptians, who had their own thing going.
So he moved to the Greek mainland, made a big show of banishing his “father” Cronus to Tartarus (later New Jersey), and took over what was then a rather small and motley crew of local charlatans in a largely fragmented market. Zeus saw the opportunity in that. He was an entrepreneurial sort by nature, and the thought that he could lead the Greeks to being a real regional player. He had succeeded beyond his wildest dreams, and now… was he leaving success behind or was success leaving him?
“No, I’m a survivor,” Zeus said out loud, again. “I’ve always been able to roll with the punches.”
Like when he took that buyout offer from the Romans. It was just too much money to pass up, and not only did it pay out in spades, it made him a worldwide household name–except that it was the funny name those
slick Italians called him, “Eee-yoo-pit-er.” Sure, it sounded a little fruity, but everybody got weird new names and the dough kept pouring in.
Oh, those Romans, with their money and orgies and vomitoria. Those guys knew how to party. It was like a ridiculous fad that no one knew how to stop–all of a sudden his neighbors on Olympus were running around in tunics with their little horse-drawn mopeds and drinking cappuccinos. But hey, they kept building new temples and private apartments in Rome, and you were constantly meeting girls from every corner of the globe. It was a fairly happening scene in its day, Zeus thought proudly.
Zeus watched some workers take apart the gazebo and realized he had spent so much time agonizing over having to pack all this stuff that he had forgotten to find a new place to live.
He decided to call his son Stavros, the God of Time-Shares and Vacation Rental Properties (Greece and Albania).