Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life - Neil Strauss (2009)
Part V. RESCUE
I got my St. Kitts passport.” Spencer had flown into town, probably just to gloat.
“I guess this means you don’t need to buy your own island anymore,” I replied, though I secretly hoped he’d still get a submarine so I could ride in it. “How’d you get yours before I got mine?”
It was two weeks after the Metrolink crash, and we were eating Mexican food on Sunset Boulevard. Spencer’s Hamptons roommate Howard had recently fled the country after the mortgage company he helmed had collapsed. And Adam, the venture capitalist, was living in Austria. We were the last ones left.
“The developer came back to us with a modified agreement, so we were able to buy the house.” He bit into a burrito the size of a baby’s arm. Four women rose from the table next to us, leaving their food half-finished. “And not a moment too soon.”
The day before, the government had seized Washington Mutual Bank. And in previous weeks, some of the country’s biggest mortgage, insurance, and brokerage firms had either gone bankrupt or been bailed out from the brink by the government, including Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG. On top of everything, Tarasov and Associates, the company Spencer and I had used to protect our assets, was under investigation by the IRS. I hoped they’d remembered to protect their own assets.
Everything Paul Kennedy had predicted in The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers seemed to be coming true.
I was reminded of a story I’d once heard about two men wrestling. A spectator asks a wise man, “Whose side is God on?” The wise man replies, “God is on the side of the winner.”
“We lost an empire in eight years,” Spencer continued. Around us, billboards several stories tall advertised iPods, Calvin Klein bras, Seinfeld reruns, and, with the slogan “Drive like there is a tomorrow,” the Mini Cooper.
“What I want to know is how that will trickle down to the average person.” I wondered what future history books would say about us. Between the nuclear bombs we’d dropped in Japan, the massacres in Vietnam, the invasion of Iraq, and the attempts to politically and economically enslave less developed countries, it seemed likely that we’d go down in history as the bad guys. “Look at Mao’s Great Leap Forward. As a consequence of bad policies, more than twenty million Chinese citizens died of starvation.”
“There are a lot of doomsday scenarios, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” Spencer replied. “What we’re seeing is the painful shock of the U.S. unwinding its heavy leverage.” The traffic on Sunset Boulevard flew by. Wide black Hummers, boxy pink Mini Coopers, squat yellow Porsches. You’d never know from the surface that the country was sick. “The hope is that the world has a motivation not to let that happen, because we’re their customer and they have a vested stake. Imagine losing twenty-five percent of your business. If America goes down, China and Russia and everyone else are going to be pulled down as well. And that’s going to lead to a lot of turbulence and revolution.”
“So are you prepared for a world crisis?”
“I feel like I am.” Two men in button-down shirts with crosses and skulls on the back walked past, both talking on their cell phones. As long as we have cell phone reception, as long as we’re able to connect to the Internet, as long as we can turn on the TV and see the same familiar faces, then we’ll never truly believe anything is wrong. By the time we lose reception, it’ll be too late. “We’ve done what no one else took the time to do. If things get to the point where it’s really bad for us, it’s an easy plane ride to safety. We may have to lose some money and rebuild somewhat, but we’ll be fine.”
“I’m calling Maxwell as soon as I get home,” I pledged as we left.
Two weeks later, Maxwell e-mailed to let me know that my St. Kitts passport was waiting for me in his office. Finally, my backup plan was complete. I leapt up from the computer and told Katie the news.
“What if he’s lying?” Katie responded with her usual quick thinking. “We should go there and find out. St. Kitts is a small island—we can hunt him down and interrogate him and get your money back.”
“How will we do that?”
“We’ll hide around the corner from his office until he gets there, then jump out and tell him he has to give you your money back or else.”
“Or else what?”
“Or else we go to the police. And if they don’t believe us, then we bribe them. Money talks, babe.”
Katie was right, to a point. I needed to get back to the island as soon as possible to see if Maxwell had really come through.
I thought about how much had changed since I’d first walked into his office. Back then, I was scared. Now, though the world had become an even scarier place, I wasn’t motivated by fear. If there was a disaster in America, I wanted to be here for it. I wanted to stay and look after my neighbors and do recovery work with C.E.M.P.
Yet at the same time, I missed St. Kitts. I liked the people, the beaches, the climate, the cleanliness, the rum punch. It was the closest I’d been to paradise, and the few times I’d visited were happy and productive. Unlike America, which had let me down over the last eight years, St. Kitts hadn’t disappointed me yet. It was a new relationship. It was the Wild West with an ocean view.
Before flying back to St. Kitts, I called Wendell Lawrence, who’d originally urged me to move there. I told him about the rescue work I’d been doing and asked if there was any way I could be of help to the island. He put me in touch with the National Emergency Management Agency, the St. Kitts equivalent of FEMA.
And so, after waiting for what would be the last time in the St. Kitts tourist lane to clear immigration, I returned to the Caribbean—not just to take advantage of its citizenship program, but to be useful.