My latest get-rich-quick scheme didn’t work out as planned. Still, I thought the Hurricane Harvey Weinstein Rebuild & Rehab Center combined the best of two worlds. I had heard of people making a fortune by cornering the gold market or the corn market. I tried to corner the flea market. That was about as bad as my franchise for the Bernard Madoff Investment Advice Co. I tried selling Testosterone Mighty Pills door-to-door, but the FDA said the testosterone fad was a snake oil hoax and my pills were worthless. It was then that I sought out financial help from my long-time money guru, Cash O’Hand. Fortunately it was during visiting hours. “OK, I admit the New Coke bombed,” he said on the phone from behind the glass window. “And I’m sorry about your betting on the Jamaican bobsled team, but this is a sure-fire winner. Amazon.”
“Amazon Grace? It’s been recorded by everyone from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to the Black Watch Bagpipe Band.”
Cash sighed his condescending sigh. “No, Amazon, the company that has taken over marketing, selling and delivering everything from toothpicks to hit men, putting Mom and Pop stores out of business quicker than your neighborhood WalMart. Even Macy’s and Sears are reeling because of Amazon. They are based in Seattle, but plan to open a second headquarters, called HQ2. The facility will cost five billion dollars, take up land the size of Idaho, hire fifty-thousand workers, who, Amazon promises, will each earn a hundred thousand dollars annually to start, bonuses will double that amount. So, naturally, governments are drooling at the prospect of landing such a prize. I mean, they are groveling like a Trump cabinet. You need to get in on the greed by brokering the deal.”
That sounded like a good idea, so I began with the State of Texas. Both our U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, had written a letter to Amazon explaining why Texas would be the perfect place to locate HQ2 – top quality schools that finish just below average on virtually every state-to-state comparison, a legislature that imitates Larry, Moe and Curly, and no transgender school bathrooms, something Amazon cannot resist, except that they sell them on-line. Even Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick went plugging for the facility, pointing out that Texas has low wages, unions are considered a commie front and child labor laws are actually rather childish. Texas had a good chance to get the new goldmine. Then Michigan said it would bid for HQ2. New York followed. Amazon noted these states had high taxes, and the company wanted a low tax rate. California said it would create a generic tax loophole for any company whose name began with an A and ended with an n, but it must contain the letter z. New York promised to turn over the entire state treasury to Amazon.
I was hired on by Texas to push our bid. I discovered that the company CEO, Jeff Bezos, had moved to Houston as a child and attended River Oaks Elementary School, and thus should reward his old hometown. Detroit countered with offering to rename a high school the Jeff Bezos School for Shaking Down Communities. Amazon said the winning city must have a first-rate international airport. D/FW offered to become the Jeff Bezos Intergalactic Spaceport & Fast Delivery Terminal. Atlanta promised no taxes. Amazon said it would levy a tax on Atlanta should it get the prize. I fired back with a plan to rename the Houston Ship Channel the Texas Amazon River. New York City vowed to change Times Square to Bezos Squared. He said he didn’t need the Times, he already owned the Washington Post. The bidding got so rough that San Antonio dropped out. “We thought the Amazon Alamo would do the trick,” a city official sobbed. “But they wanted to sell it stone by stone. We didn’t have enough stones to make it worth their while.”
Some economists who have investigated incentives for companies to move to a town – tax breaks, infrastructure improvements, more schools – say locals are giving away the store. (One particular move, the economists figured, would benefit the host city by 2050.) But my job was to lure Amazon to Texas, and the store could be given away. Speaking of stores, I promised to put a Whole Foods in every company cubicle, with free vending machines. Then I found out Bezos owned Whole Foods. At that point I dropped the idea of putting a church in every lobby.
“I’m not doing very well,” I told my financial guru at our next meeting. He adjusted the phone. “You need to steal ideas from the very best. Buy Donald Trump’s book.” I got out a paper and pen. “The Art of the Deal?” I asked. Cash shook his head. “First of all, Trump never wrote it. Every word was ghostwritten. Besides, there was nothing in it you couldn’t learn from MSNBC on mute. You want his latest book, ‘The Art of the Heel,’ in which the Donald shows how to lie, cheat and twist facts and quotes and get away with it.” So I bought the book and read the first chapter; “Benghazi Blizzard — Accuse You Enemies.” Trump wrote (or someone did) that if you keep pounding away at a lie, some dumb people will begin to believe you. I went on Facebook to anonymously state that Atlanta had been burned to the ground, a hurricane had swept through New Jersey and San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake. All true, I just didn’t say when. New Mexico offered old Mexico, but Amazon demanded its first-born and a sibling to be named later. I made our final offer: Texas would name Jeff Bezos its king for life, if Dan Patrick didn’t object. It didn’t work, and I was fired, but I left the “For Sale” sign in front of the state Capitol.
Ashby’s store is at email@example.com