“Mankind was my business,” I whispered and closed the dusty book. As if Hermione Granger cast a spell, a chain-rattling, wailing din descended from the recently completed Top Shelf: A Literary Loft above Old Books on Front. I darted out and snuck upstairs. First, I bathed in the luxurious aroma of the newly finished hardwood floors. Then I noticed the knocker—which was odd because, when I saw the loft a week earlier, there had only been a knob. Now, there was a gruesome shape-shifting thing glowing before me.
I reached down to grab the knob only to have the door swing open by itself. I paused before I remembered I was above a bookstore in a dwelling designed with writers, artists and even some actors in mind. Not fearing anything literate, I entered. At first I didn’t recognize the long-faced man reading a book on the rocking chair by the window overlooking Front Street.
“Abe?” I asked. “Mr. Abraham Lincoln?”
A low wail arose from the man.
“Apologies, good sir,” I stammered.
“Jacob,” said the figure, his single word echoing grandly off each of the author’s tongues whose names were written in the walls themselves.
“Marley?” I asked.
“It’s Christmas. The wails and rattles drew you up the stairs. Do I have to spell it out? M-A-R-L-E-Y.”
“Point taken,” I said, more at ease with Jacob Marley’s sarcasm.
“A Christmas Carol” always has been close to my heart. Fifteen years ago, UNCW’s Frank Trimble allowed me to walk, sing and nearly dance amongst the townspeople of Dickensian London in his musical adaptation, “Ebenezer.” For 25 years our family has read one stave aloud from the first Sunday of Advent to Christmas Eve. Dickens’ story of transformation and hope is the one enduring vestige of my Christian upbringing. It always provides hope of transformation.
“Mankind was your business?” I asked. “Did you really believe that? Or was that propaganda Dickens designed to fit a carefully constructed anti-capitalist, biased liberal narrative? What about the Marley ‘brand,’ your stock and trade?”
“The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” He rose tall from the rocker and growled with fierce resolve.
Having satisfactorily vetted this apparition as the real deal, I stood beside him and shared my concerns about the election. “We may have elected Ebenezer Trump.”
“Excellent! The hope of transformation is the root of many a well-turned-out tale. Glad it turned out well for this chump. Ebenezer was a such a good man in the end.”
“We’re still at the beginning,” I corrected.
Jacob let out a howl plaintive enough to wake Allen Ginsberg. “Why can’t you colonists ever see the difference, the implicit and dangerous conflict of interest between running a corporation and leading a country of free men?”
“TV? Twitter-blindness?” I offered.
Jacob raised a curious eyebrow. “Our chump is a casino-owning, reality TV personality that got elected by arousing fear and darker passions in 140 characters or less—a Tweet storm of emotional arousal. He loves the nuclear option, said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose votes, brags about not paying taxes, and filed for bankruptcy four times.”
“He is no man of business! He is a cheap fraud!” Jacob retorted.
“Ebenezer and I were,” he paused to gather himself, “heartless. We were ruthless men of business. But we were men of business.”
“On your worst day you and Ebenezer were old-school capitalists,” I lamented, “This chump? Well, it may take more than three ghosts to transform the self-anointed King Casino Capitalism.”
“Capitalism is a peculiar institution.” Jacob shook his head.
“A peculiar institution?” I asked.
“It ensures the many are fed just enough crumbs to grow the goose fat for the few,” he said, matter-of-factly, and shrugged slightly.
Jacob handed me a copy of “A Christmas Carol” and suggested I send it to Mr. Chump. He also handed me “It Can’t Happen Here,” Sinclair Lewis’s brilliantly prescient 1935 novel about fascism coming to America. As he vanished out the window in a swirl of smoke, his final words rebounded, “Read and remember: This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware of them both—most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”