Usually when I get a phone call at 2:13 in the morning, it means someone is in trouble. Sometimes, especially when Marshbaum is at the other end, it's better to have had the prescience to have unplugged the phone.
"Know anyone with a vacant 200,000 square foot warehouse?" he asked.
"Not at this hour," I replied. "Call me in the morning." By morning, Marshbaum has either forgotten his latest scam or been arrested.
"I need it now," said a flurried Marshbaum, "or I'll have to send the trucks into a holding pattern on the Beltway."
"What trucks? I asked, lost by Marshbaum's reasoning.
"The 72 18-wheelers that are highballing it into town with full loads of soft drinks, potato chips, and Twinkies."
"Don't you know that junk food is bad for your health? Schools have banned sugary drinks and snacks. Mayor Blumberg in New York tried to ban those Big Gulp drinks. Michelle Obama is fixated on a campaign of exercise and healthy living. Government is spending millions to publish dozens of pamphlets and put ads on TV to emphasize junk food is bad."
"That's why I'm getting as much as I can."
"You don't like the government? This is your method of retaliation?"
"This is my way of securing my retirement. I'm buying low and selling high."
I suspected that high was today's operative word. "If junk food is bad, why are you buying truckloads of it?"
"This is capitalism. The free market. I'm in on the cement ground floor."
"I'm not sure what you're talking about, but something's ground your brain."
"The value of junk food is lower than it's ever been. That's because of the government messing in people's lives."
"Maybe it's because junk food is bad."
"Worse than the banks that overcharged homeowners when it handed out high-interest mortgages like it was candy? Government didn't mess with them. Just slapped them on the hand and let them go."
"What does buying junk food have to do with any of this?"
"Government thinks worse of junk food than it does of the white-collar thieves on Wall Street," said Marshbaum. "That's good news."
"That's good that Congress and the Justice Department haven't punished the white-collar crooks?"
"Good that it pompously pontificates about junk food. It'll let a hedge fund crook go, but it'll soon be banning junk food."
"If it bans junk food, your 200,000 square foot warehouse will be nothing more than four walls of rotting vermin."
"Everything the government bans becomes gold. It banned booze in the '20s, and we got speakeasies, crime, and millionaires. It bans marijuana, and college kids pay off student loans from buying and selling. It bans prostitution, and we get call girls who can afford to drive Lexuses—or is it Lexi?"
Page 2 of 3 - "Are you selling the junk food to prostitutes?"
"Listen, Ink Breath, it's obvious that no one requires journalists to take Economics. Didn't you hear me? This is the free market economy. Government says junk food is bad. People buy less junk food. Manufacturers cut back on production. Stores stock less junk food. Value of junk food goes down. I buy junk food at its lowest price. Coca Cola is launching a national campaign just to say that diet soda is healthy! But people don't believe that because Michelle and the Mini-Minds of government and consumer groups don't want us to eat and drink certain foods."
"So you've still got truckloads of food rotting in your warehouse—which you don't have!"
"I'll have it. The Great Recession must have left thousands of buildings vacant. I just have to find one. Now, let's get back on track. People stopped eating carbs because some idiots on TV said carbs cause you to gain weight. They stopped eating eggs and steaks because idiot reporters who think they're nutritionists said that cholesterol is bad. Less consumption means less production. Less production means higher prices. Value of what's left is greater than—"
"Marshbaum!" I interrupted, "you're contradicting yourself. And you're making no sense."
"That's what I do," said Marshbaum smugly.
"The government may be dense in many ways, but it'll never ban junk food."
"Doesn't have to. I'll just put some suggestions onto the Internet, tweet a few things, mention a possibility on FaceBook. Newspapers will pick up on this and run stories beneath a headline—'Government Planning to Ban Junk Food.' In a day, people will believe junk food is being banned—and that it's all some kind of government conspiracy. They panic, and then they become outraged. They re-tweet, and then they buy junk food. There's already a shortage because the government and a few quack videoheads told us junk food was bad, manufacturers cut back, and stores don't have as much. People will rush to the stores. They'll buy everything on the shelves. Soon, others will go to the empty shelves. When that happens, they'll become desperate. They'll want a fix. They'll crave it junk. Guess where they'll get it?"
"In back alleys on dark nights?"
"From the Marshbaum Box Store Super-Center for Juicy Junk. But now, instead of paying 50 cents for a bag of snack chips, they pay a buck. Maybe two bucks. I hire more people who hire more people who lure teens into selling Twinkies to pay for their car insurance. My network spans the country. I become fat with the obnoxious wealth of conspicuous consumption. Gold chains. $2,000 suits. Sixty-foot yacht. Ten-bathroom mansion with chandeliers in all of them. Entourage of hangers-on whose only value is they hold onto my every word, knowing I'll allow them to be seen with me. Only one problem."
Page 3 of 3 - "What's that?"
"I still need that warehouse."
[Walter Brasch still eats junk food—while it's available—and proudly says he hasn't gained weight in at least a week. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the connections between politicians and corporations, and looks at the impact of gas drilling upon health and the environment.]