We have examined in this book a number of governmental activities pointing out the value of corruption. It is evident that all facets of daily life may be improved through its use. Examples vary, but usually we have directed our thoughts in most cases to effects on people we might meet in our day to day contacts. Ranging from local business enterprises to one’s home, corruption touched us all, and improves things in clearly tangible ways.
One point we have made is that the corruptor must be of a higher social standing than the one who is corrupted. This leads to the conclusion that there should be a class where corruption may be carried out on a grand scale while the individual members remain incorruptible. In fact, these lions of society will look with disdain upon the menial acts of of corruption that rob the average person of hours of sleep nightly. They are expected to use their power to forge the activities that are the basis of the democratic system. Recognized as fundamental to the framework of society they remain untouchable for their acts. Even if some scheme should turn out badly, they are excused or bailed out merely on the basis of their potential for further corruption.
If a motto could be designed for this group it would be “Think Big”. But a motto is unnecessary since the members of this group could hardly behave in any other way.
Huge amounts of money or property are involved in each of their daily transactions so as to boggle the mind of the average citizen. Actually, the grander the scale of the corrupt act, the less likely they are to be found out — since few can imagine that anyone could be that corrupt.
This class represents the fundamental fabric of the democratic society, from which food, services and money flow in such amounts that the little shaved off the top is barely noticed. And this serves only to make them stronger.
There is no criticism of this group since they control the means of communication and therefore public opinion. They can create one hundred thousand jobs over a cocktail, provide heating oil or light for the entire Northeast over lunch and dictate the flow of money and interest rates over dessert.
There is a natural aspiration in a free society to climb to the next social stratum. This upward movement is designed to insure additional opportunities for corrupt acts and therefore a more important role in daily life. As each successive level is reached one attains more power.
If a definition of a free society is desired, it might be: a society which permits individual ascendancy up the ladder of social levels. Of course, there is a limit! If everyone belonged to the highest level there would be no levels at all. The only advantage in ascending at all is that there will be someone in the levels below over whom you may exert some influence. Therefore it is also a general rule that while nearly all individuals aspire to improve their social status, only a few may be allowed to actually make it.
But much of the excitement is in the battle itself. The creation of wealth and opportunity to corrupt is fundamental to the well being of the free society. Education, special training, hard work, are the backbone of the moral code of free men so that one day they may be in a position to kick someone else in the pants.
There lies the fundamental difference between the class and classless societies. These latter are represented by restrictive policies that prevent movement between the rulers and ruled and while not strictly classless they are characterized by ambitionless men and women with no chance to laud it over anybody — and therefore no opportunity to improve their lot. What a drudge life is for them — merely eating, sleeping, screwing and watching television.
Compare this to the daily excitement of planning a scheme, getting a bit of action started which may put you on an equal level with the fellow who’s been screwing you all these years. The opportunity is there. And high above is the ultimate goal (maybe not in your lifetime but perhaps in your grandchild’s) of entering the realm of those lords of society to whom all is available, who wield immeasurable power, and who dispense masses of corruption to make everything better for everybody.
In the sixties between Lexington and Park Avenues stands a brownstone building of unpretentious appearance, identified only by a small brass plaque bearing the image of a bird in flight. As one would ascend the seven stone steps to the entrance, a small bell could be seen immediately above the plaque.
The door is painted black, which coincided well with the decor of the remaining buildings on the block, and the upper half consists of a frosted glass pane curtained in white damask. But this is not a private residence.
The greeting upon entering is administered by an elderly gentleman with a large shock of white hair. Dressed in a long sleeved white silk shirt, pin striped vest and trousers, one is ushered into a small foyer facing a closed elevator. One is always greeted by name, for the members of this club were well known and made to feel at home.
To the left of the elevator is a solid mahogany half table on which stands a green urn patterned after the Chinese, manufactured in a small factory outside London over two hundred years ago. Anyone caught fingering or examining this antique piece is immediately escorted back out into the street, for the decorum of the club calls for total and complete nonchalance in the presence of wealth.
Upstairs the atmosphere is somewhat less austere in the large mahogany paneled library with its scattered overstuffed chairs and portraits of famous men — all of whom were members of the club. The room is always quiet regardless of the number of occupants, and conversations could be held in the strictest of confidence that no one was or would want to be listening in. Without a fuss, one’s favorite pre-dinner cocktail or sherry, or post-dinner brandy appeared at his side as if by the machinations of a mysterious force, since the waiters seemed to be invisible.
Guests are permitted, within reason, and would hover about their host in small groups, usually satisfying the culmination of some important deal or transaction.
Generally one can distinguish the guests from their hosts with ease by noting the uniform dress code to which the members adhered by tradition. Utter disregard for style is paramount, for each member is appreciated as a man of proper breeding and background and not for his choice of tailor. This was constantly emphasized by wearing an out of date suit, black or gray, narrow lapels, and dark narrow ties on a solid white or blue background. One would never believe that a particular suit was inexpensive, since personal tailors were required to construct them so they were shiny, out of style with slightly baggy pants, and bearing a constant wrinkle. One member created a sensation by purchasing several suits having a slight tear in the lining, leaving a bit hanging from the bottom of his jacket. He was so greatly admired that he was elevated at once to membership secretary, a post of purely symbolic significance, since all new members have to be approved unanimously in any case.
Women were not permitted since Mrs. Harris Ekkar wore a low cut black dress, displaying a bit too much and resulting in the spillage of several glasses of vintage port . Lost money, friends, and positions could be easily reacquired, but not vintage port.
Overseeing the nightly activities is the most senior of the members, John Hayes Randolph III. Considered the dean of American finance, he had delved into all aspects of business with success following success, and increased his modest inheritance of sixty million by at least three zeros. So respected, in fact, was JH that his personal recommendation is required for any consideration for membership to the club.
This fact created a mild sensation when JH approved the admission of Daniel Greene, a Brooklyn born son of immigrant parents who had amassed a fortune dealing in Swiss Gold shares. “Don’t worry”, JH assured the members, “it’s important to let one of them in so we’re not labeled as bigoted. Besides who’s he going to talk to?”
JH had suffered unmercifully from prostatism for several years which led to the much celebrated installation of a direct line ticker next to his private urinal. This was the result of a forty thousand dollar paper loss suffered during one of his frequent visits to the john. As a matter of fact, during a similar episode, the rush to sell led to his urinating a considerable amount down his right pant leg and only the quick wit and resourcefulness of his valet Clarence avoided significant embarrassment.
When JH had a cocktail, it was cocktail time, and when JH went to dine, it was dinner time, and when JH retired to the library after dinner it was clear that dinner was over.
The dining room is elegant, fully staffed by maids and waiters in white gloves and starched uniforms. There is no menu. The members who frequented the finest restaurants the world had to offer, who knew the greatest chefs by first name, reserve for the club those meals which reflected their deepest desires and tastes — things which could not be ordered elsewhere.
On a certain night in August, Earl Homer Collingworth sat at a corner table inhaling the fragrance of a Mouton Rothschild Cadet ’74 poured from a crystal decanter. On a silver platter before him lay a thick slab of white bread covered with his favorite loganberry jam and spread thickly with peanut butter. Centering a second piece of white bread over the first he lifted the sandwich to his mouth and savored the elegance of the meal he loved the most.
Suspicion centered about Todd Haynes Eckhardt III when he first ordered his Nova Scotia salmon to be served with cream cheese on a toasted bagel. He explained, however, as he washed it down with a smokey Puilly Fume ’71 that it reminded him of his college days when he had made it regularly with a dark haired Jewish beauty from Milwaukee. She , of course, had fantasized the elegance of life as part of a first line family, but he had already promised himself to Abby Clogwell, whom he later married and with whom he sired three of the dullest children he’d ever met.
On this particular night JH sat at his private table, near the toilet, when he noticed the eye signals directed at him by Harwood Cline Schiller. Randolph was on his second bowl of cornflakes and milk when he decided that it was best to acknowledge something was up.
Harwood approached his table cautiously. “JH I’ve got to solve a fairly touchy problem.”
“Related to the railroad?”
“Yes”, said Harwood. “We may be going down the drain and I need your advice.”
“After dinner in the lounge. — After dinner, ” said JH wiping a small drop of milk from the corner of his mouth and signaling for another dish of raisins.
“By all means,” said Harwood, and returned to his Cheval Blanc ’75, sipped it softly and dipped his long spoon casually into the bowl of franks and beans sitting before him.
Alvin Harcourt at a neighboring table noticed the conversation and put down his chilli burger long enough to slip a sly wink at JH. They had discussed Schiller’s problem before, and knew that before long there would be money to be made.
Dinner was usually finished by nine and was especially prompt tonight as the members singly retired to the lounge to await the game. It was going to be unusually fierce tonight, and the sense of something in the air pervaded the club.
The lounge was paneled as in the other rooms, but carpeted in a thick blue pile with matching drapes, and lit brightly by another central crystal chandelier. The members took their respective places, each sitting on the floor, comfortably cushioned. Small tables bore the ash trays for their cigars as brandy was poured into sparkling snifters. They formed a small circle as the great central board was positioned.
“All right Harwood, what seems to be the problem?”
“It’s the railroad — you know the large hotel we built — we have invested over eighty million in the most fashionable resort. But the weather won’t hold up — and the area’s wrong. We’d hoped to stimulate rail travel, but it’s not going. With recurring losses, the whole railroad might go under.”
JH snickered to himself. “Have you started unloading?”
“Yes, we’ve been buying and selling railroad shares for two months now. We’ll end up with twenty million shares unloaded by next month. The price has held so far, but it’ll break as soon as our next statement is out.”
“You’re personally home free then?”
“Yes, but we can’t let the railroad fail. A bankruptcy would be too embarrassing. There’d be questions about our investments. After all, the railroad is an American institution.”
The game was starting. Out of deference JH handled the dice first. He smiled silently as he reeled them onto the board. A five and a three. “Vermont Avenue,” he said, “I’ll buy it.”
Harwood fidgeted incomfortably and threw a five. “Oh for christsake. Reading Railroad. I don’t want it.”
“Good, I’ll take it,” said JH as he signaled to the bank to tally the cost. “Harwood, you should know better. I’ve told you many times that you can’t build hotels on the railroads. You should have stayed with better properties!”
Excitement grew as the yellow, green and orange cards were passed around, all representing real properties. Deals were made, side bets, special arrangements to avoid rental payments.
“Let the stock fall,” said JH, “We’ll pick it up later. You’re not to touch it. By next Tuesday announce the bankruptcy. By Thursday congress will pass special legislation to grant an interest free loan to this great American institution and place it in receivership. We’ll take it over. Blame it on the airlines. You’re out — stay out. Be glad you weren’t hurt. Harcourt here will be named director by Congress. The president will go along.”
“Thank you, thank you JH.”
JH waved off the compliment. He stared deliberately around the board. “Now whose got the Pennsylvania,” he said.