You can find Part One here.
The day’s events had left me dumbfounded. I’d wandered into the Appalachians in search of truth, looking for our country’s economic precipice, and while I was apparently on the right track the answers I’d found left me with even more questions. Where was this massive, financial Sword of Damocles? How could the people “in charge” possibly have driven us to this cliff like Thelma and Louise, their hands clasped, threatening to take us where no American government had gone before? My journey into the heart of Appalachia was only one day old and I was already looking over my shoulder awaiting my own “squeal like a pig” moment.
I retired to the nearest roadside motel, and after locking the door, sliding the chain in, and propping my luggage against the entrance, was able to pick up a couple hours of fitful sleep. The next morning I awoke and ran to my car, fishtailing as I roared out of the motel parking lot . Part of me wanted to turn around and get back to civilization, but I knew my duty lie elsewhere. If I didn’t find this cliff it might turn out no one could, and then where would we be?
So I took off again along the same route I’d been on the day before, following the directions the townspeople had given me. I got to the next town as the sun was fighting its way up the eastern horizon. At first it looked deserted. I slowly trawled around looking for signs of life. Finally, I saw a lone silhouette sitting in the town diner. I parked my rented car and cautiously approached. I could see that it was a man. He appeared to be reading the paper and drinking a cup of coffee. I sucked up a large breath and gathered my courage.
Upon entering the diner a small bell went off, indicating my arrival. The man didn’t look up. I stood there in the doorway, contemplating my next move. Without looking up, he said, “You’ve come a long way, might as well sit down.”
I was, of course, a bit shocked, but with seemingly no other alternative I took the stool next to his. He was somewhere around middle-age, though I couldn’t be sure, what with him having an aspect that made much about him hard to place. He was wearing a finely-tailored suit, something that seemed out of place in these environs, and carried himself with an assured air that marked him as being not of this place. Beyond that, there was little I could tell about him on first glance.
“You’ve been looking for Fiscal Cliff, I hear,” he began.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“Oh, I just knew. But that’s not the point. The point is why, why are you looking for it?”
“It seemed important,” I said. “Everyone keeps talking about it, but no one seems to know anything about it. I’m an investigative journalist, it’s my…”
He cut me off. “I know what you are. That still doesn’t mean you should go around poking your nose in where it don’t belong.”
“Well, that’s actually exactly what it means. Investigative…”
Again, he stopped me. “Look here, the whole point is that you, nor anyone else, knows exactly what this whole thing means. That’s why it’s there. That’s it’s purpose. Hell, the people fighting over it in Congress don’t even really know what it is. It’s a ghost, a bogeyman, the monster under your bed. It’s threat level red. Defcon 5. Get it?”
“No, not really.” I was truly perplexed.
“The fact is, no one knows what will happen. Whether they cut a deal to avert this mythological Apocalypse, or let us go right on over, no one knows. It’s just the latest load of flaming bullshit being laid at the country’s collective doorstep. You’re out here looking for something that isn’t real.”
At least that last sentence made some sense. “I was beginning to think that myself.”
“Yeah, well, took ya’ long enough. You can keep on going down that road, and who knows, maybe you’ll find something. Maybe there is a rocky outcropping that promises to lead our country’s commerce falling to its death. Or maybe, just maybe, you’re out here looking for a huge pile of bullshit. And this is farm country, you can find a huge pile of bullshit most anywhere you look.”
“So, what do I do?” I had to ask.
“I dunno. Go spend your time thinking about something worthwhile, like what to eat for dinner tonight, or whether the Cubs will ever win a World Series. Whatever you do, though, leave this one alone. There’s nothing to see here. Just another load of crap being dropped on your head by a bunch of people whose job it is to drop loads of crap on everyone’s heads. After all, it’s how they keep their jobs.”
While I hadn’t quite understood everything this cryptic bastard was spitting at me, it somehow rang true. I, the American people, and their venerable Congress were on a wild goose chase all along. Whatever and wherever Fiscal Cliff was it probably didn’t have a whole lot more meaning than the yahoos who kept crowing about it lent it with their yammering. It was a fictional monster created out of lies, half-truths, prevarication, and spittle. Its impact and effects were as obscure as the next hurricane or earthquake, and attempts to understand it were just as futile.
I got up form my stool, nodded at the gentleman, and walked toward the door. I turned back one last time before leaving. He was already gone. Vanished. Whoever he was, I was going to be glad to have him, the Appalachians, and the search for Fiscal Cliff in my rearview mirror.