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A Man of Action



Don't ask me how he built the thing. I'm not the technical one. Money. I understand money. Enough money and you can have anything--even the Whore of Babylon. Just kidding.

We tried it out on a chicken first, sent her 5,000 years into the past, brought her back with the dust of the pyramids on her feet. Winthrop worried. "Can we prove this chicken traveled through time?" "By God," I tell him. "I can prove she came to no harm." Sixty million bucks. That's what it cost me to build that machine. I wasn't going to back out now.

I crawled inside and set the controls. No need to describe the trip. Leave that to the writers. A man of action can't waste time on details. "Good-bye, Winthrop! You can pick up your bonus check at the cashier's!" His face was as white as snow. Such a timid little guy.

Babylon was in pretty good shape; you might say it was as good as new, walls freshly painted, temples sparkling, camels high-stepping on Main Street. There was even a slave auction, and if I hadn't had other things on my mind I might have made a few bids. But a man of action can't be distracted. He sees what needs to be done, and he does it.

I'd only gone a few steps before this Arab with a curvy sword popped up.

"[unreproducible foreign characters]"

Winthrop had tried to tell me I'd need an interpreter, but I just showed this fellow a roll of good old American dollars. You know as well as I do what these Arabs are after. "You take me to the number-one man."

"[unreproducible foreign characters]"

Kind of cute the way these fellers talk. But I ain't got time to learn it. Like I say, man of action--get it?

Right then and there three of his baggy-pants friends step out of the crowd. Poor Winthrop, worrying that I might not be safe, and here I was with an armed escort.

You could see these boys knew where it was in this world. No stopping to pass the time of day at the bazaars. All business. I believe I could use a few like them on the payroll. We went up and down a dozen alleys and there's your palace, all towers and walls and guys in turbans standing guard.

"Well, Abdul," I says. "I guess you got me here all right." And I stuffed a few thousand dollars into his baggy pants.

Soon as we're inside I'm surrounded by women. Young, old, fat, thin, black, white, brown, yellow. Poor Winthrop. Should have come along. I always did say the fellow needed his ashes hauled. Just kidding.

It was simply amazing the way these women kept trying to touch and pull at my clothes. I guess maybe they never seen a Texan before. Next thing I knew I was stark.

"Sorry, girls," I tell them. "America's been good to me. I am happily married."

"[unreproducible foreign characters]"

I'd heard about ancient Babylon, now I was in it.

This room they took me into, now here's where I could use one of those writer fellows. Fancy carpeting, oriental, I guess. Gilded idols, gold incense burners, fat smooth-faced priests all loaded down with jewels. It's religion, just pagan stuff, but you could see right now what was happening to the Babylonian economy.

"Looks like I got here just in time," I told those people. "Bring on that number-one man!"

Right now someone rings one of those huge gong things, and everybody falls flat on his or her face. Here comes the king. I call him the king since who else wears a crown? But it's plain to see this really is the kind of guy who would eat grass.

Well sir, I step right up. "Howdy King, I'm here to solve your problems."

"[unreproducible foreign characters]"

I'm willing to bet he got the grammar wrong, 'cause sure as your grandmother grew warts those people all misunderstood him. Next thing they had me hog-tied. Now that I think about it, the average Babylonian isn't quite bright.

"Hey now, fellows," I tell them. "You gotta leave my hands free or how can I explain this thing?"

"[unreproducible foreign characters]"

No wonder their civilization was about to fall. Can't talk any better than that.

But I keep trying. "Now lookie here. I'm not in this for my health. What you folks don't seem to realize is that your civilization is about to die. Pass. That's how we say it back home. Just lookie you around, all that gold, all those tapestries, all those useless slaves. Why, if I'd a run my business that way, I'd still be selling potato chips."

The people wanted to listen, you could see that. But the king was off in the corner consulting with one of those priests. Plotting something. You bet they were.

I gave them my speech, best I could with my hands tied up. "I'm not saying it's anyone's fault. It's the system, that's what it is. All these jewels and gold ornaments, all these oversize slaves, all this decadence. What you got here is what we call a busted civilization, and when something's busted, you don't call in the guys that busted it to fix things. What you want is a man of action. Put some clothes on those slave girls, melt down those idols, get the country working again. It's a simple yes-no proposition. Say no and I'm off. I hear Rome's in deep trouble. After we take care of them, there's always that French king, the one what married Marie Antoinette. A man of action, get it? Action."

I believe if these people could have understood me better they might have signed on right then. But suddenly it's that grass-eating king and his priest who are doing the talking, and I could see, plain as a pimple on a hairless dog, they weren't up to any good. The king, he raises his wand, and one of those fat slaves strikes that gong, I mean that gong was about 12 feet around, they could have done the same with one half that size, and right away eight slaves grabbed on to me (four would have been enough, you could see these people knew nothing about business) and carried me over to this huge idol.

Want to know what that idol looked like? Ask some writer, it's just pagan stuff and I ain't got the time, man of action, remember? They hit the gong again. The idol's mouth opens up and they toss me inside.

Clang! The thing shuts and I'm in the dark.

"Now listen here," I shout. "I'm telling you that this is exactly the sort of thing that is causing your country to decline. Idols and gongs and slaves with jewels in their belly buttons."

Meanwhile things are starting to get warm. Must be these Arabs or Babylonians or whatever we're supposed to call them have started a fire somewhere beneath this idol, which goes to show you how wasteful some people can be. If they hadn't taken my clothes in the first place, they wouldn't have had to worry about me getting cold. Am I right?"

"Folks out there!" I call. "This is not a way to treat a visitor from 1992!"

And they're singing, and playing flutes and old twangy fiddles, putting on a regular show even though they forgot to put a peephole in the idol so I could see what was going on. It must have been pretty good because whoever was in charge kind of let that fire get out of hand. I mean it started getting really hot in that idol, red hot, "Hey, there!" I'm shouting, "Let me out of here and I'll fix it!"

And I would have too. But then, pfffft! and I'm back in the 20th century, facing poor Winthrop, and his eyes are really bugged out. Never saw me stark.

"It's all right, Winthrop," I said. "I'm built just like any other man. Maybe a little better. But who ever told you to call me back? I was just about to get through to those people."

"Sir," he says. "People have been calling all day. Larry King. Donahue. Oprah. Steve Dahl. They want you back."

"I don't know," I say. "Supposed to see Nero this afternoon. Then the queen of...Winthrop! Find me some pants."

I don't have to do this, but the world has been good to me. And, like I say, I'm a man of action. Get it? I knew you would.

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