It all worked out too perfectly, like it was planned or something.
Which is true, it was planned.
Well sort of, and that’s what bothers me about it. When I requested that he push over the first domino, I was prepared for chaos. There was supposed to be unintended consequences, innocent bystanders and collateral damage. Those were to be expected, or at least I thought so.
But, as the dominos continued to fall I didn’t see any of that.
All I saw, all anyone saw really, was a razor sharp line of destruction that lead straight to the indented consequence.
“You didn’t hire me to write the explanations,” he said, arrogantly.
“Yea, but how are we supposed to. . .” I replied, before being cut off.
“Exactly none of that is my problem,” He started, as he stood up to leave the office. “From day one, I made it perfectly clear. My only job here is to get you the results you were seeking. I’m not a PR guy and I don’t provide those services.”
I didn’t respond, because there was nothing left for me to say.
“Good luck,” he said before walking out. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
Across the street, a sharp chrome outlined sixties Continental was intentionally parked where it had been on a similar day several months before.
After leaving my office, he walked purposefully down the stairwell and across the dated looking lobby towards the exit. My office was on the second floor of a vintage coastal resort, looking directly over the ocean.
He knew this, and had parked the black Lincoln accordingly.
So when I watched him deliberately pull the car out onto the roadway and drive out of view, my hope for his assistance vanished.
I was truly on my own now.
Several months ago, when I first reached out to him, I should’ve asked for less precision. But who honestly thinks to ask for less precision when requesting assistance?
I certainly didn’t.
Now, because the work he did was so precise, and the results so linear, people are starting to ask questions. Questions that President Nguyen would rather not have me answer.
Questions that could have been avoided, if I had asked for a less precise set of results.
Unfortunately, I didn’t ask for for less precision, and the one person who could easily solve this new problem just drove off.
Brian took the good with the bad.
When the wave of Colfax Referendum reached his small Vermont town, he was relieved that the banks couldn’t foreclose on people’s houses any more. And when the banks sold out to foreign interests less than a year later, he was still relieved that people couldn’t lose their houses to foreclosure.
At least the banks had the capital to sell, he thought.
But then it happened.
The Green Mountain development was finished, and Brian’s family was relocated to a small apartment. This was done to make way for wealthy foreign investors, he was told.
“I don’t have to tolerate this,” started Maria. “And frankly, you don’t either.”
Thinking he could resolve the situation down, Brian paused before calmly responding; “But, this will pass. You’ll see.”
“I’m not interested in waiting around until it passes, we’re lucky enough to have a place to go where they haven’t lost their minds.” Said Maria.
She continued packing suitcases for the family.
“We can’t just go live in Panama forever,” Brian pleaded.
“Actually, we can. I came to live in America, forever. Remember?” She replied.
“But nothing, if you want to stick around that’s fine. I’m not.”
Brian didn’t protest when he received the notice.
Like he’s always done, Brian followed orders.
Although he hasn’t missed a payment on his mortgage, he and all of his neighbors were evicted from their houses. It was late summer, after the kids were supposed to be back in school and when everyone else was eagerly awaiting the colorful leaves of fall. Brian’s kids were in Panama now, staying at a house that belongs to Maria’s family.
He missed them, a lot.
But the bank was keeping him too busy to pay much attention to anything else, aside from the evictions.
The Middlebury flats, as they were technically named, were on the north side of town. The deep pocketed real estate investors didn’t want to ruin the charm of the quaint downtown, so they had the housing projects build over by the ugly big-box buildings at the far end of Exchange Street.
That was where the first moment of true civil unrest took shape.
Everyone knew it was coming, they just didn’t know where, or when.
The President had been waiting for this moment, ready to take off for the scene on a moment’s notice.
Finally, the villain had a form.
“Your pain isn’t going unnoticed,” started President Nguyen, before pausing.
The crowd was silent.
“From the halls of Congress and my desk in the White House, to the courthouse in Fairbury Nebraska, public servants all around this country are looking for a solution.”
The crowd started to hum with disenchantment.
“And in many cases, those public servants are you. They are the ones beset with pain as they and their family are moved from their homes,” she paused again.
“But now is not the time them, for us, to stop and reflect. Now is the time for us to act.”
Before President Nguyen had boarded Air Force One, on her return to Washington, another crowd broke into violence.
This time the villain took form in Youngstown, New York. The next time would be in Marquette, Michigan. And despite the President’s best efforts, it would continue to take form in more places.
Again, and again.
People were understandably unhappy, and after months of increasing evections they were becoming more anxious. They wanted resolution, they wanted it to stop.
But it didn’t stop, there was no solution, no clear end in sight.
And so the demonstrations, the protests and the riots continued.
“What city are we headed to after Salt Lake?” asked the President’s Chief of Staff.
“Grand Junction, most likely,” responded the President as she carefully examined a report detailing the latest protests. “I’d like to go to Pueblo, but if they’re already looting there my presence isn’t going to help much at the moment.”
There was a silent pause between the two as low hum of the ventilation inside the airborne office changed pitch.
“I figure, going to where the protests haven’t broken into violence or property damage is the best way to stay ahead of it,” said the President.
But all of the speeches meant nothing.
The people losing their homes wanted solutions. Unfortunately, the myriad of local referendums, collectively called the Colfax Resolution were insurmountable for any federal response.
President Nguyen signed an executive order to provide financial relief to families affected by the displacements, but even that was ephemeral at best. People wanted their homes back. And even the ones who hadn’t lost their homes yet were mad. They didn’t want to be gobbled up like their fellow citizens.
And it appeared that there wasn’t anything the President could do.
Which is exactly where I came in.
It was a bleak sunny day when that chrome outlined slab sided Lincoln gracefully rolled down the short street towards the seawall.
My office was on the second floor of a midcentury resort building, looking directly over the street and seawall towards the ocean.
He had been there many times in the past, and so he knew well which window I’d be looking out as he swung open the heavy door and got out of the car. From the car he walked deliberately to the front of the building through the light mist being kicked up by the waves nearby.
“At this point, we are not worried about the means, only the ends,” I said, after he sat down in the chair across the desk from me.
“I’m assuming that you don’t want any violence,” he said pausing briefly. “If that sort of thing can be avoided.”
“Of course, and also nothing that can be directly linked back to either myself or by extension the Administration of President Nguyen,” I replied.
He wrote out several notes before responding. “So to be clear, your desired result is that people are moved back into their homes, without violence.”
“That’s correct,” I replied.
Through the abysmal droll of bad news, the protests and riots eventually lost steam.
I should’ve expected it, because nothing can last forever. Especially something as high-energy as a riot.
A person or crowd of people who’ve reached the point of rioting in the first place are usually not in the best position to regenerate their strength after it is expended. And so, once the initial adrenaline induced activity wore off, the people retreated.
Those already displaced, retreated to their investor built tenements.
And those waiting to be displaced resigned themselves that fate.
But this retreat was an uneasy one.
“I’m not going to call it a total loss,” said the building inspector. “But, this damage is not going to be easy to fix.”
Ms. Rios, only concerned with expediently correcting the problem replied; “Is any part of this building habitable, at this point in time?”
Surveying the damage, as they walked through one of the affected apartments, she asked “And by your estimation, how long will it take to repair this damage?”
Flagstaff is an isolated city, nearly thirty miles of mountainous roads away from Sedona, the closest city.
Unfortunately for Ms. Rios, there was no capacity within reasonable distance to accommodate the families displaced by the flooding in the Flagstaff apartments.
And so she made the only decision that she could make in the situation. She moved the affected families, three-thousand in total, back into their previous homes in the community.
It was the only other housing that she controlled, and it was the humane thing to do.
This was a watershed decision, that opened a door no one could close.
The next ruined apartment complex was in Cumberland, a small city in the western panhandle of Maryland.
And the director there made a predictably similar decision to rehouse affected families in their old homes.
By the time the apartment complex in Wausau flooded, it became clear to everyone that there was a pattern emerging.
Like the water that came gushing from the pipes in the first flooded apartment complex in Flagstaff, the reports of new apartment complexes flooding spread quickly. There was no way for the investors, the banks or the government to keep up.
And the President knew this.
“I am very opposed to the destruction of property, and if I had the recourses at my disposal to put a stop to this senseless destruction I would,” said President Nguyen as she stood at the podium.
The crowd assembled in front of her was uncharacteristically silent.
“But, because our resources must be first directed to the safekeeping of American citizens, I have directed my Administration to take all necessary actions to ensure that proper housing be found for any household displaced by these events,” she added.
The crowd remained silent, processing the full meaning of what she had said.
“Madam President,” started Ms. Rios. “I don’t know what you were trying to accomplish with that speech.”
Leaning back in her chain, behind the Resolute desk, the President responded sharply; “I was putting the American public at ease, and ensuring them that this Administration will look out for them.”
“But the statement about not having the resources, what does that accomplish?” Asked Ms. Rios, more directly.
“Nothing, it was a statement of facts. I unequivocally denounced the damage while highlighting our situation,” replied the President.
“You gave people a green light to destroy more of my buildings,” snapped Ms. Rios.
As the flooding’s continued, and it became apparent that moving back into your old house was the only consequence for flooding was to get your old house back, some people became even more brazen.
Many families, without prior notice or reason, simply moved back into their old homes.
By force, if necessary.
Once numbered in the tens of millions, less than seven million families still remained in bank controlled apartment buildings.
The banks now viewed the situation as completely out of control, and untenable. They wanted the President to stop the flow of people back into the now bank-owned homes.
“What do you suggest that we do, exactly?” asked the President, sarcastically.
“Well, not actively encouraging your citizens to destroy our property would be a good start,” replied Ms. Rios, on behalf of several other investment executives in the meeting.
“Excuse me,” replied the President. “I’m the President of the United States, and I have sworn an oath to protect the people of this country. And that’s exactly what I’m doing.”
“But, you’re just helping people into their old homes, that sets a dangerous precedent,” said Ms. Rios.
“Maybe, but allowing millions to go homeless would set a worse one.”
Within two months of the first flood in Flagstaff, more than two-thirds of those households once housed in bank controlled apartment complexes had been returned to their original houses.
It was a fast escalation, but a natural one.
Once people found a way, they took it.
And although the banks and investors were on the right side of the law, they were on the wrong side of the natural course of things. The wave of displacement and resettlement was happening at an alarming rate.
The direct line between that flood in Flagstaff, and the rapid resettlement was difficult to ignore.
“They’re calling it the Flagstaff Referendum,” said Brian nonchalantly.
“I know what they’re calling them, we’ve been following the situation pretty closely down here,” replied Maria, over the phone.
Brian paused, listening the the low hum from the receiver of the phone.
“But, it looks like that solved the problem. We’re all starting to move people back into their old houses, and that’s happening all over the country,” said Brian.
“That’s good news,” replied Maria. “Once it all settles, you should sell the house and move down here to Panama.”
Shocked, Brian was speechless.
“If it happened once,” replied Maria.
The investors never gave up hope, pushing with expensive repairs to the damaged apartment buildings, even as the wave of Flagstaff Referendum’s eliminated the need for the massive complexes.
In fact, the repairs only fueled the economy and increased the rate of Americans moving back into their homes.
A fitting monument to corporate investment overreach, cities across the country were now equipped with large empty apartment complexes. They stood as chilling reminders of why people shouldn’t take the good with the bad.
In some regions they became investment properties.
In other regions, they became a major tool for eliminating homelessness.
“I’d really like to make sure we visit Middlebury next,” said President Nguyen as she reviewed the list of potential sites for upcoming visits with her Chief of Staff.
“They’ve done really well there, I think that’d be a great upcoming stop,” replied her Chief of Staff.
“Agreed, just do me a favor and make sure they haven’t done anything controversial or stupid over there.”
“Sure thing, Ma’am,” was the quick reply.
“We’re doing really well, I just want to make sure we don’t make some foolish mistake and spoil all of this political capital we’ve accrued,” said the President.
It started with the poorly scripted forum posts, and then trickled into mainstream forms of media.
Initially, President Nguyen could afford to ignore it, as comments of fringe groups on the internet.
But when a reporter at a press conference blindsided her with a question about her connection to the flooding in Flagstaff, she had to respond.
“Of course this administration had nothing to do with that flooding,” replied the President, confidently.
“Then why did you choose give those responsible a pass?” asked the reporter as a follow-up, before being drown out by the crowd.
“We didn’t,” replied the President.
I’m insulted that you’d even ask me that question,” I said.
“Why’s that?” responded the journalist sitting across from me.
“Well,” I started, before pausing to organize my thoughts. “Because I didn’t know about the flooding until well afterwards. Honestly, I was probably one of the last people to hear about it.”
“What is your connection with President Nguyen’s administration?” He asked.
“The President is an old friend, and colleague of mine,” I replied, uneasily.
I didn’t know exactly how they connected me with the President, but that’s two links of a three link chain that I didn’t want completed.
To be perfectly honest, the Administration was directly responsible for the flooding in Flagstaff and in Cumberland.
Maybe they didn’t know it, but those were actions taken by someone acting under their orders. Fortunately for them, they never specified how they wanted the job done.
It’s easier to mislead the public when you believe that you’re telling the truth.
But still, the Administration’s denial of any involvement rang hollow with just about everyone, because it was. And the President knew, on some level that she was actually responsible.
Even through these allegations, President Nguyen continued to enjoy high approval ratings.
He knew that I’d be looking out the window, waiting for him.
That I’d be expecting the piano-like car to stop along the seawall.
I hadn’t heard from him since the last time he walked out of my office, several weeks before the Flagstaff flooding. He was careful to avoid any contact that could cause any alarm, that could implicate anyone. For all I knew, he didn’t have anything to do with the flooding in Flagstaff.
That’s why I contacted him in the first place.
Because he was careful.
He also knew how to manage what people thought, including myself.