The room is dark, save for the glow from the TV. I'm watching Al Gore speak to the Democratic National Convention and as the scene rarely changes and commercial messages are on hold for the moment, the glow is as stagnant as the speech is empty. Looking around, I see no dancing lights across the furniture. I feel uneasy. And tired.
Returning to the tube, I see that Al is done, and that it's time for the chorus of lost souls to chime in.
Peter Jennings: Thanks, Cokie, and now let's get some impressions from Sam Donaldson. Sam?
Sam Donaldson: I don't know about you guys, but it seemed really fast to me. Really fast. Gore just seemed to be speaking way too fast. The words were just pouring out, really quickly. It was all just so fast.
I stew in total darkness. As usual, not a shred of actual information from the news guys. How did he appear? How did he perform? And if the questions aren't dumb enough, they somehow know what our answers will be, even before we do. That's the electoral process these days. The media tell us what the key issues are, they tell us how we feel about them, and then, afterwards, they tell us why we voted the way we did.
If the press is going to sell the whole political process to generate advertising revenues, at least let us provide our own stupid, uniformed answers to the idiotic questions they frame. Doesn't anyone want to think for themselves anymore?
I sit back and drop off to sleep. The back of my head rests atop the couch, my mouth agape. It's a deep sleep, but not restful.
"Wake up, Paul. It's me, Sam Donaldson"
I spring up from the couch, tripping over my son's miniature plastic giraffe, my other foot landing squarely on "baby giraffe." Doubled over in pain, I look up to see that, indeed, Sam Donaldson is still with me.
"Holy wooden hairpiece," I call out. "How'd you get in here? What the h..."
Sam grips my arm like a vice, cutting off my voice. Without so much as one of his trademark verbal ejaculations, Sam pulls me towards the door and we're out, into the night.
Moonlight filtered through high smoky clouds frames the late, empty night. Dodging smashed pumpkins, we reach the street corner. We stop to turn and, instantly, I find myself in a white room, across the table from a man I've never met. The lights are bright. TV cameras are all around. The man is angry.
"Buster. We meet at last," the stranger says, before I have a chance to think.
"Um, yeah. Pleased to meet you," I reply, reaching deep for some joyful optimism.
"Don't give me that crap," he shoots back. "A couple of years ago, I read one of your stupid Motley Fool articles, the one where you praise ACME ASP (ticker: DUD). You call the company best-positioned to exploit the emerging trends in enterprise software. What a freakin' joke.
You convince me to buy this dog and I put the whole wad on it. Now it's bankrupt and I'm broke. If they'd turn these cameras off I'd come across the table and put my hands around your scrawny little neck."
"Look," I say, shaken and confused. "I never told anybody to buy anything. I'm no stock picker. I don't even make recommendations."
My accuser lunges forward, restrained by some goons from ABC.
"Really," I plead. "We just try to get past the hot air, the big financial media show, to serve up some interesting ideas and information. You know how, in elections, the media feeds you polls, scandal and hairdo analyses when you want some facts to help you make a solid decision about the future?"
No response. I plow forward anyway.
"When it comes to your finances, we give you a forum where you can get past the breaking non-news to some substantive debate. We provide facts and some thoughtful opinion, and a community of fellow pilgrims. The rest is up to you!"
Before my nameless accuser can lunge again, it's dark, and I'm back on the street with the still-silent Sam Donaldson. As Sam drags my feet through the leaves, I think quickly, desperate to get away.
"Sam, look!" I call out, pointing off into the distance.
Breaking into an all out run, I look over my shoulder to see the venerable news hound staring blankly into space, oblivious to my escape. I'm sprinting, block after block.
Finally, I drop to the ground, heaving, desperate to catch my breath. Behind me, I hear voices approaching -- short, staccato bursts of language punctuated by wild laughter. I continue to gasp for air. There are two of them. They reach me.
"Buster? Is that you?" the one guy says. "Jeepers, it looks like you've been run over by a lawn tractor from Amazon.com!"
Another burst of laughter.
As I regain my senses, I realize that I'm in Old Town Alexandria, around the corner from the Starbucks. On my knees, looking up, I see that the two men look familiar, although they are obviously disguised.
"David? Tom?" I say, between gasps. "What's with the getup?"
"Ever since we had to close down The Fool, we can't go anywhere without somebody coming after us," David replies, suddenly a little more serious.
"What? Closed down the Fool? What are you talking about?"
"You know," David continues, "When Breaker and Maker crashed. We tried to wait it out, but nobody else would. When people started losing big money, they all turned on us."
"But there was so much more to The Fool than just the portfolios," I plead. "We had TMFPixy writing on retirement, IRAs, and The Spectre of Long-term Care. We had TMFTaxes. There was no better source for investment tax information anywhere. What about those great daily news pieces and sector pages, special features, the gettin' out of debt happy dance, the personal finance centers, online seminars and all that other great educational material? There was so much more than just the portfolios!"
"We thought so too," replied David, more somber by the moment. "We sure never intended to tie the future of our mission to the future of our portfolios, but that's what happened. People saw us as stock pickers. In their minds, we were Breaker and Maker, pure and simple. And when the picks went south, so went the business."
"Everyone?" I appeal.
"Sure, a few stuck around to teach and learn from one another," continued David, "but you can't build a media business on people that want to think hard, debate civilly, and learn from one another. Do you think those public TV guys enjoy constantly begging the audience for money? It's gotta be a drag."
Suddenly, we're besieged by a mob of angry men.
"It's your hat!" Tom yells. "Buster! Your Fool ballcap!"
But it's too late. The crowd is upon us and we're knocked to the bricks.
"This one is for Celera!" screams a random voice, as a fist lands on my shoulder.
"This one is for sticking with AOL!" screams another as I feel a foot crash into my shin.
As the beating continues, I curl up, close my eyes, and drift
"Paul, wake up. Paul"
Startled, I open my eyes and jump up. The room is gently lit from the hallway. My wife is standing in front of me.
"Jeez, you scared me!" I blurt out. "I thought you were Sam Donaldson."
"You fell asleep on the couch again," she replies calmly. "Come on up to bed. No Sam Donaldson up there yet, but if he shows up, don't worry. I can protect you."