I filled in the articles on incorporation, listing myself as sole director, and stated that Regis Treadwell, Inc.’s purpose was the production of ironic, hipster comments. After I paid the hundred-dollar filing fee, it was official. I had become a corporation. Now America would finally treat me like I mattered.
As soon as I got home, I opened my DMV license renewal and glared at the check next to the box that said, “Smog check required.” I fired up the computer and composed a letter to the governor.
“California’s job-killing, environmental regulations pose an undue financial burden on Regis Treadwell, Inc. If I don’t get some relief, I will be forced to move my company to a state with a more business-friendly regulatory environment.”
Two days later I had Roxy over to dinner. She was an outspoken blonde with a tennis-player’s forearms. Even though she was an inch taller than me, our height mismatch had never been a problem. As I was taking the salmon off the grill, the phone rang.
“Mr. Treadwell, I’m Roscoe Lomax, the governor’s assistant. He wants you to know how much we value job creators like you. He’s taken care of your little problem. If you don’t receive written confirmation of your exemption from the DMV by next week, please call me on my private number.”
“Yeah! Now that’s what I’m talking about!” I yelled after hanging up. I plated the salmon along with some asparagus and new potatoes topped with fresh rosemary, carried dinner into the living room, and sat on the couch next to Roxy.
“What was that about?” she asked.
I explained that I had become a corporation.
“Does that mean you sell stock in yourself?” She used her fork to lift a piece of buttered asparagus from her plate and bring it to her lips.
“No, I’m privately owned. I control one hundred percent of the stock.”
The salmon was delicious if I do say so myself. I’d prepared it with a soy, wine glaze that perfectly balanced sweet and salt. After dinner I rested a hand on Roxy’s bare thigh near the three freckles just below the hem of her skirt.
“I don’t know if I can sleep with you now that you’re a corporation,” she said.
“Nonsense! Corporations are people, my friend. The Supreme Court said so.” I leaned forward, kisser her, and tasted the butter on her soft lips. “Besides, you can’t honestly tell me you’ve never been screwed by a corporation before.”
Roxy didn’t spend the night. She couldn’t leave Bentley, her Airedale, alone that long. After I closed the door behind her, I sat alone in my empty living room. Sometimes, it sucked living in a apartment. If I had a house, Roxy and her dog could stay as long as I liked. Unfortunately, a house was unaffordable, unless…
Brock Rockwell parked in front of the burger shop and got out. If I had only one word to describe him, it would be beige. He was a middle-aged man with a nondescript face and nondescript hair who wore a nondescript suit. I stepped out of the car onto the cracked sidewalk after him.
“We offer a lot of advantages to businesses willing to set up in enterprise zones like this one.” Brock nodded to a shirtless man whose chest and arms were covered in blue ink. “You can get a waiver on state taxes and in some cases, we’ll even pay a portion of your employees’ salaries. What business are you in exactly?”
“You mean like cell phones?”
“No, we supply content.” I looked down the street searching for a decent house to buy. There was a green, sheet-metal building surrounded by a fence a block away. Its sign said, “F.U. Metals – a Free Enterprise Unfettered Company.”
“How do you make money from that?”
“Brock, do you see what I see?” I put my arm around his shoulder, turned him, and pointed to some kids playing with an old tire. “I see a neighborhood transformed into a Mecca for media content. Newspapers, movies, TV – the old media are dying. We’ll replace them with the new – blogs, e-books, Youtube. It’s called digital democracy, an age when everyone can be a content provider. And I see that content produced right here. A rising tide lifts all boats. With the multiplier effect restaurants, coffee shops, and malls will sprout like desert flowers after a rain.
“I’m loyal to my home town but I’ve got to tell you that I have offers from other cities both in and out of state. So, let me ask you, are you a man of vision? Is the mayor a man of vision? ‘Cause if he is, putting Regis Treadwell, Inc. in this enterprise zone will translate into one thing, happy voters. And when the voters are happy, they tend to overlook a mayor’s hand occasionally patting a woman’s ass. Do we have a deal?”
932 Elm Street, the address of the one-story home I bought! It was brick and wood with a small yard surrounded by a waist-high, chain-link fence. I parked the U Haul truck on the street, opened the back, and loaded three boxes onto the dolly. As I was wheeling it to the front door, a kid with a do rag stenciled with “Bad News” mumbled, “Guard your truck for twenty dollars.”
Before I could respond to the little extortionist, an old woman sitting on the porch next door spoke up.
“Darnell, leave that man alone! I swear if I see you causing trouble around here, I’ll make sure your mother tans your hide. And if she don’t do it, I sure as hell will. Now get out of here!”
After Darnell skulked away, I introduced myself to my new neighbor. She was thin with wide cheekbones, tight mocha skin, and a shock of curly hair that had gone white.
“Don’t mind him,” she said. “He’s more bluster than bite. Anyway, welcome to the neighborhood. My names Eleanor Parker. Would you care for some homemade biscuits? Baked them myself from an old, family recipe.”
If this were fiction, I’d tell you the biscuits were delicious but in fact they were awful. Somehow Eleanor had done the impossible by combining mouth-clogging dryness with enough oiliness to make the biscuits lodge like a concrete block in my esophagus. Perhaps spreading on some jam would have added some lubrication but I was afraid she’d made that too. With the help of an iced tea I managed to choke down enough to avoid giving offense.
“Thanks so much. Guess I’d better get back to moving.” I stood, took a few steps, and turned back. “By the way, are you interested in a job?”
Being a homeowner was not without its problems. Topping the list was how to get the dog out of the bedroom when Roxy and I made love. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Bentley. I took him for walks, spent hours tossing the ball, and played countless games of chew toy tug-of-war with him. But the first time I took Roxy to my new bedroom, he followed, sat on his haunches, and watched us undress as if expecting a squirrel to pop out of my pants.
“What’s wrong?” Roxy asked when my fingers hesitated at my underwear.
“Can we take him outside? It creeps me out the way he’s staring at us.”
“He’s just a dog.” Roxy pressed her naked body to mine and maneuvered me onto the bed. “Don’t pay any attention to him. After five minutes he’ll get bored and go away.”
Much as it bothered me, I followed her instructions and she was right. After making love we lay in each others’ arms. Relaxing in love’s afterglow I realized that this was the American dream. I had a house, a dog, and a woman I loved. Better yet the state was paying half the salaries of Eleanor, my head of security, and my housekeeper.
“I was thinking.” Roxy’s fingers traced patterns on my chest. “Since you’re now a corporation, maybe I should get a few shares of your stock.”
“We’ve got a problem,” Eleanor said when she came to my door that afternoon. “That metal factory down the street is making our kids sick. We’re having a community meeting at the AME church tonight at seven. Please come and help.”
That night I slipped into a pew at the back of the church just before Pastor Johnson began to speak. He was a heavyset, black man with a kind face who wore an immaculate purple robe.
“Thank you for coming tonight,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do but before we start, please help yourself to a few of Eleanor Parker’s home-baked biscuits. She made them just for us so don’t be shy.”
The people in the pews looked at their feet while mumbling, “On a diet,” and, “Got to lose some weight.” Finally, someone called out, “Time’s a wasting. We need to get to work.” The pastor continued.
“Last week the Lincoln boy got diagnosed with leukemia. That makes eleven cases of cancer within blocks of F. U. Metals. Now casting and forging causes a lot of pollution and many of us are wondering if there’s a connection. I invited representatives of the EPA as well as Frank Underwood, owner of F.U. Metal, to be here with us but both declined. I guess that leaves it up to us.”
“It’s environmental racism!” A thin man leapt to his feet. “Locating waste dumps and dirty industries in our community because we’re too poor to defend ourselves.”
The fiery, old radicals, now with graying heads, proposed the same, tired solutions that had got them marginalized in the 1980s – letter-writing campaigns, phone calls to Congress, and a peaceful picket line outside the factory gates. Even though it would do no good, I went home, wrote letters, and made phone calls.
As I expected, nothing much happened. Politicians sent form letters thanking the residents for sharing their opinions and F.U. Metals kept on polluting. I would have let the matter drop if a desperate Eleanor Parker hadn’t shown up on my doorstep one afternoon.
“It’s Darnell! He’s got cancer.”
I never would have thought she cared about the little shakedown artist but she did. When I returned to the church that night, the community was in uproar.
“Burn it down!”
“Shoot the motherfuckers!”
Pastor Johnson raised his arms for silence and called for everyone to redouble their futile efforts.
“That’ll never work.” I stood and walked to the front of the church. “If you want today’s politicians to pay attention, there’s only one way to do it.”
“Oh yeah, what do you know?” one of the old radicals said. “You don’t even belong here.”
“Do you want to watch your children die,” I said, “or do you want to stop the pollution? Your choice.”
“Let’s hear what he has to say.”
“Eleanor Parker, Inc.” Eleanor smiled and held up her articles of incorporation.
The other four at the church did the same.
“Fletcher Washington, Inc.”
“Douglas Grady, Inc.”
“Sarah Teasdale, Inc.”
“Pastor Albert Johnson, Inc.”
“Looks good.” I turned to the pastor. “Please choose another five. This should take care of the filing fees.” I handed him a check for five hundred dollars. “Oh Eleanor, maybe it would generate some good will if you dropped some of your homemade biscuits off at F.U. Metals. You never know. It might open up some dialog.”
On the way to my house my cell phone rang.
“This is Frank Underwood. You’ve got a nice thing going with your little corporation so I’m advising you to leave well enough alone. But know this. If you keep messing with my livelihood, you’ll regret it.”
A few days later I received a copy of a petition to revoke Regis Treadwell, Inc.’s corporate charter that had been filed with the attorney general. I spent the rest of the day on the Internet researching corporate and compiling a list of appropriate lawyers. Even though I only slept a few hours that night, I returned to the church the next day to fund the next round of citizen incorporations When I got home there was a letter from an attorney in the mailbox.
Dear Mr. Treadwell,
I represent Frank Underwood who has recently acquired a thirty-percent share in your company. According to the Model Business Corporation Act he is entitled to a complete accounting of your business’s finances. Of particular interest is your funding of citizens’ groups attempting to shut down F.U. Metals, located a 3324 Willow Avenue. If you do not submit these documents by October 12, we will be forced to take legal action.
C. Cameron Cooper
Attorney at Law
“Roxy!” I put down the letter. “What did you do with your shares of stock?”
“I sold it,” she yelled from the bathroom.
“What do you mean you sold it?” I walked to the bathroom and found her brushing her hair in front of the mirror.
“The stock was mine and I did what I wanted with it.”
“Don’t you realize that Frank Underwood has been poisoning the children in this neighborhood for decades? I have one chance to stop him and you went and sold me out to that bastard!”
Talking to Roxy about loyalty was as pointless as trying to teach Bentley the Airedale how to solve partial differential equations.
“I won’t be spoken to that way!” She pushed past me, gathered her things, and left.
After the door slammed, I poured myself a Scotch and swirled the golden liquid in the glass. It was all over for my corporation, neighborhood, and love life. Attorney fees alone would cost me a fortune. And Roxy, how could I have been so stupid as to have trusted her? I raised the glass and stopped. Was I going to act like some sniveling whiner or like a real CEO? Damn it! A CEO wouldn’t let a bunch of stupid laws stop him. He’d do exactly as he pleased. Screw Frank Underwood and his lawyers. I wasn’t going to stop until everyone within a six-block radius became a registered corporation.
The congregants in the church bus sang “Eyes on the Prize” as they swayed and clapped their hands. Embarrassed by my singing voice, I kept silent and fingered the wad of hundred-dollar bills in my pocket. When the bus parked at the state offices, I stood at the exit and handed one bill each person who stepped off to become a corporation. It took a few hours. When everyone returned, I phoned the governor’s assistant.
“Roscoe Lomax? It’s Regis Treadwell of Regis Treadwell, Inc. There’s a factory in my neighborhood that’s causing problems for my business. Is there anything the governor can do?”
The other CEOs called too. When fifty citizens complained, nothing happened. But when fifty CEOs complained, the state sent inspectors the very next day. Rather than invest in pollution controls, F.U. Metals shut down. All Frank Underwood’s legal maneuvers turned out to be bluffs. The attorney general took only three days to reject his petition to revoke my corporate charter.
I hired a few of the laid off workers to help take our government back. My goal is the register every man, woman, and child in America as a corporation. Then the politicians will have to listen to us. I could afford a few thousand dollars to do this in my neighborhood but don’t know where to get the thirty billion dollars of filing fees for everyone in the U.S. It’s a work in progress. Needless to say, Roxy and I broke up. It took a while but eventually I realized I was better off without her. I still miss the dog, though.
Jon Wesick is a regional editor of the San Diego Poetry Annual. He’s published hundreds of poems and stories in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, Metal Scratches, Pearl, Slipstream, Space and Time, Tales of the Talisman, and Zahir. His poem “Meditation Instruction” won the Editor’s Choice Award in the 2016 Spirit First Contest. Another poem “Bread and Circuses” won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists Contest. Jon is the author of the poetry collections Words of Power, Dances of Freedom and A Foreigner Wherever I Go as well as several novels and short story collections. His most recent novel is The Enigma Brokers. JonWesick.com. Jon recommends Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.