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The emperor's last laugh

By Harold Witkov
web posted November 29, 2010
Once upon a time, there lived a vain Emperor. Because he was a man of little substance, he knew he had to project a grand image to fool his subjects. Consequently, he was forever talking with raised chin, dressing in elegant clothes, and just acting pompously in general.
After a while, word got around that the Emperor was just an empty suit. Local elections were held and many of the Emperor's cronies lost their positions.  Many of his subjects began to laugh at him in secret, and some were brave enough to do it in public. The Emperor was shaken.  Several of his advisers, aware of the Emperor's shrinking ego, came up with a scheme.
"We have come up with an extraordinary idea to make you feel better about yourself and help you get on with your agenda.  As a matter of fact, you would have to be stupid and incompetent not to appreciate our idea."
Not wanting to appear stupid and incompetent to his advisers, the Emperor told them, "Just tell me what you need to get started and I'll give it to you."
The Emperor's advisers told the Emperor they wanted it to be a surprise so he gave them a bag of taxpayer gold and told them to do with it as they see fit.  The advisers then began hiring and training TSA workers.  They purchased special scanners and began installing them in the airports of the kingdom – and requiring the Emperor's subjects who chose to fly to pass through them.
Finally, everything was in place. The big day had arrived. The Emperor, the Empress, their two daughters, and a large entourage of the Emperor's inner circle faithful were escorted into a special room in their white castle.  The room contained the largest flat-screen HDTV in the land.
Once the Royal family had been seated, the television was turned on.  To the astonishment of the assemblage, TSA scanner images of tens of thousands of average citizens passing through airport security checkpoints were there for the watching.
There was silence.  Then the youngest daughter arose, pointed her index finger and blurted, "The Emperor's subjects have no clothes!"  Then one of the Emperor's courtiers spoke up, "The girl is right.  The Emperor's subjects have no clothes!" Then everyone began to laugh in unison, "The Emperor's subjects have no clothes!" For everyone it was a most joyous and festive time.
For the Emperor, in particular, the viewing was something special. Seeing his common subjects paraded in front of him without their clothes on made him feel ten feet tall. As everyone but the Emperor was filing out he requested those advisors who had come up with the plan to stay behind so that he might have a word with them.
"I am well pleased," said a jubilant Emperor.
"It was nothing," boasted one adviser.
"He who laughs last laughs best," spoke another.
The Emperor then pulled out a new bag of taxpayer gold and tossed it on the floor for his advisers to share.
"Well done," said a smiling Emperor.
They bowed and left him to his own thoughts. Slowly, the Emperor's smile faded with the idea that he could no longer fool most of his subjects, and a fear crept in that the stars might no longer be aligned in his favor as before -- that perhaps his last laugh was exactly that. ESR

Harold Witkov is a Chicago-based writer and a regular contributor to Enter Stage Right.

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