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'I have been to Ceres!'

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

It's funny how these things can get away from you:

I was flipping around the dial, quick flickers of the really drippy cable channels, when there he was: Rev. Willie For Sale, Prelate-in-Charge.

It wasn't his regular Sunday show from the Crystal Catharsis: I've learned to avoid that. Now the self-proclaimed shepherd of Willie's 'flock' was seated on a small sofa in a set made up to look like a library or a den.

"Friends, I have a problem," Willie For Sale said, the sing-song of his speech reaching out to every video viewer, stroking gently. "'OH!' you say. 'But, Brother Willie, don't we all have problems?' Yes, friends, we all do have problems. But Brother Willie's problem is of special interest to YOU."

Willie For Sale paused to smile invitingly into the camera. He looked like the poster child for the National Dress For Success Foundation: the tight creases of his suit matched those of his weathered face, and the close crop of luminescent white hair made him look almost saintly. By evidence of memory: Willie For Sale has been seeing a cosmetician...

"Yes, friends. My problem is of very special interest to YOU. Because my problem is that I cannot resist helping YOU with your financial problems!"

He paused again, letting that sink in. I could almost hear the seconds tick away as he waited for self- pity to tickle avarice.

"Friends, I have been to CERES! Yes, Praise Willie, I have been to CERES. So you don't have to worry about my bona fides: your brother in Willie is a certified graduate of CERES, the College of Evangelical Real Estate Salesmen!"

He paused again, taking off his glasses and staring meaningfully into the invisible audience.

"Why did I go to CERES? To help YOU with your financial problems! What did I learn there? I learned how YOU, too, can get in on the biggest Real Estate bonanza this side of Jupiter! ...My Good, Good Friends: you may have heard about the financial miracles possible in Real Estate. Why, only last week we introduced you to the author of 'Nine Million Dollars in Nine Minutes: My Career in Real Estate'. What you may not have known is that these immense riches are available to YOU!

"Yes, friends: to YOU! You may have thought of yourself as just another humble, pious servant of Willie, just doing your best to get by. Well, believe it or not, I was once the same way: always one egg short of an egg sandwich, with no idea where the money was going." He smiled indulgently, a guilt catharsis. "...sound familiar?

"But then I asked myself: what am I doing with my money? Am I using it to secure my future, or just squandering it on day to day needs? Ten years from now will my wife still have to do without things my income can't provide? My children?

"That's when I began to investigate Real Estate. And do you know what I found? I found that I did not have to forfeit my future for present needs, that I could have all the riches I could expend, from the proceeds of my Real Estate Investments!

"And I found out how to make it work for YOU!

"'How?,' you ask. 'How, Brother Willie, can WE reap the riches of Real Estate Investment?' Let's stop to take a look at some people who have already solved their financial problems using my method. When we come back, we'll talk about how they did it, and how Brother Willie's techniques can work for YOU!"

The scene cut away to testimonial films. A beefy man who bought three thousand acres of mountainside and sold it to a ski lodge. An endearing little granny who converted a neighbor's pasture to a trailer park. A nine- year-old girl who bought two vacant lots and sold them to her town for a fire station.

"Friends," said Willie For Sale when the camera returned to him. "I have been to Ceres! That's right, Brother Willie has been to Ceres, a tiny asteroid between Jupiter and Mars! 'Why?,' you inquire. "Why, Brother Willie, did you go to Ceres?' To bring back a special opportunity for YOU! To make it possible for YOU to solve your financial problems!

"Willie For Sale, your humble servant in Willie, has purchased the asteroid Ceres for YOU! That's right, friends: I bought it! The whole ball of wax, or rock, or whatever it is. And I bought it for YOU, so that YOU, too, can reap the riches of Real Estate Investment!

"That's right, friends, Brother Willie has made it possible for YOU to Invest in Real Estate on Ceres! Here at last is YOUR chance to get rich! Ceres is two astronomical units from the sun while Earth is only one. You'd think that Real Estate Investments on Ceres would be twice as expensive, but it's just not so!! Brother Willie made such a great deal that a Real Estate Investment on Ceres sells for a price unheard of on Earth!

"Now YOU can own a big piece of land for less than you'd pay here for a burial plot! And as space industry reaches further and further out into the depths, your Investment is sure to appreciate astronomically!"

He paused. He took off his glasses and cleaned them with a handkerchief. He suddenly looked penitent, almost sullen. "Friends, I have sinned... Yes, yes, your Brother Willie is a sinner, much as any among you... In my lust to get as much of Ceres as I could for YOU, my brothers and sisters in Willie, I overextended myself and the Church...

"...No use dwelling on it, I guess. We all make mistakes... Brother Willie is not a farmer! He cannot go to the congress and get them to make his mortgage payments! He is not the Continental Illinois Bank! He cannot get them to buy his error of zeal!

"Is that fair?

"Is that right?

"Doesn't it make you damn mad?!

"And your going to do something about it, right? You're going to Invest in these plots on Ceres, aren't you?! Just to show them that you won't let them stand in the way of the solution to your financial problems!

"Just imagine...," said Brother Willie For Sale in a mystical tone. "Just imagine the riches we'll share together in our celestial home! ...The door is open... Will YOU walk through...?"

The camera pulled away slowly. Willie For Sale's calm eyes remained centered on the screen. An announcer started in with the 'send today' stuff and I switched stations...

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