Your house is on fire. What do you do?
Everything around you is burning up. All of your belongings are melting, bursting into flames, turning to ash before your eyes. If you don't act fast, everything you've ever loved will be gone. You reach for your cellular phone in your front pocket as you burst out the front door, escaping the smoke-choked building just in time. You punch in the digits 9-1-1 and the phone begins ringing. The line picks up, a voice: "Hello, 911 Emergency Service. What is your emergency?"
"My house is on fire, please send someone to help!"
"Right away, sir. What is your credit card number?"
"Your credit card number, sir. We accept Visa, Mastercard or American Express."
"I have no idea, my wallet is inside! Send the fire department! My house and everything I've ever owned and loved is burning away!"
"I'm sorry sir, but without verifying your credit card, we can do no such thing."
"You have got to be kidding me!"
"Well, unless you happen to have your checkbook. I could use your routing and account numbers to verify your information with your bank."
"What the hell are you talking about? Just send a fire truck!"
"I'll tell you what, sir. You seem to be a pretty nice guy, and I really do feel for you, I do. Do you know who provides your homeowner's insurance?"
"State Farm, I think--"
"Okay, I am going to forward your call to State Farm and you can talk to a representative about this. See, what they'll do is call us back then, and between the three of us we can all work out a payment plan. You know, figure out how you'll get this all taken care of."
"What? A payment plan for what?"
"Well, for our services, of course. It's rather expensive to run a fire department, you know. Bake sales don't cover all of our costs after all."
"Isn't that what taxes are for?"
"Indeed they are, sir. But President Palin abolished all taxation, don't you remember? In February, her first order of business. You mustn't watch the news much. Just like the police department, road repair and the hospital system, the fire department has been privatized. Sure, it provides a service (and a well-needed one at that, considering your situation), but it's still a business. And businesses are in it to make a profit, sir. Surely you can understand that."
"That's just how the free market goes. Honestly, you should have been saving up for a situation like this. It's no one's responsibility but your own to take care of such matters, sir. Who else should be held accountable for you wasting your money elsewhere and not having enough to save your poor house from burning down now?"
"I have cancer! All of my money goes into paying for treatment! Thousands of dollars every month!"
"An unfortunate situation. I'm sorry to hear that, sir."
A horrendous crash sounds as the second floor of your house collapses. A plume of smoke puffs out from a hole in the sagging roof as flames lick higher, hungrier up the walls.
"Sir, are you still there?"
"I... yes. I'm here."
"Alright, I'm going to forward you to Erie. I hope to hear back from you soon, and we'll get that fire taken care of right away."
A click, the voice is gone and you're on hold, waiting for the insurance company to pick up and negotiate what is left of your life. In its place is music, an upbeat song that you recognize as Talking Heads, the last song in the world you could possibly want to hear right now.