Inquiry: Jottings from Panama City, Panama by LJ Frank

Credit: Jean Philippe-Cypres, photographer

I was sitting at a modern looking bar not too far from the canal, with its international shipping, on business as a ghost.

I knew after the initial telephone conversations with my client that it would be a wash by Sunday evening. In other language the balance sheet would show no financial profit. Except, profit wasn’t the motive. I’m a calculated risk-taker. I’m drawn to unconventional projects as a ghost writer. Judicious rationalizations tend to be the discretionary choice of my lifestyle.

My business was humanistic. That is, it didn’t occur in a private suite as it did to the man sitting next to me at the bar. I had met this individual once before by chance. We found we had similar tastes in wine. He said to me in a Slavic baritone voice that he was now a financial advisor for an institution having ties to wealthy clients. On the other hand, our common interests was how we described the taste of different wines. Still there was something else that I couldn’t identify and decided to let it go.

As I sipped my wine looking up at a television screen I noticed the camera scanning the crowd of faces in the stands of an athletic contest. The  camera person became fixated on a few people including an individual whose bare legs the camera couldn’t take it’s lens off.  The woman stood up and walked toward an aisle way with her long black hair swishing back and forth as she  disappeared into a tunnel. What was that all about? “Perhaps the cameraman was just a voyeur in the theater of athletic contests,” I said to the man next to me.

He merely nodded. The game was interrupted by a commercial. The commercial showed a couple getting married with much of it focusing on the wedding dress the bride wore. “Wedding ceremonies and associated fashions are another form of theater,” I said. “It infiltrates our conscious.” It doesn’t provide depth. Like the athletic contest and woman with bare legs, the spectator wasn’t seeing the texture of the person’s life except that which was presented by what some marketing firm wanted me to see.

A woman at the bar changed the channel. The screen now offered men shooting at each other with military style rifles. It could have been anywhere in the world as everyone seemed to be wearing a camouflage uniform. Military and police skirmishes overlap and are another form of theater.

“Conflict!” The financial advisor sitting next to me blurted looking up at the screen, “Any conflict is about something more provocative than the conflict itself. In part it’s about the money that the conflict produces for wealthy investors. It’s also about power.”

“Is it also the debt that the conflict produces?” I asked.

“Yeah, in part. If I can help people control the flow of money and the associated debt, the conflict itself is meaningless for the people I advise. They are in control in the larger sense. Everyone has a role to play in the theater of finance and conflict. The question is how to avoid being a pawn and walk away with the most money.”

I looked at him, “My job feels dissimilar compared to yours. All I have to do is figure what word goes where, when and why.”

“Ha. Not so easy. And we’re not too dissimilar. I have to figure out which dollar goes where, when, how and why,” He said. “I have to watch dollars, euros and so on while you have to watch words. We’re both caught up on a different stage in the same theater.”

“Interesting perspective.”

“I appreciate the dilemma. It’s hard to determine whether one is on the right stage on any given day.”

“Roles are played. Knowledge misplaced and then gained, history revised,” I offered.

Our glasses clinked as we toasted each other. “¡Salud!”

As we walked out the door we heard the crack of a gun shot and a few people running down the street, I looked over at him. “Which stage?”

“The pursued and pursuers,” He said and added, “Who knows, if we meet again I may yet be on another stage myself.”

I glanced over at him and his smile was enigmatic.

“Good luck,’ He said.

“And to you,” I said, turning away and walking back to my hotel.

Panama City is an inviting  place that has its own harmony – a  diverse, historical, intriguing and colorful style.