Down the rabbit hole — and up the creek

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Got the money blues? Lighten up with Bank Shots, our new financial humor column. We’ve sent veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald into the wilds to explore the wackier side of humans and money — no calculators required.

From: Alice

Re: Wonderland

Gentle Reader:

The most extraordinary events have transpired since I first glimpsed the White Rabbit and, through my own clumsiness, followed him down this most peculiar rabbit hole.

I have since come to know him by his aboveground name, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson — “Hank” to his associates, who are all very wise and powerful people, it seems.

Always in motion, he continues to fuss and fidget with his pocket watch. “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date,” is his constant refrain. I confess I am completely baffled by his haste, though in truth he does carry a burden of papers in his Goldman sacks.

During my plunge, a great many very important adult things seemed to be in freefall all around me: financial markets, employment, mortgage lending and even consumer confidence. Bear Stearns took a passing swipe at me and I nearly fell into the IndyMac sinkhole.

Everything was headed downward at the very same time. How curious!

I landed in the strangest place I have ever seen, a most serious and grown-up place called Wall Street. All manner of things on Wall Street were disproportionate and distorted almost beyond recognition. Egos, for instance, had grown to enormous size, while judgment had shrunk to almost nothing.

Imagine, then, my surprise to happen upon a giant caterpillar, perched atop an enormous mushroom and smoking an Indian hookah. “I am Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha,” he said. “WHO are YOU?”

I told him I am Alice, a little girl. He recommended a diversified portfolio and suggested I buy railroad stock. Oh my!

I pursued the White Rabbit to the home of Dutchess Nancy of Pelosi, who was busy in her kitchen preparing Bail-Out Soup with Tweedledee and Tweedledum, known aboveground as Senators Dodd and Frank.

The soup admittedly was not to everyone’s liking — too liberally seasoned, some thought. But it sufficed for want of better.

Taking my leave, I encountered the Dutchess’ Cheshire Cat perched in a tree, smiling in a most reassuring and benevolent way. I poured out my heart to the cat, who listened closely to everything I had to say about my strange new surroundings.

He then gave me two tickets to the inauguration and vanished before my eyes, leaving only his grin behind.

Next, I attended a disastrous tea party with a most disagreeable host. The Mad Hatter, one Mr. Bernanke, droned on and on about boring adult concerns with code names like Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Big Three until my mood measurably darkened.

My word, I thought, slipping out the back. It’s your Wonderland. Don’t you know how to fix it?

I emerged onto manicured grounds, where King of Hearts Dr. Phil and his Queen of Hearts Oprah were presiding over a lively round of croquet between the Ice Road Truckers and the Girls Next Door.

When Hank the White Rabbit disrupted play with breaking economic news, Oprah bellowed, “Off with his head!” The gallery cheered.

Dr. Phil draped his arm over Hank’s shoulder. “What’s troubling you, big guy?” he asked, giving Hank’s bare pate a knuckle rub. Paulson blinked back tears. “The economy. It’s …(sniff) … broken,” he said. Dr. Phil gave him a man-hug.

“Let’s help the White Rabbit out here,” Queen Oprah proclaimed to her subjects. “Surely, someone is to blame for this unfortunate situation. Who shall it be?”

Some villagers pointed righteous fingers at the subprime mortgage lenders. Others cast aspersions at the reckless hedge fund managers. Greedy, irresponsible moneychangers, there’s the real rub, cried one. Former kings and their courts, cried another.

But when, with the innocence of youth, I dared suggest that perhaps we all share a measure of responsibility for turning a blind eye to widespread opportunism and deceitful practices, Oprah screamed, “Off with her head!” and the crowd quickly descended upon me.

I awoke to the drone of “Anderson Cooper 360” and snapped off the remote.

Note to self: No more CNN before bedtime.

Veteran Bankrate contributing editor Jay MacDonald lives in Austin, Texas. If you have a comment or suggestion about this column, write to Bank Shots.