Down a shot of tequila, twist open a Corona, kick back in your beach chairs and let me tell you how one goes over a cliff. In Mexico, where I take my winter vacations, there are many people who go over cliffs. They have different ways of doing this: Front flip, back flip, swan dive, and even the screaming leap. A water taxi driver told me he goes over the cliff with a bandana over his eyes. I told him that in my country, he would be a great leader. My family, some friends and I boarded the Rissalena, a 37-foot power catamaran, and we chased a whale at the tip of the Baja California peninsula. The whale spouted and waved its tail, but it was not as spectacular as the London Whale who lost billions at J.P. Morgan Chase trading credit default swaps last year. So we changed course to go snorkeling in the San Lucas Bay. We anchored near a formation known as Pelican Rock. And I knew this was my chance to go over the cliff. Our cautious, white-haired skipper wasn't so keen on the idea. "If somebody gets hurt, they blame El Capitan," he explained. Rich Reisin, a Chicago accountant who was also on the three-hour tour, didn't think this was a good idea, either. "I think we should avoid the cliff." he said. Mr. Reisin had been reading the dismal news out of Washington as lawmakers grew increasingly determined to take their own flying leap. He and his daughter, Michelle, agreed to shoot photos since the cliff was something I could not avoid, either. Now, for the record, I do not usually spend my vacations swimming out to rocks and jumping from them. It is often difficult enough just to climb from my cabana. But as a writer, I take metaphors seriously. Crabs scattered in every direction as I grabbed the slimy base of the rock. They waved their pincers at me like tiny protest signs. When you are scaling a fiscal cliff, there are crabs just about everywhere. When I got past the crabs and the sea slime, I immediately discovered this outcropping was called Pelican Rock because it is where the pelicans do their business. Barefoot, clad in only swimming shorts, I struggled to find the best way to the top along a filthy and jagged surface.
Fortunately, an older gentleman climbed up behind me. He wore a black, neoprene diving suit with booties on his feet. He scaled along like Spiderman as he guided another diver to the top. He spoke with a French accent and eerily reminded me of Jacques Cousteau. "I will show you the way," he said, and quickly offered me some technical climbing tips, like, "Put your left arm here and roll." He was pointing to another white spot on the rock. I told him I was trying not to wallow in pelican poop. "Don't worry," he said. "It will all wash off when you hit the water." So wallow, I did, and at last, I felt like a real Washington lawmaker. Soon I was on the precipice, looking down at the waves, amazed at how much higher the rock seemed from the top, and overcome with gut-wrenching dread and tingling fear. No one had forced me to this point. I climbed there on my own. Why did I think this was a good idea? Wasn't this insane? Wasn't it a sign of complete dysfunction? I soon realized this agonizing inner dialogue mirrored exactly what the people in Washington have been saying since the election. There was only one thing left to do, so I took the leap. All fear evaporated the moment I left the rock. There was no time left to think my way out of it. My belly made certain I would obey the law of gravity. The next thing you know, I was underwater. Not my stock options. Not my mortgage. Me. Oh, yes, I slid deep into recession. I do not exactly know how far I receded from the surface of the water. But down, down, down I went, unable to think about Medicare, Social Security, taxes, or even how to fund the next big war. The good news, though, is that I eventually popped out of my recession. I swam back to the boat, and when I climbed aboard, I was no long underwater. My wife had just one question: "What are you going to do to analogize the debt ceiling?"
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(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at firstname.lastname@example.org or tellittoal.com)